5 Books About India to have on your bookshelf

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Freedom at Midnight

by Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre

For those interested in the partition.

The pair of Larry Collins & Dominique Lapierre have written several books together which combine their investigative journalism techniques with historical research. They have written about Paris, New York & Israel and embarked on the Indian Independence together.

The leads of this story are Mountbatten, Jinnah, Nehru & Gandhi. The premise is the Independence of the nation. This book has had painstaking research and uncovered old documents which will make us go through the core people involved in partition. However, since the only major person alive during the writing of this book was Mountbatten, the book does portray him in a good light.

The partition & last few weeks to Independence from the eyes of the ones making decisions about it is a topic which will always be close to our hearts.

 

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The Discovery of India

by Jawaharlal Nehru

India from the eyes of the man who established its principles.

Today when the current PM does not even mention India’s first Prime Minister in his speeches, it is even more imperative that we read this book to know the man who led our nation through the most perilous times and made us a secular democracy when no major world leader of that time thought that we could survive.

Nehru was a brilliant writer and this book is a testament to that. True to the title, it is the discovery of India from the eyes of Nehru. The India that we see through his eyes is glorious, strong, independent, proud and a nation of a very rich cultural heritage.

The book is also a reflection of Nehru and the vision he had of India.

 

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India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

by Ramachandra Guha

India’s lesser-known history.

This is the finest book on Indian history I have read. It is over 900 pages but totally unputdownable & very interesting. It takes us through a newly-independent India until the early 90s which was a period that not a lot of us know about.

The book is painstakingly and well researched and is very well-paced. It takes us through the nation’s journey and the major events that took us to this decade. It shows a nation which started low but has slowly & steadily climbed up & stands to be at the frontier in the coming decades.

 

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The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

by Amartya Sen

India as a culture & society from the Nobel prize winning economist.

This is Amartya Sen’s most famous book and it explores India and it’s culture and history through sixteen of his essays. It tells us about India’s long argumentative tradition which is so important for remaining a secular democracy.

 

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India Unbound: The Social and Economic Revolution from Independence to the Global Information Age

by Gurcharan Das

Indian economy from the eyes of the man who saw it.

Gurcharan Das was the CEO of P&G India from 1985 to 1992. He grew up with the nation & was at the helm of one of the biggest FMCG companies during the high-growth transition phase.

While his other books are okay, this one was really good. It takes us through India’s economy, it’s challenges, the ’91 reforms and the people behind it. It is a breezy read & well-written which touches the periphery of Indian economy and how we have stumbled through to the era of high growth.

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5 Books About India to have on your bookshelf

From My Bookshelf

Outliers: The Story of Success

Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell

 
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The last Malcolm Gladwell book I read was Blink which I found okay. This insightful book talks about the “other factors” that play an important role in the success of individuals. The cases range from South Korean airlines to Bill Gates to the Canadian ice hockey and the American baseball teams. Some of the cases Gladwell takes are quite interesting and thought provoking like the 10,000 hours rule and the South Korean airline turnaround.
However, I think this book undermines the importance of individuals who have made it at the top of the ladder as this book does not differentiate between the person and his/ her circumstances.
Interesting read though.
 
 

Midnight’s Children

 
 
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I finally laid my hands on this book. Salman Rushdie has a very different style of writing. He breezes through some scenes but slows down for some.
This book is a journey sprinkled with magic. Saleem Sinai is born on the stroke of midnight of India’s independence. And so are a thousand other children. They are all endowed with an extraordinary talent, which later becomes their demise.
This book is also a journey of India. We go through the pain of partition, shame of the ’62 war, trauma of the ’65 war, horror of the ’71 war and the nightmare of the Emergency. Saleem tries to make a place for himself but struggles just the way India does with its vastness and diversity. His life is tied to his country’s and to one other person.
“Knees and nose. Nose and knees.”
The book is filled with symbolism, and rightly so if one is to write a story about India and that is why it is described as magical realism and post-colonial period literature. It is simply because this book takes you to faraway places between many people, right with their families and in their most intimate moments.
This novel is an escape from the present and into the past. Our past. The past that we, our generation, knows very little about. It does get a little tiring at the start and reading seems like an effort, but eventually it picks up midway and there is no leaving it then. Towards the end when Saleem ponders over his life and his son’s future, I cannot help but think about the elections in India which were underway when I was reading it. And that is when I realize why this book is as significant now as it was when it was first published.
 
 

The Elephant Paradigm: India Wrestles With Change

 
 
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I really liked the previous Gurcharan Das book I read- India Unbound. Its reviews are in the below link from when I had recently started reviewing books.
https://wordsofashex.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/from-my-book-shelf-7/  I still can’t believe how improved I have become at this.
Anyway, this book can be summarized in a line.

“India needs reforms to root out all the evils in our society.” 
Mr. Das should stop putting such extreme faith in the basis that reforms are the only way to India’s growth story. Reforms are the need of the hour, but basing it as the solution for everything is taking it to a different level.
While I thoroughly enjoyed India Unbound, this book falls way short. Apart from that, it was published in 2002 which makes it somewhat outdated. However, the issues that he talks about in this book are still prevalent in our society. With the backdrop of Mr. Modi becoming India’s 15th PM and the reform agenda being pushed in the Cabinet, this book is a path down memory lane as to how important reforms were then as they are now.
While some essays in the section of Private Space are worth a read, the rest of the book is okay. In fact I was tempted to avoid the last few chapters as it took a problem and highlighted how reforms could tackle that problem in our society conveniently ignoring several other issues that can come up with reforms.
Either way, this book can be avoided. Go for India Unbound instead.
From My Bookshelf

India and Reforms

The UPA government is trying to play the balancing act as it tries to push reforms to give the Indian economy a much-needed boost. However, a large number of the people are skeptical.

Their reasons: it will put the kirana (mom and pop) stores out of work and we have deep mental issues related to the “corporate greed” which have been stuck in our minds since gaining Independence. However, India Inc. has applauded the much needed reforms and more developments are in the pipeline.

When Manmohan Singh became the PM of India for the second time, a lot was expected from him. The UPA government was in the majority and there was no Left to stop any reforms this time. Yet, the government waited till the economic situation got bad and foreign media criticized Manmohan Singh openly.

While Manmohan Singh is largely hailed as the hero of the 1991 economic reforms, there were many people who worked quietly in the background to roll out those path-breaking reforms- the then-PM Narasimha Rao and a team chosen by him. While Mr. Singh rolled out the 1991 reforms, Narasimha Rao made sure that his government stayed in majority in spite of the opposition.

However, reading “India Unbound” by Gurcharan Das throws a different light on the situation. His book clearly states (after interviews with Narasimha Rao, Manmohan Singh and the rest of the team) that all these people were reluctant to open the Indian market to foreign investors. In fact, Gurcharan Das states that the reforms were more out of compulsion than anything else. After all, India had to send its gold reserves to secure a loan from the IMF…and the whole world knows how symbolic gold is for us Indians.

The thing is, even after almost 21 years of Liberalization we have still not learnt from our mistakes. We still doubt foreign companies, products and their result-oriented lifestyles. Manmohan Singh may have rolled out FDI in retail and aviation, but it seems too late. This step is again a result of the drubbing the current government has got, the rising inflation and the slowing pace of the economy. Unless our anti-foreign mentality changes, our economy will continue to stay behind, people will continue to remain jobless and starve and we will always be short of money (kinda like a teenager 😀 ).

The best part about this story is the reason the government has given to gain some support from other parties for its reforms- “These reforms will bring in about 1 lakh crore rupees which can be used to roll out populist schemes before the next elections.”

P.S.- Populist schemes are subsidies for the poor people which fits the Congress party image of “Aam Admi ki party” (the party of the poor people).
India and Reforms