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In Search of a Modern Nation’s Past

By Neelmadhav Chaudhary:
Book Review: Anthology/Non-fiction: India since1947: Looking Back at a Modern Nation by Atul Kumar Thakur (Edited), Niyogi Books, 340 pp; Rs395 (Paperback)

I love the smell of good books—and for keeping them with me I still rely on bookstores and book-fairs. While roving in recently held Delhi Book Fair—I consciously bought India since 1947: Looking Back at a Modern Nation, by Atul Kumar Thakur (edited). This is because I have been reading this young Delhi based journalist for last few years, with all admiration for his sharp and scholarly views.
I read this book in no time and found it worth reading by the different genre of readers, as it offers ample diversity of themes. This anthology is meticulously crafted by its editor, who has assembled thirty-four writers to write thirty essays, themes ranging from political economy to linguistic complexities and India foreign policy to radical dissent (Naxalism).
The book has essay on governance by veteran Economist Bimal Jalan—further on related theme, Prem Shankar Jha’s India : Where Democracy has Gone wrong goes ahead to catch the reasons, which are plaguing the core of India political system. With rare clarity and appeal in expression, he brings forward the pertinent issues of corruption, bad culture of succession in Indian politics. From Nehru era to now, not much has changed actually!
Leading historian Ramachandra Guha’s The Rise and Fall of the Bilingual Intellectuals raises many remarkable points, like—we want to free from English, but is it possible? He cites, in a nation with hundreds of living languages, we need a language in which we can talk each other—on this point of view, we have no option except English as a most acceptable language.
Shashi Tharoor dwells with the challenges of participation from middle class in politics in his Politics and the Indian Middle class. B G Verghese looks back on public broadcasting in India—another veteran, Jagmohan touches Kashmir, for which he is widely known. He carries forward his independent views, which are open for synthesis.
K Natwar Singh writes the detailed history of India’s foreign policy, with precision and insight. Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze remind the growing contradictions within the anatomy of India’s growth story—its possible negative sides. Bibek Debroy in his long piece, projects the status of Indian economy—he shows a blurred picture lying ahead.
Atul Kumar Thakur’s India: Underlined in Red recalls the history of political dissent of last five decades, with painstaking research and rich insights, shaped through a long course of following this matter. Unlike the popular narratives, here the views are presented as they should be—free and fearless.
The essays of Udaya Narayan Singh, Pran Nevile, Sumana Roy, Rakhshanda Jalil, Ninad D Sheth, Bishal Thapa give refreshing perspective about India, which has been changing and still far to attain a static stature. Other essays, written by well known writers and from young elegant writers too are equally supportive to this major anthology on modern India.
In all respect—this is a work looking on, with seriousness and admiration. Well intentioned and constructively designed to make an important addition in the area of historiography—this book succeeded to be recalled by generations.
As the first time editor, Atul has triumphed over the odds to make leading scholars and sensible young writers, writing under a clear editorial mandate. Thus, the effect favours the book on all counts and that is quite visible. In 2013, this should be counted as one of the best entry in non-fiction category—ahead too, a continuous readership will be imminent for it.
(The Reviewer is a literary critic and poet based in Delhi, can be reached at: [email protected] )

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