Thursday, February 24, 2011

India Calling by Anand Giridharadas

They happened to the world than the world happened to them’. And they are Indians. This is what the author chanted during his book launch session in Bengaluru for which I made sure of my attendance. Anand Giridharadas– A young, Indian looking with American accent, US born to the parents of Indian origin, a columnist in New York Times and the India Herald Tribune, with his debut book on the most fascinating topic as usual – India. ‘India Called me’ as the author says when he was questioned on Why and Why Not’s about the book. India Calling is his brilliant attempt to rediscover his journey backwards from the land where he was born to the land where his origin was. In rediscovering his own past, he encounters with some of the brilliant Indians who assure him that this is not the India that he had heard from his parents or from his grandparents or what he had seen holidaying in his childhood. In the end, Anand summarizes the changes he has observed through different frames of mind. India calling is one of the beautifully written books to understand the psychology of Indian minds.

 An intimate portrait of a Nation’s remaking – is the signature statement of the book and Anand conveys the meaning beautifully throughout the book. Each chapter comes as a surprise in some way or the other. His writing style is seductive enough for one to keep it going and once you start reading the book, it is un-put-down-able.  There is humor, there is anger, there is romance, and there is joy in his stories that takes us to a totally new world of – oh! Is this so? And being Indian, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and happened to agree to most of the underlying points the author tried to convey. Here is a short excerpt from his book. Click here to read.

When we see people moving out of India for better career and prospects, and when Giridharadas’s parents themselves had opted to move out of India, this 21 year young (I think in 2003) American born gentleman decides to return to India. Not because of the unlikely economic boom, but for the Cultural upheaval, as a new generation has sought to reconcile old traditions and customs with new ambitions and dreams. And once he started his enriched living in India, Indianness got into him and apparently came out of him in the form of this book.

As soon as we talk about change, here in India (and I think even elsewhere), we relate it to some of the key economic indicators like, Poverty, Unemployment, Infrastructure, GDP and the like. But Anand in his book, does not talk about them, instead, his brave explorations are in the different frames of minds. Change in different states of mind; in the form of Dreams, Ambitions, Pride, Anger, Love and Freedom. All the characters appear in the book portrays these forms brilliantly and gives us hope that the change is for real. As he conveys in his last epilogue, Midnight, in 1947 the freedom fighters fought for the freedom for the nation, but now, these young Indians are fighting for freedom for the soul. It reinforced the thought that constantly lingers in our mind ‘Although we received Independence in 1947, we are not really independent; we are not free yet’.

When the author was questioned about the real change he has seen in Indians, Anand instantly answered saying, it’s the positive change in the thought process of decision making, for instance, decision to take up an engineering job when the family occupation was of Blacksmith or a maid servant enrolling her child to a school. That’s when he said – they happened to the world than the world happened to them.

Almost all the chapters are excellent and structured very well. All the examples chosen to convey the messages in the chapters are thoroughly thought considering both the extreme ends of any issue dealt with.  Be it the story of his own family; his parents and grandparents and the dreams that they had for themselves before choosing the land that supported their lives to the land now that was erupting in dreams for many young people like Deepak Kumar who live in a village, dreams to witness the Mumbai life; the ambition of a confident self-help-entrepreneur kind of a person Ravindra from the village Umerd near to the Nagpur city and his successful self-help-ambitious journey that reflects the ‘Change-we can’ type of mindset; Pride of those once who lived like Englishmen even during the tough times of India and the pride associated with Mukesh Ambani and their set of values in comparison with that of other examined lives; Anger of a simple village boy who dreamt of becoming something and ended up becoming something else to the anger of the Naxal leaders in India to their outraging stories of the past and their oscillating mindset of doing both good and bad coming out of Anand’s interview with both the Naxal leader poets Varavara Raju and his brother; Love, marriage, relationships and hatred starting with the story of a maid and her love story to the stories of sophisticated women like Mallika and Chitra who expect their lives to be independent in choosing men taking independent decisions on their weddings and divorces; Freedom one expects from their own peers and family relationships in terms of breaking out from a large joint families to nuclear families, freedom from the chaotic happenings around in terms of being spiritualistic and submitting themselves to Sai Baba and the like, to the freedom from eating only vegetarian to the whiskychickenmutton kind of a setting and many more. All these examples quoted in the above mentioned chapters reflect nothing but the change and that change is happening in the thought process of Indians.

Although I felt some of the stories are very gripping, like, Ambitious Ravindra and the Angry Naxal Leaders, I also feel a sense of oscillation back and forth; in terms of both positive and negative end results. Are we there yet? Or are we there really is the question that has remained in me since I read this book. But the most important fact is that the change is happening and is very real. In our thought process and in the decisions we make.   We are in the process of really becoming independent from our own past and that midnight is not too far.

A must read book for everyone.

My rating: 9/10



Manjunath Byadigere said...

Nice review Srik. I'm adding this one to my to-read book list.

We Indians have always attracted attention for so many reasons and for a long time change was not one of them. I'm glad it is now. And yes we are progressing for sure. I may sound very ambitious but I would like to see progress happenning at a quicker pace than now.

Thanks for the suggestion.

Narasim said...

It is something of a cliche to say that the fastest changing society in the world today is in India. The fact remains that Indians are rapidly evolving.

No wonder the Old India calls the attempt by New India to embrace Enlightenment Kali Yug. After centuries of hierarchy and inequality Indians are beginning to grasp the idea of equality. For those oppressors who view equality as alien, of course, this is Kali Yug. For the rest it is the dawn of a new era of modernity.

Girihardas appears to have captured the tectonic shift in a captivating manner. Your review entices me to read the book and I will.

Recently I heard about a planned wedding being cancelled because of the incorrect conjunction of stars as interpreted by a superstitious and ignorant person. As long as we Indians rely upon such factors to make life altering decisions we shall not be free.

Oh! yes. We can have flags, national anthems, and all the other accoutrements of independence. They are all shells. Political independence devoid of independence of thought is like jamun without sugar.

Your generation can break free from the millennia old sediment of ignorance. As the Nobel Laureate Vidhiyadhar S. Naipaul pointed out in 1977, in India it is not clear what is worse: the poverty of the land or the poverty of the mind.

Girihardas, evidently, is witnessing the emergence of the mind from the long dark night. I salute those who have liberated themselves. They are the hope of a potentially great civilization state.