10 November 2010

Makers of Modern India by Ramachandra Guha

Unnatural nation, unlikely democracy
Would there be any possible reason why I might want to raise yet another bleating voice to sing the praises of this book?
Well – there nearly wasn’t, but a few days ago I saw something that I felt I would like to contrast it with: another book, A Better India, A Better World by N. R. Narayana Murthy.

Makers of Modern India is a collection of essays. In five chronological parts, this book profiles nineteen Indians whose ideas, Ramachandra Guha suggests, have come together to define modern India. Partly commentary on their thoughts, and partly original and well-chosen writings by these nineteen people, this book gives us a chance to experience first hand the giant thinkers that shaped our nation and also understand them through the analysis and insights of a rare genius historian of our times. Ram Guha’s perspective, his attention to detail and his clear thinking is impressive and very fulfilling too.
He writes, “This is a book aimed in the first instance at those interested in Indian history, who might wish to acquire a fuller understanding of how this unnatural nation and unlikely democracy was argued into existence.”
There’s nothing more I can say except – go get the book and read it, or at least keep it on your bookshelf and dip into it every now and again for a fresh look and deeper understanding of why India is the way it is.

A Better India, A Better World, on the other hand, is a collection of speeches by N. R. Narayana Murthy, ("who pioneered, designed and executed the Global Delivery Model that has become the cornerstone of India’s success in information technology services outsourcing"). These speeches were made in various countries Mr. Murthy travelled to, and the collection is pegged by its publishers as extraordinarily inspiring. I did not feel inspired by it one bit and I sat down to try and understand what was missing.

Both books use different approaches and different perspectives to look at the strange entity that is modern India.
Both books are intelligent and written in simple, easy to read language.
Both authors are so highly regarded that interviewers and reviewers tend to get overwhelmed and frequently sycophantic.
But while Ramachandra Guha has written an objective treatise, I felt that Narayana Murthy’s book is a rather pompous collection of opinions with the author and his ego firmly at the centre of them, and that’s what put me off.

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