28 August 2013

Durbar by Tavleen Singh

This book is a retrospective of the events covered by high-profile Indian journalist Tavleen Singh from the beginning of her career in 1975 till the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. The events are presented not just with the benefit of future perspective, but also from the perspective of Tavleen Singh’s personal likes and dislikes. This makes it more memoir than history book and while it makes the book more interesting, there are parts that I found quite irritating. One of the persistent refrains is her professional rivalry with MJ Akbar and I would be quite interested in reading MJ Akbar’s version of some of the events presented here. Through Tavleen Singh’s social circle, we also get a glimpse into the drawing rooms of some of the most wealthy and influential people in India. Most interesting are her portraits of Rajeev and Sonia Gandhi long before they entered political life. 
This book is easy to read and enjoyable. And it is also much more than a tract of juicy gossip, being a very useful reminder of important and useful historical facts. It traces the rising greed of Indian politicians from the early days of modest lifestyles after Independence. It reminds us of the period in which Sikhs suffered brutal treatment in India. It shows us many of the terrible mistakes made by Indian leaders, which have led to large-scale suffering and ruin.
Most relevant of all, it highlights something we all know but choose to ignore. We call ourselves a democracy, but an alarmingly large number of our elected leaders were handed their positions down from their parents. In that sense we are not a democracy, because our political parties are largely in the hands of princes and princesses, the majority of them greedy and inept.
Tavleen Singh blames Indira Gandhi for having endorsed this system but perhaps it is the honoured tradition of the importance of family and family values in India that are actually responsible. After all, most Indian corporate organizations, and the Bollywood film industry too, function the same way.