Thinkers, politicians, writers name favourite books on the theme of India for the Independence Day special edition of Governance Now
GN Bureau | August 13, 2015
When not one but two senior editors, both baptized in the JP movement, spoke the same words on different occasions – that “you must read X to understand India” (X being Gora plus Ghare Baire for one and Raag Darbari for the other), we thought it would be worthwhile to make a master list of readings that make the idea of India comprehensible.
For the Independence Day special edition, we turned to some of the most discerning readers of our times to name roughly five (or more, or less) books that they think best explain India – and have played a part in defining it, too. (We are grateful to them for their time and replies.)
This was not a formal opinion poll. Moreover, the people we spoke with – political leaders, opinion leaders, policymakers, economists, litterateurs, scientists and artists – included some of the best minds of our times, but such a list cannot be exhaustive. Yet, the replies we received give broad contours of an ‘India canon’, and on top of the list is … The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru.
We spoke with about 30 people, and as many as eight of them named Nehru’s “perennial classic” as one of the books they would suggest if you want to understand the idea of India. They included Rajmohan Gandhi, Martha Nussbaum, Andre Beteille, Bibek Debroy, Mani Shankar Aiyar, KR Meera, Justice (retd) CS Dharmadhikari and Raziuddin Aquil.
Just to clarify once again, this was not a structured survey, and the replies are not tabulated and books need not be ranked, but there are two books which were named by four people each: Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth’ and Ramachandra Guha’s ‘India after Gandhi’. Gandhi’s ‘Hind Swaraj’ was recommended by Ashis Nandy and Martha Nussbaum.
Among other titles that cropped up more than once are BR Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, AL Basham’s old classic ‘The Wonder That Was India’, the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Not many names here to understand the 21st century India, but the only recently released work that has come up in replies is Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen’s ‘India: An Uncertain Glory’.
As for the works of fiction that best capture the Indian reality – and imagination, our respondents most frequently turned to Shrilal Shukla’s inimitable ‘Raag Darbari’ (named by people as diverse as Jean Dreze, Ganesh Devy and Sudhir Mishra). Tagore’s ‘Ghare Baire’ and ‘Gora’, of course, figure in the replies, and so do Khushwant Singh and Saadat Hasan Manto, In particular, several respondents named one or the other novel by RK Narayan (For Bibek Debroy, any of his works will serve the purpose).
So, this long weekend, you can give yourself a break and pick up one of these works that you have heard a lot about but are yet to read. Or you can pick up a copy of the latest issue of Governance Now, and read about them all and join the debate with the following respondents:
Mani Shankar Aiyar
Ram Bahadur Rai
Ramakrishna V Hosur
Aadhaar is arguably one of the most convoluted public policy interventions in India’s history. It has been more than eight years, yet there is little clarity on the exact purpose of the biometric-based unique identification project. Let me take you through an event which I witne
The airports authority of India (AAI), a Miniratna PSU, has undertaken operation, development and maintenance of Diu airport from Diu administration. A memorandum of understanding demonstrating the responsibilities was inked on March 20 between the union terri
Central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) have done quite well despite facing headwinds, according to the Public Enterprises Survey (2015-16) that was tabled in parliament on March 21. The net worth of all the CPSEs have gone up and the overall net profit has zoomed. Their contribution to the cen
After much discussion and pondering over for more than two years, the cabinet has approved a new National Health Policy, scrapping the old one which was formulated in 2002. The government aims to increase the public health expenditure to 2.5% of the GDP by 2025. The policy formulated in 2002 aimed
“We have requested more security from the government of India and the Uttar Pradesh government,” said Abdou Ibrahim, senior adviser, Association of African Students (AASI) following an attack on four students from Africa in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. &n
Is the BJP trying to split the Biju Janata Dal (BJD)?