I have just finished reading India by Sanjeev Bhaskar. For the uninitiated, Sanjeev Bhaskar is ‘Sanjeev Kumar’ of the famous Celebrity Chat Show ‘The Kumars at No. 42’.
The book caught my attention as it was presented as ‘One Man’s Personal Journey Round the Subcontinent’ and Sanjeev has stated in his introduction that he wanted to document the changes India has experienced in the last two decades. After reading Age of Kali, I couldn’t be more sure of the transformation, India has undergone in near past. So, once again, I decided to view my country through someone else’s lens.
In the beginning, Bhaskar concentrates a bit too much on the economic aspects of India, presenting a healthy image of Textile in Bombay, Tourism in Kerala and Tea Plantations in Darjeeling. Though inspiring, at this stage, the book seemed more as a huge bill board, screaming to get World’s attention towards the New Shining India. A good advertisement, but still devoid of any personal touch.
However, as the story moves to Delhi, the mood altogether changes, as Sanjeev is in Delhi to trace out the path his father undertook after partition. The story gets personal and he starts making some serious attempts to unmask the life of his parents and for that matter, of most of the Indians caught in the labyrinthine process of partition and independence.
It turns out that Bhaskars lived in Karnal for sometime during 1971 war and the accounts of Bomb Scare that jolted karnal at that time, is exactly a tale I have heard hundreds of time because my mother and maternal grandparents used to live in Karnal after their exodus from Lahore after partition. Most of the stories that Bhaskar’s uncle tells him about partition seem to instantly connect with what my Grandparents used to say.
Even the ironic remark that ‘people in that time, believed in investing in Land, and not in failing banks, however it was land that went and left them stranded in a strange place’ totally fits in with what I have grown up hearing. At this level, I found myself personally connected in the story, though I am the third generation that faced any hardships during partition. But the scars of the partition run so deep in this part of the country, that a mere scratching of surface is sufficient to reveal the unhealed wounds.
Sanjeev gained part success in tracing his father’s village in Pakistan as well, thus gaining some emotional satisfaction. However, I was left uncontented as he immediately shifted base to Modern Indian Princes and left the story hanging in there. I feel, a good endeavor was left in the middle to attend to the more commercialized India.
Overall, the book is a good PR exercise and would make you feel good about being an Indian, and presents a romanticized image of Modern Industrial India, a progress from the land of snake charmers and elephants, in the eyes of Foreigners. But, for an Indian, the book does not present something unique, unless you are over sentimental and tend to get nostalgic about the woeful tales, like me.
A plus point in book is the inclusion of photographs of Sandeep’s journey, but the flip side is that the photos are jumbled up throughout the book and it is difficult to correlate them with the text.
All in all, an okay kind of travel book, with a very slight personal touch.