This book took a really long time to finish for a 200odd pages book. I have mixed opinions about the book. This is a book about the ideals on which India was formed and bolstered.
To use Khilani's own words, this book is written in "the purplest of the late Victorian prose". The language used by the author is a bit impenetrable and sometimes I had to read each line thrice in order to make sense of it. And even after all this work, I felt like I have not retained or made sense of most of the material presented in the book. When we unlock the content for what it is, it even feels repetitive at times.
The book is divided into four chaptersDemocracy, Temples of the Future, Cities, Who is Indian?
In my opinion the last t I read this book on my train ride from Bangalore to New Delhi, which gave the book a surreal popup feel. The book offers a postmodernist look at India, predominantly covering the Nehru and Indira Gandhi eras. Through the lens of these two key eras, Sunil successfully engages the reader in understanding what makes the country what it is today. It excels in being bold and objective, especially in its claims that the Hindu nationalist movement have contributed to the Partition. The book goes as far as demonstrating how the "village" mindset is pervasive in the Indian nation and her culture, however, this is where the book also falls short as it gives an essentialist take on Britishaligned Indians and "Village" Indians (i. e. us vs. them).
For those living in Commonwealth nations (Singapore, Malaysia, etc. ) this is a highly recommended The book doesn't directly answer the critical question: What is The Idea of India? However, it lays bare certain dimensions of the idea that enables the reader to have a reasonably good idea of the idea. A well researched book on what could be The Idea of India. Given the complex matrix of Indian history and the present day existence, it is indeed difficult to articulate in black and white such an idea but one can comprehend and perhaps appreciate it as one walks through the pages of the book. The most insightful book one can find on a diverse topic of Indian Identity. I so wish the book was written recently with so much going on in the country, to add on to the content Sunil Khilnani has so eloquently put down in this book.
Apart from giving the political and economic history of India and how it shaped the identity of Indians, the author has succeeded in tackling the complex task of putting everything in a box while also treading the path of how the ideology of our 'nationalist heroes' shape the way Indians see themselves.
Chapter on "cities" needs particular mention, as it deals with something I never came across before. How the cities of Bombay, Delhi, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad etc took their present form, which we hardly take out t The writer's proximity to the first family is well known;glosses over the excesses of the first family; and governance failures of Nehru;a pro NehruGandhi view of India
Khilnani traces predominantly late colonial and early postindependence Indian history in an effort to discover what it is that defines "being Indian. " He is strongly sympathetic to Nehru and promotes a similar idea of nationality that India's former prime minister would have espoused. What he does not manage to do convincingly is communicate from whence this idea of India derives, and why it deserves to be defended. In fact, it becomes abundantly clear through this work how diverse and disparate the groups of India are. Imposing a single nationality on them still continues to ring of colonialism. Good general history, particularly of the 20th century. Ñ The Idea of India ä The mere compression of The Idea of India into such a thin book as this is audacious.
What's even more stunning is, the author succeeds in it. I am unable to claim with a clear conscience that the idea, as it were, made itself plain to me, in any realistic sense of the word. However, the exploration of the idea in this manner lends an air of legitimacy that, depending on who you are, might be the thing that India needs the most. Or just a rhetoric philandering of words.
There are valuable insights into ideas and policies that most people, if not all, tend to brush away in abstracted labels.
The author upholds the importance of analysing the details, not to merely specialise in them, but to derive an outlook, one that is strongly grounded to reality, yet, offers a stunning bird eye's view. Must reread. Too biased.
Too much pro NehruGandhi. It would have been better if author had written counter views as well.
Quite a dry read. Editor could have made it little shorter. Today’s newspaper had this news of a disabled man being abused at a multiplex (verbally with snide remarks) for not standing up during national anthem. Yes, our Supreme Court has this weird obsession towards assertion of patriotism in inappropriate places. Like Amartya Sen rightly expressed: “Indian identity is a combination of internal pluralism and external receptivity”, and efforts to homogenize by coercion leads to perversions like this. The Idea of India has been contested and validated over time, and now, we are more interested and invested in who we want to be in this world than who we are. Still, after 20 years of publication, Khilnani’s trenchant analysis on this open, often revised idea of India is germane to our society in many ways.
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About The Author
Sunil Khilnani is holder of the Avantha Chair and Director of the India Institute, which he established at King’s in 2011. Born in New Delhi, he grew up in India, Africa, and Europe. He was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he took a first in Social and Political Sciences, and at King’s College, Cambridge, where he gained his PhD in Social and Political Sciences.