Pity poor Jahangir, sandwiched between his father Akbar I “the Great” and his son Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal. No wonder he often gets lost in history, and, if not quite lost, dismissed as an occasionally cruel, always pleasure-loving drunkard who was led around by his wife Nurjahan and whose accomplishments, such as they were, pale in comparison with those of his father and son.
Deborah Baker opens The Last Englishmen with the admission that she was looking for a new way to write about WW2 India when she came across the papers of John Bicknell Auden, the older brother of the well-known British poet, WH Auden. In her explorations, she found another brother of another poet—Michael Spender. The fortuitous connections lead her to yet another man, this time no brother, but a poet himself, Louis MacNeice. The result is a book that is a detailed account of who was having an affair with whom, especially one Nancy Sharp, a painter, and when, and who climbed which mountain peak and when, and discovered what. The book is three books in one: loving, mountaineering, and Baker’s original ambition to write a book about India.
With almost 17% year-on-year growth, India’s is the world’s fastest growing smartphone population; more than a billion phones are estimated to be sold over the next five years. There are now more Indians with smartphones than the entire population of the United States, driven by phones that cost as little as 10,000 rupees (US$150).
That use of first-person plurals in the title of Early Indians: The Story Of Our Ancestors And Where We Came From should not put non-Indians off. Tony Joseph has, based on and catalyzed by the most recent genetic research, written a clear, readable and, for those unfamiliar with the subject, fascinating history of Indians as a people. It will also serve both as a primer to the way the ability to read the human genome is revolutionizing archaeology as well as a salutary alternative to the eurocentric perspective of many if not most treatments of early human history.
Book reviews on Indian fiction and non-fiction from 2018, covering history, literature, sociology, art, culture and international relations.
Many years ago, when I was about thirteen and home in Khartoum for the holidays from school in England, my mother took me on a train trip to Port Sudan, from where we drove to Suakin, an extensive deserted city on the Red Sea. Old Ottoman-style buildings lay scattered around us in ruinous states ranging from the almost intact to mere piles of bricks and stones. I was particularly struck, I remember, by the enclosed balconies which jutted out from the second floors of some of them, and remember wondering what the people who looked out from them might have been like. Why didn’t anyone live there any more? What happened to them?
This book examines various ideational, attitudinal and intellectual impasses that are becoming glaringly apparent on several fronts, and which have held back India’s balanced, steady and uniform development and transformation post-independence.