Contemporary India. Basic Sources of Information. 2. New Books by Patrick French and Anand Giridharadas.
Two more very recent valuable contributions to a wider understanding of contemporary India are briefly outlined and recommended below.
Anand Giridharadas, India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking, Times Books, USA [and Black Inc, Australia], 2011. ISBN 9781863955164
This is a valuable book by the son of Indian immigrants to USA. Giridharadas relates how the incomparable combination of an Indian background, frequent visits to India, and a thoroughly American upbringing and education led to his appointment as the first Bombay correspondent for the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune between 2005 and 2009.
India Calling presents the fruits of his keen observation, insight and analysis of Indian realities and the changes that have been happening for the past two decades.
Proof of Giridharadas’s originality and the importance and intimacy of this picture of contemporary India is to be found in the (priceless) recommendations by three eminent writers and scholars which adorn the book’s covers:
Professor Amartya Sen
“One of the finest analyses of contemporary India. This is an engrossing and acutely observed appreciation of a country that is at once old and new – an enormously readable book in which everyone, at home in India or abroad, will find something distinctive, and altogether challenging.”
“A memorable debut, full of insights and diversion.”
“Savvy and often moving, India Calling is for those who prefer the view from the ground than from thirty thousand feet.”
A must for Indiaphiles and for the growing number of India watchers.
Patrick French, India: a Portrait, Allen Lane, 2010. ISBN 9781846142147
[Due for publication by Random House later in 2011]
Patrick French’s writing career has already produced several important books, on the explorer Francis Younghusband (1994), India’s Independence (1997), Tibet (2003) and V.S. Naipaul (2008). The first two of these were awarded prizes and also attracted some polemical attention.
French’s latest work, based on extensive research and recent travels aims to portray the everyday contradictions found in India and to offer background to explain why India is as it is today. As proof of the author’s reputation, many reviews have already been published, among them David Gilmour’s (‘All these Indias’) in The Spectator (19 January 2011) and an anonymous review in The Economist (22 January 2011), ‘A colourful depiction of momentous times in a giant country’, in which the reviewer, although positive about the new book, makes the following criticism: “While presenting few new ideas, Mr French has a sometimes surprising tendency to lay claim to established ones. That Western power will be diminished in relative terms by Asia’s rise, that Indian politics is becoming ever more dynastic and that the country’s Hindu nationalists need to freshen up on their manifesto are all commonplace. Mr French suggests them as insights.”
Although this point needs examining, novelist Aravind Adiga’s review in The Observer (16 January 2011) seems altogether over the top and will not prevent me from buying a copy of French’s interesting-looking book.
“To write well about India, however, one needs more than just affection; and what is missing in this book is evidence, so present in A Million Mutinies Now [by V.S.Naipaul], of a struggle to understand India and one’s own place in it. French never gets much beyond the glib assertion in his preface that the new, cool India is the “world’s default setting for the future” …”
Adiga’s radiator then boils over:
“And this is the main problem with the book: if there is some crisp writing in it, there is not a scintilla of original thinking. VS Naipaul managed to combine a love of Indians with a healthy contempt for the nation’s mostly mediocre intelligentsia; this is something French fails to do. Everything in here is a rehash of the vapid, vaguely liberal orthodoxy that dominates so much of academia in India.”
Why not give Patrick French the benefit of the doubt and visit his website?
Or listen to his 2-minute introduction to his book here.