A journey into today’s India through essays, photography, and more, shortlisted for a 2022 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award.
Since its earliest interactions with the West, India has been the object of a gross misinterpretation, a vague association with ideas of peace, spiritualism, the magic of the fakirs. Constantly reframed and mythologized by Westerners fleeing their supposedly rationalist societies, India continues to fascinate with its millennia-old history, shrines on every street corner, ancient beliefs and rituals, and unique linguistic and cultural diversity.
Today this picture is mixed with that of a society changing at a frenetic pace and at the forefront of the digital revolution—a “shining India” of dynamic, fast-expanding megalopolises. Yet these success stories coexist with the daily plight of the large section of its population without access to drinking water or a toilet, with a rural economy (still employing the majority of its over 1.3 billion inhabitants) that depends on monsoons for irrigation and is threatened by climate change. The greatest democratic experiment ever attempted, India remains plagued by one of the vilest forms of class and racial discrimination, the caste system, exacerbated by the Hindu nationalist regime.
All things considered, though, it’s hard to find a more dynamic and optimistic country or, as Arundhati Roy puts it, “a more irredeemably chaotic people.” This volume aims to depict India’s chaos and its contradictions, its terror and its joy, from the struggle of the Kashmiris to that of non-believers (hated by all religious sects), from the dances of the hijra in Koovagam to the success of the wrestler Vinesh Phogat, a symbol of the women who seek to free themselves from the oppressive patriarchal mores. Despite the obstacles and steps back, India continues its journey on the long path toward freedom and toward ending poverty for some of the world’s most destitute. Included are writings on:
Caste: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow by Arundhati Roy · The Invention of Hindu Nationalism by Prem Shankar Jha · No Country for Women by Tishani Doshi · Plus: the grand ambitions of the world’s most underrated space program, Bollywood’s obsession with Swiss landscapes, an ode to Bengali food, eagerly awaiting the monsoon, the wrestler tackling stereotypes and much more . . .
“These books are so rich and engrossing that it is rewarding to read them even when one is stuck at home.” —The Times Literary Supplement