India in Words – The Modern Pre-Independence Stories
After the colonial rule became the destiny for the people of India – India was known to the outside world, particularly to the western world as a country of snake charmers, fakirs, tigers and of course – Nawababs and Rajas for a long time. It was the country where extreme poverty and extreme wealth had a peaceful coexistence for centuries. (I doubt whether the picture has changed a lot even now – because still this country has the maximum number of billionaires on the blue planet and this very country has the calorie intake value for subsistence living as the measurement of poverty line – only calorie intake, nothing else – only roti, no kapda, no makan!). No wonder at that time the bestsellers to the western world were books that exposed the scandals of Rajas and princely states. Another kind of books were smash hits too – books that presented a complete deformed picture of Indian poverty – Because, poverty sells and it sells well.
No wonder during that period negligible number of books were written to capture the Indian soul – to present a nation in the making to the world that in spite of having a diverse cultural background is striving hard in its attempt to be identified as a nation. Even those who tried, their attempts were not rewarded enough by the outside world. Of course there were some bright exceptions like works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Rabindranth Tagore – but exceptions don’t prove the rule.
It was only after the post independent era,the outside world started being a little inquisitive about the largest democracy of the world; And in this vibrant backdrop, more and more attempts were initiated to present India to the outside world in the right perspective – not just the land, but the people – their invisible binding power that keeps them unified inspite of so many socioeconomic, anthropological and cultural barriers. Since I am not a scholar, I will not drag you towards Indeology, I will merely make a n amateur attempt to discuss four books of fiction that made attempts to present India – all narrating stories from the post independent era.
Maya – in search of Tantric Father by Vipin Behari Goyal is the story of an India born American lady in search of her natural father in India. When the mother of the lady came to India she had physical intimacy with a religious scholar of India and the result was Maya – the American lady. First of all, the name Maya is significant from the philosophical viewpoint, it is virtually a quest for the young lady for reality in this world of illusion. The curtain of the story lifts in Varanasi – the oldest of all the existing cities in the world. And it is a journey down the river Ganges for the reader with the author; a journey that carries them to the Ghats of Indian philosophy and mythology. The writer arranges a pleasant cruise for the reader to get acquainted with minute details like the legends associated with Ghats of Manikarnika, Daswashmedh etc. and since all the stories reveal in some way or the other ethical values deep rooted in Indian culture, it is a quest all along the way for the reader. There is an elaborate description of the Tantra. Pious attempts have been made to describe rituals associated with religious practices and their significance. What appears blind faith at first glance gradually turns out to be a scientific practice based on physiology, anatomy and psychology of human beings. At the beginning of the novel the lady came with a sense of revenge and hate for the person – her natural father and to a large extent for the country he belonged too. She fails to fathom the moment when that sense got replaced by respect and love for the country and the person, inspite of so many shortcomings.
It is the sense of growing up inside Dalai, which means ocean in Tibetan. A quest which had started long ago on the riverbank has come full circle at the same place, same time for the grown up Dalai – now Darshan – a spiritual leader of fame. Thus states the book Legacy by Mohan Prasad. It is a rendezvous with Indian history and culture. The writer has used a large canvas of time to word-paint his landscape. The story starts as early as the initial days of struggle for swaraj where everything comes in – the Gandhian way, the extremists, INA, all. And like a flowing river, we know this book has not ended. Because we know after the tricolor was hoisted at the red fort, India had to fight countless new struggles – struggle against corruption, struggle against anarchy, struggle against threat to democracy, the emergency days, India’s fight against the enemy within and outside, the onward march of democracy and a divided society all have their due places in the book. If I tell you, predominantly it is a book of romance in the vibrant backdrop of India, then it will be only half of the truth. But it is a story of love between Darshan and Anita, who unfortunately got segregated at the crossroad of life. But what will happen to their dream of forming an utopian society – a class-less society where nobody can complain that if the government expends one rupee for the poor then six paisa is what the poor ultimately gets!
India was One by An Indian is a straight forward book – it depicts an imaginary situation of partition of India on the basis of north south dilemma. There is a romantic story between two protagonists Jai and Kaahi who found themselves separated by the partition. Although I have dubbed the plot as straightforward, but the possible impact of a second partition may be devastating. We have already witnessed one partition where the barbered fence has run through the neighbor’s house and possibly through the heart. We have witnessed riots where man killed man in the name of religion, where trains used to come to neighboring countries with compartments full of dead bodies. We have witnessed partition where man can easily forget humanity, where he can exhibit a nature worser than that of animals or a better analogy would be that he starts behaving like worms. There are literary works like, Train to Pakistan or Midnight’s Children which are testimonials of the burning times. Could India afford to repeat another such incident? How devastating will be the impact?
From Where I See by Ajay Yadav is a picture of the present day India. It is different from the other three books from the point of view that the others seeks to place India in global perspective. While this one focuses on the problems of modern day India – the unrest, the unemployment, the lack of faith in values of today’s India – and interestingly all these present problems have some connection with the past of the country. From the perspective of the writer he seeks to find an answer to the growing problems of modern day India. This attempt has taken him to the core of the problem – a problem which always hinders the people of the country to fight within and outside as a united nation. It is historically true that we have always failed to be Indian, overcoming narrow feelings of province, caste, creed and above everything –religion.
Patriotism sometimes compels us to wear pink spectacles or we develop a natural tendency of seeing even the worst in a rosy picture. The authors are to a large extent free from these biased sentiments. If more and more books of these kind do come out, then it can be hoped the outside world will be able to see us in our right perspective.