The week in reading 30-31/15

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After many hiccups and delays in starting and then a big gap in the middle of the book because I was traveling abroad and was not in the mood to carry such a heavy book with me – I have finally finished this scholarly yet readable book. Ramachandra Guha has over the years established a reputation as a fine historian, but to make history interesting to the non-historian, without trivializing it is a challenge. And over time he has repeatedly proven his talent and presented history to us lay readers. This one was particularly interesting as it gave me insights into the life of Mahatma Gandhi, prior to 1915, the year he returned to India from South Africa. Most educated Indians would have exposure to the essential elements of his life, mostly in the context of the freedom struggle. It is, of course, the usual dry, uninteresting school text book stuff. Of course, many would have their exposure through the romanticized account of his life in the academy award winning movie “Gandhi’.

Gandhi and the freedom struggle has been one of my  areas of interest. In the distant past I have read the autobiographies of both Gandhi and Nehru and of others of the freedom struggle. More recently all these lives were well recounted in the context of their times, again by Guha in his  “Makers of Modern India”. And in his “India after Gandhi” he has tried to highlight the influence of the man in the immediate post-1947 years. The Di Salvo book “The man before the Mahatma”, again on the  South African years, gave a different. refreshing look at these times. And now Ramchandra Guha has tried to put in perspective the achievements of Gandhi that led to his stature, even before he landed in India in 1915.

Much of the tale is not new, although I was not aware of it in this sequential manner, the tendency being to highlight some of the dramatic events like Kasturba refusing to clean the night soil. But, Guha has been able to highlight the true egalitarian core of Gandhi’s  personality – and this ability to erase all social, religious and caste divides is what is striking about the man. And this is what gave him the moral authority that to lead a nation. None of our present leaders have anything in common with the large majority of their people, apart from attention grabbing gimmicks! On the whole a very readable book on a serious topic!!

239897This is one of those ‘I have to finish this’ kind of books – a complex tale set in the early years if the War in the Malayasian hinterland. The central figure is a complex, uneducated but self made Malay/Chinese business man. The tale is told from three different perspectives – his son at the time of the father’s death, his wife and his best friend, an Englishman  with a passion for the East and little love for the Empire . It is tightly told, not giving away much along the way – but does not really have a climax!! Tash Aw writes well with flair and lucidity, making it a great reading experience.

I have also started the latest McEwan – another favorite author – “The Children Act”.

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