May 3rd, 2008

reading, activism, writing

Book #16: In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India, by Edward Luce

Suppose you threw a dinner party and your guests represented the entire population of the world. You only have 22 seats at your table, so some gusts must share. Because of its dangerous nature, you decide that the US gets one whole seat to itself. India gets almost four of your remaining chairs and China takes up the next four and a half. By contrast, England must share its seat with five other nations.

Clearly when you take up that many plates, you should be paid some respect. Yet other than talking about India's foray into the service economy, including articles about outsourcing US jobs to a youthful and educated workforce, few news stories discuss India's complexities. Edward Luce offers a peak into his experiences of living, traveling, and reporting from there for five years.

Luce touches on India's non-violent struggle to break the chains of British colonialism led by Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru through its leadership in the Non-Aligned movement that sought to unite "third-world" countries who tried to remain neutral during the Cold War. He also discusses the immense diversity of the population from the various "castes" to the relations between Muslim and Hindu religious followers (including the break off of Pakistan in 1947 when the British made a formal partition). He interviewed leaders of some of the country's strongest political parties and discussed the legacy of the British rule including a sustained bureaucracy and the economic North/South divide that characterizes the country today.

By necessity the book can only scratch the surface, but it was a pleasure to glimpse a small slice one of the most populous and important countries in the world.