10-May-2011

India by Sanjeev Bhaskar


Rating – Read if you have the time

The first time I went to the international side of Delhi’s spanking new T3 airport terminal, I was bowled over. Especially by W.H.Smith’s wonderfully arranged book display. Which explains why I bought books even though I was about to fly out of the country for a week and travel part of the journey on low cost airlines with strict baggage restrictions. I was simply buying books for the sake of buying. This book and Bill Bryson’s latest on Shakespeare were on a 1 for 1 offer, and that is how I came to own this one.

India has been well covered now from a lot of angles. Economic developments, social changes, travelogues, personal accounts, pre-independence, post-independence..you name it. In that sense, Sanjeev Bhaskar enters a very crowded space. However, he uses his Indian origin tag and his professional comedy background to try and make the best of it.

Imagine you are teenager who just cannot get your parents. As you grow older, you come to appreciate and perhaps, understand them. To your delight you realize that they have more than kept up with the times, and infact have a Twitter account. Bhaskar’s relationship with India seems to be something like that. From a young child who was possibly not particularly impressed by his visits to India as a child and now, making peace with the country and starring wide-eyed at the changes that has happened in the last couple of decades, Bhaskar makes for an enthusiastic observer and writer. What he lacks in depth or in too many original insights, he makes up with a keen approval of practically everything he sees. Even as he does that, he also notices the funny and absurd things in the minutiae of life and gently pokes fun at all of them.

India was written while filming a BBC documentary in various parts of the country. It covers the usual suspects – IT professionals in Bangalore, Royalty in Rajasthan, Houseboats in Kerela, Big money and Bollywood and slums in Bombay and so on. The most personal part of the book is his visit to Punjab in India and Pakistan and revisiting the ground his extended family covered as they migrated from the latter to the former. The stories that Bhaskar comes across are moving and make you think yet again of the mindless violence and wasted lives from those days.

India is a light and easy read, to be used as a buffer between more involving ones.

p.s. I am not really sure what the book’s title is (funny thing to say about a book, huh) given the multiple sentences in the cover. The most comprehensive version would be – BBC, India with Sanjeev Bhaskar: One Man's Personal Journey around the Subcontinent

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