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India: From midnight to millennium by Shashi Tharoor


I’ve been meaning to read this book for a long time, just never got around to it until now. The book was written around 1996 and presents the high points and trends of India’s history from independence till that time.

One of the things that inspired me to finally read and finish this book was hearing a speech by Shashi Tharoor a few weeks ago in Singapore, and I was happy to find that he’s as good a writer as an orator. He presents facts, arguments, personal anecdotes and humourous insights in a continuously engaging manner, which I must admit from past experience, is difficult to do in a non-fiction book about India.

As a contemporary history book, I found it compelling. It explains very lucidly the choices of India’s leaders and how they led to our growth, or lack of it. The book touches on the major issues – the move from socialism to capitalism, the role of religion in India, the pros and cons of true democracy, the caste system and even has a chapter on NRIs, which although a bit isolated from the rest of the book, was nonetheless a very enjoyable read.

One of the things my friends (my generation, maybe, but I don’t have evidence of that) and I feel, and have always felt as we grew up in a modern, urban, cosmopolitan Indian environment is confused. Corruption, religious riots, seemingly deliberate measures to curb economic growth, illiteracy, public sector inefficiency, hunger and a thousand other things have left us wondering – why? Surely these are not insurmountable problems? Questions like these used to leave me feeling out of depth and powerless, to be answered with a shrug and a quote – “Mera bharat mahaan”. There was a distinct feeling that these ills had been dumped upon our country and our way of life without cause or forseeable remedy. This books goes a long way in explaining exactly why India is what India is, and in that light, what could be done toward solving these problems; indeed how they are being solved and corrected in some ways.

Although the book is old and discusses some 1996 topics as “current”, the main debates presented in the book are very relevant even today, and in many cases the author’s insights and observations have been proved true by the course of events since.

If you haven’t read it already, it’s definitely worth a read if you’re interested in Indian affairs.