I just finished reading the book “In spite of the Gods – The strange rise of modern India” by Edward Luce. I had eyed this book since a long time and had delayed buying it for some reason. Luckily, I found a second-hand copy of the book in Pondicherry. I had started reading the book on my way back to Pondicherry, and to my utter surprise (and shock), the first paragraph itself had a mention of Pondicherry and the community set up near it, Auroville. The introduction talks about the author’s meetings with people living in Auroville and how India is known mainly for its spirituality. The author seemed none too amused by this impression of India and that is what he sets out to change in the book.
The author, Edward Luce, covers all the major areas of concern for India, which include social, political, religious and economic. The structure of the book itself is such that each chapter focuses on one burning issue from these field. Luce covers India pre-independence, the timeline of the major political parties and the rise of the newer parties. Religion ocupies a central position in Indian households and he focuses on the largest two religions in the country and the problems which have arisen between them as well. He goes on to analyze India’s past relation with the US and the Soviets, and the current equation between India-China and India-Pakistan.
The book ends with the issues India faces and the opportunities the country has to become a major power in the 21st century. According to the author, India would do well not to become complacent of its newfound growth. Only if it deals with the issues in a proactive manner will it manage to reach the level which is being expected of it. And one of the important ways is by the electorate to vote in such a way which brings the political party most capable of bringing about the change which is required. This endnote becomes all the more relevant in light of the up coming elections.
What I really liked about the book was its comprehensiveness in all the issues it tackles. Luce does not refrain from calling a spade a spade. The interplays between rival political parties especially SP vs BSP is wittitly depicted with Amar Singh again making a fool out of himself. Luce has described the rise of caste politics quite vividly. The book goes beyond slums and spirituality which is all what India is made out to be. I totally agree with the author’s belief that India is much more than a few squalid slums and some old-age Vedic literature. Luce makes the book more interesting by its witty jokes and humourous anecdotes he has come across while living in India.
The cons of this books are minor, yet I’ll list them down all the same. More space could have been devoted to the rise of IT in India. I know this industry has been written to death but in a book about the rise of modern India, IT should deserve a considerable share. Luce could also have researched more about the rise of manufacturing in India which is all set to accelerate in growth once the global economy gets back on track. Also I noticed that the author seemed to have a very critical view on Bollywood where he describes the typical Indian movie as “a blend of brilliantly choreographed titillation.” Agreed that song, dance and rain play a major role in Indian movies, but lately the film industry has also produced very good movies. If anything else, the author would have had good words for alternate Indian cinema. Luce also had a negative view of the nationalist political parties in India, which for all pratical purposes, means the BJP. The author himself admits to this bias.
All in all, I found In spite of the Gods to be a quite comprehensive read about modern India. The book goes beyond a superficial introduction to the country and dives well into some of the major issues affecting the country in recent times. It explains patiently the contradictions which India faces at each and every step of its journey. Luce has painted a masterpiece about one of the fastest developing nations in the world. Which brings me to my next question – Why do foreign nationals, be it Edward Luce, Gregory David Roberts or William Dalrymple make for better writers about India than us Indians?