India- its past, present and future has been a fertile inspirational ground for many a writer. Part of it has to do with the the expanse of the land- topographically and also in its complex cultural manifestation, played out against the mercurial technological advancements globally and locally. If you have been following Dr Shashi Tharoor’s writings on India- a subject he has written copiously on- you’d know that he rarely writes purely as a historian. His perspective is more of an observer and a commentator, recorder and reflector on the goings-on in the country. The author, politician, and former international civil servant, blends in his books, erudition with experience as he charts the flux, evolution, growth and future of India in his non-fiction repertoire. Many of his books also stem out of his previously written articles, opinions pieces in the the media- expanded and updated for recency. The Elephant, The Tiger, And the Cell Phone: Reflections on India - the Emerging 21st-Century Power (2007), India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in our Time (2015), India: The Future Is Now (2013), Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century (2012), are some, amongst many other such books authored by Tharoor. They echo the changes the country has gone through from time to time, muse endearingly about the peculiar Indian-ness of Indians, mull over the co-existence of technology and tradition, and also indicate India's position in a rapidly changing geopolitical and economic scenario.
Before you quit reading any further, let me give a disclaimer! This background of my own reading, was necessitated by the fact that in my last read of his writing- ‘An Era of Darkness’ the author writes purely as a historian for the first time. The book that stemmed out of a 15 minute Oxford Union Debate speech that went viral – is an exhaustively researched refutation of the imperial apologist’s arguments and claims of the empire being a benevolent and an empowering entity.
This three-thirty pager, takes the bull by its horns and decimates the traditional strongholds of the Raj defenders– the Railways, the education system, ‘the free press’ to name a few. He cuts through the benevolent pretensions of the empire and seeks to establish the greed and personal (here the empire’s) gain through neatly cut chapters ranging from ‘the Myth of Enlightened Despotism’ to ‘the Divide and rule policy’. He does acknowledge the inherent fissures in our country's hand-me-down laws such as the caste system, at the same time, making a case for the empire's devious strengthening of these rifts by the self-serving designs of the colonizer.
He exposes the anatomy of exploitation down the years, supporting it with facts and figures right from the conquest of India by the East India Company to post colonial imperial amnesia.
Read the book if you are not daunted by the gargantuan task of keeping history, as it were – replete with dates, quotes and references. Read it also if you need academic reasoning for your vague aspersions on colonial powers that ruled the country. Read also objectively, sundering emotion from rationale- as a literay piece. But not without the author’s disclaimer, ‘I do not seek to blame the British for everything that’s wrong in my country today.’ More so in today’s times than ever before!
An Era of Darkness
Aleph Book Company