Book Review : This Unquiet Land

THIS UNQUIET LAND – STORIES FROM INDIA’S FAULT LINES
BY BARKHA DUTT



THE INTRODUCTION

Image result for This Unquiet Land Barkha DuttThis Unquiet Land is a book that stands out among all the other books I have read and reviewed on my blog, numbering more than a 120 at least. This is also a book that sets a narrative of India that is at complete variance to the one which the people of India would like to read which is that of a vibrant and fast growing India, an India that is on the road to its desired goals of Economic Growth and the promise of a future pregnant with positive developments and fast rapid emancipation of problems.


This is a book that looks at the dark side, the unsavoury stories and realities of India, a side that we would much rather ignore, or a side that we would much rather leave to our fervent hope that things will get better. This is a side of India that is best represented by “out of sight, out of mind”; a side dealt with looking the other way. This book is a book that is deep and dark in its narrative and tome – yet not depressing which is quite an achievement for the author, who has successfully taken on many a dark side of India.



THE AUTHOR’s NARRATIVE, AND THE LAYOUT OF THE BOOK

The book revolves around the author’s personal experiences through her extensive touring and exposure to India during the course of her long and eventful career. She has resorted to her experiences quite extensively; which brings me to the most significant disadvantage, or negative part of the book which lessens its impact by a wide margin : the lack of a proper annotation end-notes and bibliography alongwith precise dates of events.


There is a bibliography – but when you are penning such hard-hitting content, it is better to use in-page annotations, end-of-chapter endnotes or endnotes at the end with proper numbered references littered throughout the book. I would like to point the reader to other non-fiction books reviewed on my site – examples being Parag Tope with his seminal classic Operation Red Lotus; or Narendra Singh Sarila with his explosive Partition – The Untold Story. This would have elevated this book to the level of legendary stuff.


The author writes with transparent and unreserved passion with remarkable control over her language considering her depth of passion – which makes for fast as well as  absorbing reading; she is passionate about all topics she has covered – and it shows in her writing. This is a definite plus; the problem is in the layout of the content within each chapter. She has been fair and balanced for the most part; but a proper sequencing of the narrative and the points raised would have been welcome as it would have expanded its impact. A slightly more analytical approach, without compromising on the narrative tone, and a structured approach to each point would have been welcome; that said, I like it as it is. This is just a thought that could have made it more powerful.



THE CONTENT

The content is thought-provoking, and takes on Indian Society head on and in no uncertain terms. If anyone has been spared, I cant offhand think who, or what. There is no bias that I could detect {bar one – maybe two places, where I could also be mistaken}, and certainly a thorough hammering has been dealt out to each participant in the chosen topic regardless of the side the participant is one. Be it Women, or be it Society, or be it The Middle Class, or be it Kashmir, or be it Politics – everyone has been shredded.


Before I continue – just a disagreement on Nehru & Kashmir; I thought I detected a tone of blaming Nehru; I would like to point the author as well as the reader to the books reviewed on my blog, which are all authentic evidence-based books that tell a completely different story. Links of all books mentioned at the end of this review.


·       WOMEN : This is the chapter that every man should read. A hard-hitting and brutal chapter that takes your mind into a disturbed vacuum, factual and completely true so far as I could tell. Be it our treatment of and approach to the rape issue; or be it the issue of work versus family for women – you will find it all here. My only issue relates to the question of gender roles in Indian society, as my article argues. I look forward to the author’s views on that, if possible


·       THE COST OF WAR : This is the peice de resistance of the book, a chapter on her experiences in the Kargil War. You are left with wonder as you marvel at the courage shown by her and her staff, as well as the commitment and passion. This offers a very different look at the Kargil War, from the perspective of a civilian, rather than the look given by General VP Malik in his two books reviewed earlier. {Links below}


·       TERROR IN OUR TIME : This chapter deals with a wide spectrum of terrorism – related experiences. Vast in its scope and breadth, it gives a birds eye view of the terrorism challenge faced by India, including a short precise on the maoist challenge. The one problem here is the inclusion of the sporadic incidents of Hindu extremists; while these need mentioning in a chapter on terror, I felt that they could have been reduced to a half page, or one page – rather than the 2-odd pages they got.  Am I nitpicking? Perhaps I am; but smaller focus would have been more balanced. The main problem we are facing is different


·       IN THE NAME OF GOD : I don’t write on Religion – period. This is the red line I will not cross. That said, I highly recommend this chapter – without giving my views on it, I may have liked it, I may have hated it. My views on this remain sacrosanct, and in my mind. I have a determined policy to not write anything on Religion, after my last 2 articles on this. {Links at the end}.

o   My only comment – the identification of the colonial factor as being one of the causes of the conflict we are facing {page 129} is somewhat accurate; though not completely so. The origin of this sectarianism cannot be understood unless you understand the changes that took place right from 1700AD, as I argue in my secularism series {Links below}. This is something that I still haven’t fully understood despite reading a full 28 books on this – all pedigreed, maybe more. {PS : Not all are reviewed on my blog – some will not reach my blog, as the content is either explosive or the book is too hard to review, like Jinnah or Experiments}
o   There were always 3 players – The Muslims, The Sanaatan Dharmis {Hinduism is not the name of our religion; the only name we can give it is Sanaatan Dharm} and The British. What we see today has its origins in the three societies and their delicate interplay, and is not so simplistic. For more, click links at the end.


·       KASHMIR : Read the book for this chapter alone, and with an open mind. You will be the richer for the experience. This seminal chapter is an excellent kaleidoscope of personal experiences at the tragedy that is Kashmir wedded with a short look at the history of the state during Independent India, making for enthralling reading. What is specially noteworthy is that our mistakes have been thoroughly analysed, making for a highly disturbing but thought provoking read
o   That said, this is the one chapter where I have two disagreements: Nehru – whose role has been revealed in the classic book by NS Sarila {ADC to Mountbatten} which reveals the true story basis original documents – with proof and extensive references -  from the archival records of three nations. {Link below; suffice it to state that I thank God for sending Panditji to us as an Indian}.
o   The other disagreement I have is in the detailing of the tragic stories of excesses by security forces. I don’t object to them being aired; we are a democracy – and these excesses should be aired. The problem is that in analysing the mistakes we committed, I felt that a greater sense of balance was  needed in clarifying the foreign role and the Pakistani hand, as well as the loss of life due to it, which numbers in thousands. That said, she has looked at all sides of the picture to be honest


·       OF POLITICAL DYNASTS, JUGGERNAUTS & MAVERICKS : Loved this chapter – thought provoking, disturbing, blunt and to the point, with a hard hitting look at all political options, with no one being spared –whether Congress or BJP. This is a truly great read, as we get an inside look at the entire political brouhaha of modern India, as well as some pretty direct questions and searching examinations. AAP is the only party that gets away easy...


·       A SOCIETY IN FLUX : This is the chapter I loved the best, given that I have analysed almost the same in my article {The Great Indian Middle Class – Neither Middle Nor Class}. While I look at the aspect of corruption and selfishness of the Indian, the author has taken the middle classes and upper classes apart, torn them to shred in my opinion in this chapter – which is also the darkest and most disturbing chapter in the book with the graphic descriptions and horrors. A riveting yet darkly fascinating mirror to Indian Society....

o   The stark statement of the inequities in our society, the level of deprivation and the level of deplorable ignorance shown by us, the terrifying sceptre of poverty, or the shocking and ugly pusillanimous behaviour of us Indians has been ruthlessly exposed through real life incidents that will haunt you. Read the book to feel the same level of shock and disgust I felt...



CONCLUSION
In conclusion, I rate this book 4.5 stars -  am docking 0.5 stars for the reasons mentioned. It is a tour de force penned by a person with a vast experience cutting across a veritable kaleidoscope of situations – which bring a murmur of admiration to your lips at the sheer chutzpah, courage as well as her strength, given what life has exposed her to. At the end, you are left with a picture of India’s fault lines which need attending to, as well as an appreciation of the author. Could this book have been more balanced with a look at the positives? Yes – but then, it wouldn’t be a book on Indian Fault Lines-  and high time we Indians faced up to our challenges. Overall, an excellent book!



Are there disturbing elements in this book? Yes, there are. This is not your coffee table book; this is a hard look at the nation’s problems; could it be more balanced – yes; as I point out. But that does not mean we ignore it. A must read as per me...




REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS : 




Secularsim - Modern India and Pseudo Secularism {follow links for historical detailed persecpective}




In addition, there are over 26 books on Indian History reviewed on my blog; feel free to browse if interested

Comments

  1. This author was up there in there in the eyes of the Indian television viewers- bold & highly admired until she lost her credibility for you know what. when this happens it is very difficult to regain the credibility.Maybe this book as stated by you may help in this direction...

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