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Mall Road

Bus Addey, Maal Rode, Camp, Madal Toun, Ajadpur, Shalimaar...

Book tag! Book tag! Here I come!

What nonsense is this: just because a celebrity blogger says he's 'book tagged' me, I have to spread the chain? Well yes, I have to. I resisted the call. You know I don't like to follow the herd. But Yazad is Yazad: a post or two a week on AnarCapLib is enough to cause small storms in Indian blogosphere.

Since then, another celebrity blogger, Dilip D'Souza (who's been chatting with Amitav Ghosh on radio these days) book tagged me. And now Saket Vulturo Vaidya has done it. These Bombay bloggers I tell you.

So here I go:

Total number of books I own: A few hundred. And that includes "Passport" and "Champion" guides to pass "subsidiary" exams :)

Last book I bought: Just bought Suketu Mehta's Maximum City. Read the first chapter today and I already regret buying it. It was so over hyped I knew it would be disappointing.

Last book I read: Foucault's Power/Knowledge. Will need to read it again to digest it.

Five books that mean a lot to me:

1. India Unbound by Gurcharan Das. I read the book in my impressionable years, and I now feel it was the right time to read it. These ideas of globalisation bringing India to salvation via a call 'center' have become too cliched today, and you need to read Das to understand the history of post-independent India's economy. Reading the book gave me the confidence about the time and place in history I am in.

I remember the author's presentation of Indira Gandhi as the Enemy No. 1 of India's economy line by line. At the same time, I still can't reconcile myself with the author's leniency over the Ambanis' not-exactly-virtuous ways of doing business. This sealed forever my belief in taking ideology, any ideology, not too rigidly, and with a pinch of salt. I agree with the sub-title of Monica's blog: "We can become anything. We are essentially protean."

2. India's Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Low Castes in North Indian Politics by Christopher Jaffrelot: As someone who considers himself a political person, as a university student who will be a full time journalist by next year, my awareness about caste forms an important part of my political identity, and I have Jaffrelot to thank for that. Jaffrelot establishes how the Congress party failed to incorporate Dalits and backward castes into its fold after independence, and how this was responsible for the rise of the low castes in politics. I had grown up in Lucknow in an upper caste family and society where I had only heard Mayawati and Mulayam Singh and Lalu Yadav being called names: but reading Jaffrelot's book marked the turning point in my understanding of caste and caste politics. My (upper caste) friends laugh at me when I tell them I vote for the Bahujan Samaj Party!

Jinnah wanted Pakistan because he thought the interests of Muslims won't be addressed in an independent India: the Hindu-dominated functioning of the Congress party had established this beyond doubt. Similar marginalisation happened with Dalits, as Jaffrelot establishes, and you have to thank Indian democracy for providing a safety valve through which the low caste backlash could take place.

3. Ethnic conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India by Ashutosh Varshney: This is not the first book on Hindu-Muslim riots, but the first and only one I read. It introduced me to well known ideas about riots, such as riots don't just happen but there are riot systems that get institutionalised in cities. The reason why this book influenced me so much was its revelation that Lucknow had never had a Hindu Muslim riot - despite being a BJP-Sangh base; despite being just a few hours away from Ayodhya which made the whole of north India riot in 1992; despite having 30% Muslims and 70% Hindus. The reasons for the lack of communal violence in Lucknow were equally revealing: such as Shia-Sunni violence.

What a fool I am, I thought. I have spent 18 years in this city; why does it take an NRI professor to explain me the politics of my city?

4. The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh: A beautiful book, the best crafted narrative I have read. One of the great ambitions of my life is to turn it into a movie! I can't list enough reasons for loving it. No matter how obseshed you are about Pakistan-bashing (and there are a lot of Indian bloggers who have mastered this art), it is difficult to not get swept away by Ghosh's holding up of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as mirror images of each other. It takes some time for you to return to sense and realise that the Islamist dictatorship of Pakistan is being considered an equal of a democratic India which is after all surviving Hindutva. Okay, here's the clue: the OUP university edition has an important essay by AN Kaul.

Once again: we're protean...

5. Bitter Chocolate: Child Sexual Abuse in India by Pinki Virani: 'You are a writer and I want to give you an idea to write about,' said a school senior when I first met him years after he had passed out. I only knew him by face in school, and I had met him on the net while asking people to respond to questions for a story I was doing for the Lucknow edition of The Slimes of India. Let's call him A. Now A made me talk on Yahoo! Messenger and exchange emails with an anonymous friend of his, B, who remained anonymous. B went on and on about how child abuse for 14 years destroyed his life, destroyed his academic career and 'made' him a homosexual, which he detests. One of B's problems was that he loved A and wanted to have a relationship with him!

But you know the journalist I am: I eventually got A to confess that there was no B. It was A himself. I managed to persuade him to take counselling at the Nur Manzil Psychiatric Centre and buy a book whose review I had read in Outlook. It was called Bitter Chocolate or something, I said. He did both and he said it helped. It turned out that Nur Manzil was giving him fake anti-depressants, but he said they worked!

B is stable now, claims to have 'become' straight. I decided not to ask him the many questions I still had in mind about his story. But just one: how did Bitter Chocolate 'help' him get over what he called his 'clinical depression'? He gave a strange answer: he said that reading the stories of so many child abuse victims (and that includes the author) assured him that he was not the only one, he was not being singled out and victimised by the whole world, or rather his relatives. The book's therapy methods and encyclopedic research, he said, helped him more than the bastard shrink.

It's amazing how a book can lead a revolution. I asked B to lend me Bitter Chocolate. I could not get myself to read most of it. Since then, the book has inspired many debates, seminars, talks and plays. It has opened up an area that middle class India never talked about. This book influenced me because I saw its influence in the world around me, an in this acquaintance who now thankfully considers those years as a bad movie that's over.

A book that's on its way out of your house as you write this: Has to be Maximum City!

I book tag:

Anand Vivek Taneja
Monica Mody
Manish Vij
Nitoo Das
Ravikiran Rao

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-- Blogger Dilip D'Souza, 6/10/2005 10:51:00 am

Shivam, My (upper caste) friends laugh at me when I tell them I vote for the Bahujan Samaj Party! ...

I'm no upper caste, but I'm not laughing! I know just what you mean, and I've had plenty of conversations with people who have explained their rationale for supporting the BSP -- even though they despise Mayawati -- and it makes sense to me. Your (and my) upper caste friends ignore that appeal at their own risk.

I too thought Shadow Lines was superb. The best of his novels so far (I'm a third of the way through Hungry Tide). And don't send Maximum City hurtling out your front door so fast -- stick with it a bit. Your impression might change.    

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