Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Discovery of India

This post is a tribute to one of the classics in Indian writing in English. I read this book last year itself and submitted a term paper on this very book. One of my main reasons to opt for Indian Writing in English was to read this book. I am posting parts of my book review this time.

..Gives an understanding of the glorious intellectual and spiritual tradition of (a) great country

This book has acquired the status of a classic since it was first published in 1946. It unfolds the panorama of India’s past and seeks to analyze the sources and strength of India’s national personality and how she fits into the modern world. It is the fascinating story of a celebrated Indian’s quest for the spirit of India which has resulted in the continuity of a cultural tradition through five thousand years of history. In this work of prodigious scope one of the icons of Indian history unfolds the panorama of India's rich and complex past, analyzing the Indian history from prehistory to the last years of British colonial period.

The book is a humble tribute to the great Indian culture, honored by the tradition of unity in diversity, and blessed by the life of some of the most famous people on earth like Mahatma Gandhi, his beloved friend Jawaharlal Nehru and a lot more like them. It was written over a period of five months when Jawaharlal Nehru was imprisoned in the Ahmadnagar fort. The book is one of the best works of the writer, and is dedicated to his colleagues and co- prisoners in Ahmadnagar fort prison camp. As far as my one line review is concerned I would say this is one of the most beautiful books that I have come across. What makes it an essential reading is not the content but the way the content is presented. Contrary to the popular belief that the book is mere a fact sheet of Indian history, this book is discovery of India from the authors mind and his vision. Through this book Nehru brings alive an ancient culture that has seen the flowering of world’s great traditions of philosophy, science and art, and almost all its major religions. His visions and analysis makes Discovery of India an essential reading for every Indian. This book glorifies the Indian civilization in such a way to generate a belief that our forefathers were part of the greatest civilization the mankind has ever seen.

The discovery of India”- what a beautiful name? The title selection is awesome and the content truly justifies the title. It runs through the roots of our country. We love our India more than anything. But in our India, we welcome all, and so through our India, we love the whole world. This spirit of the people of our country is the same reason that led to this book being written. The book is the result of many years of work by Nehru, during his years in prison. That is exactly what the book starts with. His years in the prison cell, counting the number of days he would have to wait to get outside and fight for the freedom oh his country. His mind searches for an answer to his loneliness, the relation between the past and the present and the philosophy of life. The second chapter of the books is about the relationship with his wife, her death, and his thoughts of death. These are two chapters of the book that give us a very good idea of Jawaharlal Nehru, not as the prime minister of India, but as a human being.

Chapter 3 - the quest. This is the very essence of the book begins. The panorama of India’s past, nationalism, the search for India, the Bharat Mata, the variety and unity of India all these reflect the beauty and glory of the Indian civilization. Reading through the pages, one can easily tell the difference between the India that is being talked about in the book and the India of the present. Whichever is the best is a matter of the individual mind, but one thing is for sure, the glory of the Indian civilization, can never be equaled in any way by the modern society of our country.

Chapter 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 beautifully describes the history of India. One can easily guess what most of the readers will do reaching chapter 4. They will skip the section, because people have interest in the subject. Although I was in love with history and especially history of India, most people used to sleep in the class. But any reader can read without any boredom through the entire text. The fact is that the book is not like any history text we have read. Here, we don’t come across a bunch of facts, which is the worst part of history, to recollect all the years and names. But this book combines that with the visions of the author, so readers are enlightened by the knowledge on the culture and tradition on India and at the same time, they are not going to be starved of their enthusiasm.

The whole written and unwritten history of India is given in the book. The Indus valley civilization, the coming of the Aryans, Hinduism, caste system, the continuity of the great Indian culture, name it and it is in the book. The epics, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad-Gita, Buddha, Ashoka and through all the people, the books and the contemporary records of the time, we get a complete picture of India through the ages. The dawn of the medieval period and the golden era of the Gupta dynasty give a good insight of India’s foreign relationships with the people of Iran, Greece. Then there is the answer to the most perplexing question of Buddhism in India. That is the fact that even though the religion was started in India, the larger part of Buddhism in India merged with Hinduism the book gives a detailed picture of the times. Through the Arabs, the Mongols we come to the golden time of the Mughal Empire. And the lives of Babar, Akbar, the Marathas, all flash before our eyes, as we are led to the colonial times of the British rule, with all the minute details. The path takes through the times when the British came as traders to India and later went to build a colonial empire. The dawn of the national movement, and what better way to learn about it than through the words of the man who along with Gandhi trembled the colonial rule. This is best section of the book in my view. We get all the bits and pieces of history of the country and this is a must read for all the Indians.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a difference between learning the details from the history books and reading the book of a man who have gone through the experience. Here we see the pain, the nationalism, the human spirit, and we feel all the feelings that were experienced by the people in the national movement when they gave their lives for the welfare of the country. The few unarmed citizens of the country who trembled the mighty British Empire, which, at the time was the peak of its glory. The chapters give us a beautiful insight into the friendship between Gandhi and Nehru, the role of Gandhi, M. A. Jinnah, the coming of the Second World War and the final phase of the freedom movement after the war. The book however cannot go any deeper into the freedom struggle as it was written a decade before India got her independence.

This beautiful book was even adopted for a television documentary by Shyam Benegal with Roshan Seth as Jawaharlal Nehru. Just like the book this series still remains on of the notable TV series in Indian television history. It brings to life the history of India from the earliest times known-- Indus Valley Civilization to the Aryans to the present day India, covering epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata and works of Kalidas. There have been tele serials that have lasted longer, that have presented the epics in a greater detail, but none could match the depiction of a detached narrator in the background. Like the book the series is too simply superb.

A must read for Indians and especially for those who have an interest in Indian History, Culture and traditions. :)

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