I have always been fascinated by India and its nothing to do with the close proximity
that Sri Lanka has to India. i enjoy reading so very much of its history which is complicated to say the least, bloody very often and also extremely romantic at times.
Added to that you have a huge mix of cultures - not just Indian - the South is so very different to the North despite sharing a common religion of Hinduism, languages are so diverse that they do not even seem remotely connected to one people, and even physical characteristics are so very different. Geographically too the country varies so much its mind boggling.
Naturally I have been drawn to people who write on India, and about India. Today's book is by one who could be called an authority on India, writer and broadcaster and it reaches to its very heart - from the peasantry to the towns and bigger cities in India.
The stories commence with Tulley's own experience firstly with his personal servant Ram Chander who is not just a cook, but a cleaner, housekeeper, finance manager, advisor on the proprieties of living in India and becomes for the Tulley family a friend though on Ram Chander's side the Tulleys appear always to be the "bosses" and should be revered and respected as such. We learn much of how a village operates, the attitude of the villagers towards this family and how much affection for the family there is from this extended village family. The story moves to Mahabalipuram in the South and then to the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad which is
considered by some to the biggest religious festival in the world. This one attracts over 10 million people bathing in the sacred river on one particular day. The logistics are mind boggling considering that you are dealing with people who are going to camp outdoors, with no proper facilities available to a great extent!! and to top it all people all who may be talking several different languages and dialects.
The next short story deals with the rewriting of the Ramayana. Something equivalent to taking the old testament and making it into a tele drama serialized with lots of action, dancing, human interest stories, religion, and most importantly making the actors and actresses believe that this is not acting, its actually an epic, they are gods and goddesses and so the film became the runaway success it was, grossing millions for the producers apart from enthralling a nation for months on end.
We next go to the infamous attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar and its repercussions on modern India and move on to Communism in Calcutta which has a never say die attitude despite crumbling infrastructure and millions of poor and a surprisingly flourishing religious streak despite the every prevalent Communism, then a fairly uncommon sati in Deorala (a wife's ritual suicide by burning herself on her dead husbands pyre). The practice was common but is presently outlawed like child marriages but unlike child marriages is very rare thank God.
The stories Tulley weaves around us are varied ending with the tragic death of Rajiv Gandhi killed by a suicide bomber from Sri Lanka. Politics of every hue are woven into Tulley's stories which add to the variety and interest that is always found on the Indian political scene. The communal politics which emphasise and divide people by caste, language, race and religion are seen in a style which is easy to understand for the non Indian reader who may find it mind boggling and bewildering that politicians can actually swing votes on these lines.
A very enjoyable book for someone wanting to know about India not from a tourist's point of view but to understand to a small degree the vastness of India.
Tulley has written several books on India and I hope I will be able to do the other reviews shortly.
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