Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars A well-written synthesis; not the usual "cut and paste"..., 4 Nov. 2011
This review is from: In Spite Of The Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India (Paperback)
Edward Luce is a noted journalist for the "Financial Times" (of London). He completed this timely and authoritative work in 2006. Global power relations are changing at a remarkable pace. The economies of China and India, in particular, are ascendant, with roughly 10% annual growth rates. And as most of us in the West know, at best, our own economies are stagnant. Luce is no "parachute journalist," completing a quick two-week tour of a country with a billion plus people, and then pounding out a book. India is very much his home. He has lived there for numerous years, has traveled extensively within the country over that period, and has even married an Indian. With the decline of foreign bureaus in the journalist world - bottom line cost cutting measures - such extensive knowledge of a particular country by a foreigner becomes rarer and rarer. A significant premium should be placed on his experience, and the wisdom obtained from it. I felt my own knowledge was significantly out-of-date; it was based largely on extensive travels in country in 1971, along with A.L. Basham's The Wonder That Was India (which Luce quotes extensively), and Ved Mehta's Portrait of India (which Luce does not reference). Luce has done an excellent job of filling in the last 40 years.

The author immediately drew me in on page 01 of his preface by focusing on the squandering of opportunities for the millions of Indians who live in the villages, and remain quite poor, despite the economic growth rate since the `90's. Luce frequently quotes India's Nobel Prize winning economist, Amartya Sen on developmental issues. Luce points out in the introduction that so much of Western thinking about India over the last 250 years has been either dismissive and / or tinged by romanticism (the many cults of the "guru" who have unique access to `spiritual energy'). Luce notes that when Sen arrived at Harvard in the last `80's, every single book on India at the Harvard Coop bookstore was kept in the section titled `Religion.' Luce does much to counteract such attitudes, and render a realistic and certainly more secular portrait.

Regrettably there are a number of 1-star reviews posted; as is often the case, by people who appear never to have read the book. One stated that Luce had omitted the "villages" but in the very first chapter, "Global and Medieval," Luce focuses on precisely that issue. He calls it India's schizophrenic economy. Despite all the high-tech telecommunication advances, all too many Indians are still literally drawing their water from a village well. The next chapter, the "Burra Sahibs" (the big bosses) covers the still dominating influence of governmental officials on an Indian's daily life. Caste is a sensitive, and in its more formalized sense, a uniquely Indian phenomena. Luce describes how caste barriers are coming down, while in some areas, they remain as strong as ever. For me, one of the most informative chapters, filling in a large lacuna in my knowledge, is "The Imaginary Horse," on the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalism, personified by the RSS (Tashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). The title refers to the rather inventive way that history was re-written to conform with present-day political requirements (as is done in all too many countries). The next chapter covers the Nehru-Gandhi "dynasty"; Luce quotes Salman Rushde: "dynasty to be "Dynasty" in a Delhi to rival `Dallas.'" There are more than 100 million Muslims in India, and Luce depicts their sometimes uneasy status vis-à-vis their much more numerical Hindu "cousins." Once again, Luce filled in some missing pieces for me - distant newspaper headlines of communal riots that at the time I had not paid much attention to. Luce devotes another chapter to the triangular relationship that he says will dominate events in the 21st Century: China, India, and the United States. He concludes his book re-examining the beginning: the "two" Indias, one modernizing at an impressive rate; the other stagnant village life, still the vast majority of Indians.

As a reporter, Luce has been able to interview many of the "movers and shakers" of the Indian scene, from politicians to entrepreneurs to social activists still seeking Gandhian self-reliance (swadeshi) by strengthening village life. Virtually all parts of the country are included in his account. My particular "bÍte noir" with journalist accounts, redundancy, is totally absent. And Luce provides many a pithy formulation that underscores one of his points. For example, in terms of judicial decisions, and military rule, as in Pakistan, he says: "In other words, when there is a tank parked outside your courthouse, you tend to go with the flow."

For Indians, and non-Indians alike, resident and visitor, and anyone who wonders how the 21st century might turn out, this erudite, balanced and comprehensive account is an essential read; 6-stars, my first such rating for a journalist.
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Location: Albuquerque, NM, USA

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