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Hardly gets beneath the surface,
This review is from: Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond (Paperback)
With such a plethora of books about `India Shining' I wondered whether Pankaj Mishra could come up with any new insights on the changes in that country. I had read his earlier book "Butter Chicken In Ludhiana" which, although flawed, provided a much-needed small-town view of India. But Butter Chicken was a travel book. His new book "Temptations of the West" seemed at first a much more ambitious work. The cover blurb leads us to believe it will be an analytical look, perhaps with deeper philosophical musing about the effects of India's modernisation on its people. It does not do this.
Mishra once again visits small-town India (eg. Benares, Allahabad) but he barely gets beneath the surface. His personal encounters with people appear banal and hardly shed light on their predicament or even hopes and fears in a changing India. Rather than using Benares as a mirror of what is going on in the small towns in the 21st century, Mishra never gets round to telling us why Benares is of particular interest, other than that he was once a student there.
Elsewhere Mishra strays into the political realm, but without the bite or insight of the many, many outstanding political columnists writing in India's newspapers or magazines. His second-hand views (he is unable to interview any RSS people directly) about the Hindu nationalists seem dated (views that were widely held before the BJP came to power) and do not tell us how the organisation changed once in government, or how other people's views of the RSS have changed. This is a mediocre attempt at political journalism.
The book is really a collection of essays which are not connected with each other. This would not matter if they were excellent in themselves. Unfortunately they come across as inadequately researched. They are really a collection of personal observations, which fail to excite us or enlighten us in the way that Mark Tully does with a similar mix of travel, personal observation (and it has to be said investigative journalism, which Mishra lacks completely).
Is India changing? Of course it is, but Mishra's book is not the one to tell us how or why. Read Tully instead.