Tea without sympathy – An Era of Darkness.

dsc08186History belongs in the past, but understanding it is the duty of the present. So Dr Shashi Tharoor proves in his latest book, An Era of Darkness, The British Empire in India.

Tharoor takes up the task of dispelling any illusions one might have had about the British Raj in India. In this he succeeds very well. Unlike many of my fellow Macaulayputras, as Tharoor refers to us (and himself), and in spite of my Catholic schooling, I always knew the British were not the ‘enlightened despots’ that our textbooks would have us believe.

Over the years, my own informal research into the subject made me realise how brutal and exploitative the Raj actually was.

Even so, An Era of Darkness is an eye-opener. Tharoor brings to light several nasty facts about the Raj that I never knew, and by his own admission, he did not know himself. Consider India’s caste system. Like many other Indians, Tharoor included, I too thought that the rigidity of our caste system and its consequent evils, predated the British.

However, “the idea of the four-fold caste order stretching across all of India…was only developed…under the peculiar circumstances of British colonial rule“.

As also the Hindu-Muslim divide, which haunts India till this day. “Religion“, states Tharoor, “became a useful means of divide and rule“. The Hindu-Muslim divide, we now learn, was a deliberate British strategy.

It comes as an unpleasant surprise that much of what we were taught about India’s pre-Raj history, and still are being taught, is essentially of British construction.

As exemplified by India’s most notorious Anglophile, the “cringe-worthy” Nirad Chaudhuri, as Tharoor aptly describes him, “colonialism misappropriated and reshaped” how we saw our own history and cultural self-definition.

The good Doctor endorses my copy of his book.

Thus, page by page, Tharoor’s book unapologetically and systematically lays bare the reality of the Raj. The scientist in me demands hard evidence, and Tharoor does not disappoint. The book is thoroughly researched, with an exhaustive list of references at the end. One expects nothing less from a scholar who holds multiple doctoral degrees.

What I admire about the man is his lack of hesitation in pointing out the wrong-doings and mistakes committed by Indian leaders of the day, that served the British cause well.

Take for example his explanation of why Nehru’s decision to order his colleagues to resign from all provincial ministries in 1939, was “a monumental blunder“. As also Tharoor’s unflattering and accurate analysis of the Quit India movement of 1942.

Notwithstanding their errors of judgement, he does acknowledge Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru as the great leaders and statesmen they really were.

Tharoor is especially harsh though, and very deservedly so, on Winston Churchill. The truth about this alleged “apostle of freedom” is described in considerable detail in the book.

Thankfully, Tharoor firmly dispels any apprehensions about my favorite English author, PG Wodehouse. There were times when I would feel a bit guilty about enjoying Wodehouse so much, on the belief that he was a colonialist. Tharoor assures me that I am wrong, to my considerable relief.

Frightening, enlightening, educational, spine-chilling, profound and made immensely readable by the author’s characteristic style of writing, An Era of Darkness is a volume that one would recommend to serious students of Indian history and to connoisseurs of the English language alike. Tharoor is the only English author for whom I need a dictionary (or Google) by my side.

One reading of the book will not suffice, I must tell you. You will need to read the volume two or three times to understand its import, that “sometimes the best crystal ball is a rear-view mirror“…

… and that one does not need to espouse right-wing values in order to be a true nationalist.

Cheers … Srini.

This man is different. He has guts.

It’s good for the economy. No, no, it’s bad. GDP will increase. No, no, people will starve. It will flush out black money. No, no, it won’t. Real estate will come down. No it won’t. Yes it will. No it won’t. Corruption will vanish. Of course it won’t. Indians will be Indians.

Opinions. Counter-opinions. Raving. Ranting. Live telecasts of mile-long queues outside ATM’s and banks. People allegedly dying while waiting in those queues. Table salt allegedly being sold at Rs.400 per kg. Non-BJP politicians yelling their guts out, threatening to bring down the wrath of God upon the nation – but offering no practical solutions whatsoever. A former prime minister who is a PhD in Economics no less, and was at the very helm of India’s economic affairs for forty years but chose to remain silent all through, suddenly finds his voice and presents a speech filled with bromidic criticism – and nothing else – to the nation. Left-wingers and “liberals” gleefully predict the downfall of Modi et al. Etcetera. Etcetera.

It is now three weeks since NaMo’s DeMo. Three weeks since Mr. Narendra Modi shook the nation to its core. Three weeks since 86% of the country’s currency was suddenly demonetised, an event that has happened perhaps for the first time in world history.

As Modi said during his broadcast on Nov 8, with a soft voice and with a straight face, “As of this midnight, your 500 and 1000 rupee notes are worthless pieces of paper”.

The nation-wide pandemonium that immediately ensued was understandable. I received the news via Whatsapp and promptly dismissed it as a hoax. I happily handed over my last Rs.100 note to the autorickshaw driver as I got back home. And got the shock of my life when every TV channel told me that the net-worth of all the cash I had withdrawn just an hour ago was exactly equal to zero.

Mom was blissfully ignorant of all the halla-gulla going on across the nation. I, on the other hand, cannot afford the luxury of ignorance. Heart palpitating, brow sweating, pulse pounding, limbs trembling, I gulped down an extra tablet of my heart medicine and took stock of my situation.

Once my panic subsided after the medicine took hold, I realised things weren’t that bad after all – for me at least. All utility bills for the next three months already paid on-line. Groceries and vegetables were being procured on-line anyway. Henceforth I could pay for my transport only via my phone, so for the time being travelling by bus was ruled out. No big deal. I’m told that BMTC will introduce smart cards for bus travel in two months.

While our elected representatives shouted and screamed and brought the parliament to a grinding halt, ordinary citizens quickly adapted to the situation and went out of their way to help others. While the scion of India’s former ruling family rode around in his air-conditioned million-dollar SUV claiming that he could feel “the pain of my people”, students in my city went round on foot offering refreshments to people standing outside banks and ATM’s.

The cash I had withdrawn was handed over to my local pharmacist, in exchange for six months supply of my medicine, so that took care of that. The local milk vendor told me he’d take “old” Rs.1000 notes till end-December, so that took care of my daily milk supply. The local kirana shop owner told me the same thing, so I could continue to buy daily stuff like bread, eggs and the like. The gas delivery boy proudly showed off his new debit card swiper and his ability to use it. My maid cheerfully told me that I could pay her salary after a couple of weeks. In turn, I helped her out by buying her groceries and veggies on-line. Even my local barber accepted on-line payment for my monthly haircut.

No doubt there are predators who will exploit the situation and prey on the helpless, as there always are. No doubt there are people who curse and suffer. No doubt every Indian citizen has been hit by Modi’s DeMo bombshell. But the vast majority of the people I know are solidly on Modi’s side. No question about it.

While there are people who question the government’s implementation, and perhaps rightly so, few question the government’s intention.

Is Modi’s move right or wrong? Will it eradicate black money? Remove corruption? Frankly, I do not know. I’m not an economist. My auditor and the few bankers and economists I do know tell me that Modi is on the right track.

I fondly hope so. But let me tell you what I feel as a layman.

Modi has guts.

I’m not a BJP man. Not a left-liberal either. Definitely not a political analyst. Certainly not an economist. And most certainly not a presstitute. Just another long-suffering tax-paying Brahmin who has become inured since forty years to politicians who talk a lot, fill up their own coffers at my expense, and do nothing else.

This man is different.

Modi and his team must have known that they would be mercilessly attacked by their detractors. Modi must have known that his own job, credibility and career would be at stake. That they still went ahead with their plan indicates that they know what they’re doing. And this is only the beginning, Modi tells us.

To me, that looks like a man who has the courage of his convictions. He will act, while other men just talk.

I’m not entirely convinced about what he did and what he might do in the future. But for the first time, we see here a politician who is unafraid of administering the bitter pill and the swift kick on the rear that our country sorely needs.

Right or wrong, he will do what he has to do. And for that, he has my respect.

What will happen in the days ahead? Will India’s financial Augean stables get a thorough cleansing? Will this usher an era of prosperity? Will India arise at last to take her rightful place amongst the nations of the world? Will I prove my doctors wrong and actually live past the age of sixty?

Only time will tell. But for now, I can tell you this.

This man is different.

Is PM mein dum hai.