Book: Post Haste : Quintessential India
Author: BG Verghese
Price: Rs 1295
The idea of India, in these politically charged times, is a phrase much bandied about. The words “polarisation” and “divisive” were as much a staple of campaign speeches as they are of TV discussions and newspaper columns. What better time, then, to publish books about India?
But Post Haste is not just another book on India. The work of veteran journalist BG Verghese, it is a quaint attempt to rediscover the subcontinent as a civilisation and give a sense of its post-colonial history through the accompanying visuals of postage stamps. While it is no mean task to achieve this in a few hundred pages, Verghese pulls it off with the ease of an editor-scholar and imparts tiny doses of critical context to the idea of India.
At the same time, Post Haste is not an in-depth academic text and makes no such claim either. As it clearly states, it is a “thumbnail account of India” which tells young people and their elders things they never learnt at their mother’s knees and whets their appetite to know more.
It begins with the history of writing and communication, illustrated by a stamp of Shakuntala writing a letter to Dushyanta. The rest is a blend of anthropology, natural history, medieval and modern Indian history, liberally strewn with nuggets of trivia and nostalgia. The gentle editorial interventions by Verghese affix a sense of proportion to events.
Are we witnessing some kind of euthanasia of the Parsis, he asks, referring to the falling numbers of the community and its orthodox rules. The condition of Indian Muslims is unsatisfactory and attempts to change it for the better is not appeasement. But we must move on to equal opportunity and equal citizenship from minorityism and from secularism to fraternity, he says.
The battle against untouchability is, shamefully, yet to be won. The scourge of scavenging is yet to disappear. Victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots still await justice. Employment and elimination of poverty have not kept pace with growth. But if high rates of growth can be restored and sustained over the next two decades, India should be rid of destitution. Nation-building is never done. Pluralism and multiculturalism is part of India’s way of life and while localism and bigotry have not been unknown, the genius of India has been its eclecticism and accommodation.
Each of these thoughts can be the subject of a book in itself and Post Haste creates a strong craving to dig deeper. Rather glaringly, though, Verghese does not even broach India’s last decade under UPA rule. Now is that his way of indicating that the so-called lost decade is a speck of history that does not matter in the larger scheme of things? If only Verghese were not in such haste, we would not have to read between the lines.