Generally the prospect of wading through a book that professes to deal with the social, economic, cultural, religious and political aspects of India (or for that matter any other country) is daunting enough to send a shiver coursing through one’s spine; such books are usually given as birthday presents to people whom we dislike or want to get back at. But In Spite Of The Gods: The Strange Rise Of Modern India by Edward Luce does not fall into that category. In fact, simply expressed, the book is awesome.
Firstly it is eminently readable. The words ripple along, carrying you away in their delightful flow. One by one the author takes up subjects as complex and varied as the duality of India’s economy, the layers of corruption in India’s bureaucracy, the shifting caste equations, the rise of fundamentalism and terrorism and the peculiar mix of orthodoxy and modernity in Indian social life – and not once does the reader get weary or feel benumbed. Luce does not swamp the pages with a horde of statistics, but rather he simplifies concepts, his style is anecdotal, and the account is often humorous.
Throughout the book, like many(though by no means all) British authors, Edward Luce maintains a strict impartiality in his observations and is guarded in his judgments. But whenever required he doesn’t pull punches, as in categorically stating that Pakistan’s nuclear program is Chinese sponsored, or in defining the role played by Mr. Modi’s government in the Gujarat riots. While lauding the rise of the Indian economy, he is also careful to point out that to make the economic growth sustainable and inclusive, a huge reform of the polity and the bureaucracy is required. Coming from a foreigner, the book is surprising in its insights – it may have helped that the author’s wife is an Indian. And throughout the book his empathy with the Indian people and their way of life is apparent.
I couldn’t find any fault with the book, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone, foreign or Indian, who wishes to get a feel of modern India.
My Verdict: 5/5