In this, the first Sunday Sentiments of 2013, I’m going to write about the three books I recommend you read. Out of the many I’ve started — and the even greater number I’ve left unfinished — these three truly stand out. I hope it might tempt you to try them yourself.
Two of them are biographies, a genre I find most enjoyable. These, however, are exceptional. The first is Zareer Masani’s slim but revealing and insightful work on Macaulay. Written in his usual highly readable style, Masani presents a portrait of a man we know little about but owe a lot to — far more than most of us realise and many are prepared to concede.
As the cover says, “If you’re reading this book in English it’s probably because of Thomas Macaulay.” A simple but telling acknowledgement of his famous minute on education which, though undoubtedly disparaging of Indian science and philosophy, literature and religion, is the reason why India has such strength in English. To use Macaulay’s own words, it created “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.” That, I would add, is the basis of our success in IT and why we fare so well when we work abroad.
Macaulay also gave us the Indian Penal Code. It’s lasted since 1862. And he played a significant role in the professionalisation of the Indian Civil Service (ICS). The institution of an entrance exam was his suggestion. The Indian Administrative Service we have today is a direct descendent. As the subtitle claims, Macaulay was definitely a “pioneer of India’s modernisation”.
The other biography is Arthur Herman’s eponymously named study of Gandhi and Churchill. I must admit I was surprised to find the two coupled together but this book reveals how much they influenced each other. Quite literally, what one man did was bound to provoke the other.
Two beguiling qualities of this book, apparent from its very first page, are the sympathy and understanding the author has for both men and the easy-flowing, literate and evocative style in which he’s written about them. Oh yes, there is a third too. The research. It’s full of wondrous detail but let me not say more for fear of revealing its glorious surprises and ruining your enjoyment.
This is, however, a big book and to make the most of it you need to give it both time and undivided attention. But if you do, the reward will be enriching.
The third book is very different. To begin with it’s a joy to behold. It comes in a purple velvet cover and you can spend hours ogling the sumptuous photographs it contains. It’s the perfect present but a trifle expensive if you’re the one making the gift!
Called Dining with the Maharajas, this is essentially a book of royal recipes but you don’t need to be an aspiring cook to want to own it. And if you are, there’s a very practical and detachable kitchen copy of recipes so you don’t ruin the book itself with your messy experimentation.
Let me, however, share a personal impression with you. The food looks scrumptious, if somewhat heavy, but the Maharajas and their ranis are clearly and, often, uncomfortably posing. That’s true of almost every photograph. They’re trying terribly hard to look the role, just in case time and lack of royal attention have made them proletarian! But that adds to the fun.
And so happy reading and, indeed, Happy New Year!
Views expressed by the author are personal