"If you look at the important leaders, they were negotiating the relationship between the past and the present; not rejecting outright what was Indian and imitating the western," says the professor of South Asian History at the University of Massachusetts.
Her study takes in Gandhi, Rabindranath and Abanindranath Tagore, Nehru and Ambedkar, five of the country's founding fathers, and looks at how each turned to pre-colonial texts including the Gita in the case of Gandhi, the edicts of Emperor Ashoka for Nehru, and Buddhist literature in Ambedkar's case, to create an Indian sense of self.
Vajpeyi grapples with the big, exasperating questions about the origin of a modern nation: "Why was Gandhi able to capture popular imagination and yet, why was the Partition so violent? Why was Tagore opposed to nationalism?" That Vajpeyi answers these questions makes her book an important one.