HT Picks; New Reads
The story of a people
Nepal, 1767. The tiny kingdom of Gorkha is on the ascendant under its ruler Prithvi Narayan Shah. Over the next few decades, his gorkhali army established a mighty kingdom, the borders of which extend from Kangra in the west to the Teesta river in the east. The territory encompasses a large part of present day Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and almost all of present day Nepal and Sikkim. When they were eventually reined in by the mighty British army in 1815, it sparks off a new engagement between the imperial power and Nepal. Impressed by the fighting abilities on display, the British army begins recruiting. The Gurkhas ( the prevalent spelling today) go on to serve with distinction in many theatres of war over the next hundred odd years. Their exploits in World War I and II earning them a number of bravery medals.
With Indian independence in 1947 comes further change: the Gurkhas are now split across three armies: The British, Indian and the Nepalese.
Ayo Gorkhali by Tim I Gurung, a former British Gurkha is the first work of history by a member of the community and brings alive the story of a people who have served flags other than their own with honour, even as they have attempted to keep their native warrior traditions alive in letter and spirit.
The history of the Gurkha servicemen is one that goes beyond soldiering and bravery – it is in equal measure a story of the resilient human spirt, and of a tiny community that carved for itself a niche in world history.*
Inventors of the future
The Simulmatics Corporation, founded in 1959, mined data, targeted voters, accelerated news, manipulated consumers, destabilized politics, and disordered knowledge – decades before Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Cambridge Analytics. Borrowing methods of psychological warfare from New York, Massachusetts, and the hamlets of Vietnam, Simulmatics deployed their ‘People Machine’ to predict and influence human behaviour for the presidential campaigns of Eisenhower and Kennedy, the New York Times, Mad Men ad firms and, most shockingly, the strategy of the Vietnam War. In the 1950s and 1960s these lost pioneers invented the future by building the machine in which the world now finds itself trapped and tormented, algorithm by algorithm.*
A pioneering assemblage
Indians have been writing prose and poetry in English for the past two centuries. Anthologies of these have appeared regularly, but it is difficult to come across a wide-ranging historical anthology of the Indian essay in English. This collection starts with Derozio in the 1820s and ends with writers admired for their prose in the twenty-first century.
This pioneering assemblage – of great Indian short prose within a single volume – is equally impressive for its range. The reflective essay, the luminous memoir, the essay disguised as a story, the memorable prefatory article, the newspaper column that transcends it humdrum origins, the gossip piece that oozes literariness, the forgotten flower in the long dead magazine, the satirical putdown – all these find place here.
A literary anthology also works as an alternative history. This volume resembles a map of middle class India’s social life and aesthetic sensibilities from hybrid perspectives – Indian and Western, feminine and masculine, anticolonial and anti nationalist. To be found in it are diverse characters in scattered locations – including Victorian Calcutta, modern America, village Egypt, cloistered Oxford, feudal Kerala, cosmopolitan Bombay, Lutyens’ Delhi, Buddhist Benares, Civil Lines Allahabad, and small-town India.
The essays amuse, surprise, edify. The feeling and ideas in them provoke thought, compassion, and a sense of the wonder that was India.*
*All copy from book flap.