HT Picks: The most interesting books of the week
A book that looks at life along the old Radcliff line, another on sugar, and one on secret dealsbooks Updated: Aug 23, 2017 22:26 IST
In July 1947, British barrister Cyril Radcliffe was summoned to New Delhi and given five weeks to draw, on the map of the subcontinent, two zigzagged lines that would decide the future of one-fifth of the human race.
One line, 553 kilometres long, created the province of West Punjab; the other, adding up to 4,096 kilometres, carved out a province called East Bengal. Both territories joined the new-born nation of Pakistan - an event called the Partition of India, which saw one million people being butchered and another 15 million uprooted from their homes.
While enough and more has been written about the horrors of Partition, what of the people who actually inhabit the land though which these lines run?
Curiosity drives Bishwanath Ghosh into journeying along the Radcliffe line - through the vibrant greenery of Punjab as well as the more melancholic landscape of the states surrounding Bangladesh - and learning, first hand, of life on the border. Recording his encounters and experiences in luminous prose, Gazing at Neighbours is a narrative of historical stocktaking as much as of travel.*
Prior to 1600, sugar was a costly luxury, the preserve of the rich. But with the rise of the European colonies in the Americas in the seventeenth century, sugar became cheap, ubiquitous and hugely popular - an everyday necessity.
As recently as the 1970s, very few people suggested that sugar posed a global health problem; yet today, sugar is regularly denounced as a dangerous addiciton, on a par with tobacco, and the cause of a global obesity epidemic. While sugar consumption remains higher than ever - in some countries as high as 50kg per head per year - some advertisements proudly proclaim that their product contains no sugar. Sugar, while still clearly much loved, has taken on a pariah status.
Sugar grown by enslaved workers - people who had been uprooted and shipped vast distances to undertake the gruelling, intensive labour on plantations - brought about revolutionary changes in the landscape of the sugar colonies while transforming the tastes of the Western world.
Only now is the extensive ecological harm caused by sugar plantation s being fully recognised, but it is the brutal human cost, from the first slave gangs in sixteenth-centruy Brazil, through to indentured Indian labourers in Fiji, the Japanese in Hawaii or the ‘South Sea Islanders’ shipped to Australia in the late nineteenth century, that has struck us most forcibly in the recent past.
We can only fully understand our contemporary dietary concerns with regard to sugar by coming to terms with the relationship between society and sweetness over a long historical span dating back two centuries to a time when sugar was vital to the burgeoning European domestic and colonial economies. This is exactly what Walvin helps us to do.*
What if the way we understand our world is wrong? What if it isn’t politicians and events that shape our lives, but secret deals made by people you’ve never heard of?
This book tells the story of the secret deals that are changing the world, and revolutionising everything we do, including money, the food we eat, what we buy and, and the drugs we take to stay well. These deals never make the news: They are made high up in boardrooms, on golf courses, and in luxury cars, each sealed by a handshake. This is the story of these world-changing handshakes.*
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*All text taken from book flaps.
First Published: Aug 23, 2017 22:14 IST