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Sunday, Aug 18, 2019

Roshen Dalal’s book, India at 70, explores India’s history through popular culture

Author Roshen Dalal says popular culture is part of history of India and sometimes defines it, too.

books Updated: Aug 19, 2017 20:14 IST
Henna Rakheja
Henna Rakheja
Hindustan Times
In her book, Roshen Dalal chronicles the years from 1947 to 2017.
In her book, Roshen Dalal chronicles the years from 1947 to 2017.

From actors Dev Anand to Shah Rukh Khan and legendary dancer Uday Shankar to musician Ali Akbar Khan — there’s a brief introduction to almost everyone in this history book by author Roshen Dalal. So, if you thought that history books are boring, think again, and pick up India at 70.

The 71 chapters in this book, chronicling the years from 1947 to 2017 took about a year, and Dalal tried her best to incorporate everything significant. “My plan was to bring out a new book, which would have a very easy format,” says the author, who has already written a book — The Puffin History of India Volume II — on the post independence period.

“But that is a narrative that goes into a lot of detail and depth. So, the idea was to bring out a different kind of book that gives us the essential political and historical aspects, and at the same time, puts in a lot more. Also, it was to start looking at history differently. Instead of just reading the history of ruling groups or the political leaders, I wanted to bring out the history of the many people who have contributed to the country. Of course, I could select only a few out of the thousands who have contributed to the new India,” adds Dalal, who has been based in Dehradun for the last four years.

Cover of the book, India at 70.
Cover of the book, India at 70.

It is, however, her style to highlight the popular changes in Indian history that catches attention. “I also wanted to bring out how there’s a cultural change going on, which is independent of the political changes. There are continuously new aspects of dance, music and literature, which are not related to what’s happening in the politics of the country. In the latter part of the book, you will see how classical dance has been changing - wearing different costumes or even ordinary clothes at times. Then, how media has changed art with video related artists coming up, and how new and young singers, for example Ginni Mahi, a young Dalit singer has taken Punjab by storm. These are some of the things which represent India, which are not generally found in history books. And, I think it’s time we start changing the way we look at history.”

But deciding on who and what to include was a herculean task. “It was extremely difficult and to some extent it had to be a personal choice but to bring in some of the key things that were popular, a whole lot had to be left out. Like I would have loved to include far more about regional cinema.”

Though printed in black and white, the book has alluring illustrations by Sayan Mukherjee such as that of Dev Anand and a scene from filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977). “I personally chose the samples and provided them for illustrations because I wanted not just the face but a little more that gave a character to the person,” says Dalal.

But a poster of the film Mr India is what surprises in this list. “I have a soft corner for more realistic cinema. Certain films had extrme popularity or were huge box office hits, otherwise I haven’t liked them so much. So, its not always a personal choice,” she confesses.

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First Published: Aug 19, 2017 20:14 IST

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