Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Snakes and Ladders – Gita Mehta – A Review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on June 16, 2009

When will a current event start losing its sheen of contemporaneity and begin to be treated as a historical event? Author and historian, Ramachandra Guha suggests that there has to be atleast a time gap of two decades before one begins to start looking at an event through the lenses of history. There are many justifiable reasons for allowing of this mandatory passage of time – the prime being that the ramifications of the occurrence of any event start to become clearer for observation, analysis and meaningful commentary only after approximately two decades. This proviso is particularly relevant when writing about the modern history of a country – especially a country like India which had a long, unbroken continuity in its history with tumultuous developments towards the last hundred years.

I have noticed that authorial positions while writing about India gravitate to either end of a pendulum swing – a sentimental adoration or pitiable sympathy. The writings are almost always at the extremes –  praising the hoary past, culture, traditions and garnered wisdom or condemning the modern day destitution, inequities, wasted opportunities – accompanied with chidings normally heaped on a defiant upstart having a mind of her own. Looks like India does not allow for middle grounds. Every nation goes through waves of aspirational highs facilitated by a fortuitous culmination of favourable events and the bursting forth of exceptional individuals on the scene. India is no exception to this. India’s independence movement was one such epoch when the nation’s aspirational maxima was at its pinnacle.  Today, India is once again at its aspirational maxima with immense hopes pinned on the possibility of progress, development, improved standards of living and a desire for a respectable place among the comity of nations. That such a turn of events would be possible was beyond the realms of any sane person’s reasonable belief just a couple of decades ago – certainly not when I was growing up. Surprisingly, there are few books dealing with these decades available for the consumption of general readers like me. Gita Mehta‘s “Snakes and Ladders” is one such book that I read in the recent past covering the developments in India during the seventies through early nineties. The nature of writing and the content it covers positions the book between journalistic writing and historical commentary. As time passes it inevitably would lean more towards the latter

Written with a sense of passion, pride, love, umbrage, understanding, balance and a dash of despair and concern, “Snakes and Ladders” is an endearing book not just for its content but for the personal significance it has for readers of my age. Many of the events and people touched upon in this book have been newsmakers and part of our growing up. Mehta manages to portray the outlook of a nation on aspects related to its politics – especially the impulses to defend democracy against odds, policy blunderings, aspirations, constraints, events, trials and tribulations of its citizens with immense zest. Shorn of undue glorification and imbued with a sense of optimism and hope for the nation, Mehta makes her writing balanced, fascinating and convincing. Mehta comes out as an uncannily prescient writer for her predictions on the stability of Indian democratic and pluralistic traditions. All in all “Snakes and Ladders” is a very enjoyable read and I would recommend it for any one who is interested in getting a glimpse of the convulsions related to the making of modern India

As an aside: Mehta speaks about G.V.Desani‘s “All About H. Hatterr” with highest admiration – giving me enough fillip to do read this book that I have been planning to for a while now

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