Having just spent two months in India it was great to pick up a current interpretation of where this country finds itself in 2007. Shashi Tharoor is a well-respected writer on the international scene and he balances his love of his own country with some pretty sharp judgements and analysis on where it could, and should, do better by its people.
Tharoor’s life experience (he was the youngest undersecretary general of the UN when appointed), exposure to the cultures of other countries (he currently lives in the US) and ability to see India as an outsider as well as a native, provide this book with a wealth of anecdotal stories and a depth of context. Tharoor also provides counterpoints to his arguments by quoting letters of outrage and frustration from Raj-Singh-average at articles he has written in the past. One amusing example is where he received a massive feminist backlash after writing a piece bemoaning the death of the sari.
This book is divided into thematic sections such as Ideas of Indianness, Indians at Work and Play, Experiences of, and the Transformation of, the Indian way of life. There is also a biographical section where Tharoor devotes a chapter each to fourteen Indians who made a significant contribution to forming India into the country he admires today and makes for much more personal and conducive reading than some of the dry historical coverage available in some of the travel guides I read for my trip research.
It is possible to dip into this book at random, and chapter titles alone (India, Jones, and the Temple of Dhoom, The Spy Who Came in From the Heat, Cops and Jobbers, Salad Daze) show the author has a sense of fun. The only bad thing I can say about this book is that it was too heavy to drag around the country with me and I had to wait for my return to finish reading it.
For anyone who wants to get know this emerging super power on a personal and more friendly level, this book is the best choice amongst the current offerings.