Author: Laura Pedersen
Publisher:Fulcrum Publishingg

ISBN-10: 155591618X

ISBN-13: 978-1555916183

               An Authentic Picture of a Changing Subcontinent

Being Indian born and bred, although I live in Europe, I am always curious to know what is being said by Westerners about their experience of India. Especially the India of today, an India that has long been rooted in the past, and which now has mobile services and broadband Internet services even in remote villages, so that the entire global community is accessible only a few clicks away. An India straddling the unlikely extremes of a self-reliant people, used to taking individual responsibility for their personal lives, and a corrupt, political elite, lacking both the will and the capacity to govern, being more interested in lining their own pockets. I wondered if any writer could correctly capture the essence of a deeply spiritual folk in the process of a transition to a modern society ready to take center stage as a global decision making entity.

In this effort, Laura Pedersen does not disappoint. Not in the least. Despite ridiculing many prestigious institutions, customs and people, (Gandhi, both M.K. and Indira), she uses her considerable journalistic skills and wit in this book to maintaining a healthy balance between irreverence and outright disrespect, while deciphering how and in what circumstances, ordinary Indians live, breathe and have their being in the modern India of today.

Starting with her childhood memories of what she had heard of India, Laura Pedersen goes on to describe her first visit to this ancient and distant land. She mentions the culture shock she underwent on coming out of Delhi airport, at the variety of vehicles on the streets, pedestrians, rickshaws, peddle-carts, oxen, goats, dogs, both three and four legged, and, of course, auto-rickshaws, cars and buses. She provides a panoramic view of life in India, especially urban India, interwoven with well chosen nuggets of history when appropriate. As far as cities go, Delhi, Agra, Bombay, Goa, Calcutta, Jaipur, Madras, Varanasi, Kochi and Puducherry find special mention among others. The religious landscape of the various faiths is mapped out in some detail, as are the author’s own reflections around the cult figures of M:K. Gandhi, J.L.Nehru, Indira Gandhi and J.Krishnamurti. Laura also provides her own take on various issues governing Indian life, e.g. the caste system, women empowerment, child education and female infanticide, to name a few, comparing them on occasion, to similar situations in the USA and Europe and displaying her considerable scholarship and faculties of understanding and interpreting social issues in the process. Despite being sensitive to signs of  condemnation and condescension from visitors to India from the developed world, I could not find a single instance of the same, while I found the originality of her interpretations on various issues, enticingly modern and refreshing. In addition, Laura’s  facts are watertight.

There is an amazing amount of information in this book that would be invaluable to anyone who is planning to travel to the subcontinent. Not only outsiders, but also native Indians could learn a thing or two, I myself learnt a few things. On the negative side, the language is a touch too rooted in lesser known celebrities from America, to appeal to a more international readership.

Even so, this book is worth reading. I warmly recommend it to all readers of

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