Rhodes-trained Sanjeev Sanyal is a seasoned writer. He has seven books under his belt, the latest one being 'India In The Age of Ideas'.
I have one thing common with Sanjeev Sanyal, sorry two. Khan Market in Delhi and lakes in South Kolkata which are the ideal hub for conversations and lovers, in that way. I doubt if the Principal Economic Advisor in Narendra Modi’s Finance Ministry will have time to visit both because of his work pressure but the fact that he remembers about these two unique spots in two historically important cities is a wonderful thing, wonderful feeling.
Rhodes-trained Sanyal is a seasoned writer. He has seven books under his belt, the latest one being India In The Age of Ideas. It’s an interesting compilation of articles. Sanyal wrote for various publications for nearly 12 years. He started writing those columns in 2006, a year when Somalia and Ethiopia braced for war and India and Russia desired the Iran issue to be resolved through talks. That was also the year when Manu Sharma was convicted in the Jessica Lal murder case and acquittals in Priyadarshini Mattoo case raised a huge public outcry.
India In The Age Of Ideas has 66 articles, the subjects so varied that would put a seasoned newshound to shame. The economist-turned-urban theorist Sanjeev Sanyal explores a whole range of new ways to think about India and its place in the world. Unlike many economists who routinely plug content on immediate concerns and politics of the day, Sanyal takes many steps forwards. His articles showcase narratives and raises vital questions. I loved many, especially the one in which he argues Our History Books Need Rewriting. This is a contentious one, especially because of the current BJP and Congress slugfest over some states trying to rework history books to hype the life and times of Hindu kings, and also right wing nationalists like Sardar Vallab Bhai Patel. But a crafty Sanyal takes a totally different path, he — it’s brilliantly researched — talks about what he calls an absurd imbalance and questions why historians forgot to write about the famous Ahom kings of Assam, or, for that matter, the great Satavahana, Vijayanagara or Chola empires of Southern states. Sanyal also gives examples of how the extraordinary history of Indian science is similarly ignored, or deliberately downplayed. In short, he tore apart mainstream historians who “built grand stories on wobbly evidence”.
In the chapter on India’s Forgotten Genocide, Sanyal reminds Indians about the brutal massacre of hundreds of thousands in East Pakistan, that eventually triggered the liberation war and paved the way for the birth of a new nation, Bangladesh. It’s a pity that neither Indian government, nor the Indian Army thought of celebrating the great victory over Pakistan, it would have been wonderful if soldiers of the Indian Army could travel back on the same Jessore Road to reach Bangladesh to remind people of two neighbouring nation what the war meant for Bangladesh, and for India, and more importantly, for Bengal’s economy which bore the burnt of offering home to millions of refugees.
Indian bureaucrats have often been criticised for being politically correct. Sanyal breaks the glass ceiling with his immensely readable articles which contain some very, very tough questions. He is a Tambourine Man with a pen, he writes about issues Indians need to be aware of, Indians need to understand, and follow. He raises some very basic and simple issues which are routinely seen, and routinely forgotten. Take the example of drainage networks which are arteries of the city. Sanyal brilliantly argues how Indian cities lack proper drainage networks, something that needs to be changed immediately but no government does anything about it. He wants the state governments in India to follow the examples of Singapore and Seoul. Will the state governments wake up and smell the coffee (read tea). The answer is a Big No. I remember his book being discussed at a recent meeting of the Tata Trusts whose Mission Garima works with manual scavengers who work in very, very difficult circumstances. It’s all about drainage system and the ills associated with it. So when will the Babus in the ministries discuss it?
Sanyal does not always argue for the cities, he also raises questions on the impact growing urbanisation is having on India’s environment, and in turn, impacting its animals. The big debate on man-animal conflict has still not been answered by India’s planners, we still struggle to create elephant corridors, we still push tigers into stress because habitats are sprouting fast around reserve forests. I remember my visit to Philibhit where tigers turned man-eaters because villagers were routinely walking into their habitats for firewood and fruits. And the local administration did nothing.
What are the chances that this brilliant book is recommended as mandatory read in schools and colleges across India? Let the marketing team of Amazon Westland strike some deals. If not all schools, let this book be sold to students of management schools across India. Let them read about India, and its ideas. A wonderful read.