someday ill be in company of all....

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review: Age of Kali by William Darlymple

Title: Age of Kali:Indian Travels and encounters
Author: William Darlymple
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 408
Price: Rs 399
ISBN: 9780143031093
Genre: Travel / Non-fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Source: Borrowed

Buy Age of Kali from
Buy Age of Kali from

I read this book just after my secondary final exams some 10 years back, though William Darlymple is one of my favorite authors, the book did not impress me a it did back then.Age of Kalyug is a post independent India's modern face.
The book is not a travelogue ,but it also includes his encounters with people from different walks and different circumstances..Travelling, he doesn't stop with India but extends his visit to adjoining countries like  Pakistan and Sri Lanka with all its social unrest..
The book was written in late 90's and 90,s were indeed historic for India in terms of economic liberalization, series of nuclear tests that put India in the forefront, IT boom with many job opportunities,yet like two sides of the coin, there were events in the country that was quite contradictory to the positive events and somehow the book captures more of the grayer dull part of the coin.

That being said, Age of Kali refers to the final era as per Hindu scriptures wherein the world age is divided into four,viz., Satya, Treta, Dvapara and finally Kali yuga. Yuga means era. Kaliyug is believed to be apocalyptic age. It is believed that during this period human race would go down the lane of degeneration in terms spiritual being, social confusion, with moral sensibility to nil.In short it is the dark age of the era. And it is this dark age that Darlymple has captured. Though the history part and his experience stays,  the current events described in the books are bit outdated hence I had an urge to browse fast than read.

Darlymple effortlessly paints the multifaces of India ( all negative side) through the lanes of old  Lucknow bringing alive the gone by Mughal era and the Nawabs who are still caught in the web of  gone by days, the palatial houses, colleges housed in old buildings that are on the verge of destruction all paints a dark state of affair of the beautiful history transformed into tattered present,moving through the northeast frontiers, to Bodhgaya where Lor Budha had his enlightenment  are now guarded by the protection force for the safety of tourists.Later through Gwalior's history and cultural improvishment to the land of Deorala famous for sati (wife killing herself upon husbands death) incident.. Rajputs ruling over the underprivileged in the name of caste are the major points he notes.. He also observes the  dawn of a powerful middlewho are financially independent and well educated on a middle class and their struggle to lead a better life..
I felt that chapter on Sri Lanka, Pakistan could have been made into another independent book that would have ..But when it comes down to India and history you can see the magic of Darlymple all through the book.
What sets Darlymple apart from the crowd of foreign travelers through India is in his keen observational skills which is entwined with his  research , he also tries to compare and contrasts the relevance to the present among which few are convincing few may not.. Many facts are outdated and might sound bit boring..

The main problem with the book is when Darlymple tries to generalize, for instance Bangalore is not about the MNC food outlets or Miss India contest agitations nor people like Shobha De or Baba Sehgal represent the mass of then Bombay..I was surprised when Vrindavan was given an image of a place filled with abandoned and outcast widows, though that is one part but not the major one...The book fails to give a comprehensive picture of a place.Though Darlymple has tried to go beyond the people who hit headline by interviewing the widows, LTTE female wing leader in Srilanka, still somwhow I felt at many places he has failed to feel the pulse of the place by giving more importance to the circumstances he was subject to rather than the what people of the place were subject to.. The X factor that that made him my favourite author is missing in this one..

Through his journey he also happens to meet Laloo Prasad  and getting him some politically correct questions and stays diplomatic through out out..His rendezvous with Rajmata to Benazir Bhutto when onto till Imran Khan in Pakistan.
Like I said before through cultural clashes, caste discrimination, illiteracy in-equality down the social hierarchy reader starts feeling bad about everything ..One good thing is his zeal for his work,he would go to any extend in the pursuit to find his subject and talk to any kind of people for the same..But then why Darlymple couldn't find any goodness around.. This is a stark contradiction from a man who has been able to  find the different edge ad midst all unconventional situations...
In final chapters of reunion Darlymple moves to Srilanka and Pakistan... Pakistan was a part of India but then Sri lanka has been independent way too early even through mythology of project save Sita in Ramayana so then why was it all brought together..I couldn't agree with the author's nod to the Mandal commission that according to me turned India upside down in the name of caste for the sake vote banks..darlymples's venture through drug showers of North-west frontier is totally commendable..
The only point that brought smile across my face was the section that had a description of a  festival in Madurai, you can feel Darlymple's signature through the portrayal, be it the crowd or the set up around.

His book is an effort of comparison and description of  the domestic, ethnic, imperial, social and cultural changes through ages.The book paints more of the dull grey picture of the country and in spite of all the short comings I would still recommend this book But do  not take this book way too seriously as it has not aged gracefully..So go for The last Mughal and The white Mughal by the same author.

1 comment:

  1. It is interesting that some things that impressed us when we were younger not have lost their luster a bit.

    Your comment about the incomplete picture reminds me of some National Geographic articles I used to read. Though an excellent magazine, some of the pieces seemed to explore a region or city in a hodgepodge, incomplete way.


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