while his status as a novelist seems to protect him from intrusive literary flourishes.
Deb grew up in northeastern India and only left the country in his late twenties to study in America. This book, therefore, is not a returnee’s quest for lost roots, but a personal enquiry that holds immersion and detachment in a fine balance. The stickiest part of the book is the introduction, which seems to be about to launch us into post-colonial liminality by raising the question of real and fake ‘identity’; but the threat soon recedes and the rest of the book is admirably grounded, telling stories of ‘the collateral damage of progress’ and giving us a stark vision of the filth, clutter and sheer lawlessness of much of everyday India. Deb is as willing to describe a pile of rubble as a picturesque landscape, and has no apparent interest in romanticising either India’s past or its present.
The book highlights just how few Indians have been enriched by the software boom – a million or so out of a billion. Around a quarter of the population still remains deadeningly poor, despite working extremely hard to survive. Deb is interested in migrant factory workers, aspiring call-centre wallahs and management graduates, and makes no attempt to flatter anyone, even himself. He willingly confesses his own weaknesses,
recounting how he became unexpectedly jealous of one young apprentice tycoon, and how easily he could be tr icked on occasion. He also manages to maintain his moral neutrality through complex storylines, especially concerning the plight of farmers ruined by fluctuations in the pr ice of the red sorghum they had grown under contract.
Deb, like Guha, is short on answers, but the insights he delivers into India’s current social and economic make-up are, refreshingly, based on pukka history and therefore that much more valuable. He shows us that India’s new economy sits squarely on top of the old, with today’s technical education based on the old Nehruvian system. And while computer boffins may be the new Brahmins, many of them are actually the old Brahmins. Such points are generally overlooked by those keen to promote the newness of the new India, and Deb generally offers a shrewder, more humane perspective than most travelogues. Neither of these mosaics yields a full picture of modern India – the tesserae are sometimes ill-matched and too f ar apart. But the ant’s-eye view of the present assembled by Deb has rather more to teach us about India than Guha’s bird’s-eye view from the past. To order these books, see LR bookshop on page 16
P R I Z E
C R O S S W O R D ACROSS1Butler’s novel Japanese drama used to receive
backing (7) 5 Clerical worker’s principle (5) 8 Shade escaped from Hell (5) 9 Boast about volume presented to relative (5) 10 Hardy heroine’s leading article on play by Jean
Giraudoux (5) 14 Container for water in cafeteria (7) 16 Rapid force (5) 17 Girl crossing river for sacred object (5) 18 Some expeditions make issue (7) 22 Develops some discolouration, we hear (5) 25 Picture one wise man (5) 26 British poet passed port around university (5) 27 Airy spirit, one involved in Lear, oddly (5) 28 Choose artist to portray complex character (7) DOWN 1 Onomatopoeic nymph silenced by Hera with one
This month, Penguin are generously offering a copy of BritainandIreland’s BestWildPlaces:500EssentialJourneysby Christopher Somerville to each of the five winners of the competition. Send your entries to 44 Lexington Street, London W1F 0LW by 15 June. Last month’s winners, who will each receive a copy of InSearchofaMasterpiece:TheArt Lover’sGuidetoGreatBritainandIreland, by Christopher Lloyd (Thames & Hudson), are: Mrs D Pope of Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex, Mrs Judy Aitken of Lancaster, Chris Wallace of London, Peter Baird of Southwell, Nottinghamshire, and Karen Carpenter of Maidstone, Kent.
SolutiontotheMaypuzzle: ACROSS: 1 Teach, 6 Pantheon, 7 Helm, 9 Rue, 10 Spam, 12 Abroad, 13 Foetid, 15 Thomas, 16 Libido, 18 Flog, 20 Lev, 21 Alph, 22 Atheists, 23 Let on. DOWN: 1 The Heart Of, 2 Calm, 3 Anne of Cleves, 4 Chaste, 5 Goya, 6 Paradise Lost, 8 Largo, 11 Midlothian, 14 Trial, 16 Magnet, 19 Lute, 21 Acme.
note (6) 2 Editor adding note to a collection of Norse poems (4) 3 One entertaining crowd (4) 4 Seven sons ne’er involved with lines from Lear (8,5) 5 Spanish wine’s ok in France... (4) 6 ... where we show common sense? (4) 7 Where cricketer practises catches (4) 11 Latticed cover for RoomAtTheTop(5) 12 Ornamental groove in champagne glass (5) 13 Tragic priestess showed her love (4) 15 Area of ancient city in Israel (4) 19 Fantastic location for one to come out of the closet? (6) 20 Enthusiastic return for opera singer (4) 21 On reflection, I’d accepted the French surrealist (4) 22 Ringer for Brontë? (4) 23 Peter’s unharmed (4) 24 Novel diet found to be correct (4)
LITERARY REVIEW June 2011