Indian Encounters 1977-2012
Penguin books India2013
As the title indicates, the book under review gives you a peep into the real India and its people as seen and observed by Ian Jack through the three decades of his work as a reporter.
In the Prologue ‘Mufussil Days’, the author expresses his ignorance about the country when he arrived in Delhi but as he stayed on its diversity aroused his curiosity and it proved to be a learning experience for him as a British journalist. He writes ‘ With India come particular dangers for the British journalist.The widespread use of English means that the journalist can condescend to its local adaptation –‘He is out of station /taking bath/not on his seat’—and in this way overemphasize a cultural quaintness about India that may be just as present in, say, China, but undiscovered there by the non linguist because of the barrier erected by Mandarin.’ The words ‘village’ and ‘countryside’ he says in Britain ,both have desirable connotations, as places to escape to, whereas in India they suggest places to be escaped from, as they were in eighteenth –century England.
The contents are divided into five parts—PlACES; PEOPLE ; THE DYNASTY;LIFE AND DEATH; and FELLOW TRAVELLERS.
Most of Ian’s Indian encounters written during 1970s and 1980s were about political events,which in those days involved Mrs.Gandhi and her two sons though only a small portion of them are included in the book.
The author’s search for places begins with trying to locate George Orwell’s birth place-the small town of Motihari in Bihar and the chapter ends on an ambiguous note. He associates Calcutta with intellectuals and the subsequent chapter aptly titled ‘ Bombay:The Loot Attracts the Looter’ says it all about this bubbling metropolis.
When you read the opening of ‘The Foreign Travails of Mrs.Jhabvala’ you feel the author is writing about a western traveler’s first impression of India but subsequently you come to know it is the feeling of displeasure bordering on contempt of the fifty-three old woman Mrs.Jhabvala who spent twenty four years of her life in the country, married an Indian and raised three children here. The amends she made later couldn’t undo what she had expressed.
The most interesting chapter is under PART FIVE titled ‘The Mystery of the Caves’ where the author talks about David Lean choosing a place between Mysore and Bangalore to shoot his film, ‘A passage to India’ and says how he circumvented all rules and tampered with nature to go ahead to make artificial caves where none existed.
The Epilogue ‘From Major to Minor’ is again captivating for the character Ian meets who later becomes his friend. You come to know he is not a military major but a traveling salesman for Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company who could don different roles and lie his way if the situation required.
The book is indeed a journey told by a journalist/reporter in a lucid and unbiased way.
n.meera raghavendra rao