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


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