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Of ordinary lives with extraordinary spirit

Monday, April 02, 2012

Beautiful country (Stories from another India) by Syeda Hameed and Gunjan Veda is a collection of travel experiences from many parts of this wonderful sub-continent, which, with all limitations of one-sample-cannot-represent-the-whole, happen to astounding in their frankness and anecdotal tone. Lighthearted but of rare depth, objectivity tempered with compassion.

As Nobel laureate Amartya Sen recommends, ‘It is quite remarkable that Syeda Hameed, a leading figure in Indian planning, joined a young – and very gifted – journalist, Gunjan Veda, to produce this wonderful book about Indian people and their problems and concerns, observed minutely across the country, with sympathy, curiosity,  and solidarity. The book may have been generated by Syeda’s frustration with distant planning, but is a great observational introduction to India.’

The jacket describes it even more beautifully – A woman and a girl set out to see India, lugging the baggage of their pasts, on a journey towards understanding the country. From the abandoned tea estates of Jalpaiguri to the crowded bylanes of Varanasi, from the pristine forests of the Andamans to the seething valley of Manipur, from the scattered habitations of Ladakh to the flooded villages of Barmer – these are the roads less traveled.

At the Powerloom Service Centre, the general neglect was evident… The beams of the building were coated with thick white fluff, dust which had congealed in dense forms along them. We could imagine the fluff-infested lungs of the powerloom workers and their family members who lived and worked in this lethal environment. We felt a sympathetic constriction in our own lungs.

The workers voiced their feelings: ‘Although 12.5 lakh out of 19 lakh powerlooms in the country are in Malegaon, not a single ordinary weaver was benefited from the government schemes.’ ‘The rate of taxation in Malegaon is the highest in the state. The Maharashtra government gives 40 per cent subsidy to industries in areas like Ichalkarangi but Malegaon gets nothing.’

This story is identifiable because it is closer to home. But the book has many other such truths revealed in their stark poignancy. They compel you to experience the hope and despair, misery and triumph, failures and innovations of another India – an India that does not make it to the front pages of newspapers, and has not been captured by the roving cameras of the 24x7 media channels – an India that remains invisible to most Indians.

Beautiful Country by Syeda Hameed and Gunjan Veda Price Rs.399

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