By far the most important book I read this year was Harish Damodaran’s India’s New Capitalists. In a world where there is less and less of what can be called original, Damodaran’s book builds on quite a novel space. He has studied 100 of the largest Indian companies and mapped their owners to caste groups. The result is a confirmation of what anyone in India knows- that caste is a determining factor in almost all spheres of life.
Damodaran’s study confirms that it is a handful of castes that form India’s capitalists. More significantly, he points out some of the changes that have taken place in the last 2 decades. In the South and Western India, there has been the rise of newer caste groups while the North and East have not seen a similar change in the nature of the controlling castes. Particularly in the North, the old networks of the marwaris and banias (which historically made up the ‘national bourgeoisie’, with a sprinkling of a few others like the Parsis) continue to hold sway. Very noteworthy is the rise of Brahmins and farming communities like the Kammas. Eight of the ten chapters deal with individual or a group of related castes from different regions in the country.
The book is incisive and though Damodaran does not mention its political fall-out, it is very clear that there is a certain ‘capitalism with Indian characteristics’ that has not been accounted for by Indian Marxists. The reasons are many, but I think prime among them is that Indian Marxist ideologues have had a reason to hide their own caste identity. The Indian Left, after all, primarily had leaders from the Brahmins + some locally dominant/ rising communities like the Kammas in Andhra Pradesh and the Jatts/Khatris in the Punjab.The Congress leadership came from the Brahmins and had the support of the traditional mercantile castes, a combination very similar to the BJP, though the Congress has a slightly broader composition and hence represented the Brahmin- Bania liberalism in contrast to the BJP’s brahmin- bania fascism.
Besides the choice and treatment of the subject, Damodaran’s book has a very readable text particularly the stories that he narrates about some of the new capitalists, often spanning generations.
Delhi Calmby Vishwajyoti Ghosh was a surprise read mainly because the subject chosen by the author is quite unconventional for its format. Ghosh narrates- part- fiction, part- history- the story of the Emergency imposed by Mrs Indira Gandhi in 1975. The narration is in the form of a graphic novel. It reminded me of the Amar Chitra Katha series that one read during school days. But it also reminded me of ‘Marx for Beginners’ as well as ‘A People’s History of the American Empire’, both being commendable attempts at bringing serious subjects to paper via the graphic medium. The author’s treatment of the Emergency is objective and the slow, narrative beginning grows towards the end into a cyclonic build up.
The Private Patientby PD James was on the whole, disappointing. I had much looked forward to read a PD James novel, and despite many interesting twists and turns and superb characterization, the novel is unlikely to make me jump on the next one by the baroness of English mystery novels. Too many characters and, I felt, too little information for the reader to feel involved and keep the excitement running through.
The Big Sleepby Raymond Chandler was a disappointment, except for the wonderful similes that Chandler is known for. As often, I was led to this American author by a Latin American novelist. American Visa by Juan de Recacechea, the first work by a Bolivian author I ever read, is a racy novel written in the popular style of Raymond Chandler, but with the serious theme of globalization (and immigration) at its core. I had to leave The Big Sleep midway, though made up for it by watching the 1946 film based on the novel and by the same name.
The Woman Who Walked into Doorsby Roddy Doyle is superb on craft, but perhaps the subject is not one that appeals to me, and hence the book joins the ‘partly read’ pile. I am not sure if and when I will return to it.
Another half- read novel was The Prospectorby Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, the French novelist who won the Nobel prize in 2009. I wanted to read Desert by Le Clezio, but that is still under translation, so landed on this since it had good reviews at Amazon. The book, however is a let down. Pages after pages of descriptive text are sparsely sprinkled with action and storytelling. It did increase my knowledge about Mauritius but other than than I’d rather read Joseph Conrad.
Some of the films I enjoyed this year- I am Cuba (Cuba- Russia), Run Lola Run (German), Mr and Mrs Iyer (Hindi), Machuca (Chile), Seraphine (German), Kabei- our mother (Japan), Food Inc, What are Dreams (BBC documentary), Welcome to Sajjanpur (Hindi- Shyam Benegal), Wild China (BBC documentary), Mahanagar (Bangla- Satyajit Ray), Blame it on Fidel (French), The Painted Veil, Pan’s Labyrinth (Chile), The Truman Show, Goodbye, Lenin ! (German), Ankahee (Hindi- Amol Palekar), The Pink Panther series, Woody Allen’s Love and Death, Rang de Basanti, some of Akira Kurosawa’s classics, Rashomon, The Hidden Fortress, Seven Samurai and Dreams, Silent Waters (Khamosh Paani), The Battle of Algiers, Rocket Singh, The Thief (Russian).
One more year, the seventh chronicled at this blog, has gone by. There has been even less reading than last year, and much fewer words on the blog as well. Nevertheless, I feel the lack of books was compensated, to some extent, by films, to the extent that films can compensate for reading.
I am still wondering why my reading has declined this year- perhaps it is the change in jobs, changes in my personal life, perhaps it is because of the Facebook phenomenon, or maybe, it hasn’t declined after all- it has merely changed its form, and greater online reading makes up for it.