‘In the beginning, there were two nations. One was a vast mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organised and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth. The other was underdeveloped, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The First Nation was India. The second was England.’
Alex Von Tunzelman begins her non fictional book on the summer that changed the shape of the subcontinent with a rather powerful punch line. Yes, India was a major contributor of the world economy before the British landed and then left it exhausted of all the resources. It was in ‘The Era of Darkness’ by Shashi Tharoor that I read the author referencing the book by Tunzelman and I had wanted to read it ever since. I read this book last year around the same time.
After a year when I look back at the book it reminds me exactly why I loved it so much!
On the cover is the most referenced photograph of Lord Mountbatten, Lady Edwina Mountbatten and Nehru himself. The summer that the author refers to in the book is rather pictorial on the cover. The photograph is intelligently chosen and the cover page is a no-nonsense design. The clean cut spine is what I like the most when I stayed shelved in the history section of the rack.
Tunzelman begins her book with a rather interesting prologue when she asserts the reason why the British decided to leave the land they had ravaged for 200 years. She says- ‘The British empire did not decline, it simply fell; it fell proudly and majestically on its own said.’
The British had just won the war but the war had left it exhausted of both money and men. It could no longer afford to keep running the country that was continuously proving to be notorious. They decided to leave the country to its poor natives. The date was decided and sword fell on the neck.
Tunzelman talks of the three main contributors to the Indian history of freedom- Gandhi, Nehru and Mountbatten. The author begins with Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi’s life is discussed explicitly, talking about his childhood and adolescence or rather the cure of it. Kasturibai comes into the family as the matriarch just when she is of thirteen years of age. The conflicting nature of their marital life, the subsequent separation when Gandhi left to study law sees a forms a major influence in the struggle for freedom. When Gandhi returned he was a gentleman but a nationalist. He was still forming his personal philosophy which he eventually mixed with the national stance. A person continuously undertaking experiments recognised the entire country as his field to play. There are some lesser discussed anecdotes from his life that the author fearlessly brings to life. Gandhi and Churchill remain the main area of discussion in the first part of the book.
Then enters Nehru. Another English educated law-man. He came an affluent lawyer family which held a rather high status in Allahabad. Tunzelman discusses the relationship between Nehru and Jinnah with a clear identifiable nakedness. Two men competing to be the head of the state which eventually lead to the fallout of the country, their political rivalry is traced step by step right from the formation of Muslim league and splitting of the county into two nations. Mountbatten, the Lady and Nehru become the trio who concentrated on the formation of the two nations with as much peace a the nation could keep. There was plenty of references of Indira Gandhi and how the Viceroy was considered her to be the part of the family. The complex relationship between the three important figures is discussed with much clarity.
The end, of course is the most painful one. The nation splits into two. Gandhi did what he did the best. His passive resistance against the partitioning of the nation did not help much. The world saw the largest mass killing in the form of riots. Needless to say, plenty of lives were lost. But what we had were broken princely states who had not pledged their allegiance yet. While Patel got busy in gathering the broken states, Nehru devoted himself in formation of the new constitution. This began the formation country that we know today as ours.
The book covers the duration between the arrival of Gandhi and struggle of freedom to the death of Mountbatten. The book is unashamed biography of the country we call India today and its key players.
Alex Von Tunzelman is exactly the kind of historian I like. Her writing is devoid of any historical jargon. The writing is simple and to the point.
The cover page is simple and elegant. The content is gripping. Anyone who wants to read a considerable history of the nation is going to love the content. The writing is very simple and to be point.
The book is rather clear of its stance. It portrays all important figures in their grey areas. Not everything I black or white here. Personality worshippers may find it to this utter dislike.
I absolutely loved the book. This is one of the finest in the category.
Whom do I recommend this to
This one is for those who want to know how we got our independence. Truly, this is the only history book one needs to read to have all your answers.
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