In India, a Portrait Patrick French creates a personal picture to of modern India. It is a very readable addition to a growing collection of works on the history and development of India as its economy emerges to become a major force.
Patrick French structures India, a Portrait ,into three part each of four chapters: Rashtra: Nation, Lakshmi: Wealth and Samaj: Society.
Nation provides an accelerated history of India, the consequences of violence and India’s disputes with its neighbours. It covers the internal conflicts and the role of the family in Indian politics. In particular, the Nehru/Gandhi dynasty and its role in the Congress party that still has a major influence on national politics.
Wealth explores the economic history and development from the influence of John Maynard Keynes and Nehru’s socialist vision for India at independence. This model seems to have replaced an feudal system with a modern version based on a powerful and inflexible bureaucracy that gave power to new local political overlords. However things have changed in the last twenty years since the economic reforms introduced by Manmohan Singh in 1991 and subsequent years. This has led India to its growing role in world markets. As French shows, the new economic model appears to create greater social mobility and it is slowly breaking down the bureaucratic feudalism. However, there is still a long way to go for the rural poor to share in the new affluence.
Finally, Society explores the changing nature of the caste system and its relationship with religion and sense of community. These remain important but even with an increased sense of “Indianess” they remain richly diverse with regional, local and even village or family variations. Patrick French shows how these carry over in to the way even expatriate Indian professionals, for example in Silicon Valley, think and work.
All in all, Patrick French’s India, a Portrait is very personal and sensitive book. Apart from French’s experience he uses the voices of the people of India, at all levels of society, as they, their communities and country go through major change. As a it is book about the human face of India and is a valuable resource for all who are interested in understanding modern India. Above all it is an enjoyable and fascinating insight into a country which will probably be one of the major economic powers of the 21st century.
India, a Portrait brings out the contradictions and challenges facing India as it emerges with new vigour from the doldrums of its post-independence past.
Patrick French is a multi-award winning author and historian. With India, a Portrait, he brings new insights to external perceptions of India that are so often out of date.
India, a Portrait. An Intimate Biography of 1.2 Billion People (2011. ISBN: 978-1-846-14214-7) by Patroick French is published in hardback at £25 by Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin.