America is the model now
The granta book of india (Granta, Rs 295) is a very readable anthology of writing on that commodity called Incredible India, produced, with varying degrees of distinction, by Indians Writing in English and relished almost exclusively by Western readers. Ian Jack?s introduction wittily traces the history of that, largely British, fascination. He offers a succinct description of the lovely nostalgia released by India?s transition from Nehruvian socialism to globalization: ?America is the model now; slowly, inevitably, the old Indo-Anglian upper class, the anglophone India which had such attractive gentleness, voices courtesy of the BBC, pipes by Dunhill, politics from the Fabian Society, is retreating towards its pyre. An MBA from Harvard is worth three BAs (Oxon).? The writing collected here is diverse: from Nirad C. Chaudhuri apologizing for stepping into his hundredth year to the accounts of midwifery told by Viramma (south Indian agricultural worker and midwife) to her European amanuenses. In between are Mark Tully, Amit Chaudhuri, Salman Rushdie, R.K. Narayan and Pankaj Mishra, among others. And this delightful anecdote by Ramachandra Guha. ?At a garden party in Calcutta sometime in the late Fifties, a football kicked by the host?s son broke a whisky bottle. Fragments of glass entered the exposed arm of the Consul General of the United States of America, who was taken to the hospital to be stitched up. As he went off, the biologist J.B.S. Haldane broke an embarrassed silence with his comment: ?A little Bengali communist has successfully attacked an American imperialist.??
Ugly americans (William Heinemann, ?6.60) by Ben Mezrich is subtitled ?The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided Asia in Search of the American Dream?. John Malcolm went to Japan to play football. He returned to ride the crest of the wave of financial raiding, trading and speculating that earned Nick Leeson a spell in jail and Malcolm his reputation as the ultimate gunslinger in the Wild East, prepared to take on any level of risk in making mind-boggling sums of money ? $7 million in his first month. He and his friends were hedge-fund cowboys, living life on the adrenalin-, sex- and drugs-fuelled edge, running billion-dollar portfolios, trading information in the backrooms of high-class brothels and at VIP tables in nightclubs across the Far East. This is a story of extremes ? of wealth, nerve and glamour ? following a trail of excess from Harvard to Hawaii.
The idea of perfection (Penguin, Rs 395) by Kate Grenville is the Indian reprint of the Orange Prize for Fiction winner for 2001. Grenville is well-known as a novelist in Australia, and her epigraph is from Leonardo da Vinci: ?An arch is two weaknesses which together make a strength.? The two weaknesses in her book are Douglas Cheeseman, an apparently unremarkable, divorced, middle-aged man, and Harley Savage, thrice married but rather plain, but who knows that she is a danger to herself and to anyone else who tries to get too close.
Nehru (Routledge and Roli, Rs 350) by Benjamin Zachariah is a compact, lucid and sophisticated biography of Jawaharlal Nehru in the Routledge Historical Biographies series. It looks back ?at the life and career of an intellectual and politician whose political activities tended constantly to undermine the possibility of the achievement of his vision as an intellectual?. There is a useful chronology and an updated bibliography.