There’s been an outbreak of ‘India’ books lately; the first signs of an epidemic. Or, if you want to look at the phenomenon more kindly, there’s been an efflorescence. There was Ramachandra Guha’s Makers of Modern India, and, at around the same time, Patrick French’s compendious account, which (as his difficult biographee Naipaul did with his own great work from 1990) he entitles, simply, India. (He and Naipaul have different, but numerical, sub-headings: ‘a million mutinies’; ‘1.2 billion people’). Anand Giridharadas has published a book called India Calling. At least two more are imminent, by intelligent, unsparing writers. One will be by the novelist Siddhartha Deb; his astute chapter on the self-appointed management guru Arindam Chaudhuri is already out in n+1. The other is The Butterfly Generation by Palash Krishna Mehrotra. Anyone who’s read Mehrotra’s journalism will know he’s a gifted, recalcitrant maverick who fully, and fitfully, inhabits the age. His book may not be a recognisable ‘India’ book at all.
Of course, there has been an Anglophone taking stock of this potent word—India—for some time now. It all seems to have begun with Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India. Although its theme is the transplantation and flowering of the ‘democratic idea’ on Indian soil, its title identifies a tendency that would increasingly become a norm: to see India not as a place, but as a concept you could experience, an idea making its way in the world. The title of an earlier academic study by Ronal Inden, Imagining India, had already suggested that India was something that had been conjured up in the head, as, in a way, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities said the nation was.