India’s Broken Tryst by Tavleen Singh takes you through the two ends of the spectrum that make the Indian society. At one end are the rich politicians, businessmen & journalists who operate from the drawing rooms of Lutyen’s Delhi. At the other end are the people who are born on the footpath or roadside and would probably die at the same. If you are an average middle-class person and here I mean any middle-class person not the lower middle class or the upper middle class, both these worlds are alien to you. You are as alien to the world where ex-royals are still referred as His Highness or Yuvraj. Just as you are to the children who go through the garbage dumps in search of bits of food. So sit back and get introduced to the two ends of the Indian society.
As per my twitter exchange with Tavleen Singh, she says the book is about one set of people who could have made a difference to the lives of the other set of people. She is right. Right from the time India got independent, there has been hardly any visible change in the lives of its bottom of the pyramid. Those born with a golden spoon continued to live in their cocoons. Most of those living in the precinct of Lutyen’s Delhi is oblivious to what is happening in rest of India. They assumed they have the responsibility to alleviate poverty and for that, they took a patronizing role in dealing with the poverty. The fact that they have no inkling of what poverty really has made most of their attempts fruitless.
As someone living in India, you know all this. However, Tavleen Singh brings out the stark contrast in the realities of the two worlds. And the fact that there is no meeting ground for the two. The intermediaries who can connect them also do not understand either of them and are too busy dealing with their own problems.
There is a fair bit of her own life that Tavleen Singh shares through this book India’s Broken Tryst. She talks about her various houses in most privileged addresses across India. I had no idea that she has been living with businessman Ajit Gulabchand for many years. Ajit is the owner of HCC – the company that was building Lavasa. She writes about experiences where her writing has had a direct impact on her partner’s business. Sometimes you feel there is a personal need to put things in perspective or a professional need to answer those who acted against them. You have to give it to her immense experience as a journalist and author that she skillfully wraps up the personal anecdotes in the overall fabric of way things are.
Her stories of street children of Mumbai are heartbreaking. When you read about her Nashta initiative, you want to get up and give her a hug. When you see her helplessness in getting things done for some of these children even with all the political, journalistic and capital power with her, you get a bit disappointed. I learned that a person without an address cannot get a driving license or have an STD booth allotted to him – bringing down the employment opportunities for the underprivileged. She compares the reigns of various prime ministers of India. And how each of them has failed to deliver for this section of society. However, she is most angry with Mr & Mrs. Rajiv Gandhi and more so with Sonia Gandhi who had the longest time to work. She refers to her as De-facto prime minister of India for 10 years.
I am not a regular reader of her columns. But I did read her earlier book Durbar. Both the books point towards her dislike for Sonia and her working style.
Thankfully the book India’s Broken Tryst ends on a slightly optimistic note as Tavleen Singh gives her analysis of the Modi’s win in last general elections. She established Modi’s connect with what the average Indian wants and gives credit of his success at elections to this connect. She refers to the same kids whose story she tracked over years and asks them why they vote for Modi. The answers point to the same connect. In this connect is hidden the disconnect of the longest ruling class and their distance from the poor India. What is interesting is her criticism of Vajpayee government and BJP under him governed pretty much like Congress.
She attributes the resentment towards Modi to the simple reason – he is a total outsider to the Lutyen’s zone. In her opinion, an Advani or a Jaitley would have been more acceptable than an absolute outsider – Modi. She also points out that the 2002 Gujarat riots were not the worst riots this country has seen. But these were the first televised riots. And that is what made them look the ugliest. She also observes that these days riots do not last more than few hours as TV starts showing people and things then become too obvious.
On a lighter side, you get to read a well-written account of parties and weddings of who’s who in India or election campaigns of erstwhile royals like Scindias. What you do admire is Tavleen’s commitment to talk about the gravest problem India is facing while sipping the best of wine in the best of places around the world. Her language is evocative – she keeps you enthralled throughout the book. Even where you do not really agree with her, her narrative is still compelling and you go on reading. For aspiring writers, her writing is like an education. I personally learned how to write about drab subjects in a gripping narrative, how to share your life with your readers in an unapologetic manner. And how to pace the parallel narratives.
Read India’s Broken Tryst book.