If you had listened to Mr. Tharoor’s speech at the Oxford Union more than a few times, as I had, you can easily imagine listening to his distinct eloquent baritone, with the occasional punches of irony, throughout the text as you read this book.
That, however, isn’t all. This book is an argument, as was his speech which forms the prelude to it. That this is brilliantly put cannot be questioned. At the same time, it finds itself, on occasions, incomplete – in that, it veers into a relative juxtaposition of events of post- and pre-colonial times to prove his point.
For example, Mr. Tharoor is relentless in his thrashing of the British attitudes towards Indian society, culture and economy. Till then he seems honest. He dares, then, compare it to the post-Independence governments, mostly Congress – led. Of course, they were better than British ones. But did they substantially change the British policies? No. In that he seems to be an ‘apologist’ of his own political party.
In particular, the last few paragraphs of the book are revealing. He gives a generic account on why ‘underdevelopment in postcolonial societies is itself a cause of conflict.’ Perhaps, he could be have been bolder. Instead, he stops well short of pointing to his party, and other ones as well, for the ‘underdevelopment’. But that I admit is not the motivation of the book.
Any criticism or, indeed praise, shall not factor into a reader reading this book for it stands tall in its attempt to educate us, at a time when public mood is extremely conscious of our identity as a nation. This will, if read with an open mind, contribute immensely to that dialogue (if there is one).
Moreover, this should be read by all students of British History, especially the British themselves. The simplistic history that we read in the whitewashed textbooks, both here in India and abroad, fail us miserably. In his own words, ‘perhaps a more complicated assessment is due.’ As with all rear view mirrors, objects are closer than they appear. It depends on the eyes of the reader, as of the writer, what s/he perceives the distance to be.