Friday, January 21, 2011

India = Innovative, Noisy, Dynamic, Inequitable, Adaptive, says Patrick French, author of India, a portrait

By John Cheeran

Author Patrick French fields 16 questions from John Cheeran in Bangalore

1. You are historian who writes biographies. Which role is more challenging, the role of biographer or that of historian?
It's more difficult to write good biography. How can you fully understand another's motivation?
2. The technique used in telling the India story, eliciting a nation’s contemporary history by talking to individuals, is one that perfected by VS Naipaul. Have you borrowed from Naipaul in terms of writing technique?
No. This is a new take on India - my own.
3. For whom – Indians or foreigners -- is this portrait mainly sketched for?
This is a book for every Indian reader, and especially for the youth. It asks: What is happening in India today - and why?

4. Your book has been projected as an intimate biography of 1.2 billion people. What’s the most striking, intimate aspect about the India that you chronicle?
That every paradox co-exists.
5. How would you sum up India in a sentence or, in six words?
Innovative, Noisy, Dynamic, Inequitable, Adaptive!
6. What makes you describe India the most interesting place in the world?
It was Ram Guha who said that, and I agreed with him. Can you think of a more interesting country?
7. You seem to have little love for MK Gandhi. In the book, you describe him as an anaconda. Has India done well to bury Gandhian ideals to embrace free market and redefine Hindu rate of growth?
I am an admirer of Gandhi in many ways, but I don't believe in blind deification of anyone.
8. Does India growth story need to make a pause to push social equity as suggested by some economists?
A pause in economic growth is not a sound or logical principle. Do you really believe that if the economy stopped generating money, the rich would give their money away to the poor?
9. Despite your perceptive analysis about hereditary aspects of Indian politics, you seem to be an admirer of Rahul Gandhi. Why?
Because he has a quiet and subtle approach to politics.
10. Do you think India is ready for its first Dalit or Muslim Prime Minister? Will it ever happen?
11. You write in your book that a politician told you that you could buy journalists like prostitutes. How rotten is Indian media? You must have totally missed Radiia tapes while writing the book.
The book went to the publisher before the Raadia tapes were leaked. They are another example of what I write about.
12. The optimism with which you write about India – unlike many foreigners in the past – isn’t it misplaced? For the country has too many fault lines such as poverty, illiteracy, Maoists and even the indifference to suffering…
I don't think it's wrong to be optimistic about India. Good and bad don't cancel each other out.
13. Historian Ramachandra Guha says India is a 50-50 democracy. How do you rate and what do you think of Indian democracy?
Democracy in India is thriving, but the political parties need to be more open to new talent. I would say 60-40 in favour.
14. Which is your next book?
Wait and see!
15. You have written India’s biography. But which Indian’s biography you would like to write. And, why?
Not sure.
16. Is there anything else I should have asked you, but didn’t?


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