I have a tendency to breeze-read books first and then return to them after a period of time for a more leisurely engagement. I have just breeze-read dear friend and fellow journalist Ravi Velloor’s excellently reported ‘India Rising: Fresh Hopes, New Fears.”
The overarching impression for me from the first reading is Ravi’s remarkable ability to report facts in exceptional detail even while not letting them overwhelm the thematic coherence. A veteran of three and half decades in print journalism, Ravi, who is Associate Editor of The Strait Times in Singapore, offers an object lesson in reporting in the good old fashioned way. The 368 pages-long book published by Strait Times Press presumes of its reader a fairly acute level of understanding of the current affairs in India. Yet, Ravi does not dumb it down even as he offers enough pointers to what he is talking about.
Journalist and author Ravi Velloor (Photo: Screengrab from www.straittimes.com)
At a time when journalism has rapidly become ratings-driven reality entertainment in India and elsewhere, Ravi chooses to dig deep into the mechanics of all major events that have unfolded in India over the past quarter centuries or so. Divided in five parts under umbrella titles such as India Shining, Triumphs, A blunder and A Disaster, The Slide Begins, A Dynasty Totters and India Rising, the book is perhaps the first of its kind of reportage about what has shaped India in the past quarter century as it has risen from near bankrupt foreign exchange reserves in 1991 with the help of some dramatic economic reform to 2016 when it is still pegging many missing pieces to become the version as the next global economic and political power that its rambunctious middle class has so cherished.
Even while offering editorial judgments over the events throughout the past quarter century Ravi is careful to ensure that the book remains tightly focused on facts at they have stood. That is a direct consequence of his training as a journalist whose first job is to report things as they are and then, when the time is right, offer a broader, historical point of view. What stands out for me personally is how detailed the author gets about such a diversity of themes that include domestic and foreign policy, economic and national security, cultural and political themes.
In less able hands the book could have become a dense read but Ravi manages to employ a language that is accessible to a large constituency of readers. That may have something to do with his having reported for foreign publications for a long time. In a video interview with his own newspaper Ravi says he has written the book “in a way that a child can understand and a grandmom can enjoy.” That is only partly true because as I said the content does demand a level of familiarity with India that is not so common.
That is he is mindful of the extraordinary complexity of India becomes evident when he says this in the Prologue: “Big, noisy, bulging at the seams, India’s economy and society move much like the traffic on a New Delhi road - states and sections of its people advancing at varying speeds and levels of discipline. For every high-horsepower engine on the road, there is the cycle rickshaw and the humanly powered pushcart slowing movement and frustrating those who seek to travel more quickly.Meanwhile, a few intrepid riders do weave ahead, often by breaking the rules of the road or fixing them to their advantage.”
Perhaps at some point in the near future I might do a little more comprehensive piece but based on my breeze-reading I strongly recommend Ravi’s book to those in India and outside with an attention span that is little more than a gnat.