About the authors:
Gunjan Veda is an Indian journalist and the cofounder of iRead Books Ltd, an online bookstore and library. This book is her first, a joint venture with Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, who is a prominent member of the Planning Commission of the Government of India. Syeda Hameed’s writing highlights various aspects of modern Indian history, women’s issues, Urdu poetry and South Asia.
My thoughts on the book:
I bought this book based purely on instinct. The cover called out to me and I didn’t even check the back blurb before I claimed a copy. It was only later, once I reached home, that I realized what I had acquired was a non-fiction book, the recollections and stories of real life in India brought out from the eyes of two people who had actually been there and felt that life moving, seen it and understood it. I’m the first to admit that I’m usually deterred by non-fiction books. They’re other people’s lives; you can’t always place yourself in their shoes and walk that life with your imagination. But this book somehow kept telling me not to stop reading. Lying back on a cushioned diwan, with the fan easing the heat, I might not know the toils and struggles that people in the other parts of the country are going through each day. And though at times I do wish to go to those places and capture that life and the beauty that that world holds, I realize that it’s not what I can do immediately.
Beautiful Country, authored by two prominent women of India, brings to me the images of life in different corners of the country. It not only brings those stories, but also the beauty of that part of the country. To be more specific, it brings out the authors’ experience from their travels to eighteen different parts of India.
Told with a poignant, touching yet direct voice, these stories are true stories. It intrigues, calls the reader in from the very first lines from a poem in the preface, which is written by Mohammed Iqbal: “Khol aankh, zamin dekh, falak dekh, fiza dekh, Mashriq mein ubhartey huey suraj ko zara dekh, Iss jalwa-e-be parda ko pardon mein chhupa dekh, Ayyam-e-judai ke sitam dekh, jafa dekh.” If not for the translation below it in the book, the poem would be lost on me, its beauty lost on me. If not for this book, I can say the beauty of India, and the pains and life of those in parts of my country would have been lost on me as well.
What I loved:
Well, what I love most about the book is the raw, direct facts about the country said as they are. You don’t see words being sugarcoated, or incidents downplayed. The starting of each chapter and each part of the country is with a nice piece of poetry (I think it is Urdu) and in between the book, there are some beautiful color photos. This is what India is, we might not choose to believe it, but it is there for all to see. The honesty in the book is what I feel makes it wonderful.
What I felt lacked:
I can’t say what lacks in such a non-fiction. They are after all, memories and thoughts. They might be as complete as the authors remember them. If I could suggest, maybe I’d say to put the pictures along with the chapters itself, rather than all together in the middle of the book. Also, many places are missing, like Karnataka, or Goa, or Orissa… I was hoping they’d be there too (but that’s of course still possible as a volume 2, so not exactly a lacking point maybe).
If you aren’t sure what the real India is, this book would clear your mind. The narration is melancholic, but it’s not saddening, in fact, some things are absolutely inspiring. You can at times see the picture come to life (then again, that might be my imagination!) A non-fiction that will stay in my collection!
Title: Beautiful Country: Stories from another India
Authors: Syeda Hameed, Gunjan Veda
Publishers: Harper Collins
Price: Rs. 399
(March 9th, 2013)