India: Books to add to the read them list

Today npr.org had an article written for me, at least this is how I felt about it. It highlights three books about the caste system in India.

http://www.npr.org/2011/10/03/137789270/three-books-that-convey-the-complexity-of-caste

Three Books That Convey The Complexity of Caste

by Miranda Kennedy

As India has embraced its economic successes, it still grapples with social change.

istockphoto.com

October 3, 2011

There’s been a glut of India books in recent years, most of them excitable
narratives with titles like Billions of Entrepreneurs that look at how
the country’s fast-changing economy is revolutionizing global business and the
Indian lifestyle.

Fewer and further between are those that acknowledge that the country’s
progress toward social change has been stuttering and uneven. And it’s even more
unusual to find authors willing to admit that the ancient Hindu caste hierarchy
still defines much about modern country. But these three don’t shy
away.

Untouchables

Untouchables

My Family’s Triumphant Escape from India’s Caste System

by Narendra
Jadhav

  •  — the group of Indians
    who were literally outcaste from society for centuries. In some ways, little has
    changed: Dalits are still disproportionately impoverished, malnourished and
    illiterate. Jadhav’s father, Damu, makes his living guarding the bodies of the
    dead, hauling away animal carcasses and cleaning the village toilets. But Damu’s
    political awakening takes him out of his backwater village to the teeming
    metropolis of Mumbai. There, his son, Narendra, not only attends college but
    becomes chief economist at the Reserve Bank of India. In this, Narendra’s
    telling of his family tale, we see just how much mettle it takes to transcend
    the lines of caste in today’s India.

The White Tiger

The
White Tiger

A Novel

The rustic hero of Adiga’s Booker Prize-winning novel, Balram, shares
something with Jadhav’s father, Damu. He is an uneducated, low-caste villager
determined to find his way out of “the Darkness,” as he calls rural India. In
Delhi, he sheds the restrictions of his caste and lands a well-paying job as a
chauffeur for a rich man. Here’s where the similarity to Damu ends, however: In
the name of what Balram calls “social entrepreneurship,” he murders his boss and
takes off for Bangalore, the tech capital of India, hoping to start his own
business and get rich. But joining the new economy doesn’t mean he overcomes his
grudge against rural India — ruled by a corrupt elite. “In the old days,” he
says, “there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days, there
are just two castes — Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies. And only
two destinies: eat — or get eaten up.”

Nine Lives

Nine
Lives

In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

by William
Dalrymple

  • travel writer and historian, sets out here to show us the deeply religious rural
    population. One of Dalrymple’s strengths is his refusal to render judgment, but
    when it comes to the question of caste, he throws in the towel. In a section
    about a sacred dance form called theyyam, he tells us that the
    performers who take on the aspect of the gods are “the shunned and insulted
    Dalits.” When the performers remove their costumes, he tells us, they’re no
    longer treated like gods but, once again, like untouchables: “In the presence of
    persons of the upper castes,” he writes, “Dalits are still expected to bow their
    heads and stand at a respectful distance.”

Although Adiga’s gutsy portrayal of the ugly inner lobes of modern-day Indian
life won him great acclaim, for the most part the image of a caste-ridden
society still goes against the popular narrative of a booming India. But these
three books show us an India still committed to its religious traditions, even
as it surges ahead to join the globalized world.

This sounds like a great list to choose from!

 

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