Review: Nine Books

tag

FROM THE BOOK REVIEW ARCHIVES

Review: Nine Books

By : Pallavi Raghavan
1.
Akbar: The Magnificent King

Akbar: The Magnificent King

Author:
Subhadra Sen Gupta
Rupa Publications, 
2002
2.
Jagdish Chandra Bose: The First Indian Modern Scientist
3.
Sri Ramana Maharishi

Sri Ramana Maharishi

Author:
Anupa Lal
Rupa Publications, 
2002
4.
Amrita Sher Gill

Amrita Sher Gill

Author:
Geeta Doctor
Rupa Publications, 
2002
5.
Asoka: The Great

Asoka: The Great

Author:
Monisha Mukundan
Rupa Publications, 
2002
6.
Field Marshal Cariappa: The Man Who Touched the Sky
7.
Arjan Singh DFC.Marshal Of the Indian Air Force

Arjan Singh DFC.Marshal Of the Indian Air Force

Author:
Roopinder Singh
Rupa Publications, 
2002
8.
B.R Ambedkar: A Crusader For Equality

B.R Ambedkar: A Crusader For Equality

Author:
H.D. Sharma
Rupa Publications, 
2002
9.
C.V Raman: The Scientist Extraordinary

C.V Raman: The Scientist Extraordinary

Author:
Dilip M. Salwi
Rupa Publications, 
2002

As someone who has only recently managed to escape the shackles of  school history textbooks, I was quite curious about these biographies. What immediately caught my attention was their immaculate packaging - ­just the feel of them. They are bound so perfectly, their hardback covers look so elegant, and the paper is thick and glossy. This is a huge change from the sorry, dilapidated state that books in school deteriorate to within minutes, and even from the tacky Panchatantras that you are encouraged to read because they are often the only non-textbook histories available for children.

It has been a long time since a book connected with history for children has actually beckoned a prospective reader-and the Rupa Charitavali Series does exactly this. They practically tap you on the shoulder and say ‘Read Me!!’ In short, contrary to the usual wisdom of not judging a book by its cover, if you can be enticed into reading because of a book's looks you will get a child who has at least read a book on history, as opposed to a child who has not. And, to drive my point home, history textbooks today create an atmosphere of drudgery, of frankly, mind-blowing boredom because of their sheer bad quality-they don't entice anyone; if anything they repel. Even if some of the material inside the Rupa series may be fairly indifferent, as is the case with a few of books under review, the presentation goes a long way to cover (literally) these lapses. The books are also well illustrated. For example Akbar: The Magnificent King, by Subhadr Sen Gupta has beautiful illustrations of details from monuments, of geometric carved designs from the period, and of paintings - and they combine to bring the whole book to life.

The series covers a variety of figures-kings and warriors, sages and scientists and they span the period from Asoka (300BC) to Arjan Sing (2000). Some are, I think, better than the others. Asoka: The Great was one I liked particularly. It strings together many different veins of the time-- his accession, his policies in religion, and the socio-cultural practices during his period. This is an extremely easy read, and narrates various dramatic events in a lucid and connective way.

Another one of my favourites was Akbar: The Magnificent King. It brings out the splendour and pomp of his court and its people, and the life personality of its ruler. This is a book that is not only fascinating to read, but would also whet the reader's curiosity, and make him or her want to read more. I also enjoyed the passages on the architecture of the period and of Akbar's patronage of the arts. I did however, notice a factual error: the book talks of Humayun capturing Samarkand for the Shah of Persia. This reference should have been to Kandahar, and not Samarkand.

The biography of Amrita Sher Gil has many illustrations of her paintings, giving a beautiful, vibrant background to the text. Apart from dealing with her journey as an artist, the book also delves into her personal life. This is also done in other books in the series and invariably helps in making the characters more interesting-yet another difference from normal history textbooks that stick fastidiously to the boring and usually admiring details about national leaders or accounts of official events and the causes. This book on the other hand, gives a detailed account of her childhood, thus explaining some of the factors that influenced her work, and gives a well-rounded account of her life.

B.R. Ambedkar: A Crusader For Equality is quite interesting. Although this gives some details about his life and work, it has a tendency to become somewhat involved and complicated. For example, it has many passages explaining the machinery and the working of the constitutional proce­dure, which might be difficult for a younger child for whom it is actually meant, to understand. It can also get a little dry, and is often caught up in minute detail about Ambedkar's achievements rather than being about Ambedkar the man.

There were some books in the series which were, frankly dull. Arjan Singh falls in this category. There are many tedious details of the battles that he has taken part in, and the many strategic manoeuvres he had car­ried out. The book becomes a boring sequence of his journey from airforce station, to embassy, to governor's house. In a similar vein, Field Marshal Cariappa: The Man Who Touched the Sky, is full of rousing anecdotes about his military successes, and presents this soldier as a great warrior with a heart of gold. Both books present war in terms of glamour and heroism.

J.C Bose: The First Modern Scientist is more interesting, and gives a clear account of Bose's studies, discoveries, and their reception by the rest of the world. In fact, it is also a description of the attitude of other nations towards Indians and Indian science in general, rather than just being re­stricted to complicated scientific details-although there is a lot of that too. The book progresses quite slowly, giving ample descriptions of the events in his life, and the developments that led to them in an easy and coherent way. This is also true of C.V Raman: The Scientist Extraordinary again. This is also a reflection of the scientific knowledge and awareness, particularly in India, during the times that he had lived in. It provides details of the work that he did at different stages of his life-from the struggling amateur scientist, to the wealthy Nobel laureate.

Anupa Lal's Sri Ramana Maharishi is another long detailed account, of the man's spiritual journey, and his preaching. These get fairly monoto­nous at times, and may be difficult for a young child to comprehend. There are also lengthy discussions on the ‘path of Self Enquiries’ and the philosophies of the Advaita that often get tangled and complex, and may not really interest a younger reader.

While many of the books, such as Akbar and Asoka, offered nothing new as far as facts were concerned, it was certainly much better written and presented. In the end, however, the average school child may not get a lot more additional information to his or her textbooks. Secondly, all the books, except possibly Subhadra Sen Gupta's Akbar, give completely un­critical and often adoring accounts of the concerned personality. Most of the major defects are glossed over, and often an exaggerated picture is given of the person's virtues. I feel at least some attempt should be made to have a more balanced outlook, instead of encouraging readers to believe that these personalities were absolutely perfect. On the whole, these books are extremely enjoyable, and are well worth reading. It is really unusual to have authors who make facts interesting.

Pallavi Raghavan is studying History Hons. at St. Stephen's College, Delhi University, Delhi.