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Book review – Durbar



The book got published in 2012 and Kabir told me about it. I somehow didn’t get the book and finally just before the run up to the general elections I picked it up. Am glad I did because it made me vote the way I did :):).

I knew Tavleen Singh, the journalist, but didn’t know that she had a front row seat in the 80’s and 90’s as the Nehru Parivar political drama unfolded. I feel Tavleen Singh has done a great service to the nation by writing this book. It lets the reader understand that our country’s collective karma has returned us only reluctant and accidental prime ministers after Pandit Nehru and briefly Atal Ji and now Modi ji. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s stint was short, cut by fate or conspiracy, but with him we lost the early opportunity to break the rule of the dynasty and sycophancy being raised to an art form in Indian politics. Morarji Desai, Chaudhary Charan Singh and many others who came and went as PMs didnt stay long enough to leave an impression.

When you read about Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi and how Rajiv was unaffected and nearly unconcerned with the dark chapter of the emergency or how he became the PM when Indira Gandhi was assassinated you realise that as a nation, we really didn’t listen to Gandhiji. Gandhiji wanted the Indian National Congress to be disbanded as soon as we got independence but we didn’t and over the years the party became the personal property of the Nehru family and slowly it almost became the right of the Nehru family to rule this country – whether they had any expertise or not. Mind you, Tavleen Singh hasn’t drawn any of these conclusions in her book. She has merely presented the facts as she knew them and the emotions she felt but as you read through the book, I felt a deep sadness.

Sadness for the way we have let our country down by not participating actively in nation building by electing the right people to power, ensuring we didn’t accept dynastic rule, not getting swayed by whose daughter or son someone was and above all, booting out sycophants, demanding meritocracy in the public and political world. It seems we just got busy with our lives as soon as we got independence and didn’t care what was happening to the country as a whole :(:(. We have goons as political leaders, murderers and rapists and we have false cases too for political gain – what a murky world we have let our political world to become.

We have erudite, intelligent and well meaning people in the Congress party unable to shake off the chains of bondage to the first family. I am sure, nature couldn’t take it anymore so the fourth gen scion turned out to be a wonderful dodo with a thug for a brother-in-law !! You can’t fight nature :):)

Sorry, this is becoming my blog rather than a review of Tavleen’s book. I loved reading it because it gives an inside view of India through the 80’s and 90’s. Tavleen struggles with her fondness for Rajiv and the reality of his politics and her training as a journalist helps. She sticks to presenting events, discussions etc as they happened and adds her reaction at the time but doesn’t offer any conclusion. Her opinions about many of her fellow journalists, other politicians of the time do come through and because they are connected to many public events, it helps the reader to form their own opinions rather than accepting Tavleen’s.

For someone interested in post independence politics, this book is a must read. It’s not a historical account but an observer’s account. History will change as the distance between the events and their recall increases and the context in which they are recalled. Books like these help as they narrate the events as they happened without the new context.

Would definitely recommend reading “Durbar”.

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