I admit to a youthful fascination with William Dalrymple, who was at Cambridge a couple of years ahead of me and was much talked of (though rarely seen) in the Catholic chaplaincy, which I frequented. And his first book, In Xanadu, was the sort of adventure I always wished I could go on. (It has helped inspire me to the occasional much more modest quest of my own.)
Until today I hadn't read any of his later books though we have a couple on the shelves. The Age of Kali, to be honest, is a bit disappointing. First off because of the form - it is a collection of pieces written for different journals at different times in the 1990s, and there is occasional repetition from one piece to the next, with no overall guiding structure. Second, because of this, the book lacks any synthesising introduction or conclusion, apart from a page at the very beginning explaining the concept of the Age of Kali, the Kali Yuga.
Having said that, what you are left with is a series of very readable, vivid, in-depth essays on particular places, personalities or events; we start with sectarian violence in Bihar, and end with the Bhutto family. The book is mainly about India, but there are excursions also to Sri Lanka, Réunion, and of course Pakistan. (But for some reason not Bangladesh.) And India is, of course, a fascinating subject, about which I learnt almost everything I know as a result of reading Kipling, Rushdie, River of Gods, and rparvaaz. (Another of the unread books on my shelf is John Keay's India: A History.)
However, what comes across from Dalrymple's account is an India descending into terminal anarchy and violence, where the old days of the Raj are much missed and the new world is uncertain and probably a Bad Thing. The book is nine years old now, and India doesn't actually seem to have disintegrated into anarchy, or even into the statelets foreseen by ianmcdonald in his novel, so I have to wonder how fair the picture painted actually is. And I am dubious about the fact that almost the only aspect of British rule which Dalrymple criticises is that it ended.
Still, it will spur me on to have another go at Keay.
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