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Snakes and Ladders by Gita Mehta
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Snakes and Ladders (edition 1997)

by Gita Mehta

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1773110,030 (3.59)4
India is a land of contrasts. It is the world's most populous democracy, but it still upholds the caste system. It is a burgeoning economic superpower, but one of the poorest nations on earth. It is the home of the world's biggest movie industry after Hollywood, as well as to the world's oldest religions. It is an ancient civilization celebrating fifty years as a modern nation. Now, as never before, the world wants to know what contemporary India is all about. As she has proved in three previous books--her wry take on the marketing of the mystic East in Karma Cola; the rich historical saga of Raj; and the beguiling tales of A River Sutra--there is no better guide to India's multihued mosaic than Gita Mehta. She knows India in all its rich detail--its folkways and history, its culture and politics, its ancient traditions and current concerns. In Snakes and Ladders, she gives a loving but unflinching assessment of India today, in an account that is entertaining, informative, and wholly personal.… (more)
Member:mfagan
Title:Snakes and Ladders
Authors:Gita Mehta
Info:Nan A. Talese (1997), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
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Snakes and Ladders by Gita Mehta

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Glimpses Out The Window Of A Chauffeured Limousine
This book has been around long enough that the reviews have settled into a familiar dichotomy. For those unfamiliar with India it’s an informative and wry glimpse of into the incongruities of rapid development in an ancient land. For those with more experience in (or reading about) India, it is shallow and glib. There’s nothing particularly offensive about it, but I found myself put off by the easy outrage of someone who visits with rag-pickers, quotes Mohandas Gandhi, and then gets on a jet plane to hobnob with the gilded classes. Mehta’s own life as a jet-setting intellectual is part of the crazy picture that makes up contemporary India, but she does not have the humility to step out of it to introspect let alone to listen deeply to the farmers, activists and others whom she so quickly picks up, quotes and drops again. The best part of this book is the foreword in which she explains the title.

Still, this is not a bad book; just far too breezy for the topics Mehta wishes to engage. Instead I’d recommend City of Djinns by William Dalrymple and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. The first is about Delhi, the second about Bombay.

Mohandas Gandhi’s response to the question “How can I understand India?” is often quoted, and Mehta quotes it too, on p.77: “study her villages.” It’s an “obvious answer” she writes. And yet she has yet to write anything but clichés about villages. Unfortunately, neither Dalrymple, Boo nor other talented writers spent any time in the real engine of change in India, villages. The academics too focus on the fringes: either elites and the arts, or the displaced urban poor. The vast majority of Indians, the ones who drive the voting blocs and populate the rolls of the police, the call centers, and the military, are people from villages, not the cities. Villages should not be visited for a picturesque interview or two – they should be studied as social institutions, and institutions of extreme importance to India’s future. The best I can find is cultural anthropology, most of it now quite dated, such as the work of Gerald Berreman. I wish someone like Amitav Ghosh (In an Antique Land) would spend as much time in an Indian village as he did in an Egyptian one.
  Nycticebus | Aug 25, 2012 |
I've read three or four books about or set in India in the last year. I read this one to get an overview of Indian culture and history. Although most history presented was post 1947, I still learned a great deal. I got the impression that the book presented those bits of Indian culture that came to the author's mind but then it never pretended to be comprehensive. I came away from the book with a clearer idea of India's astounding plurality on every front.

It was an easy read definitely worth the effort. ( )
  snash | Jan 18, 2010 |
This is something like a commentary on new age India. Gita Mehta, a return from somewhere in UK, is exploring India from various angles, like her villages, her slumns, her rag-pickers, her colors, and her politics. Describes in good details the dark times of Indian democracy under Ms. Indira Gandhi.
  shweta81 | Apr 11, 2009 |
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