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Review of ‘The way things were’ aka ‘iti-hasa’ Or Pean to Sanskrit by Aatish Taseer

February 26, 2015

Good parts:

– The 1984 riots are covered splendidly. The coverage struck an emotional chord within me.
– The effort of the author in researching Sanskrit is apparent in the book
– The characters are well etched including Skanda, Toby, Uma and the ones in support – Vicky, Uma’s sister and brother
– a good read overall, felt bored only in a few parts, for a 500+ pages book
– The fear of the children, whose parent’s marriage has gone bad, is very well covered

Bad parts:
– But can’t say the same for 1992 riots and Babri masjid demolition. The sadness of Toby after masjid demolition looks a bit fake, some what like Advani’s repentance
– The positive (effort on Sanskrit) also becomes a negative, as it does not leave the plot at all at any point. Would have been nice if the son (Skanda) hated Sanskrit and been a left-western-liberal of sorts, the juxtaposition would have been more interesting
– And why you didn’t go ahead and cover upto the 2002 riots. Afraid of the ruling govt, eh?
– Can’t understand why the two main characters did not choose to work on their marriage, or even the large family who was practically in their house all the time, did not help them
– Uma begins to hate Toby more, for all the selfless help rendered to his B-I-L. Dude, seriously? In real life people are thankful, if there are other reasons, they are not strong enough.

Honestly it felt like drinking lukewarm tea. I read some other books by Indian authors in the recent few years including Manu Joseph’s ‘Serious Men’ and Arvind Adiga’s ‘White Tiger’. They were both very interesting. And actually ‘Serious Men’ gave me a lot more insights into the caste system practiced in India in earlier days.

I think, this book’s obsessions with Sanskrit undoes it. Its just a language for God’s sake. And it died alright. Just like all languages do. Forget about Latin. Do we speak in Shakespeare’s time’s English now? Language is an evolving thing. And things get obsolete for a reason. I guess the answer to why Sanskrit died so early could have been one thing presented well within this book itself. That it was just the languages for the elites. See bloody caste-ism again. So the lower classes never spoke it, and they form the bulk of the people in the land. Who have been exploited for centuries.

I recommend the author, Aatish Taseer, to read ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond. It gives a very Scientific basis of human and culture evolution in the past 100,000 years, and the impact Geography had on it. If you read that, you can appreciate more easily, why Sanskrit died, perhaps because of it being so exclusivist.

What’s the point of crying for extinct dinosaurs?!

I would have liked the book more, if the basic story, of what the characters do was more interesting. Just to give an example, look at Khaled Hosseni’s books there the story is so much more interesting. Here nothing much happens with the characters, and when they get beaten up by the cops and leave the country in disgust, that only faintly wrings your heart. In contrast, I threw Orhan Pamuk’s book flying into the corner of the room, when the sicko-author killed a character, which I was heavily-emotionally invested in.

Last but not the least. Don’t make fun of Chetan Bhagat, when your book launches. The marketing ploy is too obvious. He even helped you a bit by replying to you on twitter. I don’t like his books, without having read them (what’s a good reader, if can’t tell a book is shit, by just looking at it and the back page etc?), except ‘Five point someone’, which I liked.

Overall rating for ‘The way things were’ 2.5 out of 5

Lastly: I apologize for the harsh review to the author. Writing a book or making a movie or shipping a piece of code, is much more noble than its critique, mostly. But what’s a review’s worth, if its not brutally honest? And I have tried to do that.


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