British comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar is a wonderful writer. A brilliant storyteller with a great knowledge of history, Bhaskar takes his reader on a beautiful, complicated journey, upending preconceived notions of India, its culture, the people, and its economic growth. With India with Sanjeev Bhaskar, he proves himself an adept and expert author, much more engaging than most travel writers.
What sets Bhaskar’s apart, aside from his obvious talent for comedy, is his passion for his subject. The Partition of India is of particular note for the author, whose father was displaced, along with millions of others who had to emigrate once British rule began to end, and Pakistan and India were formed. Millions of refugees were forced to move, Bhaskar’s father being one of them. He traces some of his father’s younger years, visiting his government job in the gorgeous town of Simla, to visiting Pakistan to see where his father lived as a child.
Bhaskar’s travels weren’t only related to his family history, but he also looked to India’s rapidly growing business sector and robust economy. Among his stops include the Infosys compound, interviewing young IT specialists who are the future of India’s booming economy. But Bhaskar is careful not to make India’s success story a rosy one – while India’s standing as an economic superpower maybe on the ascent, there is still grinding poverty in the streets – much of which makes the author feel immeasurable pain. Yet, not all is lost – and Bhaskar gives voice to the many in India’s growing affluence who are intent on promoting social justice – including many of the young entrepreneurs and privileged students who are looking at their place in their country as agents of peace and social equity.
But the book isn’t all seriousness and virtue – though there’s lots of that. Bhaskar uses his comedic talent to write about the stranger moments – for example, when partying with the maharaja, he is cornered by his wife, who is a fan of Bhaskar’s BBC sitcom The Kumars at No. 42. When asked if he keeps in touch with the other actors, Bhaksar answers no, but assures the missus that he just spoke with the actress who plays the randy grandmother. When asked why are the two in touch, Bhaskar blithely answers that they are married – and before he can explain that actress/comedienne Meera Syal is a young woman done up in aging drag, the maharaja’s horrified wife is whisked away. He also has a harrowing experience with a stomach virus, which he describes with unnerving detail.
After reading Bhaskar’s work, one will be inspired to read other works about India – particularly its history. Bhaksar’s knowledge is impressive and he gives his readers a fascinating and helpful glimpse of the storied and diverse history of his subject. He uses the history as much-needed context for its present. He also is highly knowledgeable about how religions and cultural diversity impart their influences on India’s history as well as the conflicts that arise from such diversity, that contributed to the battles.
India with Sanjeev Bhaskar will awaken an interest and curiosity about India. Bhaskar’s an intellectual guide to the twisting history and the complicated and contradictory present. A great author, India with Sanjeev Bhaskar is one of the best travel narratives of the past fifteen years.