tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

India Book Review: Inhaling the Mahatma, by Christopher Kremmer

Nearly fifty years after the assassination of the Mahatma Gandhi, a copper urn containing part of his ashes--which were supposed to have been emptied into the Bay of Bengal in 1948--was found in a bank vault in the Oriyan city of Cuttack. Gandhi's great-grandson Tushar Gandhi won a custody battle for his ancestor's remains, and brought the urn to Allahabad--the city built at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers--for a scattering ceremony.

Aussie journo Christopher Kremmer, a foreign correspondent from Sydney, attended the ceremony and found himself a prime vantage point for photography as Tushar, standing in the Ganges River, opened the urn to release the cloud of ashes. Wrote Kremmer:
"Clicking away with my camera, I didn't realise that the amorphous cloud was creeping close to me, pushed along by wayward zephyrs. The first thing I noticed was a strange, metallic taste in my mouth. Then, a peppery sensation infiltrated my nose, like that preceding a sneeze. Suddenly, shockingly, I realised that I was inhaling the Mahatma."
Kremmer covered Indian news for international media for much of the period between 1991-2004, and collected his professional memoirs in this excellent travelogue.

India's slow emergence, after the Cold War, as a burgeoning global power buoyed by a shift toward free-market capitalism and privatization parallels the latent development of contemporary identity politics in a country whose people and regions are almost as diverse as they are numerous. And Kremmer saw and wrote about much of it, from the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 to the Gujurat riots of 2002.

In addition to inhaling the Mahatma, Kremmer was also caught smack in the middle of the Ayodhya affair--the destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu fundamentalists--perhaps the single most illustrative event of the new Indian era.

Along the way, Kremmer explored the softer sides of Hindu political, historical and cultural identity, in ashrams and ancient temples; he also married an Indian woman and established a life for himself as an expat wallah.

The book is an able companion to the traveller's discovery of modern India; an informed and compassionate catch-up on the last twenty years of Indian current events.

Inhaling the Mahatma
By Christopher Kremmer
HarperCollins, 2006
419 pages

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