When I first picked up this book, it dawned on me that the last I had read any proper text about Indian history was in 10th grade as part of required reading in our Social Studies course. Even that, I remember treating with a certain air of apathy. However as I flipped through the pages of this book, I found myself increasingly appreciating the context in which certain ideas took birth, the multicultural agendas that several leaders advocated for, and the discourses and debates that steered a (then) population of 350 million Indians into an uncertain future towards and after Independence.

This book features prominent Indians from the 19th and 20th century whose ideas moulded our country into what we know today. Most of the names - such as Nehru, Gandhi and Ambedkar - I instantly recognized. Others - like Tarabai Shinde - I was hearing for the first time. The selection of individuals in the list was based on two criteria:

  • Did they contribute any original ideas for their time?
  • Were they active enough in public life that their ideas could see the light of day in some form?

Enforcing both these criteria led to the exclusion of persons that the author classifies as pure intellectuals, as well as pure do-ers. It promotes a brand of individuals that can be classified as "thinker-doers".

"Nations tend to produce thinker activists at their birth and in moments of crisis"

I really enjoyed the sequencing of the book. Arranged as an anthology with each chapter depicting a protagonist - the book reads as an expression of criticism - where the protagonists not only pass judgement on practices in the existing social structure and each other - but also put forward ideas on how to bring about reform.

I wish I could review my thoughts on each chapter piece by piece, but doing so would require an extraordinary investment of time and this blog post would become the length of a mini book itself!

You can buy the book here: Makers of Modern India