Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Strange Kind of Paradise

I read both the Sam Miller books, Adventures in a Mega City and A Strange Kind of Paradise, together. The first book was long overdue, and the second book was just out. I think I liked the second book better.

The first book sounds a little contrived; the author circling the city on foot. And, somehow, in the last few years, it has aged badly. The Delhi that Miller describes in the book has changed considerably. The Delhi I know is more complicated than described by Miller.

A Strange Kind of Paradise is, on the other hand, about foreigners’ love affair with India, right from Alexander to Chinese monks to Roberto Rossellini and Allan Ginsberg. There may not be much original research, but the book is a work of great scholarship, as Miller digs deep into the historical personas and events. For example, the portion on Nana Saheb, and how this hero of the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ caught the fancy of the Europe (and became the model for Wells’ Captain Nemo). It’s well-researched and eminently readable.

However, what is the most interesting aspect of the book is how the author fuses his own life story with the stories of other Indophiles (I am not sure Indophile would be the right moniker.). There are traces of William Dalrymple here and there (Like Dalrymple, Miller too is a British, who has since made India his home), but I am sure that cannot be avoided when you are writing a book about India.

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