Luce, Edward. In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India. New York: Doubleday, 2007. Hardcover, 383 pp.
Oxford-educated Edward Luce, the Washington bureau chief for the Financial Times, lived in New Delhi between 2001 and 2006 and is married to an Indian. He is singularly qualified to appraise India’s role as a major player in the modern world. Clearly resonating with and even sympathetic toward India’s culture, In Spite of the Gods is no sentimental journey but an often hard-hitting critique of that country “strange rise” (with the pointed help of the United States) to international (and nuclear) preeminence.
It is clear from Luce’s knowledgeable and fair portrayal that India is a deeply troubled nation facing enormous and increasing problems. With 1.1 billion people (and growing) and a fast developing industry and middle-class of eager consumers, India is also a contributor to global pollution and global warming, but without the mechanisms in place to control greenhouse gas emissions.
As elsewhere, modernization has played havoc with India’s traditional systems of values, beliefs, and practices. Television and the Internet are a huge influence on reshaping old cultural traditions, and seldom for the better. At the same time, Hinduism is turning from a loose collection of numerous local cults and traditions into a national, more standardized religion. The rising middle class is struggling to define itself, with Western ideals on one side and traditional Hindu ideals on the other.
Weighing all the facts, Luce is still able to state: “The rest of the world could learn a lot from India, along the lines of tolerance, the management of diversity, and the rooting of democracy in a traditional society” (p. 327). Yet, he acknowledges that the caste system, the low status of women, and a high illiteracy rate continue to be a major stumbling block in India’s route to truly democratic, “equal citizenship.”
Luce has created an insightful analysis, which also happens to be very engaging.
Copyright ©2007 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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