“Durbar” by Tavleen Singh

I have always liked books by Tavleen Singh and this one was no exception.  The aptly named, “Durbar” is a breezy read about Lutyens Delhi as it now is popularly called, where the high and mighty of India meet in exclusive social circles of which at one time she was a prominent member. The book is about the period from 1975 when she first became a journalist to around 1991 when Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India was assassinated.

In those days, far more than now, the school you went to, the university you attended and the way you spoke English mattered more and often determined whether you could become part of exclusive social circles. Tavleen happened to be one of those who was a part of, what we would now term a social network, which included prominent politicians like Naveen Patnaik ( who later became, and indeed still is, the Chief Minister of Orissa), and Dr Farooq Abdullah, (later Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir). They were amongst her close friends. She thus came to be part of a social circle which included the then Prime Minster Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv, and his Italian wife, Sonia. This book, in some measure, is a story of the Gandhis of Delhi. Continue reading ““Durbar” by Tavleen Singh”

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“Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors” by Tavleen Singh

When I mentioned that I was reading her book, “Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors” the noted writer Tavleen Singh regretted that the book had not been printed after that first edition way back in 2000. For most of India, and this is my educated guess, the image of Kashmir is that of a strife-filled state which has been at the heart of bitterness between India and Pakistan ever since Partition took place in 1947 and the British walked away leaving the two newly founded countries to figure out what to do with disputed territories on their own.

I found Tavleen’s book quite fascinating because as an experienced journalist she has the knack of getting straight to the point and though at times the book tends to become a bit repetitive, there is a lot of new insight on Kashmir to readers. I, for one, had not realized the importance of a few events described in this book, such as :

  1. When the Pakistani raiders first attacked the State of Kashmir, most of the Hindus fled and it was left to Sheikh Abdullah’s party to stem the tide till the Indian military forces stepped in.
  2. That Dr Farooq Abdullah was a fun-loving medical doctor settled happily in the UK till he was pulled back home by his ailing father Sheikh Abdullah to take over what was his legacy in difficult circumstances
  3. That the Central Governments in Delhi had a huge role to play in mis-governing the troubled State, bringing matters to a head through the act of vengeance by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in dismissing Farooq Abdullah’s Government in 1984 or the widespread rigging in the elections of 1987.

Events like these led up to the major problems that erupted in the Kashmir Valley in the late 1980’s. It is surprising that the then Government did not forsee how some of the actions they took, like the Farooq-Rajiv Gandhi Accord of 1986, were doomed to fail the way they were designed and implemented.

It was troubling to read in this book that the media too was terribly biased and wrote only what the powers that be wanted them to write. Most major journalists ( Tavleen was an exception) didn’t go to Kashmir at all but wrote up their reports sitting in the comfort of Delhi based on inputs sent in by local stringers, many of whom were biased or incompetent, Not surprisingly, the rest of India had to settle for what appeared in the media or what they conjectured could be the real situation in Kashmir.

An interesting book and I wonder if Tavleen will write a sequel now that we are in 2016, or are things in Kashmir still the same as they were in 2000, or earlier, or even going back to 1947? Highly recommended for history buffs and anyone with an interest in contemporary Indian politics.