Book Review: Durbar
Author: Tavleen Singh
Publisher: Hachette India
The process of mapping the growth of a country has seen a decline to a point where we do not have many books that talk about the political scenario between 1975 and 1991 from an insider's point-of-view. Hence, Tavleen Singh's book "Durbar" is an extremely interesting book. Tavleen Singh is one of India's most experienced political journalists with a career spanning nearly three decades and having covered virtually all the major events that went on to shape India's political history and future between 1975-1991.
The fact that we are in a country where Indian politicians slap a police official when caught driving on the wrong side of the road, it is not hard to guess that the concept of rulers and the ruled are coming back. Hence, there is little surprise when the most brazen law-breakers go on to become "law-makers" even as we continue to renew our faith in parliamentary democracy. Indeed, it is worse than that. We are in age when no one seems to really mind the democratic dynasty that is replacing the political scene in this country.
"Durbar" covers virtually all the major events between 1975 and 1991: the Emergency, the rise and fall of the Janata Government, Operation Bluestar, Indira Gandhi's assassination, Rajiv Gandhi's entry to politics and his subsequent death etc. Even while Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi were private citizens, Tavleen knew them well and hosted lunches and dinners for at her Golf Links studio apartment and was on first name terms with an elite English speaking club from the modern side of Delhi. It is an excellent book that provides insights to Sonia Gandhi's character, then a Prime Minister's wife and someone with utter contempt for Indian politics. Tavleen was unceremoniously "dropped" due to an unsympathetic profile that she had written.
Blending the ugly world of bigotry, poverty, violence and corruption, cronyism and sycophancy at the top, Tavleen Singh's "Durbar" is an enthralling narrative because it is relevant today as the disconnect between Delhi and the rest of India and a ruling establishment in which the media, the bureaucracy and politicians are part of a club. It is a fascinating read that is peppered with telling anecdotes that would leave many powerful people squirming and red-faced and succeeds in shattering the mystique surrounding one of India's most powerful political leaders: Sonia Gandhi. "Durbar" is an important addition to India's contemporary history, written by someone who had access to the power circles and honestly reported about the very concept India is. More importantly, it makes us think about whether if we have indeed matured as a democracy and helps in explaining a lot of what is happening around us today even as the political landscape and actors have changed.
"She had absolutely no interest in politics. The only comment on politics I remember her making was on a night when Rajiv and she were dropping me home after a dinner party. I asked her if she would like her children to be in politics some day, and she said, "I would rather have my children beg in the streets than enter politics."