18 January 2010

'Age of Kali' - William Dalrymple

The book begins with a description of the Hindu concept of Kali Yug - A time of disintegration and moral depravity. It is said that in this age evil influence will become dominant and will influence all spheres of human existence without hindrance. It is said to be an age where all humans will become Godless. The book resonates of this evil disintegration throughout. It is a description of that India that every Indian abhors and scoffs at. One that pictures all Indians as those who travel on the backs of elephants and domesticate snakes in their backyards.

Given the time he has spent in India, one would expect William Dalrymple to write more about the real India than about the India that is still stuck in 1930s. The book attempts at being a travelogue set in the 90s and is anything but that. India in the 90s was an astonishing story of a rising star, a country that had started to shed its inhibitions to showcase the grit and sheen that it is actually made up of. The book has none of those positive stories that would have made it a wholesome read.

Instead, Dalrymple manages to find himself at the wrong time and the wrong place and hence a volume of essays about an India that is struggling to shed its past. For a reader with even a scantiest familiarity about life in India - the book simply feels wrong. Stories about Lucknow and its erstwhile glory or Hyderabad and its chronicled excesses don't strike any chord other than as a rant of old men. A coverage of people and events that range from Baba Segal to Shobha De, Laloo Prasad Yadav and Gayatri Devi too does not do justice to the abundance that is India.
Overall, a disappointing read.


  1. hmmm... I always thought this book would be around the propiation of Goddess Kaali. Never struck me that it could be about Kali yug.

    Funny - just a week back my dad called me up and gave me trivia on 'Kaliyug'. Research work by an IIT / IIM alumni has revealed that 'Kaliyug' started on Thursday, 17th February, 3102 BC! And 5000 years into this yug we are still only in the first 'paadam' i.e. the first quarter of it!

    Long way to go maan! more disintegration and depravity to come - what a cheerful thought!

  2. Me too! I thought it was about Kaali till I read the introduction chapter. I remember reading a book on rivers in India - 'River Sutra' by Gita Hariharan - years back... I expected the book to be similar to that. Also one of the reasons for my disappointment I guess!