For many of us who were teenagers in the 50s, 60s or 70s, patriotism was a normal social and familial reality, no cousin to the fervid nationalism that exists today. It was normal to revere the leaders who won us our freedom from colonialism, gave us the Constitution, our national anthem, or our right to speak and vote and educate ourselves freely. It was normal to read about our rich spiritual history, and be proud of it, not directed by mere jingoism, as is the wont today. The social reality in 2019 is vastly different, however much we want to wish it away. The nation is an entirely new animal today.
In this environment, Devika Cariapa’s 25 Game Changers, is an exciting departure from the norm. Using a clear-headed and impartial metric, Devika chooses 25 of the nation’s top visionaries in the last 100 years (or more) who have shaped the country—its social norms,culture, art, sports, science and politics—and challenged its people to ceaselessly reason, question and improve, paving the path for individual and collective growth.
The list of the visionaries encompasses men and women from across the country, chosen not only for their passion and commitment to a purpose, a belief or a craft, but also for their love for their country, its people and rich heritage. Despite the neutral, practical tone of the passages describing these famous personalities, listing their profound ideals and their struggle to overcome insurmountable odds, author Devika Cariapa infuses a candid warmth that underpins each sentence. There is care in her prose, thought in every sentence and above all, an unerring clarity about evoking the interest of her core audience—young readers who enjoy condensed powerful imagery.
Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and CV Raman find place in the collection, all heartening inclusions! More significantly, however are other extraordinary, path-breaking voices that have broken taboos and delineated a narrative that was so penetrating and true that they left everlasting change in social mores and national history.
The few pages on Dakshayani Velayudhan, a fierce and feisty Dalit voice from Kerala’s Pulaya community, who rose against inequality and injustice to finally overcome all odds, makes one thirsty to read more. Here is an incredible account of a woman in early 20th century fighting to set right caste, gender and role issues! In 2019, she would have had 20 million Twitter followers!
Here is Rukmini Devi Arundale dancing over the pages, comfortably turning down Morarji Desai’s request to become the President of India! Meanwhile, Rukmini was re-inventing the dance form of Devadasis, the sadir, and anointing it as ‘Bharatanatyam’, a Sanskritized term which was so purist as to appease the archest Brahmin in Chennai society. For a young reader of today, it is fascinating to dive into the etymology of Bharatanatyam and connect the passion of Rukmini Arundale to today’s global acceptance of an art form that was first celebrated in Kalakshetra, Rukmini’s institution of dance.
Another fascinating account is of DD Kosambi, a maverick Harvard educated scholar, mathematician, geneticist, anthropologist, historian and numismatist—not to mention a linguist with command over twelve languages. In light of today’s heated debate over the archaeological remains of the famous ‘Rakhigarhi Woman’, and its significance, (hopefully untainted by far-Right ideology and appropriation), it is thrilling to read of Kosambi exhorting scientists and archaeologists in 1956 to consider the social, military, political and religious contexts that shaped the history of India and its people over millennia.
Real history is not of kings and king-makers and battles won or lost. Real history is about the people of the land! This reviewer will surely circle back to the seminal work of Kosambi: An Introduction to the Study of Indian History.
And then there is Satyajit Ray. As legendary Japanese film maker, Kurosawa said. ‘Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.’ There is not much to add to that glowing tribute, but Devika manages to use her words with an understated flourish to create the multifaceted persona of a giant of the creative arts, specifically film making and writing. Watching Ray’s films or reading his books may be a natural progression for a reader.
This is a delightfully planned, written and presented book. It opens 25 windows into the extraordinary worlds of extraordinary people in language, presentation and style that will only stoke the desire to learn more.
It is to be hoped that parents, schools and libraries pick up copies, while Amazon lends it several stars!
For other readers, old and young, if you have ever felt a swell of emotion listening to the national anthem, get this book. Our countrymen are indeed quite incredible!
Lover of the arts and languages, and one-time journalist, Rina Sen Goel writes, reads and worries about the state of the environment.