Feeling of loss is no alien to human nature; indeed it abounds in our modern age marked by pace and aspiration. But seldom does it happen that a book leaves you in that feeling, like a loss of a long friend. A book is essentially a monologue and at most exposes one to the writer’s mind. But even that monologue can resonate with your inner intimate questions and then the book becomes a dialogue. Discovery of India is one such book.
Written in a prison cell, this book is a discovery of his past by a troubled yet resolute mind. It is an admission of the failings of one’s land, but not with a sense of helplessness and self-pity but with a sense of responsibility, hope and action. This book is the product of the times when an ancient civilisation encumbered by the burden of its past, shamed by its present status of stagnation and slavery was coming to terms with harsh realities of the present and intimidating challenges of the future. That was a moment of transition. And in those moments national mind runs the risk of getting overwhelmed; it craves for an anchorage, a civilisational aspiration. And Jawaharlal Nehru tries to establish that anchorage. He ventures into past and traces the roots of our country. Though not deeply, he examines the culture, the literature, the science, the philosophy and the vital force which drove India as one nation, one people. One might sense a tinge of self-glorification during this part of the book but that can be forgiven for the honesty and self-realisation of his failings on the part of the writer. This journey to the past is not for the romance of the past or the nostalgia, it is a purposeful journey; a journey to consolidate one’s ancient heritage and wisdom; to frankly face one’s mistakes and failings; and to prepare oneself for the change.
To classify this book as one of the historical accounts of India will be an incomplete assessment. Nehru is wrestling with many themes in this book- the vital links that connect past with the present and portend future trajectories; an individual’s sense of self and civilsational values he inhabits; and larger journey of humanity. The book tries to understand the pathways through which these themes feed into one another.
The approach Nehru adopts is an amalgam of pragmatism and idealism, of normative and empirical; of inner and physical; of visible and invisible. The clarity of thoughts in this book astonishes the reader. And so does the realisation by the author of his limits of comprehension.
It is an indispensable account to come to terms with the idea of modern India and the promise of an ancient civilisation.