For all of India’s myths, its sea of stories and moral epics, its history remains a curiously unpeopled place.
Incarnations: India in 50 lives by commentator Sunil Khilnani recaptures the human dimension of how the world’s largest democracy came to be. In other words, he seems to have shifted from The Idea of India to the 'idea of Indians'. In a deeply-researched book spanning 2,500 years, Khilnani explores the lives of 50 people who have shaped India, beginning with the spiritualist Buddha and ending with the capitalist Dhirubhai Ambani.
India’s current ideology defines it as a united Hindu nation, endowing it with appropriately Hindu antecedents, with the inevitable simplifications that it involves. Khilnani sees this political climate as a crucial moment to recall India’s history and creative energy, as a place open to radical experiments with self-definition, able to produce a Mirabai, a Malik Ambar, a Periyar, a Muhammad Iqbal and a Mohandas Gandhi.
Check out the album below to see who made the list and who didn't:
These portraits of emperors, warriors, philosophers, poets, movie stars, and corporate titans — some famous, some unjustly forgotten — bring feeling, wry humour, and uncommon insight to social dilemmas that extend from ancient times to our own. Selecting 50 people from India's history was always going to be an onerous and thankless exercise, but the choice to include Muhammad Ali Jinnah over Jawaharlal Nehru is likely to spark off numerous debates across the land.
Khilnani journeys across the country to ayurvedic call centres, slum temples, Bollywood studios and Indian think-tanks, revealing how these incarnations impact on contemporary issues: The position of women in society, the nature of love and sexual choice, cults of personal political power, claims to water and land, racial prejudice, and economic inequality.
Incarnations explores the question "What is India?" through remarkable lives and their legacies, to reveal the productive plurality and uncertainty of our nation.