There are some books I'm nervous of reviewing: books that are absolutely magnificent, epic and in every sense of the word, a brilliant read. There's always a feeling that my review will not do justice to the greatness of the book. That's the case as far as this book is concerned, but I'm trying my best to put to words my thoughts of a 584-page masterpiece most of whose pages have dogears as I over-excitedly marked pages I loved. Which soon turned out to be almost every page.
Jawaharlal Nehru's life is one that saw the birth and 'making' of a nation. He was, in many ways, the architect of modern India and his life is as complex, brilliant and complicated as it can get for any biographer. But M.J. Akbar more than handles it with ease. This biography is not an exercise in worshiping India's first Prime Minister. Rather, it analyzes with great sensitivity and impressive neutrality.
Akbar isn't afraid of criticising Nehru where the criticism is needed, but he is equally generous in praising the man who inherited a broken, poverty-stricken, injured India after partition and rejuvenated her considerably.
Some issues are dealt with in-depth, particularly the Hindu-Muslim ties that was an issue that persisted throughout Nehru's life, the wonderful relationship between 'Bapu' Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru and of course, foreign policy issues, especially the 1962 China war. It is essential that these issues are explained well because most of Nehru's life dealt with it and Akbar does an admirable job of introducing the reader to some concepts and issues, without preaching to them.
But the book isn't just about the 'serious' side of Nehru. Akbar's witty writing style can hold his own in non-fiction, much like his earlier Kashmir: Behind The Vale. His eye for irony, detail and the unknown trivia that amazes you, is one of the greatest advantages of this book.
Several witty incidents, interesting moments that reveal this great personality make for wonderful reading. I particularly loved how Akbar gave the reader a clear, important insight into Nehru's childhood and early time in politics which had several moments that inspired and influenced Nehru's later policies and life.
Enough emphasis is laid on the important people in Nehru's life, like father Motilal, daughter Indira, colleagues like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and many others. Akbar, ever the sensible journalist, draws quick insightful references from Nehru's life to the Nehru-Gandhi family that occupies an ever-significant place in Indian polity.
This book took me several months to read, though admittedly, this wasn't the only book I read. It was also because I wanted to take in and save in my mind whatever I was reading because this is by no means a light read. But it is a more than rewarding read which takes you on a journey through the great man's life and moves you tremendously at moments, while still clearly explaining the mistakes and flaws in his career.
Nehru: The Making of India, much like Nehru himself, is inspiring, patriotic, wonderful, epic, complex and unforgettable. I shall go back to this book several times again and again because it's the kind of book worth cherishing. And if this doesn't make the book sound good enough, the fault is entirely with my review and not the magnificent book.