Barkha Dutt’s book explores some of the burning issues in India and the complexities they create
“My defining memory of my mother would remain a photograph of her balanced precariously on the edge of an army tank, surrounded by soldiers, her head protected by an olive green helmet, thrown back in a full toothed smile, happy and utterly free,” writes Barkha Dutt. Perhaps someone else’s memory of their mother would have been more conventional but a journalist who has covered hard hitting news from wars to politics does not seem to deal in polemics of the banal. In her debut as an author, Barkha has given us, This Unquiet Land and she weaves her tales along what she terms as the country’s fault lines.
Barkha Dutt’s introduction to her book which looks upon the fault lines that divided this country explains this book as, “The place of women, terrorism, sectarianism, Kashmir, the games politicians play the rapidly changing class and caste equations within our society – all these are aspects of India that I have obsessed about throughout my career and it is these that I have explored as deeply as possible in the book, although each of these subjects could do with a book to themselves.” The issues that the author has dabbled in are complex, with several layers, each of which needs careful deconstruction to be understood in its fullness and yet, remains as intricate as ever. No author has an easy time with that.
As she talks of women, Barkha confesses her own ignorance of the class and caste dimension of gender dialogue. “Our privileged existence channelled our aggressive fight for identity and equality in other directions.” In the chapter, The Place of Women, she explores a number of so called ‘inconveniences’ that women accept as their lot in life.
It seems inevitable that Barkha eventually makes her way to the Kargil War. After all, her coverage of the 1999 Indo-Pak battle straight from the war-zone that made her a household name. The Cost of War reveals what the reports from the front could not. Her sources this time are her own memories of the soldiers with whom she developed a comradery, the war torn zone where life turned to death in a blink of an eye and sounds of blazing guns.
As Barkha talks of war, terrorism, politics, Kashmir and much more, she pours her journalistic soul into the chapters, recounting the events that she has experienced first-hand as a scribe. It makes the narrative interesting and provides it with a more realistic touch. However, one cannot help but feel that Barkha’s book is conspicuously ‘people less’. The richness of perspectives of different people whom she would have met during her career as a journalist does not find its way into it. Nonetheless, the research behind the book looks impressive and well put together. The book has several avenues for those who intend to acquaint themselves with India’s issues that have remained since centuries and want to gain a perspective on her social and political dilemmas. So sift through and get what you require.