Read The Way Things Were by Aatish Taseer Online

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Skanda's father, Toby, has died, estranged from Toby's mother and from the India he loved. Skanda is tasked with fulfilling Toby's final wish and returning his ashes to his birthplace. It is a journey that takes him from Manhattan to Delhi, and deep into the story of his family: in particular, to a night three decades earlier, when an act of shocking violence forced his paSkanda's father, Toby, has died, estranged from Toby's mother and from the India he loved. Skanda is tasked with fulfilling Toby's final wish and returning his ashes to his birthplace. It is a journey that takes him from Manhattan to Delhi, and deep into the story of his family: in particular, to a night three decades earlier, when an act of shocking violence forced his parents' fragile marriage apart. Set at flashpoints in 1975, 1984, 1992 and the present day, The Way Things Were shows how our most deeply personal stories are shaped by ancient history and volatile politics; how the life of a country and the life of an individual are irrevocably entwined. Spanning three generations, it is at once intimate and panoramic, with a thrilling ambition that places it alongside such masterpieces as A Suitable Boy and A Fine Balance....

Title : The Way Things Were
Author :
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ISBN : 9781447272724
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 560 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Way Things Were Reviews

  • Leah
    2018-11-27 04:32

    The past is a foreign country...When Skanda's father dies, it falls to Skanda to accompany his body back to India for the funeral rites. Though at first reluctant to go, once there, Skanda decides to stay on for a while, living in his parents long-empty flat in Delhi. The death of his father and the experience of meeting up with many of the people he knew in childhood leads him to remember and re-assess the recent history of his family, from the period of the Emergency in the mid-70s until the present day. Like his father, Skanda is a Sanskrit scholar, with a penchant for finding linguistic cognates – seeking out the shared roots of words across languages ancient and modern. And yet – strange as it must seem – they had a corresponding desire to make a great show of their Indianness, to talk of classical dance recitals, of concerts, of textiles, and spirituality. To throw in the odd precious word or phrase of Hindustani, to upstage their social rivals with a little bit of exotica so obscure that no one could be expected to know it. India was their supreme affectation! They wore it to dinner, as it were; and, of course, the ways in which they were truly Indian – their blindness to dirt and poverty, their easy acceptance of cruelty – they concealed very well.And this book is about roots, or about what happens to a person, and by extension a society, when it becomes culturally detached from its roots. Skanda's family comes from the rich English-speaking society of Lutyen's Delhi, those who became such an integral part of colonial India that decades after Independence they still educate their children in English and look to Dickens and Shakespeare as their cultural classics. But through Skanda and his father Toby, Taseer suggests that this disconnect with Indian culture and heritage pre-dates Empire, that already India had forgotten or distorted its history and that this has fed into the divides within modern society. The fascination that Toby and Skanda have with Sanskrit and the ancient writings of India are openly symbolic of what seems like a cry for India to look past the turmoil of the last couple of centuries and to reclaim her pride in her own heritage as one of the great and influential cultures of the early world. The point is made that Skanda pursues his research into Sanskrit, not in India, where it is looked on as a kind of curiosity, but in America. (As someone who has banged on a good deal about the loss of national culture and heritage in my own country, Scotland, I found this whole aspect of the book eerily familiar, especially the tendency, which I share, of blaming external sources, namely the British Empire, for the loss, when in fact it tends to be as much the aspirations of the educated of the society itself that allow this to happen.) But the book isn't just about India's past. It also looks at the politics of the present from the time of Mrs Gandhi to today. When reading Mistry's A Fine Balance, I complained that the book concentrated so much on the poverty and misery of the underclasses that it failed to offer any answers or hope for the future. Taseer's novel is in no way overly optimistic, but because it concentrates on a class that wields power and influence, the message is much more that India must and can choose its own future, not by rejection of its past, recent and ancient, but by understanding it and building on it. Taseer shows the rise of the new industrial class and, while they're not necessarily shown in the most attractive light, they are a vivid contrast to the rather effete upperclass shown as clinging to the habits and values of the colonial period.Here the murk has sunk deepest. Tonight, the British city, with its low domes and bungalows, is like a submerged necropolis. The rickshaws glide along its streets, with that stealthy sense of purpose with which single-beam submersibles in documentary films explore the ocean floor; the yellow streetlights, buried in the canopies of trees, have the nested glow, at once inviting and dangerous, of marine wonders behind screens of sharp coral; and, everywhere, the dense cold air, sulphurous and full of particles, closes over old wounds. Even where the scar tissue runs deepest, the line between the British city and the Muslim town to its north, where the escapees of one upheaval came to populate the abandoned places of another, the fog, easy and billowing, brings a feeling of continuity, at once even-handed and insensitive, like the blanketing hush of a first snow, like curfew in Srinagar.That might all make the book sound unbearably dull, but in amongst all the politics and philosophising are a group of exceptionally well drawn and believable characters, whose story is interesting not just for what it tells us about India, but in itself. Skanda is to a large degree merely there to tell the story of his parents, Toby and Uma. Uma is without exception the most intriguing female character I have come across in Indian fiction and, for me, she is the heart of the book; and is in many ways the personification of this post-colonial class that Taseer is portraying. When I read Taseer's earlier book, Noon, one of my reservations about it was that the women in the book were almost entirely background figures, so I was particularly pleased to see such a strong female figure front and centre in this one. Very much a flawed human, Uma is nevertheless the product of her society, and she has an independence of character that I found very refreshing. To some degree, she is still defined by the marriages that she makes, but she makes those choices for herself. The difficulties for women in what is still a male-dominated and very unequal society are not minimised, but through Uma we see the glimmerings of change. It's always a pleasure when one marks an author as 'one to watch', as I did with Taseer after reading Noon, and then finds that promise fulfilled. This huge and ambitious book is full of profound insight, brilliant characterisation and beautiful language. It's not unflawed – sometimes Taseer's voice comes through too strongly, making his point rather than leaving the reader to find it, and the device of Skanda telling the story of his family's past to his new girlfriend is clunky in places. But the quality of the prose and the depth of insight outweigh any weaknesses in the structure and make this an enlightening and deeply thought-provoking read. And though Taseer avoids giving any easy answers, I came away from the book with a sense of optimism; a feeling that perhaps the intellectual direction of India might be moving somewhat away from contemplation of its failures towards consideration of how to achieve a better, and inherently Indian, future. An exceptional book from an author who is emerging as a major voice in literature. NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.www.fictionfanblog.wordpress.com

  • KumarAnshul
    2018-11-14 04:18

    A story transcending the contemporaric notion of time. A story of past to discover and understand who you are while going through the present, facing its dystopic ugliness. A story of a family of elites, of mixed race royals to the political luminaries. A semantic journey through Sanskrit, Greek and Latin, idiosyncratically connected to the 1984 and 1992 riots. A vivid portrait of love, marriage, parenting and divorce with the chronicles of Independent India running in parallel. Aatish Taseer has done a commendable job in woving up this complex tale which runs through three generations of a family. Though the 'difficult to understand' prose may prove to be a setback, it's an arresting read nevertheless.

  • Neha Oberoi
    2018-11-20 01:38

    A vicious narrative of the historic events that have shaped India or rather Delhi through the eyes of the drawing room set of the Gandhi dynasty and especially through the puzzled eyes of a kid growing up in that time. Swept up with the chaos of theological agenda and dotted with the unknown beauty of a lost language. A pleasure to read with memorable characters and an especially colourful description of the Delhi of the 70 and 80s. Lovely read.

  • Miriam Jacobs
    2018-12-09 05:11

    With Aatish Taseer we encounter a writer whose intellectual power and scope - he knows a breadth of the world, from New York to Kerachi, as intimately as most of us know only our own small lives. And no one, no one conveys setting - seasons of settings - with Taseer's precision and beauty. The Way Things Were, plotted on circular time, seasonal time, so that readers might move from the book's end to its beginnings without too much narrative break, in structure is comparable in its success only to something we might find in Cormac McCarthy. Taseer's plot also is modeled, by analogy, on a large segment from the Ramayana, The Birth, which concerns Prince Rama's childhood and marriage, and his finding, like many mythic sons, a way to taking his father's place in the landscape. The plot works on the convention of tale-within-a-tale. There is the frame story of Skanda, a son unable to move forward with the deposition of his late father's ashes, and within it the narrative of Skanda's parents' marriage - a Dickensian bit that brings David Copperfield to mind: 'In the beginning, I was born.' It's not clear to me whether the limit of this view is more revelatory of Skanda's youth, Taseer's, or new India's - false, self-chosen, disingenuous.Taseer's theme is the decay of the subcontinent's cultural history in the popular imagination, the product of deracination, and of assimilation with Western values and pursuits. In that way the novel is a somewhat lengthy lachrymosa. Embedded in this sorrow is an appeal to the reader - to Indians primarily, but it is applicable to almost anyone: know your history; tell the truth about it; consult it for understanding the present - but without trying to return to it - a bogus effort that can only end in disaster, as we have seen in the efforts of living Muslims to invoke Islam's lost empire. This universal applicability works especially well for American readers and is why, I think, Americans have tremendous ease in accessing Indian cultural values: middle-class Indians these days, like Americans, have pretensions to education, but what they/we want most is to live well and buy things. Neither of us is much interested in the the real past or the effort it would take to acquaint ourselves with it in any depth. Instead, we are satisfied to mouth unconsidered, inaccurate slogans: 'Sanskrit is the mother of all languages' or 'Railroads opened up the West.' Further, the novel is suffused, bursting, with delightful details - cognates of Sanskrit with modern languages, epigrammatic statements the reader aches to share via social media, insights to character like Skanda's realization that his father, Toby, a magnificent scholar, is nevertheless 'only a teacher.' Toby's work, in the end, has done nothing to bring about the change he longs for - in a sense it is a change that amounts to stasis, which is impossible - the novel's obsession with language is the best metaphor for that impossibility - for India to become a museum to itself -although Toby maligns the idea. This museum, in fact, presents itself in a plot element, the building of an Indian Holocaust Museum, a wrong-headed effort at once distasteful and tasteless, laughable and sad. There is also Skanda's mother Uma's inability to shed Toby's world, despite their divorce. She has become the thing she scorned - a psychological phenomenon people who have been married and divorced recognize. Finally we revel in Taseer's humor - 'she's slept with half the Punjab' - a saying no matter how frequently invoked collapses us with laughter.However, I hate to say this - I dislike drawing away from so much that is instructive, memorably articulated in this novel - but I don't think The Way Things Were is finished work. The events are connected with one another by a seemingly endless string of parties - plastic beads on a chain - parties that inevitably grow ugly from voiced and simmering hostilities. Some of these anecdotes add little and could be cut, or summarized. Also some transition scenes in the frame story seem to be there so we won't forget who we are talking about - but they contribute to an unevenness in tone the reader finds disturbing. There is a conversation between Skanda and his lover, for example - intended to reveal the characters' normality and playfulness - this scene in particular feels deliberately constructed and rings false. Counter to this criticism is the fact that there are episodes that are actually underdeveloped. There is an encounter, early in the novel, between Uma and an abusive passenger on a plane. Their conflict is key. Its insult to Uma's pride is the motive for her eventual connection with Toby. She wants to undo a vision of herself as ignorant and powerless. Yet, I went back and re-read it I don't know how many times. Uma is relating the story about the plane to her sister in the way human beings frequently do - to uncover the meaning of an event in the telling - and the conversation is unfinished, inconclusive. People make extraordinary decisions because of pride, and are often unable to unpack the source. It should not have been so difficult for the reader to make out what is happening. It's familiar. But Uma never does quite get to the bottom of it, even much later when she feels plagued by all she's learned, and it takes untoward effort for the reader to do so, which tells me something is missing. And there are sentences, not too many but a few, that somehow got through the editing, but need revision. It's understandable when you are drafting 500-plus pages - you've read the thing so many times you can't see it anymore, you hope to never see it again. I resisted the temptation to mark some of these passages, not wanting to feel like I am being mean, but there they are there.Finally, I must point out: the most interesting character in this book is the narrator - an omniscient but unidentified voice - Taseer's own voice, his perspective, his view, his observations, his language that engages us - we want to return to it again and again - a voice I will go back to for as long as he is working.

  • Ritu
    2018-12-06 01:11

    Once you've read a book cover to cover, there's a sense of loss; but also a sense of learning.. learning something new or maybe looking at something age old with new eyes. This book is all about India & people who see it in their own unique way. The India of Toby is vastly different from that of Maniraja. Uma's pragmatism is wildly different from her son's sense of aloofness. Different characters.. so many different perspectives. But, the most interesting of all is the narrative oscillating between Toby's India & Skanda's perspective of the same. No Indian reading the book wouldn't identify the events being talked about in the book, & also perhaps the ramifications of these. The book's journey can be particularly personal & close to that of someone who's ever pondered upon the effects of all these events on the fabric of a diverse nation such as India. It's confusing, depressing & illuminating, all at the same time.. this journey. The book is captivating & makes you think. Little things like the way different religions think of each other, their insecurities in context to the time.. they make the book especially insightful. It's a beautiful journey full of memories, some good others bad, & of lessons learnt from surviving India through challenging times.

  • Samir
    2018-12-03 21:27

    'The Way Things Were' is an ode to Sanskrit and a reminder of what it actually means to be a rational Indian... This book tells a beautiful bittersweet story of a family against the backdrop of changing phases of Indian politics...Aatish Taseer places history in the center and explores the different approaches towards the recorded past and how these approaches affect psyches of people and thus the future of a nation... And in all this how we lose the very essence of history which is to learn from our mistakes in the past... Instead we lose our future by using history to recreate those mistakes in the name of securing our religions.'The Way Things Were' has a lot of important things to say... A Must Read...

  • Bharti
    2018-12-02 21:30

    Wow. The experience of reading this book was like getting familiarised with one's past. Of knowing about human nature and its implications on the world around us. Of discovering nothing and everything. To the lay man it will look like a world of shallow, intellectual snobs for whom the reality is limited to drawing room discussions with imported scotch in hand. It was a sense of deja vu, of vacation times when granny would tell us pre partition stories. This book also gave me a glimpse into a side of the story of people close to my heart - of a side of the Sikh story. There is so much of the language and history woven into each line, word and the characters that nothing shocked or surprised me. It felt comforting knowing the characters, the love of language the protagonist had even the irritation some of the characters felt towards it. I pre ordered the book without even looking what the story line was. Every book of the author, who is my number one favorite, is a must buy for me. I was surprised and happy as I enjoyed The way things were thoroughly. Initially reading a few reviews I wondered how much of the Sanskrit references would I be able to understand and cope with. Will it be full of past references or will I get a crash course in Sanskrit. All my fears were dispelled and questions ceased once I started reading. Like all his previous works, Aatish Taseer makes sure the reader is comfortable with the characters and I too was interested in knowing their stories right from the start.Who will enjoy this book? Well anyone and everyone who keeps an open mind and is not prejudiced to past. Keeping an open mind and accepting the fact that there are all kind of people with their own thought processes will make this an enjoyable read for you. This book gives you an idea, even if just in the background, of how the Indian scene changed politically, socially since the emergency of 70's to the liberalisation and the latest emergence of IT market. Its a book about being in the present and seeing iti- hasa through the eyes of the characters. Hope you enjoy it too.

  • Kookie
    2018-12-01 02:33

    It took me a long time to get through this because it required a LOT of supplemental reading. I realized I know NOTHING about 20th Century Indian history, so I had no context for many of the events mentioned in the book. It was some very, very interesting reading and I learned a lot. I also loved the parts about how Sanskrit is the mother of all languages and how many Sanskrit words are still in use today in one form or another.My only beef is that the family in the story is rather boring. With all the tragedies and political upheavals going on all around them, I just didn't care about their petty jealousies and personal problems.Also, many Hindi phrases went untranslated and I couldn't pick up their meaning from context.

  • Micebyliz
    2018-12-08 23:19

    I have read quite a few novels of India so i was looking forward to this one. I got lost after about 5 pages, but plodded on. I lost who was speaking, who was who, where they were (whoever they were)and i lost the plot. I have read Kafka without this much trouble. I must be missing something because many reviewers found it really good.

  • Arvind
    2018-12-10 05:12

    This book reminded me of many things - its unhurried, leisurely pace reminded of a ghazal concert, the movement to-and-fro in time and the personal/national history mixture reminded a bit of Rushdie. Yet it never became boring or too difficult. And some passages are memorable. The book grows on u.Recommended reading.

  • Pavan V
    2018-12-05 22:23

    A highly addictive book which emphasizes about Sanskrit and Indian culture. The story goes parallel with the contemporary Indian history and the lives of the characters in the novel. The novel is mainly divided into four parts which is related to the Indian history. Beautifully written and the story connects with the historical background of India.

  • Book Riot Community
    2018-11-15 04:23

    A son is tasked with returning the body of his father, the Maharaja of Kalasuryaketu, to India. The journey will take him halfway around the world, and bring him back in touch with his family. A beautiful look at familial obligation, culture, and facing the past.Tune in to our weekly podcast about all things new books, All The Books: http://bookriot.com/category/all-the-...

  • Sameera Kamulkar
    2018-11-24 21:16

    Too much prose, too many words.A great subject but the writer got carried away with his own vocabulary.I really wanted him to go somewhere with the book. I was disappointed.

  • Doug
    2018-11-25 03:25

    It's exceedingly rare that I don't finish a book.... but got almost 100 pages into this... and really didn't care to go any further. it wasn't that is was TERRIBLE...just boring and uninteresting.

  • Simran
    2018-12-09 03:20

    “This is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong”. – F. Scott FitzgeraldAs I finished reading this book, and at so many points while reading it, this is the quote that came to my mind, again and again. I am at a loss of words right now, and so full of emotions – I feel like I wanna go to a corner and burst into tears. What this book has narrated to me, seems like a part of my own thoughts that were still undeveloped. It fills me with immense joy to think that someone of our times, someone living in modern India and seeing it change everyday, could be capable of constructing such a splendid story about the loss of culture and language. It fills me with hope for my fellow Indians, and myself. The thoughts so beautifully expressed in this book have often made me think, but they never gave me answers. Because the questions were still not formed, thus the answers were impossible to find. But Aatish Taseer has given voice to thoughts that haunt (and now I’m sure) many Indians of our generation. Maybe its difficult to understand exactly what is happening to the place where you belong, when it has been changing so rapidly. Aatish Taseer’s book, in such a scenario, is a breath of fresh air, and hope.The book is about a man, Toby, a Sanskritist, (of half Indian and half foreign origin), who sees India through the lenses of the language of ancient Indian texts. Living in India, post-Independence, during a time when change is the only constant in a newly independent country, Toby finds it difficult to keep his hopes up about the people recognizing their loss of language and culture. The story is narrated mostly by his son, who is now back in India from America after his father’s death and he is narrating the story of his parent’s life to Gauri, a woman in whom he finds solace in the city where he grew up. The story of Toby and his wife Uma is closely affected by the major events that happened in India post-Independence. Indira Gandhi’s death, 1984, and 1992 with the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Toby, Uma and everyone around them are affected indirectly by these events, and thus the change is felt almost too strongly by Toby, whose vision of India is a passion too strong to change.This book is not just about India and its events post-independence, but about so much more all at once. Everything that is so real, so obvious and so clear, but it makes you think why you didn’t notice it before. In so many ways, this is an eye-opener. The author has excelled in creating a fictional story out of the harsh reality of a nation that has been moving towards a change which is so hard to resist for its current generation. But even though the grief has been expressed, the author also sprinkles hope for India, much like Toby himself. It would be impossible to list out the number of phrases and whole pragaraphs that have left me awestruck throught this book, and which I have marked for future reference. There are some points made in this book that are a big question mark on our lives, and the future of our country. And which we must think about. As Tripathi says in the last part, “There is a small chance that they (the young generation of Indians) will feel its loss. And when they’re ready – when they want their culture back – it’ll be there, waiting for them in the West, like so much else.” Yes, this book does make you feel loss, and emptiness as you turn the pages and near its end. I don’t really know if it has had or would have such a strong impact on others, but for me this book means so much. SO much. And I think, as I recommend this book, I would be so glad when someone tells me that they loved it – that they wanna discuss about it. Because it is books like these that deserve to be a modern Indian classic – it is books like these that should become the voice of the nation; that should do the rounds, rather than some random One Night at the call center and three mistakes of someone’s life. It is books like these that can bring a change and trigger thoughts obscured by so much happening around us, so much we are disappearing into.

  • Srinath
    2018-11-25 00:35

    This novel published last year is certainly one of the best books that I have read by an Indian writer . When some events in the country from the recent past are part of the narrative, one is naturally curious to see the author's perspective. Important events like the Emergency in 1975, the anti-Sikh riots in 1984, and the demolition of the mosque in 1992,- all these form a backdrop to the story in this novel.The Way Things Were tries to take an honest and intelligent look at the political and social aspects of the country through the window of the Toby family. The novel begins with Skanda tasked with returning the body of his father Toby to India. In the process he comes in touch with his family. The history of his family is interwoven with that of India's post independence history. Toby being someone deeply interested in Sanskrit and his son also carrying the same passion for the language is an important element in the novel.I have a habit of noting down the page numbers whenever I come across passages or a quote that I find interesting. In this book there was so much that was interesting that I had to pause every few pages to take in the beauty of a turn of phrase, an observation, an interesting cognate of a Sanskrit word, and so on.Look at the way the author presents the persona of Toby in just a couple of well chosen details-"...there was an innocence, a naivety in his face that gave away as someone who could not have grown up in India. Not, at least, in north India, where even the stray dogs had a knowing and watchful look. It was strange: there was never a man who knew more about India and, yet, knew India less, than Toby. He was like one of those men who fall in love with the idea of a woman, while all the time insulating themselves from her reality." - pg 54As Skanda discovers the story of his parents and other family members, we get to get to see the story of a family that goes through turmoil and change over each succeeding generation. Along with the family story, the author portrays the changes the country has gone through. In the process, a lot of insights are provided on the changing dynamics in terms of gender, class, caste and so on. Taseer is never sparing in his portrayal of the contradictions seen in the conduct of some sections of society. Here is a sample, where the author flashes his critical torchlight on the elite society of Delhi-"...to both be in India and to stand at a distance from it. The members of this class, who were already set apart from the rest of the country by the loss of language, by privilege, of course, and by what had come to seem almost like racial differences, had no desire to shed their distinctiveness. They clung to it, in fact, wanting nothing so much as to remain inviolable and distinct: foreigners in their own country.Important historical events in modern India like the Emergency also get a perceptive view in the backdrop of the travails of people caught in the storm. A couple of characters in the novel, called Vijaipaul and Gayatri Mann, prove handy for the author to come up with some strong views on the politics of the time.On Emergency-"...all it will do, this Emergency, is allow Indians to see themselves a little more clearly.""...by shattering the illusion of liberal democracy. It's very bad, you know, when you're such a third-rate place, to parade around high notions of liberalism and democracy, which is, as you know, developed at the height of another civilization's achievement; and which, in a place like India, only mask the reality. Hide the decay. Much better the end come fast."- pg 79;References to Sanskrit language appear throughout the novel. Through the characters of Toby and Skanda, who never fail to find cognates (words of the same origin) to Sanskrit words they come across. For word lovers (I am one too!), the book is a treasure house. Every other page has some interesting reference to some word or the other.Some examples of the glowing praise the Sanskrit language receives in the book are-"...in a country where so little was planned, everything haphazard and shoddy, here, at least, was an example of the most exquisite planning.""If we were to associate the genius of a place with one particular thing- the Russians with literature, say, or the Germans with music, the Dutch and Spanish with painting - we would have to say that the true genius of Ancient India was language. Not so much the use of it as the study of it: their grammars were peerless, easily the most profound meditation on language in pre-modern times." - pg 83;Lastly, more than anything else this novel is about history. The title itself is a translation of the Sanskrit word iti-ha-asa. The reality is that there does not seem to be much awareness or interest in the study of history in our country. Often, what little knowledge there is of history is also quite skewed.The following lines from the novel bemoan the same in the form of Gayatri Mann remembering Toby thus-"..His whole approach to things, to history, to memory, to place, to civilization: it was of another time. He used to think people couldn't do without an idea of their past, without an idea of who and what they were.That perhaps people can get by with a lot less than we thought. That perhaps this thin overlay of global culture, a few malls, a few movies, a mobile phone or two, is more than enough for most people. Enough to get them through.. - pg 510Taseer quotes Coatzee to make the point that a historical understanding must, in the end, be an understanding of the past as a shaping force upon the present. - pg 339Again, the need for history is reiterated by the following quote from V S Naipaul- "Men need history. It helps them to have an idea of who they are. But history, like sanctity, can reside in the heart; it is enough that there is something there" - pg 550For someone interested in contemporary writings on the recent past in India, a novel like The Way Things Were is definitely a good choice. The world of Sanskrit language, brought alive through the character of Toby and then his son Skanda, becomes a metaphor for the richness of the ancient culture and serves as a reminder that the things we truly ought to feel proud are often lost in the noise generated by the slogans of the new order.

  • Ankita
    2018-11-11 04:19

    Utterly disappointed. 53% in and I don't think I can be more patient. Characters almost always seem to launch into long winded monologues about life, it's purpose and all that shit. The story seems to be going nowhere. The plot seemed so interesting from the description but by now I'm convinced there's probably no real development ahead. All that Sanskrit is interesting in bits but after a while gets too redundant. It almost always used as fillers for every scene - every party, every conversation, and even courtship -.- Heck, even the son takes off after the father. Perhaps I had some expectations from this book and none of them were met and hence the sour review.

  • Morgan
    2018-12-12 02:14

    At times overly theatrical but always both emotionally and intellectually engrossing, Taseer's second novel is an impressive feat. For 568 pages, the author steadily leads us through a lyrical rumination on a family's development over time, geographies and language. The characters are beautifully built out, and that includes Sanskrit and India's history. What may initially seem esoteric about this novel is easily and beautifully unpacked by Taseer and his protagonists without being dumbed down, and I enjoyed this book from start to finish.

  • Kiran Watwani
    2018-12-07 03:37

    Wow. What a complicated, high culture, lofty (in the best and most self critical way) wonderful book. It's a spiral narrative of a man's life beginning with his death, and through the lens of his Sanskritist son. The narrative form is justified within the book itself as how stories happen, in our culture. Circular, and not necessarily logical in terms of space, time or even relevance. Of course Taseer is much more charming and can say all of this so it blows your mind and you understand and feel it simultaneously :) the book is like upcycled feelings. Moulding them, forcing them into form. Really taking what you have and making good art. Excellent. Clearly it comes across as extremely personal to me. The characters are way too bare and way too raw for them to have not been in someone's head for way longer than it might've taken to write this book, conception to print. They are also fairly one dimensional which makes it even more likely that they were not completely imaginary and most likely had a less complicated mind making these first and lasting observations.There is a larger urgent theme of trying to understand the meaning of Nation and trying to find self confidence and pride in your roots (because in Indian bookstores we have sections for "Indian Writing". This is not normal behaviour) and not stopping when you find language but to put it in its own atom splitter and go back further and further, while also splitting characters and history, both apart down the middle and layer by layer. I wish I could ask Taseer what he'd make of the new crop of Indian English language writers making the publishers these days. Anyway, I found the cognate game that the protagonist and his father play wonderful. Cognates that tell you where you have come from and in what direction we were moving before we lost language. Where human condition in this demographic region had reached and what we were meant to evolve from. Rather than move laterally, stall, kill time looking around and assimilating, before now possibly beginning again in this mutated form of culture that we can't bring ourselves to be proud of ("our class" of people, the English speaking middle class)In some ways it also felt like a much cooler version of some texts I'd read years ago for my "Multiculturalism and Democracy" class :)It is set of course, in the most dramatic 'emergency to assassination of Indra Gandhi' period, up to current Delhi. It is an era, and a woman, I'm terribly terribly fascinated by. But this is not Rohinton Mistry, this is Aatish Taseer, and he writes of the world he knows. And has thought about. In great great depth! This world is like how the Haazaron Khwahishen Aisi bunch might have turned into if they were a few years older. Also a world I've been fascinated by, but only in the way the rest of the country is fascinated by the entertainment industry. It's a separate kind of glamour and it is untouchable for someone who as Uma says in the end "has no language" or "culture". It is not democratic like Bombay or Bollywood. You cannot just find a way. You need to be brought into the fold and accepted for a certain role that you must perform. And you will be depended on to perform. The democracy of Bombay is that you can earn your place. This Delhi world that Taseer describes feels like a place your entire ancestry had to be put to work for :) They can feed forever it seems on the karma of their forefathers. It's so interesting because they are the flaneur that is suddenly thrown into action because the world they were observing, ultimately counted on them as a part of themselves even if they didn't... They weren't untouchable when passions ran wild and communities had to burn for political miscalculations in that mad mad era. But they (not the generation preceding them mind you) were touchable for a very, very short time, it seems, till now, when the author fears one will begin to consider stranger bedfellows. But it is nice also to know that the many books on Indra Gandhi and Nehru I've read as well as this one conjure up the same images of that world :) This consistency helps me imagine the way things indeed were because unfortunately no films have been allowed to expose that world to us.And how incredibly lucidly this world is given to us.. and what a skill to be able to recount personal history so movingly, so intensely, all through the high theme of language, while giving as much attention to political history (kind of like Ishiguro's Remains of The Day like that when I think of it. But not in any other way) of the time. Oh. Context Context Context. Uma's character, the protagonists mother, is like the mood of the nation itself. Her direction of growth and what she finally decides are priority.. like all women caught between the cusp of comfortable traditional rot/truths and the liberating, lonely life of the almost-but-not-quite self sufficient independent women, and also like an insecure, self conscious nation, as well as an ancient and evolved culture least worried about "space and time" as Toby tells his son Hinduism was. There's a lot happening in this book you know. Discussions of dialectics, charming trivia, grief and hence poetry (read the book for more on the lovely linguistic connection or "cognates" between the two) pride and understanding of history while at the same time acknowledgment (and grief) that things are only cyclical and must end. And that history repeats itself, as I think Marx says, as farce.

  • Marvin
    2018-12-09 23:38

    It's rare for me to not finish a book, but this is two in a row. After about 60 pages, this novel, set mostly in India about a father & son, both Sanskrit scholars, has failed to capture my interest, so I'm setting it aside.

  • Isha
    2018-12-05 04:18

    Picked after skimming various reviews out there, I decided to give this book a try. Although I was not much too familiar with the author before reading this book, I have lately decided to peruse and explore new contemporary writings on Modern India and this is the first book that caught my attention.A rather ambitious novel, the author ends up doing justice to both the content and the language which has a lyrical and poetic quality to it. The book operates at three levels: Juxtaposition of the distant past with the present (Ancient India with the Modern India), bringing alive the much forgotten world of the Sanskrit Language, literature and characters and the magic of this ancient language through the narrator and his father, Toby and the consequence of political to personal lives and how it shapes their sensibilities and destiny.Opening with Skanda, the son of the linguist professor who is engrossed “deep into his translation of The Birth of Kumara when his mother calls to say his father is on his deathbed”, the narrator undertakes the journey from Geneva to a modern Delhi to bring his father to his final burial place, the place abandoned by Toby two decades earlier never to return. On arriving to a modern New Delhi, the author is immediately plunged into a world of affluent, degenerate, glib and nouveau-rich Lutyens’ Delhi and lays bare an outward veneer of sophistication of this drawing – room set. From there, we begin a journey to the present day world of New Delhi and its juxtaposition with Vedic India and culture through the central metaphor of the Sanskrit language and measure the ever failing moral compass of the modern society as against the rich, moral fabric of the Ancient India. Delhi becomes a microcosm of the entire India which has no understanding of its rich heritage, of the past and is concerned with rewriting of its historical past without any understanding, preferring material over intellect.Through the personal lives of Toby, the narrator’s father and Uma, the narrator’s mother and Mahesh Maniraja, the symbol of modern India, who in Toby’s “considerable experience of India was utterly unfamiliar” and Uma’s brother. Sweeping through the panorama of wide political events starting from Emergency to the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 to 1992 falling of Babri Masjid, the author demonstrates the lasting effects of these events on the society which is never able to heal the fissures opened by these moments in history. Instead of confronting it, the society as a whole chooses to erase it from the collective memory and takes the road to fanaticism as shown in the approach taken by Maniraja who finances the new projects of “nationalism” and wants to rebuild the entire Hindu civilization out of the debris of the demolished mosque in Ayodhya. Toby, the Sanskrit linguist, becomes the mouthpiece of the author who mocks this rising bigotry of right-wing Hindutva leaders and coming of so – called Hindu Renaissance by revival of the Sanskrit language and observes that those who do not know the true meaning and heritage of the Sanskrit language becomes the most ardent and fervent voice for its revival. In leaving India, Uma’s brother and Toby depicts the passing of Nehru’s dream of the new India whose corruption is begun by none other than his daughter.Thus covering the vast landscape of events and characters, Aatish Taseer is successfully able to finish the ambitious task he sets for himself and in achieving the same; the book becomes a pure relish for anyone interested in understanding modern day India.

  • Deepan Banati
    2018-11-14 00:32

    Awful Page 3 style tattle of socialites who stoically face the ups and downs of their privileged lives with a drink in one hand and a smart repartee on the other hand . All this while 2 Sanskrit scholars (father and Son) struggle to reconcile modern India with Kalidasa's India. They find that what is left of Kalidasa's India has been appropriated by right wing nutters. No really ? And all this over 600 pages!I must be a sucker for a few Sanskrit phrases strewn around the book.

  • Waheed Rabbani
    2018-11-27 23:41

    Skanda, a Sanskrit scholar, travels from Manhattan to Switzerland to be at the deathbed of his father, Toby, a former maharaja of an Indian state, who chose a Western academic life. Upon Toby’s demise, Skanda is entrusted to accompany the body alone to India for the funeral. Neither Toby’s former wife, Uma, Skanda’s mother, nor his present wife, Sylvia, wishes to be at the cremation. Later, in posh Lutyens’ Delhi, Skanda decides to stay on awhile in his ancestral home. There he has the opportunity not only to reunite with his old family and friends, but also to reminisce about his father’s life, loves and marriages. He recalls several generations of his family’s history, particularly during a tumultuous period in India’s recent times, from the 1975 ‘Emergency,’ to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots following Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the ethnic violence following the destruction of the centuries-old Ayodhya Mosque in 1992. A shocked Toby had left India, and his son tries to unravel the impact of these upheavals on his family and on India as a whole.In this sprawling epic, Aatish Taseer has word-painted an immense canvas of modern Indian history: its peoples, cultures and languages. The three calamitous events, which occurred following the 1947 Independence and Partition, and their impact in shaping family members’ lives, are aptly narrated, although the constant shifting of time frames, scenes and thoughts requires careful reading. Apart from history, the novel examines the roots and cognates of common words in Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, with other languages, and, in bringing it to life, presents an allegory for India to seek out its glorious past in the so- called Hindu Renaissance, while cautioning us about modern society’s penchant for seeking out greed over intelligence. An enlightening novel. Highly recommended.This review first appeared in the HNR issue 73 (August 2015)

  • Udyan Khanna
    2018-11-20 01:13

    This is one of the best books for 2015 that I have read. I cannot believe that it was not nominated for Booker Prize. I was very lucky to discover it in one of the reviews for another book."When culture dies, its slogans grow louder, it cliches become like articles of faith". The story is about Toby, a Sanskritist. I did not know that such a term existed. His love for the language makes him believe that as the culture in India gets to breathe and grow after years of colonialism, it will discover its root and rediscover its glory - "I thought I would witness one of those moments when genius returns to a place from which all the memory of it has departed". However, when he find that all the land discover is its mistaken sense of identity which has been overtaken by feeling of revenge, his world comes crashing down.The epic tale starts with Emergency and the disbelief it brought in the patriots and independence fighters. They could not believe that the family that represented freedom will take it away. It weaves into the 1984 riots when the Hindu turned against their protectors. It ends with Barbi Masjid demolition. In between is woven the story of a mother ("Uma"), who cannot stand the stoic dream world of her first husband but fights to live through the ugly pragmatic world of her second husband. It is beautiful how the events happening in society are woven with her personal experiences.A must read for anyone, especially for someone who lived in Norther India in the last part of 20th century.

  • Karan
    2018-12-02 03:36

    A noble failure. Found Taseer juggling too many balls: the rot within the political class, present linguistic anaemia, cultural amnesia, colonial hangover ie almost all of his woes with contemporary Indian State of Affairs hamfisted into monologues by characters who are not given any room to grow other than their yawn-inducing earnestness to enlighten willing characters and (un)willing readers. After a while, the way politically-loaded conservations are contrived into situations and happenstances, made me wish the editor had told Tasseer to rework and rethink. I admire the sentiment through and through, but as a work of fiction, there has to be more traction from the characterisation and the plot if you wouldn't want your work labelled as a thinly veiled propaganda piece (I say this despite agreeing to many of Taseer's political views and sociological insights). On the upside, his capture of colloquial North Indian Punj-lish is perfect and some of the initial scenes capture the ambience and conversation of a typical Delhi house-party really well. The initial 100 pages, when he kept the cards folded, have a scent of something special brewing but then he, and his magnum opus, unravels. Plus there is the burden of having one's attention uprooted by the unnecessary jumble of multiple timelines. I have full faith in Taseer's talent and expect a calmer, more considered next outing.

  • Abhishek Sahoo
    2018-12-05 05:17

    A beautifully crafted book that combines a strong idea with a strong narrative. The idea is that of the timeless wisdom enshrined in India and its culture. The protagonist(s) of the book are scholars of Sanskrit and are steeped in its rich literature. Through a constant backdrop of the beauty of the Sanskrit language and illustrations of cognate etymology, the author expounds the powerful idea that India's culture is far richer, nuanced and inclusive than those who today have hijacked it for their narrow objectives, would have us believe. The narrative is that of a family torn apart by circumstance - a broken marriage, ideological differences and a boy coming to terms with the legacy of his parents. There are other sub-themes in the book - it is a veritable roman a clef that brings together a motley group of modern characters from Naveen Patnaik (Nixu Mahapatra?) to Sonia Gandhi (indirect references) and VS Naipaul. Part of the story also passes through the painful phase of the 1984 riots, lending a dramatic tinge to an even otherwise diverse amalgamation of genres. A wonderful read overall.

  • Syl
    2018-12-04 04:34

    It was not an easy book for me to read as I am not well versed with philosophy, sanskrit or the political past of India. I have been to Delhi a few times, but mostly in transit, and am totally in the dark about Delhi society and hierarchy. Nevertheless I enjoyed the book as it was the moderate to slow paced soothing read. This book mainly focuses on Toby, a displaced( ? ) prince, his estranged wife Uma who's been living with a crude businessman as if in retaliation, and their son Skanda. Their daughter Rudrani and other characters are not given as much importance, though one gets to know about them. I loved reading about sanskrit language, the atrocities of the Nehru family, emergency rule of 1976, Golden temple incident of 84, which culminated in the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister. All the major events have repercussions on the characters too.Was an intellectual sort of book, and I cannot say that I completely assimilated it, but I spent an enjoyable time reading it.

  • Gauri Parab
    2018-11-17 21:37

    An enlightening, thought provoking and very interesting book that sucks you in from the moment you pick it up. It's an intimate portrait of personal relationships influenced in big and small ways by the changing socio-political landscape in India and a central motif which rests on the cognates and etymological contortions of an ancient language. I have studied Sanskrit in school for 3 years and it's the journey of semantics transcending Greek, Latin, German, Hungarian, Croatian and of course, Sanskrit that made this book so so enjoyable for me. Another aspect I thoroughly enjoyed was these one liners, these absolute gems that appear almost on every page that make you want to stop, re-read, mark with post-its and revisit every once in a while. Like one reviewer said, "there are very few books out there that you can open, knowing nothing, stab down a finger and find a line or a paragraph lovely enough, even in isolation, to be worth scrawling down somewhere or tattooing on your neck." Highly recommended!

  • Nitya Sivasubramanian
    2018-12-02 23:24

    This book shouldn't have taken me nearly as long to read as it did. But with the new baby and the new home, I wound up needing at least three weeks more to get through it than it deserved. Perhaps, without the elongated timeframe, I may have been more able to enjoy the incredibly wide swathe of Indian history the book covered. But as it stood, I wound up finding myself completely lost more than once, unclear as to which character we were with and what time period we were in. So yes, it was a good read, and it may have garnered more stars at another time in my life. But for now, three stars are as many as I can afford to give.

  • Amar Gupta
    2018-12-08 21:15

    Aatish Taseer has lots of potential in non-linear narratives. The Way Things Were holds a lot of promise interspersed in the realms of Linguistics, Stream-of-consciousness, Modernist literature and bouts of dark humour. But what is most promising, is his attention to details towards elucidating the most existential affairs- especially in an Indian context.Whosoever romanticizes the lost glory and the irony that is India, will find a refuge in this magnum opus.