NOTE: This piece was written by me for the 10th issue of Audi Alteram Partem, NLU Delhi’s college magazine.
This Unquiet Land: Stories From India’s Fault Lines by Barkha Dutt
Release Date/Month: December 2015
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Journalism has a penchant for narratives, which are mainstream, and rarely steps into the realm that addresses the other side of the debate. However, Barkha Dutt is one of the handful few journalists who has often transcended the border between the two sides, and has given mainstream reportage a depth it unfortunately lacked. This Unquiet Land, is essentially a reflection in retrospect by Barkha Dutt, on the ground reality she experienced in her nearly 25 year long career, while at the same time, providing critical commentary on the fractures that have put India in a cast.
Primarily an on-air journalist (of course, with the occasional columns in prominent newspapers), this is Barkha’s first book, and this fact is bluntly obvious. Despite having a flair for words, the narration, or rather the flow of the book is scattered, and open-ended. Several important issues are raised, discussed, dissected and analysed by her, but cumulatively, the book fails to make a point except for a reiteration of the status quo i.e. the dark yet colourful paradox that is India.
That being said, the content of the book is riveting. Narration of horrifying events that actually occurred, without resorting to dramatization, while simultaneously breaking the walls of privilege built around the reader to expose her to the horrors faced by people, is extremely difficult and Barkha does an excellent job of the same. Covering a wide spectrum of issues that the country was confronted with, she does a stellar job hitting the right nerves at every required instance. One of the major stimulating factors, is of course the fact that she is one of the first on-ground female reporter India saw in the post-liberalization era, and that in itself provides for an unique read. At multiple instances, the book talks about unique anecdotes and incidents from Barkha’s life as a reporter, and how the same influenced her, changed her or forced her to think beyond the theoretical jargon one graduates with.
To be fair, the book also acts as Barkha’s venting zone, as she tried to subtly include replies to certain allegations against her as a part of India’s narrative on major issues, but the subtlety was lost in the harsh barrage of words against her detractors. At this point, I must express my personal displeasure at the same. Not due to the content, but due to the simple fact, that those rants lacked context. A book claiming to explore India’s fractured lines has no context for replying to accusations and allegations which are personal to the author.
Overall, I must say that I was disappointed. Not because the book was disappointing. In sum, the book is average at best, but perhaps I had come to expect more from one of the better journalists in the country, who has often also written scathing columns along the same subject matter the book revolved around. This is not a book that you have to read, but it definitely is one that you should read for a rude shock about what India really is, along its shaky faulty lines.
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