Glimpses of past glory

This is my review of The Story of India by Michael Wood.

With many colourful illustrations, this serves as an attractive souvenir of the BBC series, although the DVD is obviously better. The chapters themed by chronological time periods provide much intriguing information if you have the time and patience to tease it out of the somewhat rambling text: the followers of the Jain religion who gather annually to pour "great vats of milk, paste, saffron and vermilion over the giant statue" of their guru Babuballi; the ruler Ashoka, advised that he had to be "cruel to be great", who converted to Buddhism in later life, leaving his kingdom scattered with carved pillars instructing his subjects on how to live as he removed the death penalty, calling for the conservation of forests and respect for the beliefs and practices of others and so on.

I was looking for a book that would combine history with culture and politics, but to be fair this does not claim to be more than a history. With friends and contacts to ease his path, Wood presents a somewhat rose-tinted view of India: the squalor, dirt and pollution are cunningly omitted from all his pictures, and the ancient monuments and paintings gleam with colour, with little sign of the ravages of time. If you are reading this for a standard sightseeing tour, you may be a little disappointed by the often harsh and worn reality.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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