Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Land of the Seven Rivers" – Understanding India through its Geographical Evolution

I normally read books while I travel when I have enough time in hand. Normally I read for couple of hours and dose off. I thought something similar when I opened this book “Land of theSeven Rivers” by economist turned writer Sanjeev Sanyal around 6:00 PM on my way to Trivandrum from Katpadi (14 hours of journey by train) and by 4:00 AM next day morning I was done with reading this book. Maybe in between I had taken a couple of half an hour breaks. It is filled with some amazing facts about India and the author has done some great research to bring out those facts.
The book starts with a dedication section “To Varun and Dhruv that they may know where they came from…” I must say that I now know better where I came from, my ancestors came from, where my culture originated, where my cities and villages originated from – just by reading this incredible book.
This book is organized into eight chapters and each chapter describes one era. First chapter narrates the formation of Indian subcontinent from one supercontinent called Rodinia, how human race started in India and who are our real ancestors. Comparing the gene mutation R1a1, the author tries to map the migration pattern of our ancestors.
We have read a lot about Harappa Civilization but reading the next chapter made me realize there are so many interesting facts that I never knew. River Saraswathi was the lifeline to this civilization and Sanyal shows us how the decline of this river finally ended that civilization. The author tries to connect the writings of Rig Veda with those of this time focusing on the mentioning of River Saraswathi in Rig Veda. This chapter describes about geography of India in the Bronze Age.
Next chapter talks about the Iron Age and how lions use to symbolize Indian power. Reading this chapter makes you feel that Ramayana and Mahabharata was something that happened just now as he goes back and forth comparing the historic places (where those epics were happening) to the present one. For example, he compares the North – South Axis where the Ramayana was happening and East – West Axis where Mahabharata was happening to the present Golden Quadrilateral network of roads is amazing. Invasion of India by Alexander the Great and how the geography of India fooled him in believing that Indus was River Nile are all beautifully recounted in this chapter. The creation of Mauryan Empire and how it defined the term Bharat for the first time is brilliantly narrated.
How Bharat as a nation prospered by engaging in trade with foreigners from West and East is narrated in the next chapter. This chapter reminds us of the influence India had on the world during that time. The creation of Gupta Empire and its influence form a part of this chapter. The advent of Islam and how it changed the geography of India is the main theme of the next chapter.
Chapter six talks about how Europeans discovered India – author explains how the Europeans made modern maps on India and the world which helped them to conquer India with ease. A charlatan book “The Travels” by Sir John Mandeville set many European sailors to set their site on discovering India and how Vasco da Gama was able to find and establish their presence in India forms a part of this chapter. How India got its final shape forms the remaining chapters.
The best part of this book – comparing the past events to present one; for example Sanyal while describing extinction of Harappa civilization reminds us of the earth quake that happened in Gujarat on 26th 2001, whose epicenter was not far from the major city – Dholavira of Harappa civilization. It really helped me as a reader to connect the past to present.
All I have to say to Sanjeev Sanyal after reading this book – “Thanks for letting me understand my roots as an Indian better”. Hope you come up with more books of the same genre. 
Thanks to Think Why Not for sending me this book for review.
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