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An Era of Darkness – Book Review

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I was visiting grandfather for the first time this year and decided to get him a book. Knowing how busy he tends to be with his post-retirement hobbies, I thought it best to consult him on it.

“I don’t find time to read much these days, but what are you planning to get me?” he wondered.

“Have you read Era of Darkness by Tharoor?” I asked.

“Oh if it’s Tharoor, I will definitely read it,” his voice perked up, sounding enthused on the other side of the phone.

After reading a few pages, he told me to finish it while I was still in town. And that’s how I ended up reading this novel, which was partly a revision of history we’d already studied in school and partly intriguing new insights to the East India Company’s chilling exploitation of what is now one of the largest democracies in the world – India.

Right at the beginning, Tharoor lets the reader know that primary reason behind this non-fiction novel was his viral speech at Oxford on whether the British owed reparations to India. Millions of Indians were sharing the clip across the globe & even his political opponents lauded him for pointing out how the British bled India out during their tyrannical rule that spanned over 20 decades. Publishers obviously saw the potential of a full fledged historic book that expanded upon the contents of his super-hit speech.

Chapter by chapter, ‘An Era of Darkness’ explains the extent of damage caused to the Indian peninsula by the officers of East India Company and how apologists for the empire sugar-coat the true scale of its atrocities & ill-intent. Tharoor thankfully keeps his own personal observations to a minimum & cleverly quotes European/American historians who were scathing in their criticism of the British Raj. For example, he quotes an academician who comments about how there was a record drop in murder charges in Victorian London because most of its aggressive citizens were wreaking havoc overseas. There are a lot of other such intriguing observations in the book.

Since I’ve been a history enthusiast and already knew a lot of what was in this book, some bits were admittedly boring and I skipped a few paragraphs. The second half of the novel that largely talks of the Indian independence struggle in the 20th century was rather blase since I am quite familiar with the history and politics of the time. But Tharoor’s already popular writing style obviously keeps one hooked to the matter.

‘An Era of Darkness’ would make for an interesting read for anybody who ignored their history lessons and also for those who know very little of how the British ruthlessly colonised & oppressed India.

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