Tavleen Singh’s Durbar is a book written with sufficient political insight covering the most momentous years of Indian politics from the summer of 1975 when Indira Gandhi declared a state of Emergency to an equally hot day in the summer of 1991 when a suicide bomber assassinated her son, Rajiv. While reading the book, you gradually realize that this political memoir has that rare quality to evoke interest even in those people seemingly uninterested in politics. Tavleen Singh’s career as a journalist, which, according to her, ran almost parallel to Rajiv Gandhi’s career as a politician, places her in a unique position to tell the story about a period about which very few books had been written; almost nothing has been written about the emergency and even the beginning of Punjab and Kashmir problems. The book makes us analyze and realize why an expanding and increasingly educated middle class is becoming disenchanted with democracy and democratic institutions.
The earlier intimacy of Sonia Gandhi and Tavleen Singh remains unaffected until the point when Tavleen Singh wrote an unsympathetic profile on Sonia Gandhi which led to the end of their cordiality. The book incorporates the universal aspects of human nature and showcases the reality without any sugar coating. The honesty and unbiased nature of Tavleen Singh’s writing elevates the book to a masterpiece book about political journalism, providing insights on the harsh realities and how the Indian durbar really works. She blames, but not without facts. The chapters on the Orissa famine and the anti-Sikh violence stand out for the eyewitness account which evokes a sense of awe among the readers.
Read Durbar to find what India could have been and what failed India in those years of hope which gradually turned into dust because some of our leaders misread the interest of the Indians, sometimes deliberately, sometimes unknowingly. The book highlights the need of being less foreign and more aware of India’s great wealth of culture, language and literature, of India’s ancient texts and scriptures on politics and governance, especially for our leaders.
Tavleen Singh’s disdain for dynasty politics becomes evident when she writes: “So the dynasty continues, and its example is emulated by almost every political party in India with dangerous consequences for Indian democracy.” The book is even more relevant today because while reading it, we can feel at the same time that the present leaders of India are not much better, such mistakes, such wrong decisions are occurring at present also for which we are already paying price or will pay price in the near future. Not only that, the book also forces us to do a self-introspection when it says about the trend of adapting western education and culture, without even trying to blend that with the age old Indian teachings and mixing western culture with the rich Indian culture. Tavleen Singh handles the subject matter of the book with remarkable sensitivity and precision. Altogether, Durbar is a moving and significant read which undoubtedly deserves to be added in your collection of books.