Sanjeev Sanyal’s The incredible history of India’s Geography is indeed incredible and thought provoking. One realises how important it is to map one’s country and how necessary it is to establish and outline the territory which maybe lost over a period of time for lack of cartographic evidence.
Along with Sowmya Rajendran, Sanyal has painted an astounding portrayal of India since the subcontinent emerged, drifted, evolved, gave birth to civilizations till the days of the British occupation.
In fact, this book is an adaptation of Sanyal’s earlier book, Land of the Seven Rivers written for a younger audience. Combining India’s rich and verdant geography with wide ranging historical details, the authors have come out with many facts which can’t be found collectively in a single volume.
Starting with the story of the formation of the Indian landmass and how India separated, the authors have interestingly and harmoniously intertwined this information with the historical tales and anecdotes of the Harappans, the Mauryans, the Mughals, the Turks, the European sailors, the colonialists and more.
For instance, one gets to know how Mughals were basically Mongols and Babur was a direct descendant of Ghengis Khan from his mother’s side and Taimur the Lame on his father’s side. Chengis or Ghengis Khan was the founder of the Mongol empire, one of the largest in history and carried out brutal invasions controlling lands from eastern Europe and Iran, and across Central Asia to China (so the Great Wall). Although Babur did not think very highly of India, he came and invaded India for its gold and money.
The book is full of quirky pictures, crazy trivia but it also has informative blurbs and foot notes. There is information about rivers, old and new maps, mountains, lions and tigers, rivers and oceans and all aspects of India’s geography. From the era of continental drift to the sophisticated cities of the Harappan civilization, this book tries to encompass it all.
And did you know that we still greet each other like the Harappans used to? Writing about a lot of coincidences and similarities in different ages, the authors write, “The journey from Gondwana to Gurgaon has been a long one. You may get a sense of the twists and turns, the abrupt shifts as well as the surprising continuities in India’s history. It is amazing how pieces from this long history are often piled up next to each other. For example, the new city of Gurgaon is being constructed right next to the Aravalli Ridge, the oldest geological feature on this planet.”
The book also raises many questions, explains many discoveries, and talks about one’s genealogy. Could you be related to a blonde Lithuanian? Did you know that India is the only country that has both lions and tigers? Who found out how tall Mt Everest is? What if ostriches once roamed in India? You get to know so many incredible details like : India’s oldest mosque was established in 629 CE. Roman Emperor Vespasian banned the export of gold to India. The tiny Bishnupriya community in Manipur traces its origin to Mahabharata. And just in case you were curious, lotas in Indian toilets have existed since the Harappan times!
Presently, a global strategist at one of the world’s largest banks, Sanjeev Sanyal, who is a Rhodes scholar, has written extensively on economics, environmental conservation and urban issues, and his first book, The Indian Renaissance: India’s Rise After a Thousand Years of Decline, was published in 2008.
Make it a point to read this book with incredible and interesting details but only when you have time to savor and imbibe it.