How on earth to describe the contradictions of modern India to a child? Mr. Cooke comes closer than anybody else has in print. He concentrates on a small village just far enough from Delhi to be almost in another century. Then, he separates his chapters in such a way that each area of inquiry becomes a short, but full, essay on affairs in Dera and, by extension, the other cross-pressured villages of India, suspended between ancient tradition and modern technology. For instance, the caste system never fails to fascinate. Mr. Cooke goes into the way it works in Dera, how much it has relaxed, its religious origins, its snobbism, its dragging effect on progress. The intricate family relationships that make the elder brother's wife the youngest brother's chief confidante, the marriage customs, religious festivals, the burial ceremonies, the hygiene (and its conspicuous lack) those wretched sacred cows-- are all covered in a conversational style that allow the author to share with his young audience his own sense of wonder and optimism.