SNAKES AND LADDERS by Gita Mehta

SNAKES AND LADDERS

Glimpses of Modern India
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Short essays about the ``alarming speed with which India is changing,'' by an admired novelist (A River Sutra, 1993, etc.). Mehta, born in India before her country gained independence, lived through that period with a child's alert imagination and has been passionately studying the place ever since--although, as she makes plain here, her identity is as much cosmopolitan (with moorings in London and Manhattan) as Indian. While some of these pieces seem too hectic, possessing a heady, dashed-off quality, Mehta's quickness of mind and pen is also her strength. She can plunge us into the intensely remembered girlhood pleasures of reading Nabokov and Kerouac and ``Archie'' comics in Calcutta's impromptu lending libraries. She can precisely catch the differences between a concert audience in India and another in America: ``Art is not just something displayed by the talented to a passive audience,'' she writes, observing an Indian singer, ``but, rather, that moment when the artist, the audience, the subject, the discipline--all combine to become something approaching religious experience, a moment of mutual creation.'' Mehta also tells spirited personal stories of her adventures and researches, such as seeking out ragpickers to find out how they live. She's very good on the ethics of power: ``The most interesting evolution in independent India is the change from individual fearlessness in the face of social and political injustice to craven courting of those who possess social and political power.'' Shrewdly, she avoids generalizing about India, concentrating instead on a wide range of quite specific topics- -e.g., the spiritual meaning of trees to Indians; interior design as a clue to the country's character; the coming of high-tech and shopping malls to the land of Gandhi. Pugnacious in tone and irreverent in critique, Mehta clearly loves her home and is maddened by it. (First serial to Vogue; author tour)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-385-47495-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1997