World Book Day

Amazon India informed me that today’s ‘World Book Day’. So I thought why not share a book that I recently read and loved. But before that, a flashback.

When I was in high school, something strange happened. Our social science teacher disappeared. Simply gone one day. I don’t remember what happened to him in the middle of the academic year but we soon had a new social science teacher. However, between the disappearance of the old social science teacher and the appointment of the new one, for a couple of weeks, we did not have anyone to teach us social science or history. Now I know what you are thinking. No Indian school teaches history. All they do is prepare students for history exams. I agree. We had noone to do that for a brief period. So our school management in their infinite wisdom decided to ask, wait for it, our drawing teacher to take history classes for us. The students were flabbergasted. We did not know we had a drawing teacher in the first place. Anyway his classes were turned out to be a hoot.

He wrote important names, dates, places, timelines etc. on the blackboard for us to note down and memorize. After that, he just told us stories. And, boy, how well did he tell them. For the first time ever history came alive for us. Strange names became personalities, obscure battles in faraway places happened right in front of our eyes in all their chaotic glory; we saw magnificent monuments being built by thousands of workers, our hearts skipped quite a few beats as Shivaji staged an audacious escape from the Mughal prison. It was all fantastic. It lasted two weeks. We had a proper social science teacher after that and the fun stopped.

Years later, when I was in college, I had a Malayali hostelmate who was quite a buzzkill. Armed with a smart phone and CI statsguru, he was determined to puncture many of the popularly accepted but factually untrue notions about Indian cricket. You can’t say, for example, if Sachin scored a century, India would lose the match without him telling you that that was not the case actually. Sachin scored 100 centuries (51 in tests, 49 in ODIs) out of which 53 centuries resulted in Wins, 20 in Draws, and only 25 centuries resulted in Losses, he’d say quietly, derailing the hitherto free-flowing inebriated conversation. One match Tied and another one produced No Result, he’d add for good measure. You couldn’t say Rahul Dravid was a bad captain or that Sourav Ganguly was particularly a good one. Your story will be refuted and refuted with stats.

I have always thought that human beings, diverse as we are, can be broadly divided into these two categories: story tellers and fact checkers. Some like to tell stories, some others like to test the veracity of the stories being told.

That brings us to the book I’m recommending on ‘World Book Day’. The Sceptical Patriot by Sidin Vadukut. In this book Sidin Vadukut manages to do a neat little trick. He successfully blends story telling with fact checking nicely. In the garb of fact checking certain stories about India, he tells better, historically accurate, well..stories about India. It’s a delightful read.

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