Telling India’s global story
A LONG career in consulting and the technology industry enabled author Ashutosh Mehndiratta to live in the US, India and New Zealand, as well as travel all over the world.
This sparked an interest in global history, which led him towards writing his first book India and Faraway Lands. The meticulously researched book takes a deep dive into the culturally rich history of India’s global connections and gives a fascinating window into significant moments in the country’s past.
Eastern Eye caught up with the writer, who is now based in Prince Edward Island on the east coast of Canada, to find out more about his book, what he learned while writing it and why he thinks Indian history is really special.
What inspired you to write this book?
My long-standing quest to understand the story of India and the world began as a curiosity nearly three decades ago when I arrived in the US as a student. Mingling with students from a multitude of nations sparked my interest in diverse cultures. I would often ponder over life in India versus life in America, East versus the West, the old world versus the new. My curiosity developed into a passion for global history. As I delved deeper into the subject, I stumbled upon obscure historical connections. And thus began my journey of putting together these pieces of the puzzle.
Tell us about the book?
India and Faraway Lands is a panoramic exploration of the country’s global past. It takes the readers backwards in time on a journey around the world, tracing pivotal events in world history and unravelling intriguing links with India. Along the way are recounted fascinating stories of travellers, the earliest accounts of interactions between the East and West, forgotten cities that were once glorious, and books that changed the course of history.
Who is the book aimed at?
Broadly, anyone who may be interested in the history of India or the world. However, people of Indian origin living outside India, foreign diplomats and expats in India, and others with global experience, should find the content relevant.
Did you learn anything interesting while writing this book?
What I found most fascinating was the humble beginnings of some of the most powerful empires and nations in the world – the British, Portuguese, Mongols, Japanese, Arabs, and Greeks. They originated in unlikely corners of Eurasia and yet against all odds, prevailed over far mightier rivals.
Did anything surprise you while putting it together?
The fact that I was able to connect an intriguing chain of events spread over 2,000 years and multiple continents, tracing a continuity of educational traditions from the ancient city of Taxila, all the way to Harvard University.
What do you think makes Indian history so special?
Mark Twain famously wrote, ‘India is, the cradle of the human race, the birth place of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition.’ Going back millennia, India was an active player in the known world. Steep mountain passes in the northwest allowed invading armies and trading caravans to pass through; the Indian Ocean was the hub of maritime trade and migration for thousands of years before humans were able to cross the Atlantic and Pacific. There must be a reason why the who’s who of world history – Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama, the Duke of Wellington – all set foot in India.
Why should we pick up this book?
India and Faraway Lands aims to stoke the readers’ curiosity about our intertwined past. The book is unique in multiple ways –with a global narrative, it aims to fill a gap common in histories of India as they are mostly confined to the country’s boundaries, thereby missing a vital component, the story of the ‘outside’. Deviating from the standard chronological order, it starts with the relatable modern times and moves backwards. Lastly, this book recounts the history of the West from an Eastern lens.