The Age of Kali Indian Travels and Encounters

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9780002555104: The Age of Kali Indian Travels and Encounters

The fourth book from the most acclaimed and gifted young travel writer of his generation, author of the best-selling In Xanadu, City of Djinns and From the Holy Mountain.

William Dalrymple, who wrote so magically about India in City of Djinns, returns to the country in a series of remarkable essays. Featured in the pages of Indian Ink are fifteen-year-old guerrilla girls and dowager Maharanis; flashy Bombay drinks parties and violent village blood feuds; a group of vegetarian terrorists intent on destroying India’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet; and a palace where port and cigars are still carried to guests on a miniature silver steam train.
In the course of his travels Dalrymple meets such figures as Imran Khan, Ismail Merchant, Benazir Bhutto and Baba Sehgal, the Indian Gary Glitter; he witnesses the macabre nightly offering to the bloodthirsty goddess Parashakti – She Who is Seated on a Throne of Five Corpses; he experiences civil war in Kashmir and caste massacres in the badlands of Bihar, and dines with a drug baron on the North-West Frontier; he discovers such oddities as the terrorist apes of Jaipur (only brought to book when the municipality began impregnating their bananas with opium); and the shrine where Lord Krishna is said to make love every night to his 16,108 wives and 64,732 milkmaids.

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William Dalrymple has proved himself to be one of the most perceptive and enjoyable travel writers of the 1990s. His first book In Xanadu became an instant back-packer's classic, winning a stream of literary prizes. City of Djinns and From the Holy Mountain soon followed, to universal critical praise. Yet it is to India where Dalrymple continues to return in his travels, and his fourth book The Age of Kali is his most reflective book to date.

The result of 10 year's living and travelling throughout the Indian subcontinent, The Age of Kali emerges from Dalrymple's uneasy sense that the region is slipping into the most fearsome of all epochs in ancient Hindu cosmology: "the Kali Yug, the Age of Kali, the lowest possible throw, an epoch of strife, corruption, darkness and disintegration". The brilliance of this book lies in its refusal to slip into the cultural pessimism of books such as V.S. Naipaul's Beyond Belief. Dalrymple's love for the subcontinent, and his feel for its diverse cultural identity, comes across in every page, which makes its chronicles of political corruption, ethnic violence and social disintegration all the more poignant. The scope of the book is particularly impressive, from the vivid opening chapters portraying the lawless caste violence of Bihar, to interviews with the drug barons on the North-West Frontier, and Dalrymple's extraordinary encounter with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Some of the most fascinating sections of the book are Dalrymple's interviews with Imran Khan and Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, which read like non-fictional companion pieces to Salman Rushdie's bitterly satirical Shame. The Age of Kali is a dark, disturbing book which takes the pulse of a continent facing some tough questions. --Jerry Brotton

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