‘Fifty Year Road’ review: A personal history of India penned by a politically conscious Indian

The title is a little confusing. Fifty year road? Puzzling. Since the book was published in 2024, one tends to count back to 1974. What happened in 1974? The nuclear test? Or the railway strike? Why should Bhaskar Roy write about those? He wouldn’t have reported these events.

These were the thoughts that crossed my mind when I received a copy of Roy’s Fifty Year Road. But the sub-title makes things clearer – A Personal History of India from the Mid-Sixties Onward.

Unlike many of his (and my) tribe, Roy has not bothered to fill the book with boastful accounts of his scoops or even regretful misses that he suffered in his journalistic career. Rather, the book is an account of an intelligent and politically conscious Indian who experienced several of the events that defined India in the last fifty years.

Though claims to be a personal history, there is little about the author or his life in the book. Indeed, his college days, landing jobs, marriage, the birth of the child and such personal incidents are talked about, but all those are smartly juxtaposed in the political context. The story that he wants to tell is the story of those political contexts and not his story. He is only a small part of it, at times no part of it. Thus the book is a sweeping political history, part of which the author watched, a bit of it he experienced, and more of it he reported.

He watched the upsurge of Naxalism in West Bengal in the sixties and the seventies, but as a schoolboy who just was horrified yet amused. He watched, witnessed and experienced its tumultuous impact on society and the horror of its suppression, but he reported a completely transformed politics of India in the post-emergency era of the 1980s, 1990s and the early 2000s.

Most of the events are recounted more as anecdotes rather than boring narratives, and some of the anecdotes are personal. Thus the Gorkhaland agitation, the assassination of Indira, the rise and fall of Rajiv Gandhi government, the unleashing of the Mandal revolution, the roll of the mandir rath, the fall of the masjid, the rise of Kanshi Ram’s dalit politics, and the rise and fall of the Vajpayee all find mention in the book, more as political narratives and partly as the author’s experience of them, unbiased and honest.

The concluding chapters seem to have been written in a hurry. Details get a little sketchy in those chapters, unlike in the earlier part. Like a missile, the narrative coasts as it homes in on to the finishing point.

On the whole, a good read.

Title: Fifty Year Road

Author: Bhaskar Roy

Publisher: Jaico

Pages: 297

Price: Rs 599