Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty

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Title: Billionaire Raj

Author: James Crabtree

Publisher: One World, 2018

Billionaire Raj by the former Financial Times Bureau chief in India, James Crabtree,  is a journalistic assessment of not only how the British Raj in India has been replaced by entrepreneurs and politicians who work symbiotically to create a close nexus of exclusive crony capitalism but also gives an optimistic outlook for the future… with a few strings attached.

The book comes across as a series of clear well-researched articles strung together thematically in logical order. From British Raj, India moved to ‘License Raj’, where a license was needed to start any venture. Once that was lifted, the age of billionaires sets in. He has compared this period to the Gilded Age of American history, an era in the nineteenth century of robber barons and rich bankers, just after the American Civil War.

Crabtree plunges in with stories of people he calls ‘Bollygarchs’, a new term which has evolved to define billionaire-entrepreneurs with Russian oligarchic tendencies like, Vijaya Mallya, Ambani and Adnani and more. The best way to understand the Bollygarchs is perhaps to imagine the flashy Bollywood culture (like that seen in the Bollywood blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham) brought to life.

“When, years later I myself became a writer and was asked, ‘Are you a Haitian writer, a Caribbean writer or a Francophone writer?’I would always answer that I took the nationality of my reader, which means that when a Japanese reader reads my books, I immediately became a Japanese writer,” said Haitian-Canadian writer Dany Laferriere in his novel I Am a Japanese Writer (2008), which was originally written in French and then translated to English.

These words were used by Teju Cole, the first Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard, to illustrate how translations bond readers and authors. Translated works transcend the barriers of language and ethos as long as they touch the human heart. By touching deep emotions they create bonds and links to mankind. He talks of how lives are lost over refugee crisis and borders and says “literature can save a life”.

Brought up between US and Nigeria, Cole developed broad world views. Cole’s forte are novels and essays, including the much acclaimed Open City (2011) which was named ‘Best Book’ in more than twenty end-of-the year lists, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Economist , Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Kirkus Reviews. It was also named a New York Times Notable Book —  one of the ten top novels of the year by both Time and National Public Radio (USA).