The author is fascinated by language to the point where his characters speak in fully formed philosophical paragraphs. What Aatish Taseer has accomplished with great elegance, is to deliver a novel of ideas in teh guise of a human story.
The Ways Things Were opens with the death of Toby, the Maharaja of Kalasuryaketu, a Sankritist whop did not set foot in India for two decades. His son, Skanda, must return Toby’s body to his birthplace, a tin-pot kingdom not worth much.
This epic journey takes Skanda half way around the world and returns the body to his family whose narcissism and infighting he had worked hard to escape. The drawing room elite of filthy rich India has been, and continuous to be, the legacy of “English rule” of the subcontinent.
English administrators introduced their ways of life to the ruling class of India, who in turn managed to increase their exaggerations and eccentricities. They created a more pronounced difference between the “untouchables”, middle-class merchants, and the brahmins.
The title The Way Things Were is derived from the Sanskrit word for history, itihasa, whose literal translation is “the way things were”. The narrative paints an intimate picture of a family and a panoramic vision of the last 50 years in Delhi, with Sanskrit representing as central metaphor.
Skanda`s struggle with his inheritance explores the cultural schizophrenia of modern India, and problems of building honestly on the past.
The Way Things Were is a powerfully written, well researched, and deeply thoughtful work. It is intoxicating stories that will reveal; how the elite of Indians think, behave, and spend their fortunes.
Colonialism, racism, sectarian violence, class tension, and the rise of Indian nouveau riche are all handled with a delicate touch and sensitivity.
It is difficult to put down this book once you start reading. You will enjoy every minute of it.