Road less travelled – Highway to Swades

What does it mean to be an Indian? Bhairavi Jani’s latest book, Highway to Swades, talks about the commonalities that bind and power people

lifestyle, book review
The author writes how Nagaland is harnessing the culture of the state through the annual Hornbill Festival to attract tourists and generate livelihoods/Express Archives

Politics notwithstanding, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s recently concluded Bharat Jodo Yatra was an eye-opener of sorts. As much as it was a significant ‘learning journey’ for Rahul Gandhi to manifest his rank and file in the grand old party in particular and the masses in general, the message that the almost 150-day-long initiative from Kanyakumari at the southern tip to Jammu and Kashmir in the north tried to deliver was clear— that there are many commonalities that bind and power the people despite the many differences that the country has to offer in terms of diversity.

It is along similar lines that Bhairavi Jani’s latest book, Highway to Swades: Rediscovering India’s Superpowers, makes for an epiphanic read. While Rahul Gandhi undertook his ‘yatra’ on foot, Jani took to the highways on a car with three friends and drove 18,181 km across India—from the sacred forests of Meghalaya in the northeast to the ‘Golden Fort’ of the country’s western frontier town, Jaisalmer, and from the icy-cold desert of Ladakh to Mumbai’s ‘heritage mile’.

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Being an entrepreneur and a ‘supply chain maven’, Jani got to travel to different parts of the country as part of her commitment to work and philanthropy. But it was during this particular road trip in 2014 that she went on a quest to “explore and rediscover the inherent civilisational powers shared by all Indians”. It was general election time, and the author was searching for answers to questions like: “What was that ‘connect’ that people were seeking with their government?”, “Why were governments, with all their experience, unable to communicate their policies effectively to the people?”

During the trip, Jani and her friends met thousands of people from all walks of life. What they saw and discovered while criss-crossing the country was that “there is something much more powerful than simply the idea of a polity that keeps 1.38 billion people in this country together”. She concluded that “there is an inner core—the very being of India, nourished by inherent unseen powers—common to all Indians from all corners of the country”.

The author identifies 12 such ‘superpowers’ and highlights their potential to transform the future course of the country. In ‘Power of Enterprise’, for instance, she talks about the livelihood of women from the Bhumia, Paroja and Gond tribes of the Eastern Ghats, cut off from the rest of the world but reminding that entrepreneurship is not just about start-ups and unicorns, but also about individual initiative and enterprise. In ‘Power of Heritage’, Jani shows how Nagaland is harnessing the culture of the state, through the annual Hornbill Festival, to attract tourists and generate livelihoods.

Similarly, in ‘Power of Inclusion’, the author throws light on the bazaars of Hyderabad and how, owing to the city’s peculiar history and a mixed culture of local Telugu-speaking Hindus and Urdu-speaking Muslims, they have been catering to the needs of the people from different faiths and traditions. Interspersed with history and folklore, data and anecdotes, Jani’s account is powerful, yet engaging.

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Nobel laureate poet-author Rabindranath Tagore once said: “If God had so wished, he would have made all Indians speak with one language… the unity of India has been and shall always be a unity in diversity.” This diversity is at the core of Jani’s book, but what sets it apart is her search for the threads that unite the people of the world’s largest democracy together.

“I have always believed that the real superpower of India lies in its people— We the People. We have immense strength, resilience and perseverance. It is we who possess the superpowers that have been discussed in this book,” she writes. While exploring these superpowers, the readers will surely be able to identify with some of them and call them to action in their own lives, and in the process, as Jani writes, “augment India’s collective power”.

Written in a lucid and easy-to-absorb manner, the book will excite every reader, especially the youth, who believes in the power of ‘Indian-ness’ and looks to find a place in the narrative of India’s growth story.

Highway to Swades: Rediscovering India’s Superpowers

Bhairavi Jani

HarperCollins

Pp 432, Rs 699

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First published on: 26-02-2023 at 01:15 IST
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