A thoughtful look at India’s old and new laws, how and why they came about is valuable reading for anyone wondering why the world’s most populous country should be invested in its democracy.
In his two recent books, The Hindu Rashtra and The Price of the Modi YearsAakar Patel has written about issues that worry him about India, from rising deprivation to shrinking human rights. The Anarchist Cookbook is a fitting companion to them and completes a trilogy of sorts in bringing readers up to speed on what ails the country.
His collaborator, an anonymous political satirist PenPencilDraw, has garnished this manual for activists to make India a better place, with some sparkling illustrations. They help the author sketch a neat portrait of the times, and prepare activists for what to expect and be cognisant about.
The Anarchist Cookbook shares its title with a radical book from 1971 written by an enraged 19-year old American, William Powell, who was furious about the US waging war against Vietnam. It had how-to diagrams and instructions for the construction of various explosive devices. That book went onto achieve notoriety and the author himself has said in a documentary five decades later, that he never read it again. Expectedly, it continues to have an afterlife on the internet.
Any similarity Patel’s book may have with it, ends with the title. Written to urge people to understand the meaning of fraternity and justice and push them to water the roots of democracy is his book’s undisguised intent. He bluntly sets the record straight on the meaning of privilege — 5% have passports and that fewer than 300 of India’s 16,000 trains were run by the government during the pandemic but the elite did not notice; and on what injustice may look like (eg, an NCRB report shows between 2005-18 not a single policeman got convicted over the death of 500 persons remanded in police custody).
A large part of this recipe book, which wants to turn passive people into vocal citizens and put pressure on authorities to effect political and social change, is focused on the ingredients. A thoughtful look at India’s old and new laws, how and why they came about is valuable reading for anyone wondering why the world’s most populous country should be invested in its democracy.
One of the book’s biggest strengths is its tone, designed to knock off the shame that several youngsters and the not-so-young may experience, by the word ‘activist’. It contrasts it with being a ‘passivist’ asking with a straight face, if not activist, would people be happy to be ‘passivist’?
Patel and PenPencilDraw try to help create aware citizens, who are vital for deepening democracy and rebuilding an India that has empathy in its soul. My favorite line in the book? “Long-term thinking is your best short-term strategy.”
The Anarchist Cookbook: A Toolkit to Protest and Peaceful Resistance; Aakar Patel; Illustrations by PenPencilDraw, HarperCollins, ₹399.
The reviewer is a Delhi-based writer and journalist.