Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review: Land of the Seven Rivers

Book: Land of the Seven Rivers - A brief history of India' Geography.
Author : Sanjeev Sanyal.


It is believed that where you live makes you what you are. Under this statement, it is very important to understand the geographical history of where we live. Jalmaluddin Luftullah has a brilliant comment in the play Walk in the Woods - "What is History if not Geography over time".

Sanjeev Sanyal's Land of Seven Rivers is a loose attempt to cover India's Geographical history. It succeeds hands down in telling numerous anecdotes and side stories. It is clearly a work of passion, a celebration of Sanjeev's curiosity to read and assimilate diverse source materials. Sanjeev has also personally visited many of the places mentioned in the book. He blends in his personal observations in the narrative, which gives this book a more realist texture as opposed to list of anecdotes, some of them are quite bizarre.

The book's coverage of parallelisms between writings in Rig Veda and archaeological evidence found in Harrapan civilization is excellent. It is amazing to pause and reflect that an entire civilization "almost" perished just because a river dried, the river in point here is the Saraswati river. The fact that there are two independent sources talking about the same thing makes this fact quite credible. Water, eventually it is always water that makes or breaks civilizations.

Some of the anecdotes mentioned in the book are too good to be true. One such anecdote deals with the question of "Where did Tsangpo flow?" What follows is a comic farce that has to be real because it is too crazy to imagine it up. I will not spoil it here, you can find it on page 245. The book is actually quite obsessed with the mapping of territories. Sanjeev correlates how the countries with better mapping technology were the ones who were more successful in their conquest of other nations.  It is not clear if this would have been the only criterion but clearly, having a better mapping technology must be having some merits.

With all its interesting stories and facts, the book lacks depth. The flow does not feel right, it appears that it is a bunch of chapters put together. The time dimension jumps on and off from the pages. It appears that the author has put together what all he was able to find through his research. The work in the end comes off as a collection of a serious hobbyist's notes. The prose of the book lacks wit and command, but it is very easy to follow as well.


All in all, the book is a definitely a one time read just to increase your side knowledge and boast about in your circle of friends. It is not meant to be comprehensive or academic. The pages flip fast, it is perfect to be read on a flight or while waiting at the lounge.



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