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The Unknown Indians by Subhadra Sen Gupta gives a fitting ode to nameless makers of our country.

“I have found that it is the small everyday deed of ordinary folks that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love,” says the wise and mighty Gandalf in  J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit. Indeed, small deeds of simple folk build nations and civilizations and propel them forward into the future. Such is the thought propagated in The Unknown Indians by Subhadra Sen Gupta ( Red Turtle, Rupa Publications)

In this book, we meet some quiet, nameless, and simple ordinary Indians who have changed the very course our civilization. We often hear of stories of kings and queens, and famous generals and warriors. But sometimes, long and lasting change is often the result of common people just doing their job with utmost dedication. 

This book takes the reader on a journey through India’s past right upto the current times. On the way the reader meets these simple professionals who continue to stay dedicated to their crafts and their skills, and who are unknowingly writing the story of India’s future. The reader gets a glimpse into the lives of minstrels and storytellers; weavers, potters, ironsmiths and carvers; farmers and cooks; and poet rebels.

You will meet the enterprising storytellers who wove magic with the spoken word The references to oral storytelling and how we evolved into the written form is fascinating. The storytellers moved from village to village preserving the oral tradition. Even today, the art of oral storytelling through forms like Kaavad, keeps this tradition alive. 

The book goes on to describe the work of our talented craftsmen and women. 

“Our craftsmen are not just the quiet Indians; they are also often the forgotten ones” writes the author. Her statement might be blunt but unfortunately it is true. The little section on how the British rule and the industrial revolution in Europe also led to ruin of Indian crafts and Art, was quite heart-wrenching! But, it is also heartening to know that many people today are working to revive our wonderful traditions. Another chapter traces the Indian cuisine, rightly known as the mother cuisine and its evolution. 

The book goes on to describe how these unknown Indians really were at the heart of the prosperity of the country. For example, a simple desire by a king to build a temple gave rise to so many other associated arts and crafts. Right from architects, carvers, metal workers, dancers, poets, singers and many more, the entire town bustled and hustled with activity. However, while the name of the King was chronicled at all times, the huge network of people who executed his vision was forgotten. 

The Unknown Indians by Subhadra Sen Gupta gives a fitting ode to nameless makers of our country.  Tapas Guha’s illustrations make the book come alive.

The author’s view of the fluidity of history is very important and it infuses a very free outlook that really forms the spirit of the book. “Being open to change, asking questions, being rebellious, being creative- that is how a civilization grows and becomes like a huge Banyan tree- giving shelter and shade to many people of many regions, languages, religions and gender,” she writes. 

The book is for older children and tweens. The 7-12 age group would find it a simple and quick read. But, I did enjoy reading it a lot as well. While the book focuses on the unknown Indians in history, I think these unknown people are there today as well. It is these simple folks who do their work day by day, bit by bit, who are weaving the future of our country.

Next time I see a beautifully embroidered cloth, a wonderful state-of-the-art building, or a well-manicured garden, or even the news of a ground-breaking missile launch, I’ll think of the unknown Indian behind the scenes, who has played his or her part in history. 

The Unknown Indians is a book that will make you feel proud of the artisans and creative souls who have worked for India and within India. It will make you proud of the rich heritage that we have inherited. As more people acknowledge the role that the common man has to play in the development of the country, the unknown Indians will hopefully not remain unknown anymore!

Other books by the author:

Dhanishta Shah

Dhanishta is a Counselling Psychologist and a freelance writer. She is the Founder of Bookedforlife.