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The Way Things Were

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  394 ratings  ·  73 reviews
Skanda's father, Toby, has died, estranged from Toby's mother and from the India he loved. Skanda is tasked with fulfilling Toby's final wish and returning his ashes to his birthplace. It is a journey that takes him from Manhattan to Delhi, and deep into the story of his family: in particular, to a night three decades earlier, when an act of shocking violence forced his pa ...more
Paperback, UK trade paperback, 560 pages
Published February 12th 2015 by Picador (first published December 4th 2014)
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Sharad Hotha This book, for me, is a literary re-imagination of Durbar by Tavleen Singh (the current author's mother). Durbar is a memoir of a Sikh political journ…moreThis book, for me, is a literary re-imagination of Durbar by Tavleen Singh (the current author's mother). Durbar is a memoir of a Sikh political journalist covering the same period that The Way Things were covers through the lens of a romantic Sanskrit scholar (1975 to early 1990s). Both these books actually complement each other in terms of the political positions they take.

If you wish to appreciate the Sanskrit/mythological aspects of it too, I'd recommend reading any translation of Ramayana. It'd not make you any more knowledgeable in Sanskrit than you already are but would give you a foundational understanding of Hindu way of thinking that may deepen your appreciation. (less)

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The past is a foreign country...

When Skanda's father dies, it falls to Skanda to accompany his body back to India for the funeral rites. Though at first reluctant to go, once there, Skanda decides to stay on for a while, living in his parents long-empty flat in Delhi. The death of his father and the experience of meeting up with many of the people he knew in childhood leads him to remember and re-assess the recent history of his family, from the period of the Emergency in the mid-70s until the p
Neha Oberoi
Apr 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
A vicious narrative of the historic events that have shaped India or rather Delhi through the eyes of the drawing room set of the Gandhi dynasty and especially through the puzzled eyes of a kid growing up in that time. Swept up with the chaos of theological agenda and dotted with the unknown beauty of a lost language.

A pleasure to read with memorable characters and an especially colourful description of the Delhi of the 70 and 80s.
Lovely read.
Miriam Jacobs
With Aatish Taseer we encounter a writer whose intellectual power and scope - he knows a breadth of the world, from New York to Kerachi, as intimately as most of us know only our own small lives. And no one, no one conveys setting - seasons of settings - with Taseer's precision and beauty. The Way Things Were, plotted on circular time, seasonal time, so that readers might move from the book's end to its beginnings without too much narrative break, in structure is comparable in its success only t ...more
Kumar Anshul
Dec 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
A story transcending the contemporaric notion of time. A story of past to discover and understand who you are while going through the present, facing its dystopic ugliness. A story of a family of elites, of mixed race royals to the political luminaries. A semantic journey through Sanskrit, Greek and Latin, idiosyncratically connected to the 1984 and 1992 riots.
A vivid portrait of love, marriage, parenting and divorce with the chronicles of Independent India running in parallel.
Aatish Taseer ha
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
“This is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong”. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

As I finished reading this book, and at so many points while reading it, this is the quote that came to my mind, again and again. I am at a loss of words right now, and so full of emotions – I feel like I wanna go to a corner and burst into tears. What this book has narrated to me, seems like a part of my own tho
Deepan Banati
Dec 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
Awful Page 3 style tattle of socialites who stoically face the ups and downs of their privileged lives with a drink in one hand and a smart repartee on the other hand . All this while 2 Sanskrit scholars (father and Son) struggle to reconcile modern India with Kalidasa's India. They find that what is left of Kalidasa's India has been appropriated by right wing nutters. No really ? And all this over 600 pages!

I must be a sucker for a few Sanskrit phrases strewn around the book.
Jul 06, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It's exceedingly rare that I don't finish a book.... but got almost 100 pages into this... and really didn't care to go any further. it wasn't that is was TERRIBLE...just boring and uninteresting.
Jun 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In a lot of ways, I've been reading this book for two full years. Taseer perfectly captures so much of India's natural and historic beauty, and also grapples with troubling politics from the Emergency, the Babri Masjid, to the Modi administration. I gained such an appreciation for the Sanskrit language and ancient Hindu poetry.

And it's an intimate dissection of relationships, divorce, and what it means to move on. The plot unravels satisfyingly, spanning 40 years, and culminating in the emotion
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ranging from 1975 to today, this book centres on two generations of a wealthy Indian family and how their lives are buffeted by the huge political and social changes that occur over those years. At the personal level, it captures the powerful influence that parents - no matter how physically or emotionally distant - exert on their children. It’s also a story of language itself (Sanskrit). How it can enrich us by capturing and carrying forward the past, and how it can be co-opted by sloganeering ...more
Jul 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned-midway
A noble failure. Found Taseer juggling too many balls: the rot within the political class, present linguistic anaemia, cultural amnesia, colonial hangover ie almost all of his woes with contemporary Indian State of Affairs hamfisted into monologues by characters who are not given any room to grow other than their yawn-inducing earnestness to enlighten willing characters and (un)willing readers. After a while, the way politically-loaded conservations are contrived into situations and happenstance ...more
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Once you've read a book cover to cover, there's a sense of loss; but also a sense of learning.. learning something new or maybe looking at something age old with new eyes. This book is all about India & people who see it in their own unique way. The India of Toby is vastly different from that of Maniraja. Uma's pragmatism is wildly different from her son's sense of aloofness. Different characters.. so many different perspectives. But, the most interesting of all is the narrative oscillating betw ...more
Aug 20, 2017 rated it did not like it
Utterly disappointed. 53% in and I don't think I can be more patient. Characters almost always seem to launch into long winded monologues about life, it's purpose and all that shit. The story seems to be going nowhere. The plot seemed so interesting from the description but by now I'm convinced there's probably no real development ahead. All that Sanskrit is interesting in bits but after a while gets too redundant. It almost always used as fillers for every scene - every party, every conversatio ...more
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is another book in the 'seeking to belong' genre. It held promise because the protagonist(s) seek(s) to reconcile today's India with the civilisation they find in their perusal of Sanskrit works. The references to Kumarasambhavam and Bhavabhuti seem to be in earnest. The game of cognates, a theme that the author has tried to weave into the narrative, also offers a refreshing respite when the prose grows weary. But the tapestry gives way when the author tries to hold it together with the fli ...more
I finally decided to quit on this, despite having already slogged through 361 pages. It was just too heavy on origin of languages, Indian history I'm not at all familiar with, and a non-stop soap opera with characters I just had no interest in. I just don't think it was written for me, or for a very wide audience at that.
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As I'm possibly a little too familiar with the lightly fictionalized characters in this book, it felt a bit like a busybody aunty who's over for tea with the latest family gossip. I'm not smart, well-read or sensitive enough to really grasp the philosophic-linguistic bits of the book, but I assume they're pretty good.
Nov 27, 2017 rated it did not like it
It's rare for me to not finish a book, but this is two in a row. After about 60 pages, this novel, set mostly in India about a father & son, both Sanskrit scholars, has failed to capture my interest, so I'm setting it aside. ...more
Jul 27, 2015 rated it did not like it
Torture. I pushed through hoping it would improve, but it did not
Sep 06, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
t tried. I really tried. It was unbearable.
Sharad Hotha
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There are two bizarre things about Independent India: one, right after a grassroots-based nationalist movement, the elite more or less set us all to become an Angelical society with a Hindu past in the name of scientific temper (not unlike Greece or Italy where their ancient culture is a novelty); two, the grassroots that were left dangling in space engaged with this attempt at erosion of their identity with useful and distorted appropriation of their own culture. While for the former Romila Tha ...more
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
'The Way Things Were' is an ode to Sanskrit and a reminder of what it actually means to be a rational Indian... This book tells a beautiful bittersweet story of a family against the backdrop of changing phases of Indian politics...

Aatish Taseer places history in the center and explores the different approaches towards the recorded past and how these approaches affect psyches of people and thus the future of a nation... And in all this how we lose the very essence of history which is to learn fro
Jul 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wow. The experience of reading this book was like getting familiarised with one's past. Of knowing about human nature and its implications on the world around us. Of discovering nothing and everything. To the lay man it will look like a world of shallow, intellectual snobs for whom the reality is limited to drawing room discussions with imported scotch in hand. It was a sense of deja vu, of vacation times when granny would tell us pre partition stories. This book also gave me a glimpse into a si ...more
Jul 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me a long time to get through this because it required a LOT of supplemental reading. I realized I know NOTHING about 20th Century Indian history, so I had no context for many of the events mentioned in the book. It was some very, very interesting reading and I learned a lot. I also loved the parts about how Sanskrit is the mother of all languages and how many Sanskrit words are still in use today in one form or another.

My only beef is that the family in the story is rather boring. With
Pavan V
Feb 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A highly addictive book which emphasizes about Sanskrit and Indian culture. The story goes parallel with the contemporary Indian history and the lives of the characters in the novel. The novel is mainly divided into four parts which is related to the Indian history. Beautifully written and the story connects with the historical background of India.
A Man Called Ove
Jul 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book reminded me of many things - its unhurried, leisurely pace reminded of a ghazal concert, the movement to-and-fro in time and the personal/national history mixture reminded a bit of Rushdie. Yet it never became boring or too difficult. And some passages are memorable. The book grows on u.
Recommended reading.
Book Riot Community
A son is tasked with returning the body of his father, the Maharaja of Kalasuryaketu, to India. The journey will take him halfway around the world, and bring him back in touch with his family. A beautiful look at familial obligation, culture, and facing the past.

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I have read quite a few novels of India so i was looking forward to this one. I got lost after about 5 pages, but plodded on. I lost who was speaking, who was who, where they were (whoever they were)
and i lost the plot. I have read Kafka without this much trouble. I must be missing something because many reviewers found it really good.
Sameera Kamulkar
Jun 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Too much prose, too many words.
A great subject but the writer got carried away with his own vocabulary.
I really wanted him to go somewhere with the book. I was disappointed.
Sahil Pradhan
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
An absorbing family saga set amid the commotion of the last forty years of Indian history The Way Things Were opens with the death of Toby, the Maharaja of Kalasuryaketu, a Sanskritist who has not set foot in India for two decades. Moving back and forth across three sections, between today’s Delhi and the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s in turn, the novel tells the story of a family held at the mercy of the times. A masterful interrogation of the relationships between past and present and among individual ...more
Apr 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At a writing workshop a few years ago, I learned that the mark of a good story is that it stays with you, long after you have read the last page. Somehow I know that this one will stay with me.

The story is so nuanced and subtle, that I really hope that my explanation of it doesn't butcher the thing!

"The Way Things Were" is a slow burn - it took me a good few months to read, and it is definitely one you want to take your time with.

The story oscillates between Skanda, who has returned to India to
Sep 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
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Aatish Taseer has worked as a reporter for Time Magazine and has written for the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph, the Financial Times, Prospect, TAR Magazine and Esquire. He is the author of Stranger to History: a Son's Journey through Islamic Lands (2009) and a highly acclaimed translation Manto: Selected Stories (2008). His novel, The Temple-Goers (2010) was shortlisted for the 2010 Costa Fir ...more

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We're halfway through the year that time forgot! Ahem...I mean, 2020. Believe it or not, it's June. Traditionally, this is when the Goodr...
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“Why not stick with the Indic definition? Of Itihāsa! Which is a compound, as you know, iti-ha-āsa, and when broken down, means, literally, The Way indeed that Things Were. That covers everything: talk, legend, tradition, history . . .” 3 likes
“...if we were to associate the genius of a place with one particular thing – the Russians with literature, say, or the Germans with music, the Dutch and Spanish with painting – we would have to say that the true genius of Ancient India was language.” 1 likes
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