He started off by saying with a deep breath and taking a sip of coffee,"India is not really a country - it was never a country actually until 1947."
Now look around your table, if you ever try this. Usually at this point, anybody around the table, will start nodding very obsequiously to you and looking to you with amazement - kya point bola yaar. Luckily, I am a well read right wing idiot who believes that leftism is a refuge of the lazy.
So, I threw him off track and said, "But if you read Sanjeev Sanyals book, The land of seven rivers, even from a geographic and a political perspective many a time in history, it has been one country".
That somewhat threw him off track and he spoke about geography and politics and I also ran out of points, but I wish I read Arun Shouries book, A Secular Agenda (will add it to the reading list soon) before that.
The books first chapter is dedicated to idiots like this - who will pretend to be an intellectual while telling you that India was never really a country. So, the next time an intelligent guy blurts this line, here is what you can do.
"Of course, India was consisting of about 300 to 400 principalities and kingdoms. And therefore, it is not a country, fair enough. But do you know how many principalities were there in Germany before it became a country?"
Most likely you wont get an answer. Persist.
(Answer, Germany was about 300 principalities, almost all independent- which means, Germany could also have been one, two or 300 countries.)
At this point, he may spring the term "India is a geographic expression" on you. Calmly remind him that was used for the above country, Germany and not India.
Next question: "Did you know that after the 11th century, there is no 'English' dynasty ruling England? and that at the First world war did they sound their dynasty name from Guelph to the less German sounding Windsor? And that much of Europe was smallish principalities before it became what we know it as today?"
"Only about a dozen states can be construed as countries as per your logic that countries have to exist as a country for millenia", would be a great reminder at this point. (That quote is by Ed Hobsbawm - Nations and Nationalism since 1780).
So, not very different from India. And in the second chapter, Shourie takes it to a different level, pointing our cultural unity - which you wont find in the above examples. Now for your killer punch, at the dinner table.
"But have you seen how united we are culturally? Philosophically? Despite not having an organized religion? How similar festivals are celebrated across the country? Almost the same calendar? Despite multiple castes and languages? And did you know that the pujaris in Pasuhpatinath (Nepal) are Malayalis, from Kerala? Or that the Kamakshi temple in Kanchi is linked to the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati? Or that every Diwali the sari for Goddess Amba of Kolhapur from the Lord at Tirupati? And this is from the time of Shankaracharya that is about 788–820 CE – which makes us go a long way culturally, right?"
"Do you have similar examples for any other country? From 8th Century CE"
At this point, the conversation will likely turn to more pleasing topics like food or weather or television.
Anyway, more later once I read the book fully.