No one is India

In the past year I have had many an opportunity to interact with individuals from across the globe – Australians, Europeans, Asians and almost all the dinner table conversations involved references to each one’s culture, country, so on and so forth. Given the global village we live in I would imagine that the horizon of one’s world view would have extended. On the contrary I was met with huge disappointment.

I had to grapple with extremely lop sided opinions of what the Indian sub continent was all about. I was surprised to find references being made to Bollywood as something comical with stars running around trees. Most Indians are vegetarians and don’t consume alcohol. That naan, butter chicken and other tandoori fare are staple Indian food. That our English isn’t all that good after all. That we are loud and crass and that India is a poorly developed third world nation. That bhangra music is Indian music. Well while I’m not out here to refute any of these facts and nor am I intending to parade my patriotism, but I sincerely feel that these views are askew and reflect a very narrow perception of the sub continent. While it could be applicable to a certain portion of the pie it doesn’t necessarily have to extend to the whole circumference.

And when I meet these opinions I am at crossroads because I wonder how I can correct these conceptions or should I say misconceptions and just land up responding “Well it’s not like that. And that’s not reflective of the whole.” I guess the whole is more than just the sum of the parts. I don’t blame them for what they feel or know because they have probably experienced just a very thin slice of the Indian Diaspora. Most of the views are due to what the media promotes and the small percentage of Indians they may have interacted with. At this point I would like to stress that Indians born and brought up in the US of A, UK, Singapore, Australia are for all practical reasons more American, British, Singaporean and Australian with just a delectable amount of Indianess. They however cannot be representative of India as a whole. For that matter no Indian can be representative of India as a whole. That’s because we as a Nation, we as a people are as varied as can be. Different colours, cuisines, dress, languages, music, dance, lifestyle, film, religion and food habits and I guess the differences permeate every aspect of life. So to all those who say that

a. Bollywood is of running around trees- please watch Rang De Basanti, Page 3, Corporate and many other Indian films that I can list out

b. Indians are vegetarians and don’t consume alcohol- not anymore. The upper urban class youth hit the pubs like its going out of style and relish seafood, meat, poultry just as much.

c. Naan, butter chicken and the other tandoori fare are staple Indian food- that’s the staple Indian restaurant fare abroad. There is the spicy Andhra Cuisine, coconut based Kerala cuisine, lip smacking Gujarati cuisine and many many more. Our staple food is simple.

d. That our English isn’t all that good after all- Most of us talk with a neutral accent and most young couples converse in English and are not confined to their mother tongue.

e. That we are loud and crass and that India is a poorly developed third world nation- we can mind our P’s and Q’s as well as anyone else. To quote from wikipedia “With a GDP growth rate of 9.4% in 2006-07, the Indian economy is among the fastest growing in the world.[87] India’s GDP in terms of USD exchange-rate is US$1.125 trillion, which makes it the twelfth largest economy in the world.[

f. Bhangra music is Indian music – It is! But so are the lilting notes of Pandit Ravi Shankar.

No one is India- E M Forster




Once Upon A Time…

We’ve all read them as children, some of us have read them to our children and still others to our grand children. The evergreen characters of never never land – the once upon a time fables of dragons, imps, pixies, fairies, witches, beasts, dwarves an gnomes, talking pumpkins and castles, helpful mice and ugly frog princes. It’s ahoy fantasy land!

The reason I talk to you about the Enchanted Woods or the Three Lil Pigs and Hansel and Gretel is because as I read them out to my lil niece I noticed a thread that weaves them in a common frame…a faint thread of violence. All tales seem to encompass an element of the good, bad and the ugly.

But aren’t fairy tales after all supposed to be exactly that?…Tales of fairies in far away places meant to swish you away on a magic flying carpet to a land of fantasy and make believe? But instead there is always the conflict of good vs. evil. Young innocent minds being introduced to the bad wolf or the wicked step mother or the cruel step sisters and the ugly frog and the beasts and witches casting a dark demonic shadow and an eerie spell. The Grimms brothers must have quite a brutal imagination and their tales have since long been watered down and Disney has made them more palatable.

One school of thought rationales that it’s a good way to introduce a child to reality and to the dark side of life. I however beg to differ and subscribe to the antithesis. As the child grows he will fall and will learn to get up and walk. It’s natural. And as he discovers this that and the other he will also discover the darker side of life and quite naturally learn to navigate towards the light. Fairy tales needn’t introduce a child to the concept of good and evil.

It would be nice to have fairy tales confine to mere fairies and pixies and countless stars and ballroom nights and friendly chipmunks and squirrels. If I had it my way I would just wave my magic wand and turn those wicked creatures to dust – never to rise again!

From an avid reader of IWE

While strolling along the aisles of a bookstore the common encounters of genres are the fiction, non fiction, self help, classics, cookery, art and architecture, management, science, religion and philosophy, computers, fashion, children, humor and last but definitely not the least “ Indian Writing.”. IWE or Indian Writing in English seems to have carved a niche for itself and today has many a novella, anthology, short stories, novels stacked under its label.

I remember a time when Indian authors merely spanned a controversial Rushdie or a feisty Tharoor, a poetic Tagore, a fiery Khushwant Singh and of course the simplistic Narayan of Malgudi chronicles. But today I find a sudden cartload of books tumbling over ….pick up a few and turn them over …Anita Desai, Anita Nair and Shoba De waving the feminist flag (Ladies Coupe and Speed post were enjoyable readings) , Arundhati Roy (who transported me to Rahael and Esthappen’s world in Kottayam), Jhumpa Lahiri (taking me along with Ashima and her trials n Gogol’s struggle with his identity), Sudha Murthy (her narratives seemed to reflect my own experiences), Chetan Bhagat ( who seemed to strike a chord with his IITian experience). But these are names that would still seem familiar in the faint light of the night. One can cite numerous other writers like Amit Chaudhri, Chitra Banerjee, Pankaj Mishra, Gita Mehta, Gurucharan Das and their contemporaries.

So what characterizes this brand of authors and their work …what makes an IWE experience?…Most often than not I observe that the protagonists of these tales are Indian characters who think and feel and react the way Indians do…long winding descriptions of anything and everything is a hallmark of IWE….be it a page long description of rural India or bustling Mumbai or the rain falling in the stillness of the night or an urchin defecating on the street or a bride adorning herself …its all in the details…the ABCD theme will stick its head up once in a while…the first few pages of the work will serve no purpose other than creating some speculation ..but you see that’s the beauty of the IWE reading experience…it takes you to places in India and makes you feel them…it takes you to the idleness and boredom the protagonists are experiencing…it takes you to an “Indian” mind…it presents to you irony which is a reflection of what India is all about. It takes you on a deep unforeseen journey and leaves you with memorable endings…




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