I request you to read this blog not only because India is a fascinating country in it’s own right, but also because I genuinely believe that it is in Americans’ best interest to learn more about the largest democracy on earth. India is a rapidly growing economy (one of the BRIC countries) and one of our fastest growing trading partners. It sits (grumpily and at odds, often times) with its neighbor–that other country we’ve been hearing about so much about, China.
Today, India exports more of its countrymen and women to America for education and jobs than it does its old colonial master, England. Bollywood, with all of its song and dance, rivals Hollywood in global consumption. And India, like America, has experienced the pain and grief of terrorist attacks, engaging frequently with its non-too-friendlyy nuclearly armed neighbor, Pakistan. As we face a world of rapid climate change, pollution, diminishing natural resources, terrorist attacks, and cultures in collision, the story of India’s burgeoning economy and population is also our story as we set about collectively addressing the threats of the future. Last but not least, India is the home of a vibrant, eclectic artistic and literary community, and has generated some of the most notable names English literature has had in the past decade. It is also home to many undiscovered authors whose works have been deemed “too Indian” for publication on the international market.
My mission over the course of the year is to record glimpses these stories and to dispel illusions Americans have about India. This will be beneficial, not only because I’ll be able to talk with my friends without having to backtrack into historical lectures, but also because there are plenty of circulating stereotypes that reduce the home of three hundred and thirty million gods to two-dimensional clichés.
Some Americans picture India to be a land of strange myths, beautiful silks, and seductive eyes peeking out from behind rose-colored veils. For others, it is a place of crippling poverty, with large trash heaps, open defecation, and slum dogs slugging it out to become millionaires. For others still, it is a land a land of comedy, where (to paraphrase Russell Peters) all Indian men are nerdy engineers striking out with beauties in bars; where (according to Indian serials) women are large, balloon shaped housewives floating around their households with imperious pouts; where (thanks to Bollywood) everyone sings, dances, and speechifies in melodrama; and where, (virtue of the Simpsons) thousands of years of culturally crafted hospitality have been reduced to, “Thank you, come again.” I would even say these stereotypes hold partial truths, that “there are many Indias,” but even India’s multicultural diversity has overused its novelty.
So what do we talk about when we talk about India?
I will describe the world around me in four different ways: “street talk,” “critic’s corner,” “private eye,” and “travel.” In “street talk,” I will publicize my conversations with your average Joe on the street. I will ask people about their lives: their job, religion, politics, and perspectives on their home country. I will show you the jack fruit sitting on their roadside cart in the evening light during the Muslim calls for prayer. I will show you the cows, covered in garlands, wandering down the road to tug at the plastic bags with their teeth from the garbage for dinner. I will show you the vendor’s dusty feet and curve of his mustached smile in his white plastic chair.
I will, as Aladdin says to Jasmine, “show you the world.”
Most of my observations will be limited to an American perspective. I will therefore augment my observations with the observations of India’s most celebrated, talented, and insightful authors in “critic’s corner.” Our understanding of another place is usually filtered through the media we consume. For example, many Americans perceive Russia through residual Cold War propaganda, New York Times articles on Putin’s eccentricities, memory of election speeches made by Mitt Romney, or twentieth century Russian literature. Out of the three, I wager Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, or Turgenev more accurately depict the Russian soul than lingering, smoldering fears of hammer and sickle. In the same way, I will comment on the lives of Indian authors, their writing, and India’s many different literary and folk traditions to convey—outside of the mathematical measurements of GDP—moments of illuminating beauty and moments of social alienation engendered by our globalized world.
I also hope to write more traditional essays on more social, political, and academic issues. I will be traveling, so keep your eye out for my photographic journal of hectic megacities like Mumbai, relaxing mountain retreats like Shimla, and dense rain forests in states like Kerala.
My introduction has reached elephantine proportions. With no further ado, I set forth to translate my experiences with the blessing of a broken tusk.