Monday, July 12, 2010

Holy Cow Sarah! Really???

Today my mood is thoughtful…pensive. Did Sarah McDonald really need to publish her memoir about her time in India? She undoubtedly has a right to do it, nevertheless is it necessary to dispense with cultural and emotional sensitivity as completely as she has done?

Her writing is good, many times, I found myself laughing uncontrollably and even empathizing with her on some of her experiences. By dint of transforming contradictions to caricatures, she has managed to keep the humor going throughout the book. Her basic attitude can be simply termed as “poking fun” at all and sundry. The truly heartbreaking thing about it is most of her wit is a result of her lack of discernment and acuity into the culture and conditions of this society.

I know that India can be an overwhelming experience, especially for people born and raised in less populated, better-organized, simple monocultural societies. I am Indian, I cannot even pretend to begin to understand this diverse, tangled country of mine, and she has disposed of every aspect of this country in a shallow, flippant manner. If she aimed at caustic wit, she did not reach there, as there is no depth of perspicacity, just a superficial satire.

The key concepts of her plot like the airport beggar foretelling her future, her wish for bigger breasts being granted her albeit as a disease, the astrologer in Rishikesh coming up with correct predictions; all sound like blatant falsehoods created to give her “memoir” some significance. As otherwise, it would read like a tiresome travelogue of a bored foreigner unable to engage with the country where she happens to be a reluctant visitor.

The Indian government does not interfere with people’s religious beliefs in the name of bureaucracy, city governance or urban planning which is as it should be and the author terms it “inefficiency”. (Ref to Parsi Dakhmas)

There is no beautiful piece of land in India, every single square foot is dirty, dusty, dry, hot, stinky, muddy…the negatives are endless. She professes to understand the concept of multiple paths to God endorsed by Hinduism and persists in giving frivolous descriptions of different Hindu Gods.

I could analyze her book to bits and continue to ramble some, so I will stop here. This is not the first book about India written by a western visitor that paints such a starkly depressing picture of the country. Most of them invariably begin with extreme reactions and end up making peace with it under the “India is a land of contradictions with exotic eastern spirituality” theory. “Holy Cow” is no different.

The problem as I see it is developed nations function based on a “mainstream society” which also happens to be the majority population. There is a clear demarcation between the center and the periphery and it is obvious who is who and what is what and where you stand in relation to society the moment you land there. India has no such clearly defined mainstream. If you like, you can define Hindus as the majority population based on statistics but that does not translate to mainstream. Here everyone is mainstream. External visitors are fond of searching for the real India and gravitate towards urban slums and poor villages, which makes no sense. Why on earth are Modern India and Rich India considered illusory siblings of the poor and ancient?

India is not contradictory; she is all-inclusive. Every person, every thing, every culture and every attitude has a place up front and center thus creating a rich textured, multi layered social fabric that defies any attempts at mainstreaming and classification. No wonder, the wandering stranger ends up confused and bewildered at the gazillion seeming contradictions that attack his startled gaze. It’s like being locked up with Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and the rest of the Renaissance gang and their art with perspective and proportion since you were born and one fine day being kicked out on your ass and asked to appreciate and enjoy 21st century abstraction art with its pluralistic “whatever” attitude!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Of Thunderstorms and gay peacocks...

The mayor of Ahmedabad prayed for rains, he, along with temple priests performed a Yajna sitting in huge copper cauldrons of water around the fire...hmmm...not sure if the cauldron was part of the ritual or just an ingenious way of coping with having to sit around a burning fire on a burning hot day. However, that's beside the point. A couple days after invoking the Rain God, the heavens opened up and drenched these dry lands in torrents. Monsoon has arrived in earnest. Now the days are blessedly cloudy and the temperature hovers in the balmy F80s...what bliss! I can't get enough of staring at the rains and standing in the balcony to soak in the spray. If I were younger or less self-conscious, I would have gone out to the courtyard, unfurled my non-existent feathers and danced like a peacock...but I am neither younger nor un-self-conscious, so that's a moot point.
Speaking of peacocks, heard something quirky the other day. There's a peacock around here somewhere that apparently loves men and hates women. He is very friendly towards the men who visit him but God forbid a woman tries to get close to him! He chases them down and tries to peck them to death...yes...these pecks are no little birdie kisses but serious attempts to draw flesh. I wonder, is this a case of a "gay peacock" who doesn't want the human being to be in anyway confused about his sexuality or a simple misogynist? What is being done about this? Nothing. The peacock is free to roam and attack any unsuspecting woman in the vicinity. Whatever...too bad this isn't the US of A where NOW would have called for stringent action against the peacock and PETA would have strongly objected and requested a psych analyses to check for PTSD and the bird would be clapped up behind bars for sure. But this is India, the land of infinite patience and what if this poor peacock hates women? It is peacock what if it seriously hurts a's the woman's fate...Hey Ram! Don't you get it?!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Life feels funny again...

A female school teacher turns out be a bootlegger! This a dry state, an anachronism in these times especially considering this is one of the most industrialized states of India. How can industries flourish and business deals smoothened out without the mellowing influence of alcohol eh? They cannot and they don't have to when you have enterprising school teachers selling IMLF, for the ignornant, that is Indian Made Foreign Liquor - whatever that means! Apparently the woman's husband had no clue about her moonlighting as a liquor baroness. Really?! That is intriguing. Did the woman not store the liquor in the house then? Or was she hiding it in kitchen corners and sneaking it in and out in the voluminious folds of her sari? Now that I think about it, it is a possibility, he probably never enters the kitchen the sari is best left alone!

But...I am still awestruck....An Indian Woman who can be a school teacher and a Bootlegger at the same time?!

Check this out - They decide to increase the number of buses plying in Ahmedabad city and twenty brand new buses are prayerfully inducted to the existing fleet of buses. Duly decked up and garlanded they are paraded to the general public. And what does the fond public do? In their joy and excitement, in their loving anxiety to take a peek into the beautiful interiors of the bus, they clamber all over it and end up unwittingly destroying the windows. Last I heard seven of the gorgeous new twenty have gone into surgery...