How do you explain India to a non-Indian?
Here’s how some people did:
And here’s how I would:
1. Read R.K.Narayan’s Swami and Friends. Or watch the television series Malgudi Days. Either is a great way to get to know the innocence of a small town India, now possibly long gone. But it goes some way to explain where we all come from - a resource-poor, imagination-rich culture.
2. Read Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games. If Swami and Friends was our past, Sacred Games is our rambunctious, terribly untidy present. It presents contemporary big-city life in all its corrupt unholy mess - with unimaginable wealth on one hand and a lower middle class struggling to keep their head above water on the other. Maximum City could do the same with a less fictionalised version.
3. Watch a few episodes of Amir Khan’s Satyameva Jayate. It explains the peculiar problems of an India still held hostage to a past that can sometimes seem excessively regressive to a liberal Western world view.
4. Talk to a shop girl in any modern format shopping mall. She will show you the ambition and fierce need of a young India grasping at upward economic mobility.
5. Visit any old temple in south India. You will see how irrevocably linked religion and rituals are to life of people every day.
6. And watch a Bollywood flick like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara or Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. There is an India that is tuned in to Western sensibilities like never before - moneyed, well-travelled, as much part of a homogenized global culture as anyone in any part of the world.