The books you read define you – more than even the friends you keep.
If you don’t read anything, you are.. Times of India.. probably.. or an FB post.. or “23 people like this”. No offence.
Let us consider the typical Indian bookworm. Aka, me. [Shoo.. I AM average. Very!]
Based on what I read, I am a feminist, gender queer, travel freak, Mahabharata worshiping, serious writer, with an interest in online dating. Three of which, I am not – but nurture an unhealthy curiosity about.
So, the topics I read about are me and my quirks.
What does the language I read tell you about me? That I am an average urban Indian kid who is more comfortable with English than her native tongue? That I probably switch to English when I am very angry? Bingo!
What of my world-view? Is it Indian? Asian? Of a sheltered urban female in a developing nation?
I’m afraid not. It is distinctly American. Sometimes British. With a sprinkling of Indian. For, that is the composition of my book shelf. And that very worldview is gratingly incoherent with my reality. My Indian experiences of real life sit hidden in nooks and corners, quite scared to peep out and make a point.
(An accurate reflection of the politics of the past few decades, isn’t that? Go debate on that over coffee, and sound all intellectual. You are welcome.)
Rights and wrongs are universal. Contexts are not.
Emotions and reactions are universal. Experiences are not.
Some issues are universal, some struggles are universal. Some are not. Not at the same point on the timeline.
While I appreciate the day-to-day issues American feminists are struggling with, I am more interested in the issues around me. The attitudes I face. And I am yet to come across readable, non-gobbledygook academic books on feminism by an Indian in India. (Have read Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like a Feminist – did not cut it for me.)
I ache to read about passionate travel stories across India. Especially by women. But the best I found was the delightful Monisha Rajesh going Around India in 80 Trains, and she was brought up in the UK. Doesn’t anyone in India go obscure-place hopping across India, and write more than blog posts about it? Come on, folks!
I want to be held by my hand and taken around to a sensitive view of the obscure parts of my society. Mayank Soofi Austen did that once saying Nobody Can Love You More : Life in Delhi’s Red Light District. My hand hangs unheld now.
Of course, I treasure my favorites specializing on the Indian-ness of India of the myths – Devdutt Pattanaik and others. But I am not in myth-land now, am I?
Most other ‘Indian’ writing seems to borrow heavily from the baseline experiences and arguments of an American – particularly of Gloria Steinem’s age. After all, the writers themselves have grown up listening to the foreign voice, whether it be opinions or music.
Just where are the Indian voices that go beyond telling you light-hearted stories on railway station platforms, for 120Rs.?
I am probably looking at my own country from the point of view of an American-desi, if not an American! [freaks out]
Something is grossly messed up with my understanding and expectations of the world around me, then? Almost as if all the voices I hear, including my own, aren’t “mine”. Schizophrenic, am I? Watching a bollywood movie with hollywood dubbing?
Desperately hoping that I have simply missed the Indian voice,
A bookworm who has and hears a confused voice.
P.S. Do let me know of good Indian ‘voices’ I might have missed. Please.
P.P.S. If you can’t find anything, please go and write a handful of books. Pretty please. Quick.