You Are What You Read!

Aren’t you?
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.


11 thoughts on “You Are What You Read!

  1. “Watching a bollywood movie with hollywood dubbing?” – haha. I love this post – straight-forward, bold and something I second completely! 🙂

  2. Don’t worry – I miss the Indian ‘voice’ in my bookshelf too. 😦

    Depending on your tastes, I take the liberty to suggest a couple of books to you here. I am not sure of the writers’ origin, but I have heard good things about these books, and they seem to be in sync with what you want to read.

    1. May you be the mother of a hundred sons – Elisabeth Bumiller
    2. Autobiography of a sex worker – Nalini Jameela
    3. About places – what about our good ol’ Ruskin Bond?

    • So says my ever reliable pointer to lovely books! 😀

      Ruskin bond – I think I read a lot of him in school, and my brain refuses to read him in adulthood. Mental block there.

      Thanks for these too. Noted.

    • Chetan Bhagat – well, he works – sometimes – as a palate cleanser. Unfortunately, have read all of his books out of a compulsive curiosity. 😀

      Shobhaa De – I’d remember that her when I feel like reading something atrociously blunt. 😉
      The other two – noted. Thanks 🙂

  3. No, your viewpoint is certainly not American, though you comprehend that viewpoint. Because the American viewpoint isn’t just defined by what they know, but perhaps even more by what they do not know. To have an American viewpoint, you need to eradicate from your mind 99% of the knowledge you have of living any other place than USA.

    Once you know the alternatives, then you can’t help but seeing things in a different light, compared to the average American which speaks only english, has lived only in USA, has friends only in USA, gets all his news from American media, owns no passport and never visited another country except for perhaps a weekend-trip to Canada.

    But the same is perhaps true for many indians — so yes, I do think with intimate knowledge of alternative systems, you get, to a certain point, an “outsiders” view on your own home-country.

    I have the same feeling here in Norway. Having lived for several years abroad, and having friends in odd places like India, gives me a different perspective from that of the average Norwegian who knows little of the world.

    • Of course my point of view isn’t all American. But given that the most serious ‘debates’ I read come from authors with the American experience – especially when it comes to sociological concepts. There are practically no accessible homegrown sociological debates that don’t echo the American ones. One simple reason being that most of the debates that happen here now have happened there decades back, and hence that knowledge ‘colors’ one’s views – like it or not.

      Yes.. the ‘outsiders’ view is the problem. It is all fine when one interacts with only “well-read” peers.. but talk to a person who doesn’t read at all, then the bridge just can’t be bridged. It is as if we speak different languages, and mine being the ‘alien’ language with ‘alien’ terms and idioms.

      • That’s funny ! America looks precicely opposite, seen from my part of the world. The debates *they* are having, are concistently debates we had decades ago. This is especially true in debates that touches on feminism, equal rights and/or religion.

        Self-selected abortions. Same-sex marriage. Openly gay people in the military. Celibacy for priests. Female priests. Gay priests. Lesbian bishops. Contraception. Evolution. (well, that was never even really a debate here) Universal Healthcare. Book-censorship (especially in schools). Atheism.

        There’s areas where I guess you could say we’re moving in an American direction, rather than them moving in a Scandinavian direction. I tend to view most of those as negatives, but that’s a political opinion – I’m in in favor of the nordic social-democracy model rather than the unrestrained-capitalism one, and the latter has been making some inroads over the last 20 years here.

      • Exactly. But which culture’s ideas throng the world book scene? The one which wields most power – politically, linguistically. That’d be the American and British. Especially because we usually pick up books based on topics and ratings, and don’t go seeking for the view from ‘a’ culture.

  4. Yeah. The end-result is a one-way transfer of knowledge: I have a fairly good idea what USA is like, but few Americans have more than a hazy idea what Scandinavia is like. I think that’s mostly a loss for those from the dominant cultures, because having access to multiple perspectives has to be preferable to knowing only one.

    My wife grew up in DDR (until it dissolved in 89 when she was 15), I *love* hearing her opinion on social issues, she has perspectives that are very different from mine, and even after being married to her for a decade and having lived in her part of Germany for multiple years, she still manages to surprise me.

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