Tuesday, November 17, 2009
During the weekend I watched most of the DVDs I borrowed from the library as well as finished reading overdue books by Rummler-Brache and an excellent tome on old houses. I watched a documentary on the Khumb Mela festival in India, inspirational videos from Dr. Wayne Dyer, Paul Newman’s movie ‘Hud’, Robert Altman’s ‘The Prairie Home Companion’ and an excellent Mira Nair film, ‘The Namesake’ adapted from the book by Jhumpa Lahiri. I have read Lahiri’s previous book, ‘The Interpreter of Maladies.’ I liked her work initially to learn about India and its people. But I now read her to understand the life of immigrants adapting to their new country. A lot of spiritual truths in the weekend ranging from the exotic spiritualism of Khumb Mela to insights from Dr. Dyer and home truths from ‘The Namesake’ and ‘Hud’.
‘The Namesake’ movie portrays both India and the immigrant life in America. Lahiri is a good writer and I think she just wanted to express her daily reality but critics now talk about her vision. I am not sure if writers intentional come and have a vision before starting their work. But it’s a good work and helpful for me and my family having moved here recently. I think she is a rare Indian writer who writes with sensitivity and skill. She is authentic and refreshingly lacks the fireworks and brilliance of Salman Rushdie. The last book that remains in my mind is ‘The White Tiger’ – an original work about life in India. The book was entertaining, structured around a letter written by a Bangalore entrepreneur to a visiting Chinese premier.
‘The White Tiger’ provides a subtle comparison between India and China by telling the story of a rag to riches tale of a criminal. The book tells of an honest worker who finally kills his master and steals his money to start a business and new life in Bagalore. I wonder if such crimes still exists in China where there is less distinction between rich and poor when compared to the huge disparities in India. One wonders if the writer is proud of Indian democracy or China’s socialist experiments with capitalism. The book remains in mind although I finished reading it a long time ago. Perhaps its the performance of the reader – John Lee. The Indian Diaspora is widespread in the Americas and seemed to be centered on technical white collar jobs. The Chinese Diaspora on the other hand seemed to be centered on wealthy merchant entrepreneurs.
I think India is starting to get accepted culturally because of the outsourcing. Success of popular films like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘The Namesake’ plus the rise of Indian writers indicate this acceptance. It’s the ancient traditions, food and lifestyle that intrigue people. I guess the British colonial experience has also advanced their internationalization. But the Chinese experience is quite different as internally focused and it’s boldly embracing the new, quite like the Meiji Restoration in Japan. In my mind, China seems to provide a more collective hero tradition with Mao Tse Tung, Deng Xiopeng and Chao En Lai. A lot of terrible mistakes where made but one wonders if events like the Cultural Revolution had a subtle purpose like to eradicate ancient superstitions in an ancient land in order to boot strap their rise to superpower status.
India had a more restrained history with the great example of Mahatma Gandhi. He had reacted to the colonial powers in a uniquely Indian manner such as Satyagraha and non-violence and his example paved the way for the country’s next generation of leaders. But the colonial powers did succeed in partitioning India, creating Pakistan and Bangladesh. Can we say this historical mistake of the English eventually led to the Taliban and Osama Bin Ladin and the rise Muslim extremism of today? Fortunately, the communist under Mao prevented any partition of China although wisely settling on a peaceful coexistence with Taiwan under the Nationalist. Nevertheless, with the return of Hong Kong and Macao, I think Taiwan is not far behind in returning to the motherland.