Barely have we strapped ourselves in to read Anand Giridharadas’s rollercoaster ride of thoughts, experiences and interviews about being an Indo-American who returns to India, when whoosh! It’s over.
But in its brisk way, the book covers a broad area while sparing us the mandatory visits to slums, brothels and palaces. It should appeal to the thousands of so-called ABCDs—American Born Confused Desis—who struggle with feelings shading from guilt and confusion to joyous surrender to their ethnic homeland. Amongst the most corrosive results of emigration is the loss of a past without the benefit of gaining a present. For the Indian diaspora, the typical cultural dislocation of all immigrants is multiplied many times over by the fact that, as a culture, we’re not homogeneous and the shared citizenship is an illusion. We might find ourselves being thrown together with others of our nationality only to realise that we have neither food, language, religion nor social experience in common. We would be better off with complete aliens, who would at least have no expectations, than with one of our “own”, who might be inclined to penalise us for being non-standard.
Giridharadas’s story is just one amongst the countless multi-dimensional histories that this diaspora has begun to write. His parents left during the peak “brain-drain” years. They fell in love in India and married across the Punjab-Tamil Nadu cultural divide. Once in the US, they assimilated quickly, raising their two children as Americans, rather than as Indians-in-Exile. In this way, Giridharadas had less confusion to contend with than many others. His face and genes are Indian, but the organisation of his thoughts is American. When he talks to Ravindra the Roller Skating King or the hapless divorcing couples at the Bandra Family Court or the god-emperor-industrialist Mukesh Ambani, it is as an outsider looking in, but with the advantage of looking like an insider.
Trained as a management consultant, the author moved to Bombay in 2003, working for McKinsey & Company for two years. Having previously interned with the New York Times at the age of 17, he returned to journalism in 2005, reporting from Bombay for the NYT and Herald Tribune for four years. The stories he tells best are those which work as set pieces in a column, such as the scenes at the Family Court and the tragicomic account of his stay in a Ludhiana home belonging to two brothers, where climbing the stairs from the ground to the first floor is like time-travel from the fly-blown hospitality of the past to the cell-phone-enabled future. I wondered how his subjects would respond to their depiction in this book, whether they felt violated rather than showcased. But perhaps that’s always the case with documentary footage?
I also found myself being reminded, oddly enough, of both Geeta Mehta’s Karma Cola (1979) and Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City (2004). Both were huge best-sellers, but one was written as infotainment and the other as dispatches from an urban war-zone. Giridharadas is cooler, younger and more detached than either of these writers. He writes with the confidence of the marathon runner, who knows he has many miles to cover before he truly finds his way home.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Lets not deride Macaulay. We are slightly ahead of Sub Saharan Africa thanks to Macaulay and his education system. Am sure you would not want your kids to spend the best part of their lives learning Manu Smriti or the vedas by rote.
"As if Anand Giridhardas would have the time or the inclination to reply to people like you commenting on Outlook artricles! Get a grip on reality, man and calm down!"
So has this Giridhardas fellow hired you to bite people commenting on Outlook ? If that is the case he will be well advised to fire you. You are a PR disaster.
Mitra - "The derision comes from the inferiority complex" - This gentleman seems to be still living in a time wrap(1975?). People back home don't worship their cousins in the US anymore and people dont give a hoot to what patronising over rated/over paid American Indians think. get off the pedestal "Sir" Mitra.
<i>It is a silly nationalistic attack on an excellent book- very unfortunate, considering how deeply Anand Giridhardas cares about India - you will understand if you read the book.</i>
It is not important whether Giridhardas cares about India or if he feels the country is used toilet paper!!!
What matters is 'if he wrote a good book'. From the review it seems he did not.
I have read this chaps columns in NYT...he is Friedman lite. James Yardley and Lydia Polgreen do a better job. And they are not even Indian origin.
@ Kajal Shah
I agree with you...Manu Joseph, Friedman and his clones are boring to read. I don't care for groundbreaking insights, but atleast be fun to read!
I am tempted to write a book about America and Americans I have met in the last decade or so...a book full of cliches and insights which every jackass with a 2 cent brain knows!
But I think I need to prove my mettle with an overrated consulting jig.
You hit the nail on the head because precisely what you quoted from Mr. Mitra is what left me perplexed also. I started reading the Giridhardas's book and was sorely disappointed. The article you linked points out how well-deserved the desition for Giridhardas is. What has really disappointed me is NYT's choice of correspondents. If Giridhardas was not enough, we had Manu Joseph promoting equally absurd stereotypes about India. Must NYT always choose the simplifying stereotypers like Friedman? How about someone who presents the Indian complexity in all its myriad contradictions? Someone like R.Guha or M' Kesavan?
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