Let us not have the endless, boring debate about whether foreigners should write books about India. Of course they should. Where would we be without the works of Mark Tully, Sam Miller or William Dalrymple? More humbly, even I have ventured into this challenging realm—twice—so I’m clearly in favour of unfettered free speech here.
But every now and then, along comes a tome that mocks my belief, that bolsters the illiberal posturing that often greets a foreign devil’s attempts at “explaining India”. This is one such. From start to finish, it patronises Indians, tediously transmits callow reactions of the newly-arrived expat, spreads stereotypes and—of course—ends with the faux-generous thought that one does come to love this irritating yet irresistible place. We learn, for example, that “by and large, auto-drivers are good people”. A moment of frustration “evaporates like paan spit on a hot Delhi street”. And the author entertains taxi drivers by teaching them to swear in English but is shocked when someone asks about his sex life. This is the stock-in-trade of many a Delhi expat party that sent me screaming into the night, vowing never again.
Aside from the whingers, moaners and mockers at those insufferable parties, I wonder who is supposed to read this book; other than, that is, a long-suffering reviewer whose beliefs in writing about India may now need some reassessment.