Archive for the ‘Alien India’ Category

“Your face, my thane, is as a book where men

May read strange matters”

– Lady Macbeth to Macbeth, the thane of Cawdor, in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Act 1, Scene 5.

If books reflect culture, book reading habits too, perhaps, reflect a people’s tribal instinct. And then, do social events like ‘book parties’ reflect something intrinsic about different social groups, different national groups?

Shoba Narayan seems to think so. At least when it comes to Indian versus American ‘book release parties.’ Her vividly observant article at Wall Street Journal, The Indian Book Ceremony.

In the United States, the publisher manages the event to celebrate the author and then sell as many books as possible. By contrast, for “the argumentative Indian” it’s all about a well-spent evening of discussions and disagreements, regardless of how few copies were sold at the end of it

In the U.S., everybody accepts that there’s a mini cult of personality around the writer.

Ms. Narayan doesn’t quite state, but implies that somehow the Indians seem to emphasize the book and the event more than the author.  At least, that is how it is hinted, here:

We Indians are a ceremony-driven people. Book readings are not merely announced in the local paper but through personal invitations sent to friends and relatives. Sometimes the bookstore sends these invitations to everyone on their mailing list; other times the publisher does this. Likewise, politicians are welcomed to conventions not merely with a handshake and introduction but with garlands and bouquets, …

…..  Stores open with a traditional ribbon-cutting, followed by the lamp-lighting.

The same Indian who rudely cuts ahead of a queue of strangers will refuse to help himself to the buffet until his elderly uncle has eaten. All suggestions to “go ahead and eat” will be met with pehle aap. The same applies to authors who are loathe to be the only ones talking about their book. Instead they follow the literary version of “pehle aap,” where they get a panel of guests to go first. To the Indian, talking about one’s own book or accomplishments is intrinsically boastful.

To a Western publicist, panel discussions are a minefield. They can go off-message, ramble all over the place so that the audience gets bored, take the spotlight away from the author, and in the worst case scenario, criticize the author and book. But these are chances that Indian publishers and authors readily take.

But Indian authors want a panel anyway. We are comfortable in crowds; we need people around us, even on a dais. We are used to loud and vocal disagreements, having heard it all the time in family quarrels. Hollywood stars and American politicians revel in the spotlight. In India, it is the opposite: Being surrounded by people is the true show of strength.

On a broader note, if this item were to be believed, the French love reading fiction, even the gloomier variety; Germans love out door stuff; the English lighter fare, and Americans  even lighter fare. Someone recently claimed that Indians read the most, in a general survey of reading. And, that in a few decades majority of English speakers in the world will be Indian! What do these factoids bear on the social organization of book coming out parties?

As side note to the above block quotes, is ribbon cutting really a tradition in the same vein as lighting a lamp? Isn’t it more of a true colonial vestige, albeit a well-integrated vestige? In any case, this sharp observation of Indian character is quite revealing.

Finally, to I.U., this looks like a case of adaptation,  the casting of a native attitude into an alien form of social activity. After all, traditionally the Indian writer looked to a royal or governmental patronage of arts. Only now, being democratic and all, book launches take on this new mongrel form, more out of need than by design.

What do you think?


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The last English Gentleman on earth is likely to be an Indian, goes an old saw. Of all the places the lads and ladies of the isles have inhabited, or merely transited, none has taken to the English language with the readiness and ardor of the sub-continental Indian.

In free India specially, English lives on and thrives, garnering world-class literary awards, and grudging admiration of the Anglo-Saxon communities no less.

We are Indian, and so is our English! is a wonderful, delightful paean to Indian English. A Must Read! Particularly, don’t miss the large, lusty, comment section. Well done, 42

Also fun to peruse, Hinglish, Inglish or Indian English.

Post Script:

Yet another angst-riddled post on Indians and English, at DesiCritics.

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Click to go to Tablet.com's podcast page

Click to go to Tablet.com's podcast page

You never know what you run into when you just drift along, and let the surf take you where it will. That’s the joy and beauty of leisurely Internet browsing.

The above image and link popped up unexpectedly while meandering from site to site, and somewhere along the way I stopped at The Kamla Show – that post is coming later – and before you knew it, I am exploring the Baghdadi Jews & Bombay Cinema connection.

Turns out, very early in Bombay’s film history, before Bollywood became a world wide word, Jewish women were starring in Hindi films in Bombay! Who knew!!

Wonders and discoveries never cease. Enjoy this excellent podcast from a terrific Jewish web site that takes great pains to record history and experience.


Hindustan Times Tribute to Silent Screen - Jewish Women of Hindi Cinema

The Hindustan Times has a nice collection of nostalgia plates.

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