Patrick French, author of ‘India: A portrait’ wrote an enlightening piece in this Sunday’s Hindustan Times. He wonders why the Indian establishment of writers and critics is so touchy about foreigners writing or expressing themselves about India, when the same bunch are happy to be feted and accepted in the international media?
To me, the touchiness that Indians exhibit has always struck me as a peculiar trait. We simply have no sense of humor, especially when the joke is on us. That is true of Indians as individuals as much as it is true of us as a society, as a nation. So it isn’t surprising that we are sensitive about what people of foreign origin write/think/say about us, while we feel at liberty to create and believe in stereotypes (and make fun of these!) about the rest of the world.
However, the piece really got me thinking about Indian writings about India. There is this particular type of writing that is about India, but very obviously caters to a foreign audience. The type that picks on the quirks and then explains them in a terribly simplistic fashion. And the type that caricatures a very specific situation, but makes it sound like a norm. The type that paints India in a deliberately negative or ridiculously positive light for dramatic effect alone. I am all for artistic license and freedom of expression, but when you read stuff that is being written with the obvious thought of packaging it for those who do not know India first hand, exploiting the fact that India is a hot flavor in the international market and there is tremendous curiosity for things Indian, it gets a bit much! For those of us who live here and can see through the gimmicks in these books, they can be a humiliating experience.
And where is the category of Indian writers who live here, but write in the global context? Because India sells easy, do we writers in India not bother to step outside the context we are familiar with and create characters and narratives set in other geographical and cultural contexts? Are we then scared of the criticism, the quality of our research? Are we defensive as well?