African-Asians Worldwide (India and Far East)



Pandering to the West...

A perspective from SASIALIT: authored by: Siddharth Singh <siddharthsingh@EUDORAMAIL.COM>

Several times in the past few months, various people have asked me what I mean when I say that a writer "panders to the west". I have often been called upon to explain my views, my opinions and my perspective. So here it is folks: my viewpoint.

There are always two aspects to any story or object: a positive and a negative side. This is comparable to the Taoist belief of the interplay of Yin and Yang, the light and the dark, even the chiaroscuro of paintings. Both are ineluctable and inseparable components of the whole thing, the complete picture.

Therefore, it would be impossible, if one wished to portray the true image, to represent one without the other. It would be equally misleading to represent only one facet, because without the other, there would be no true comprehension of what is in actuality the whole picture.

Therefore, in the context of this discussion, I feel that contemporary art and literature, as mirrors of the society we live in, are inescapably bound to the good and the bad in India. There is poverty, there is disease, but there is also a great deal of positive things: our religions, our cultures, our values.

Any writer or artist, if dealing with a theme that is contemporary and set in the present or recent past, will have to deal with all these things. My problem is when they selectively deal with only the negative, and hence end up filling their work with a pervading sense of putrefaction and decay.

Pankaj Mishra does this in his book, "The Romantics". He spends the major part of the novel running down Benaras and its institutions. Rohinton Mistry does the same in "A Fine Balance". Speaking about the kind of unmitigated despair that exists in India is all very well, but please don't try to tell me that it exists only in India. Poverty around the world has that kind of desperation that accompanies it.

There is a stereotypical image of India that exists around the world. Snake charmers, idol worshippers, poverty, the potbellied naked child running around in a morass of filth. And very few foreigners who come to India actually try to look beyond that. They will come and stay in the cheapest hovels in town (equivalent to my going and staying in the ghettoes of New York or London), eat at the worst places, buy the cheapest clothes and travel using the cheapest modes available. While I have nothing against budget tourism, please spare me the platitudes that you attempt to shove down my throat in the name of experience. In India, as in any place in the world, you will get exactly the kind of service that you paid for. If you pay a pittance, and expect five star treatment, well, that's your stupidity. And don't try to cover it up by saying that that's the way India works.

So this postcard image that seems to be a hot favorite in the west is actually a distorted perception. Why then, you may ask, does it exist?

Let me tell you why. Because many of India's own intelligentsia perpetrates it. Our Pankaj Mishras and Rohinton Mistrys, our Meera Nairs and Deepa Mehtas seem to revel in rolling in this filth. And don't forget: these are the people who get the hefty foreign contracts. Pankaj Mishra received a hefty foreign contract, while someone like Sohaila Abdalali hasn't. Deepa Mehta's films are funded by Peter Hamilton, while the maker of "Hyderabad Blues" works off shoestring budgets.

And what saddens me the most is how so many Indians abroad go out of their way to run down their motherland. It is very easy to go with the flow and criticize India eighteen to the dozen; it is equally difficult to take a stand and say No, all is not wrong with us. I would like to ask all the NRI's and Diaspora Indians on this forum alone: How many times have you stood up in a gathering and spoken out in favor of India when someone else was India-bashing? How many times have you yourself indulged in running down the land you owe your origins to?

If you have, well, my hat goes off to you. If you haven't, or if you're an ardent India basher, let me just tell you something: please feel free to say and express whatever you like. Just keep in mind that you will remain an Indian, or Indian origin, no matter how hard you try to shake of your moorings. And in the end, you will end up demeaning you own identity and criticizing your own self.

List members, please do not consider this a passionate response. It is not. I think this the first comment on this topic that I have spent so much time formulating and think over, so I hope it retains some shred of rationality. I am merely articulating the arguments that I have in my head and am trying to present them in a calm, sensible manner. I hope I have succeeded. If not, my apologies for having taken up your time.


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India has to be built by Indians alone
Those going abroad can't do it for us


By Jay Dubashi


Remember, software workers are like engine drivers. They drive the trains but have had no hand in the design of the locomotive or the permanent way. There was a time when most engine drivers in East Africa were Indians.


But they did not take over East Africa or any other part of Africa. They were actually thrown out of East Africa and had to take shelter in England. They are doing pretty well in England but nobody is saying that they have taken over the country. All western countries are being ruled by whites, though there are some Indians whom they allow to shine, just as the British did in India and disbursed knighthoods to their loyal subjects. But these knights did not rule India when the British left.


Let us have no illusions about what we are and what we can become. India will be a superpower not by working for Americans and helping US corporations make huge profits, but by getting our own country right. There is a great deal that remains to be done in India and that can be done only by Indians. The new computer coolies cannot do it from thousands of miles away.


Take the question of NRIs. We expected such a lot from them. After all, they are supposed to be our rich cousins. What have they done? They have put money in our banks because they get better returns here than in their own countries. They collect their interest regularly and visit India from time to time to send it. There are very few industries in which they have put money except through the stock market, but that is speculation. Ofcourse they make convenient noises just to show off their patriotism, especially anything to do with fundamentalism, or seen as attacking the crazy mouthings of some fanatics who are having a field day under the right-wing dispensation at the Centre, wreaking trouble across India in the name of `Swadeshi'.


We have had nearly ten years of liberalisation but has it really made much difference to the life of the average Indian? The number of the poor has actually gone up since 1991.


There has been no great increase in our growth rates and Indian industry has actually suffered.


Thousands of small and medium industries have been closed down and millions of workers have been thrown out of jobs.


So we are in a peculiar situation. While millions of Indians are without jobs in India, a few hundred Indians will be going to the US and other countries of the west in search of jobs. Of course, they will earn more than what they did in India, but does that mean that India will gain? India will gain only when Indians in India have work and nobody is starving.


It is ridiculous to think that a few hundred Indians or even a few thousand Indians working abroad can change the face of India. The so-called coolies - I hate the word - who went out of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar a hundred and fifty years ago did not change the face of these two states. They are still the poorest states of India. Why should a few more collies, what other word can I use for them, from Mumbai or Delhi change the face of Mumbai or Delhi ?


India has to be built by Indians. Indians going out of India cannot do it for us. I remain totally unimpressed by the fact the head of McKinsey & Co is an Indian or a professor in a business school in London or Harvard is an Indian.


They can contribute more to India's development by working here than working outside, just as Indian software workers in India are more useful to us than their counterpart in Microsoft or anywhere else.


India remains one of the poorest countries of the world, no matter how many Indians work for Microsoft or head petty little airlines in the US. India is so poor that the World Bank, which considers itself an authority on poverty, has been bringing out studies on Indian poverty every year. And who writes these studies? Indian economists, of course.


And where do these economists work? In American universities. These economists have, of course, become very rich by writing on Indian poverty.  

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First Wahindis in East Africa as early as 3000 B.C. from Rasna's informative book:


Asian contact with Africa, however, did not only begin in the last century. Archeological remains indicate that the ancient Indians were a sea-faring people. As early as 3000 B.C. the people of what is now known as the Indus Valley Civilization had begun trade with Mesopotamia and Egypt. The first historical account of Indian trade in the Indian Ocean can be found in 'Periplus of the Erythrean Sea', which was written by an anonymous Greek pilot in the first century A.D. It describes in considerable detail the trading voyages between the East African, Arabian and Indian coasts, and the nature of the commerce carried on from the Red Sea and the coast of the East Indies. It appears that Indians exported a considerable amount of cloth, oil, sugar and grain to these regions in exchange for cinnamon, fragrant gums, tortoise shells and ivory. According to Professor R. Gregory, the respected historian and author of India and East Africa, examination of Indian literature lends credence to the observation that ' the ancient Hindus had a significant knowledge of the East African coast and perhaps the interior.' " 


"When Vasco da Gama arrived in Mombasa in the 15th Century, Indians had already established strong trading position in the area. After the Portuguese conquest in the 15th and 16th centuries many Indians joined the service of the Portuguese as bankers, accountants, clerks and masons. In neighbouring Zanzibar, Indian presence had become so pervasive in the 18th and 19th centuries that the island began to acquire a distinctly Indian character. It is estimated that the middle of the 19th century the >island's Indian population of about 5000 controlled most of the trade in Zanzibar.


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