Which Indian Experience?

Sam, Christina and I, have, at times, spent many minutes discussing CASI blog posts, going over what we’re going to write about, editing each other’s articles and suggesting (inappropriate) titles. I thought I would act in solidarity with my fellow Aravind comrades by jumping on the “Life in the ____” title bandwagon, and deciding to write about “Life in the Audio-Visual Room,” I wrote about the hours I spent in the Audio-Visual room, working on the video commemorating the life of Dr. V. I thought I had posted it, but I didn’t realize that the sole bar of internet at the Aravind Guest House wasn’t enough to transport my words from my laptop to the interweb, and after having deleted the document in which I typed it, I face you post-less.

Not really thought. I was going to type out what I remembered of my post, but thought instead that I would share my initial observations and reflections on a book that I started reading recently. It’s Arundhati Roy’s “Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy.” It is a compilation of essays written in the 2000s on various topics related to democracy and social justice in India. The first one for instance, deals with the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, and other essays deal with the political situation in Kashmir and the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.
I promise you that this isn’t an academic dissection of every idea and theory in the book, but what I find interesting about it is the fact that it shows how India is a fragmented society, and how even though Bollywood and Indian politicians may suggest otherwise, the intact image of Incredible India! is sometimes merely an image. While this may be like stating the obvious, it is an issue that is being discussed more frequently now, with India’s declining economic performance, accusations levelled at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of being an “Underachiever,” and a revival of the dialogue surrounding the government’s policy towards dissent groups, especially militant ones, such as the Maoists and Naxalites. 
India is an extremely vast country with many definitions of what it means to be Indian. Increasingly, many political movements are equating the country with right-wing Hinduism, and there are yet others working to ensure that the diversity in the country can be maintained without a descent into even more violence. Approaching this diversity from a personal level, I am constantly reminded of how even location can vastly change someone’s perception of India. Merely comparing my experience at Aravind to last summer where I worked in a village in Gujarat studying affirmative action, I am able to understand this reality. North Indians who come to Aravind on various short-term projects have trouble eating the food here, and two of them lamented to me one evening about how much they missed the food in Bihar. This diversity is made even more evident by reading all the CASI interns’ blog posts. A few weeks ago, I was talking to Becky from the comfort of my Air-Conditioned room, after I had consumed a “vegan latte” at CCD (Cafe Coffee Day) where they played all the contemporary American hits. Interestingly enough, it was only in Madurai, specifically at CCD, that I heard Call me Maybe for the first time, having happily missed all the new American popculture hits during study abroad. Becky was talking to me from outside her hostel so she could get better signal, and every few minutes she would say, “I think I see a wild animal. What is that?” We talked about how, despite both of us being in India, we would come out of the summer with unique perspectives based on our different locations, job duties and organizations.

Add to this personal observation the complication of what such a vast country experiences in terms of collective memory, identity, and how that is transformed into dialogue and public discourse in a country where sometimes politicians get away by serving the rights of a few by using propaganda and political rhetoric, and that is something I find to be truly mind-boggling. As Roy writes,

the schism between knowledge and information, between what we know and what we’re told, between what is unknown and what is asserted, between what is concealed and what is revealed, between fact and conjecture, between the ‘real’ world and the virtual world, has become a place of endless speculation and potential insanity.”

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About Sindhu

Sobti Family Fellow 2015-2016 at the Centre for the Advanced Study of India. Currently in: Chennai, India Researching English theatre in India Website and blog: www.sindhurin.com