'Ever English-speaking Indian man between twenty-five and sixty has written about the Hindi movies he has seen, the English book he has read the foreign places he has traveled to and the curse of communalism', says Mukul Kesavan. Like many of the insightful and provocative comments for which his journalism is so widely admired, his deliberately large statement may even be true.
What is certainly true is that Kesavan' s entertaining writing crackle with cerebral wit and originality. A historian by profession, Kesavan is distinct from his tribe because his prose ploughs a lonely furrow: it is a speaking, accessible, aphoristic and uncommonly elegant cocktail of serious thinking and unserious fun, often standing commonly notices on their heads.
This collection of essays is a distillation of his though on some of the central concerns of our time. They are outrageously funny, profoundly cosmopolitan, and devotedly 'pseudo-secular' all at once.
Back The Book
Some years ago I was struck by the contrast between the beauties of Hindi film heroines and the ugliness of Hindi films heroes. After researching the matter I concluded that the explanation was straightforward: leading men in Hindi film were ugly because they were Indian men were measurably uglier than Indian woman Â Â while my observation was accurate and the data I had gathered reliable I made the mistake of attributing the ugliness of Indian male to nature. I Know now that Indian men aren't born ugly: they achieve ugliness though practice. It is their habits and routines that make them ugly. If I Was to be schematic, I'd argue that Indian men are ugly on accounts of the three Hs: hygiene, hair and horrible habits. Why are Indian men like this? How do they achieve the bullet-proof unselfconsciousness that allows them to be so abandoned ugly? I Think it comes from a sense of entitlement that's hard-wired into every male child grows up in an Indian household. That, and the not unimportant fact that, despite the way they look they're always pared off with good- looking woman.'
About The Author
Mukul Kesavan lives in New Delhi. He teaches history, read fiction and has a particular interest in cinema, cricket, and politics. He has written a novel, Looking Through Glass a pamphlet, Secular Common Sense and a book about cricket, men in White.
Every English-speaking Indian man between twenty-five and sixty has written about the Hindi movies he has seen the English books he has read, the foreign places he has traveled to, and curse of common-aims You mightn't have read them all (there are a lot of them and some don't make it to print) but their manuscript exist and, in this age of the internet, these masters of blah have migrated to the Republic of Blog. A cultural historian from the remote future (investigative perhaps, the death of English in India) might use up a sub-section of a chapter to explore the sameness of their concerns. Why did a bunch of grown men in the late-twentieth and early- twenty-first centuries write about the some movies, novels journey, and riots? Why Naipaul? Why not nature? Or Napier? Or the nadeswaram? Why Bachchan? And not Burma? Or-Bhojapuri? And, most weirdly, why pogrom and chauvinism? Why not programs on television?
This seems mysterious but isn't. Our historian will have to be content with the ordinary cause instead of the off-centre insight. The obsession with Hindu movies is the easiest to explain .In the life of every Anglophone Indian there occurs an epistemological break. Those who think this means a letter-written recess should know that this a deep way of describing a big change in knowing thing. The big change comes about when the child acquires English. All the stuff the child liked before learning English becomes connected with uncomplicated enjoyment in the grow - up' s mind because the child is father of the man. (I know Wordsworth wrote that but it needs another 'the').
Since English becomes the language in which he learns thinks, the Indian man begins to associate Hindi films with unlearned pleasure.
This is a delusion: metropolitan children begin learning English around the time they go to school, and how many Hindi film can you remember seeing before you were six? Some where in the range of not many and none. This doesn't matter because the adult middle-class Indian male, now socialized so thoroughly into English that he find it hard to summarize an abstract thought in his mother tongue, begins to see Hindi Film as the lost hinterland that connects him to the Bharat-that -isn't-India .The Hindi film because his passport to des and his ability to write about Hindi film demonstrates (both to himself and the world) his authentic connectedness. None of his rules out the possibility that he actually enjoys Hindi film: it just explains why he writes about them.
He reviews English novels for the opposite reason that he sees Hindi film: if Hindi film are his umbilical connection to his authentic mofussil self, reading and written about English fiction is the open sesame that gives him entry to a properly metropolitan world. His delight in Hindi film spring form a precious nurtured state of innocence, whereas his connoisseurship of English fiction allows him to know in a cosmopolitan way. The ability to put out a view about the oeuvre of Robert Musil or Anthony Powell or Machado de Assis (for him these are all English novelist because he reads them in translation) is for him the liberty equivalent of a one-arm-up: something most people can't do.
He travels and writes about his travels for reasons very similar to the ones behind his interested in English fiction, but on the whole he does this less successfully. Travel writing, invented by English and than American writers, is a form of amused knowingness. Reading Robert Byron or Paul Theroux is a bit like turning into Radio Supercilious: the funny bits, such as they are, generated by the discomfort of traveling to out-of the way places or knowingness isn't easily replicated: you have to be first world and better off than of then the natives. If you're Indian this is a problem, so the dominant form of Indian travel-writing is the short magazine article because it's hard to act richer (or whiter) then you are for any length of time. The scope for knowingness and sophistication is consequently limited. It isn't a coincidence that writing about food and drink is the fastest growing segment in Indian journalism because writing about Chinese restaurant in Juhu is a way is a way of traveling without a passport, of being sophisticated on a budget
On the rare occasion that Indian writers attempt travel books-Vikram Seth's From Heaven Lake, Amitav Ghosh's In An Antique Land, Allen Sealy's from Yukon to Yucatan-they produce work that in tone and from redefines the genre because they tread the landscapes they move through as dense real places, not as props and cues that help the sophisticated traveler rehear his world- weary routines.
But it is the English-writing Indian' s interest in way communalism, particularly his near-obsessive interest in the way majoritarion politics pick on religious minorities, which is likely to draw the particular attention of our historian. Perhaps he'll take his cue from that acute critic, Lal Krishna Advani, who coined a useful term for his tendency: pseudo- secularism. In this view, since the majority of secularist critics are nominally Hindu, this peculiar interest in Muslim or Christian welfare is to be charitably understood as a from of misguided chivalry: misguided because it' s apparently Hindus who are harassed and discriminated against in the name of secularism. When a critic of a Advani school isn't felling charitable, this chivalric tendency is put down to the self- hatred that afflicts deracinated Hindus. Other hostile observers see the 'secularist' tendency as an extension of the knowingness and superiority affected by this sort of Indian in other matters, such as fiction or travel-written, a posture intended to place the posture above the common herd.
Whatever their explanation these regularities in the behaviors of Anglophone Indian await their historian and their anthropologist; the book that follows is an attempt to show that their habit are odd enough to be interesting.
|1.||Men at Work||7|
|2.||Cine Qua Non An Undergraduate History of Hindi Cinema||9|
|3.||The Ugliness of the Indian Male||19|
|4.||The New Indian Actor||22|
|5.||On Watching Documentaries||26|
|6.||I'll Watch Anything Listed as sport||34|
|8.||Patriotism at the pictures||42|
|9.||Urdu, Awadh, and the Tawaif: The Islamicate Root of Hindu Cinema 48|
|11.||Fiction and History||70|
|12.||History and Whimsy||74|
|13.||The Jews of Georgette Heyer||79|
|14.||The Times of America||83|
|17.||Lehar Ram in Faizabad||97|
|19.||The Man of Madras||110|
|20.||Antiquities in Egypt||121|