26 October 2010

My India is great

Meraa bhaarat mahaan” is a patriotic phrase that you see painted everywhere, meaning “my India is great.” I don’t know where it comes from but it’s gloriously open ended. You neither have to specify that Delhi has just built itself a gleaming, world-class Metro system nor explain away the beggars and sick dogs on the streets.

As I await the arrival of American friends and family, I’m looking for a strategy to introduce them to India without recourse either to the guidebook clichés of a land of moonlit Mughal tombs or to a raft of health and safety regulations (don’t eat fruit you haven’t peeled yourself, look right then left when crossing the street, etc). Having lived here and studied Indian cultural history for my PhD, I’d like to think that for my own purposes I have a pretty good sense of the place—although admittedly I am always conscious of being an outsider. But how do I share my India with them?

15 October 2010

The thin line between twenty-six and twenty-seven

I had to double check my age so that I wouldn't repeat the surreal few months of my life after I turned 22 and had been telling everyone I was 23. But, yes, tomorrow I celebrate 27 years. Am I being dramatic when the quote coming to mind to commemorate the occasion is from Shakespeare's Richard II?
I wasted time; now time doth waste me.

03 October 2010

Milton in India: Poetry and Tradition

I'm taking a break from watching the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony—I can report that sports commentary is inane even with an Indian accent. Perhaps "watching" isn't the right word because the news channel NDTV was only allowed to show clips of less than thirty seconds and on a seven minute delay. There's nothing else to do because almost every business in Delhi was shut so I had a meditative day at home.

One thing I thought about was the reason I came to study India in the first place: Living tradition. When I first visited Delhi six years ago, I had a kind of conversion and realised that my degree in Classics was not my preferred way of studying literature because Indians on the whole had a much better sense of the continuity of their culture than Westerners. When we study Classics in the West, we have a tendency to forget about the most interesting aspect of the texts we study, namely their two millennia-long influence on our culture. As I read it, the rapid decline of cultural literacy in the West after the First World War made Classics departments circle the waggons around the study of antiquity and insist that anything else is Comparative Literature. We only study Greece and Rome, 400 BC to 200 AD, but you can study anything you want.