Sunday, February 27, 2011

Call Diverted

This appeared in the latest issue of Tehelka

INDIA CALLING Anand Giridharadas

You know a nation’s economic prowess is on the ascendant when the non-fiction sections of bookstores groan under the weight of titles that claim to explain how and why. Anand Giridharadas’ India Calling is the latest addition, another “intimate” look at how India has changed. At times a family chronicle, at others, a collection of journalistic sketches, it’s a book that’s disappointingly limited in scope.

Giridharadas writes about how his parents moved to America in the Seventies and his upbringing there. On trips back to India, he found scarcity, bureaucracy and frozen beliefs about one’s place in the world: “India, in my limited and impressionistic view, seemed a land of replicated lives, where most people grew up to be exactly like their parents…”  There’s much here that reads like one of those commonplace novels by second-generation South Asian-Americans. However, borne on winds of change, the author, at 21, finds himself on a flight to India for a stint with McKinsey, later becoming Mumbai correspondent for the New York Times and its allied publication, The International Herald Tribune.

Most of the book appears to be a survey of the country from the confines of south Mumbai. Giridharadas does travel, of course, and there are accounts of trips to a hamlet near Nagpur, to Ludhiana and to Hyderabad. He tells us the stories of a migrant in Mumbai, his city of dreams; of a small-town young man on the make; of a Naxalite ideologue and his disdain for globalisation; and of a Punjabi joint family facing a rupture between its traditional and modern factions. There’s also an unremarkable interview with Mukesh Ambani, as well as a potted account of their family’s rise. Though Giridharadas demonstrates a fluent prose style, there’s much use of often-heard words such as “revolution from below”, “new regime” and “flowering of self confidence”.

In every case, the author draws parallels from his own family, not only from his parents’ lives but also the differing attitudes of his maternal and paternal grandparents. In conclusion, Giridharadas asserts that globalisation and economic growth have made Indians achieve “an independence of the soul” by growing into roles beyond those laid down by their caste, parents or society. Of course, he hastens to add, the country still has to lift itself out of “the family relations of guilt, the never-questioned rituals, the intricate taxonomy of castes and sub-subcastes, the rural cruelty, the poverty…”

Issues such as what it means to be modern without reference to the West, the perils of runaway consumerism or venal politics are glancingly touched upon, if not ignored. The vexing outcome: half-memoir, half narrow-prism portrait.

No comments: