Comparisons and contrasts
SONYA DUTTA CHOUDHURY
Sometimes tedious but readable.
Inglistan; Rajesh Talwar, Kalpaz Publications, Rs. 180.
FIFTEEN years after a little known paperback unexpectedly made the bestseller lists, cultural compare and contrasts still seem the in thing. The world may have turned flat, or at least plateau'ed since the days Anurag Mathur delighted readers with The Inscrutable Americans. Still, as movie- of- the- year "Babel" will tell you, it stays in many ways, a world of Borders Incorporated.
Inglistan is a story of these borders. "If Westerners could journey to the East and write books on China, Japan and India, there was no reason why someone travelling the other way should not be able to do so as well," says passing protagonist Ashok, and indeed Talwar's book is all about cultural comparisons.
It begins with the protagonist Rabi, making his way to the U.K. for scholarship studies. Much later, it concludes with the triumphant return of the native, still level-headed despite the temptations of the West, accompanied by both law diploma and life partner.
In between are a series of observations on "Politics and Culture", "Freedom and Family", "Enjoying" and `Shopping". Some are nicely ironic takes on the West. "You can go into a shop and buy a gun and bullets and if you so decide start shooting with it," grumbles toothache-stricken Rabi. "Yet you can't buy some ordinary antibiotics."
In others, the worst fears of the keep-away-from-beef-and-foreign-women mothers' brigade are realised. In `Nations, Culture and Morality', Rabi takes a few days to visit a college friend. BMW-driving friend Rajinder has a blond, blue-eyed Spanish girlfriend who he cannot marry. Indeed worldly-wise Rajinder is plain about the pleasures of the West, proffering them unabashedly to rookie Rabbi, "So do you want us to get this nice English girl, and do a threesome?"
"Pissing, Pornography and wife swapping" is the big bad West at its worst, its corruptabilities overshadowing the many courtesies and privacies of space.
Some of this smacks of social anthropology, "Sex and the City"-style, but Rabi is no Carrie Bradshaw. He is, in fact, as goody two shoes as a nice Indian boy should be (even if he does go to a drug-imbibing Rave session with girlfriend Janis). He holds forth on Indian culture and the crossover, how the Gujaratis are the European equivalent of Jews and how Indian restaurants in London are really Bangladeshi.
Some of this gets tedious and some gets clichéd, but for most part the book coasts along in its call centre primer-cum-case style. Not intense, or life changing even remotely, yet readable in a pleasantly Readers Digest kind of way.
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