I suppose, in retrospect, supermarket parking lots are odd places for those moments of profound realisation that change the way you see yourself. Some years ago, I was innocently loading groceries into a car when I noticed a pair of girls standing off to the side acting suspiciously. Seizing on an opportune moment, I wheeled around as they were snapping a photograph — rather sheepishly, they explained how they’d been taking turns comparing their height against mine and wanted to record the lopsided image. That’s when I realised I was tall.
The original version of a contentious and controversial (pitchforks, torches and profound indignation trending on Twitter) commentary on Indian rock and roll.
If you’ve been following the papers lately, you probably already know that rock and roll is booming in India. Finally their turn in the pop culture spotlight, rock bands are wowing audiences across the nation with exciting new sounds, performing alongside such internationally renowned and critically respected acts as the Backstreet Boys. No longer content with simply playing out their careers on the dinky college-IIT circuit, they’re making their presence felt at events like ‘Red Romanov Rock In India’, which featured four international acts (including the headlining BSBs) and two honest-to-goodness national bands as support in Bengaluru and Delhi this February — all in the name of vodka. Yes, times are good to be an Indian rock band: dedicated music magazines like Rolling Stone’s India edition have nearly as many correspondents as they do marketers; newspapers like The Hindustan Times describe how rock is “becoming as important to a [Bollywood] soundtrack as the item number once was”; and movies like Rock On!! have finally broken Indian rock into the mainstream.
Susanna Huis grins, then breaks out into barely-controlled laughter. The 49-year-old Namibian can’t quite believe that she’s in India learning how to solder bits of electrical wire together to make a solar-powered lamp — finding the situation absurd. A little over three weeks ago, Susanna set off for Tilonia, Rajasthan, from her small farm in Tsaurob, a village in eastern Namibia, not knowing what to expect. “A man had come and said we must go to India to learn how we can have light,” she says in broken English, “Now I’m training to be a solar engineer.” The mother of five gingerly prods a lamp she has been working on and laughs again, “It’s good.”
American journalist and author Katherine Russell Rich spent a year between 2001-2002 in India learning Hindi at an Udaipur school. Recently released in India, Dreaming in Hindi, an account of her stay in the country, has won the approval of Oprah and was received warmly by The New York Times. In an email interview, Rich discusses how the trip shaped her understanding of India and its culture, the intricacies of Hindi, and how the Gujarat riots affected her work and perception of our country. Excerpts:
What about Dreaming in Hindi will surprise Indian readers?
I think a lot in the book will surprise them. The language took me deeper into the country than many Western writers go, or than the ones who come over and write about finding themselves in India go. I was more interested in finding India, which I’d fallen in love with through the Hindi language when I was studying it back in New York. A lot of Americans come to India and are overwhelmed by the differences, but because I was going in on words, I was able, through language, to make faster sense of India. The more I understood life there, the more that aspects of it became so compelling. I begin to love the closeness I found in Indian families, for instance, and maybe that’s one thing that will surprise Indian readers—that a fiercely independent, privacy loving New York journalist could come to cherish the nosiness and clamor and boisterous emotion that you find in Indian families. I still sometimes wish I had an Indian family here in New York to go stay with.
On any given afternoon, Chandigarh’s Leisure Valley park in Sector 10 buzzes with activity. Scraggly attendants are taking well-fed dogs for a walk, elderly couples in matching fleet-boots trot around the pavement that encircles the grass lawn, confused tourists are herded out of buses and abandoned in the parking area as their driver takes a lunch break. Suddenly, the serenity of the tableau is broken: a gigantic SUV, indistinct bhangra blaring through its windows, thunders through the parking lot, turns down onto a dirt path, zips around inside the park, drives back up, and continues on its way. The attendants roll their eyes, the old folk are scandalised, and the tourists are even more confused. Their tour-guides would be well advised to indicate the park marks an endpoint on the city’s infamous ‘geri route’.
Daisy Hasan’s The To-Let House opens with a twin invocation — of Shillong, and of memory. Framed as a coming-of-age story pitched against ethnic tensions in Shillong, the novel, at its core, is built around recollection and remembrance of the city, the ‘to-let house’ and the ‘mansion’ to which it is attached. Launched at India’s Jaipur Literary Festival, To-Let House is Hasan’s first novel (which, as a front cover inscription helpfully reminds readers, was long-listed for the 2008 Man Asia Literary Prize) and traces two pairs of siblings — Di and Addy, Kulay and Clemmie — over three sections covering 1979, 1984-88 and, briefly, 1997.