Swallowing the beast.

Those of you who have read Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games will know that it has its share of Hindi words in it, including an amazing variety of swear words. Interestingly, these words are presented as is, without italics, without any effective translation in the text and without a glossary at the end. I think it is the first time that a major Indian English novel has been presented without any apologies to the expected Western readership.

Now, you may think that this unapologetic Indianism is a cute affectation on Chandra’s part, and may be it is that too, but I also think that it is a sign of growing confidence amongst Indians that they can engage with modernity on their own terms. In fact, I am going to come out and declare that the match is over and the visiting team has won, i.e.,

(a) India, as a culture, has swallowed and digested western modernity.

(b) From now on, the most innovative philosophical, intellectual and cultural trends are increasingly going to come from places like India.

For example, I find that young women in Bangalore look good in Indian as well as Western clothes. Earlier generations of middle class women carried themselves well in Indian clothes and awkwardly in western clothes (if at all they wore them), but now jeans and shirts seem to fit quite naturally on them. Now that indigenous aesthetic preferences have started raising their head, you can see a vast variety of hybrid Indo-western clothes on the streets of Bangalore, clothes that will look strange on Western women. We all know that womens bodies are the terrain on which cultural battles are fought, so it will be interesting to see the shifts in preferred body types as Indian women and their aesthetic choices become normative the world over.

Men on the other hand, still seem to prefer awful shapeless polyester pants; the ones with three pleats and a ragged crease running down the middle. I am sure there’s a moral to be drawn there.

While we digested the west by reading western novels, watching western movies and TV programs, and most importantly, by living in western countries, the west is getting increasingly isolated from trends in other parts of the world. I have yet to meet a class of American and European intellectuals (not individuals) who, as a matter of course, have read the Mahabharata or know the names of the last two Indian Prime Ministers.

I am not saying that India is going to win the clash of civilizations or anything remotely like that. In fact, the situation is rather sad. Europe retreats into a self imposed permanent vacation, with thirty five hour work weeks, and the US bombs one country after the other, the possibility of a universal civilization is becoming increasingly remote. Unlike my postmodern and postcolonial friends, I am still sold on universal values and rights.

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