Sunday, February 21, 2010

REVIEW: Roadrunner

Roadrunner: An Indian Quest In America   
Dilip D'souza
Rs 399
ISBN: 9788172239060

What do we learn when one great democracy looks at another? Alexis de Tocqueville's seminal Democracy in America answered the question 1800S. Today, India is the world's other great democracy, and maybe the answers are different. 

Through stories large and small, this book shows us America as refracted through the eyes of an Indian who is critical but not intolerant, understanding but not starry-eyed. From gawking at wall murals by German World War II POWs in Texas to getting to know the bikers for Christ at the annual bike carnival in Sturgis, from charting the history of immigrant Icelanders to driving a fire truck in a quiet mountain town, D'Souza travels American roads, discovering old cultures and new concerns in one of the most revered and reviled nations in the world today. 

More important, he explores the lessons in that process, for India and for readers everywhere, as he searches for meaning and nuance in ideas like patriotism and being liberal, in a country's sense of self.Passionate and perceptive, wry and empathetic, this book is ultimately about what it means to belong. Wherever you are. 

Reviews/ Interviews
India, Indiana Hindu 
And that is what makes Roadrunner interesting: the fact that, for a change, it is a “Man goes on long journey” story. It is the United States, seen from the outside in, by an Indian like you or me. Someone who could be an old friend: intelligent, sensitive, observant, and above all, sharing a similar world-view. It is a reversing of the gaze, as it were. 

Death Ends Fun India Today 
D'Souza confines himself largely to his American experience, only occasionally using a comparative compass, to try and make sense of post-9/11 America and its impact on Americans in general. He doesn't always succeed but it is not an easy task. He finds, predictably, bigotry and tolerance, hatred and love, tragedy and triumph in equal measure. Where he scores is that he hires a car to touch base with towns and places few people have heard of. Like Greenwood near Selma, the origin of the Blues and the civil rights movement, where he arrives a a charismatic Barack Obama is chasing an impossible dream: to become the first Black President of America. This is Alabama where white racists savagely subdued black civil rights marchers. Today, they hand out cards saying "Bama for Obama". 

One for the road Hindu
The Indian subcontinent has been an endless source of exotica for travel writers of all times - from the colonial to the present when the remotest corner of the world is just a Google search away. Those of us who are feeling a bit exhausted by being the constant target of this gaze may be enthused by the very idea behind Dilip D'Souza's "Roadrunner: An Indian Quest in America".
Not that Dilip started his travel writing project with any agenda of "reversing the gaze", to borrow an esoteric phrase from post-colonial literary criticism. "I didn't think of it like that when I was travelling there at least. Having lived in America for more than 10 years, I felt the need to understand better what has become my second home," says Dilip. "But I guess it could be read like that," he adds after a pause. Through a series of stories about people and places from across the United States, the book offers a view of the vast country that is not inspired by awe, and yet is not dismissive. The stories are sometime funny (check out the chapters "Opening Lines" and "Fifth Wife"), sometimes poignant and sometimes even insipid. 

Country road took me home Mint 
...the Roadrunner template is simple: Hit the American highways, meet the American people, find the Indian parallel and there you have it, a compilation of 36 essays that traverse the breadth of the US. Steering clear of run-of-the-mill parachute journalism but not quite going the regular travelogue way, Roadrunner is perhaps best read as a highly individual account of a country and its people and everything in between, from politics and pedagogy to garbage disposal and the Grateful Dead.

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