Sunday, September 5, 2010

We are like this only

A collection of delightful essays on India, and Indian-ness.

What is it that defines our Indian-ness? What is it, exactly, that unites us — variously Punjabi, Malayali, Gujarati, Bengali or whatever — into a single nation-state?

A difficult question. There have, of course, been many attempts to answer it, ranging from the erudite to the glib, but none of them has been particularly convincing. A quarter of the way into reading Mother Pious Lady, however, I found myself stopping and saying to myself: Aha, so this is what it's all about; this is what it means to be Indian! Santosh Desai and I may belong to different parts of the country, different mother tongues, cultural backgrounds, religions, ethnic strains, family backgrounds, even perhaps age-groups — all the things that might conceivably divide us — yet, reading this book was like reading my own story; it seemed to suddenly unite us, brothers under the same skin. The book, and the typically Indian human insights it's filled with, make it the closest thing I've come across to a definitive statement of Indian-ness. This was obviously not Desai's intention when he sat down to write these delightful essays, but it's what he has, in effect, ended up doing.

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