Local Name: India, Bharat (in Hindi)
Title: The White Tiger
Author: Aravind Adiga (Indian)
Published: 2008 Pages: 276
Acclaim: Winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize; a New York Times Bestseller
Time Period: Present day
Summary: An ambitious son of a rickshaw-puller obtains a job as a driver for an upper class businessman and makes the most of his new opportunities.
My Opinion: Hip and fast-paced. Reminiscent of the movie Slumdog Millionaire for its portrayal of the more sordid aspects of India. A charismatic survivor, Adiga’s amoral protagonist garnered my sympathy, admiration and dislike in turns.
In my book, or how India has affected me (and maybe you, too):
“The first thing I want you to do is not read it.”*
Advice taken. I have never read Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 children’s classic The Jungle Book. After seeing the Disney animated version countless times, am I capable of appreciating a Baloo who doesn’t sing “The Bear Necessities?” Best not to go there.
Kipling, who lived in India on and off, said he filled The Jungle Book with all that he had “heard or dreamed about the Indian jungle.” Disney filled it with a devil-may-care bear, a suave striped villain, jazzy orangutans and vultures with Beatles haircuts. This was my first vision of India.
*Walt Disney to Larry Clemmons, head of story development on The Jungle Book, upon giving a copy of Kipling’s book to Clemmons.
Putting the India in Indiana Jones
Watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom taught me that Delhi is a city in India, monkey brains are on the menu at chow time, and that evil Thuggee cults worship the Hindu goddess Kali by offering her human sacrifices…is it any wonder that the Indian government demanded that changes by made to Temple‘s script? Director Stephen Spielberg did not comply and the movie ended up being filmed in Sri Lanka to avoid…making a better movie?*
Temple of Doom was initially (and temporarily) banned in India due to its negative depiction of Indians.
*Let it be known that as a teen I LOVED this movie (and Harrison Ford)!
One of the first things they taught me in library school was Dr. Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan’s “Five Laws of Library Science.” Ranganathan was professor of library science at the University of Delhi, India and was considered to be a genius in the field. Even though the following rules were first published back in 1931, they are still considered fundamental to professional librarianship.
- Books are for use – no chaining them to the wall like the monks did in medieval monasteries!
- Every reader his [or her] book – any reader should be able to walk into a public library and find a book they want to read
- Every book its reader – there is someone out there who will find a particular book interesting (even the one about the history of silverware)
- Save the time of the reader – hire an efficient & knowledgeable staff (look for men sporting glasses and beards, and women wearing glasses and clothes streaked with cat hair *)
- The library is a growing organism – replace any use of the word “book” above with “website” or “dvd” or “cd” or “library program”
*Just kidding. I used to be one, so it’s OK.
Purveyor of chutney squishees
Like most other college kids in the 90s, I was a huge fan of the The Simpsons, and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, owner of Springfield’s Kwik-E-Mart, was one of my favorite characters.
Apu almost didn’t make it to primetime. The writers worried that the stereotype of an Indian convenience store owner would offend viewers, but once they heard voice actor Hank Azaria’s endearing sing-song accent, Apu got the green light.
And even a green card, in the 1996 episode “Much Apu About Nothing”:
Apu: Today, I am no longer an Indian living in America. I am an Indian-American.
Lisa: You know, in a way, all Americans are immigrants. Except, of course Native Americans.
Homer: Yeah, Native Americans like us.
Lisa:No, I mean American Indians.
Apu: Like me.
Pass the ghee
An ex-boyfriend gave me a delicious introduction to Indian food at the India Palace in Dallas, Texas. Crisp pappadams served with chutney, soft Naan bread, Tandoori chicken, Sang Paneer…I was immediately hooked on the unusual tastes, names and that particular restaurant’s fine dining atmosphere.
This was, after all, the man who originated the idea of mass, non-violent civil disobedience in order to change the world – in his case, to win India’s independence from British rule. Many notable leaders have followed his radical lead, including: Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Poland’s Lech Walesa and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.
Despite my meager knowledge of Gandhi, his spirit looms large at my Aikido dojo. Aikido is a martial art whose founder, Morihei Ueshiba, emphasized non-violent solutions to conflict.
I recently came across Gandhi’s “Seven Deadly Sins in Today’s World” and found them thought-provoking:
“Wealth without work,
Enjoyment without conscience,
Knowledge without character,
Business without morality,
Science without humanity,
Religion without sacrifice
Politics without principle.”
Sanjay Patel’s cool The Little Book of Hindu Deities is a fun and easy introduction to the vast who’s who of Hinduism, dishing up Hindu gods and goddesses in bite-sized portions with colorful graphics on the side.
For example, I finally got the straight dope on Kali, who, as I said earlier, got kind of a bad rap in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Patel writes:
“Though the fiercest of the gods, Kali is quite often mistaken as the goddess of death. She is, in fact, the goddess of kala (time) and is thought to end our illusions and free us from the cycle of karma by bringing us liberation from our bodies. Her role is profound, as she is responsible for making sure that all things die in order to continue the cycle of life.”
“Pure toxic muck”
Rivers have made my hometown of Missoula, Montana famous. If you’re literary, you’ve read Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, if you’re a Brad Pitt fan, you’ve seen A River Runs Through It and if you love to fly-fish, you’ve likely done both multiple times. But while the Blackfoot, Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers are known for world-class trout fishing, India’s Ganges has a different reputation…
Instead of fish (in one section of the Yamuna River, a main tributary of the Ganges, no fish or any other aquatic life has been spotted in ten years!), “Mother Ganga” is filled with cancer-causing runoff from riverside tanneries, gallons upon gallons of raw sewage from overtaxed water treatment plants, hundreds of dead bodies (disposing of relatives in the Ganges is a traditional practice) and countless plastic bags holding offerings from religious pilgrims.
Off the Deep(ak) end
If, like me, you’re looking for alternatives to western medicine , you’ll eventually find yourself in the realm of medical guru Deepak Chopra. Nicknamed “McMeditation” by critics for reaping multi-million dollar profits from his mind-body “woo woo”, Chopra recently apologized on Twitter for causing April 4th’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake along the U.S.-Mexican border. “Was meditating on Shiva mantra & earth began to shake,” Chopra tweeted. “Sorry about that.”
A year prior to this earth-shattering confession, I had turned off my inner critic and read Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine, one of Chopra’s 45 books on Ayurvedic medicine, transcendental meditation and spirituality. His theory of the “ghost of memory” – a cell’s memory of sickness – intrigued me. His megalomania…not so much.
Out of lifelines
One of my favorite movies of 2008, Slumdog Millionaire was based on the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup. The plot gradually reveals how a teen from India’s slums is able to give the correct answers to questions way beyond his education level when he becomes a contestant on the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The movie’s hero walks out with a huge payout, as did the movie studio – Slumdog had a $15 million budget and grossed $377,910,544 worldwide.
As for the movie’s child stars…
According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, eight-year-old actors Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Rubina Ali (who played the young versions of the male and female leads) were only paid $2,475 and $730 respectively for their work. Ismail was last reported as homeless; his family’s shack was bulldozed in May 2009. Ali’s father allegedly attempted to sell her to a wealthy family; the filmmakers have since hired a social worker to ensure her safety.