India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking – Anand Giridharadas (2011)

What separated me from [India] was more than just the barriers of time. There was the further distance of my own false visions and the need for revisions. Fragments of memory floated in me. Some were once true but had, in the time of my parents’ absence from India, become false; some were true from the start and so remained; some were never true. To return to India in this way, as the son of those who had left, was to know dizzying change – and change as much in the seer as in the seen.

Strolling through another Dewey decimal number, I found myself in the world of travel and wanting something really different from Victorian books, I thought I would go to India and I pulled this one off the shelf. I entered the book thinking that it would along the lines of a more traditional travelogue (albeit one from the POV of a returning resident) but it was a rather different read than that. It was good, for the most part, but it wasn’t quite what I had expected (although I accept that perhaps the subtitle should have clued me in a bit more).

Giridharadas is an American-born son of first-generation immigrant parents who emigrated to the US for new opportunities and a better life than they believed they could get if they stayed in India. Having only experienced Indian life through infrequent trips “home” to India throughout childhood, the author decides to upsticks and move back to India as an adult: to experience an “intimate portrait” of his new-to-him country and culture.

Having grown up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Giriharadas only knows the India of these infrequent trips “back home” with his family, and as a fellow immigrant myself, I can relate to how these trips, fun as they can be, are sometimes hard work with pressure to do everything and see everyone within the short time limits of the vacation. It’s a lovely problem to have – so many friends and things to do! – but it’s also pretty tiring at times.

Giriharadas wants to experience “real” Indian life through his own lens, as opposed to that of his parents’ own memories. What was the “true” experience of life in India? Was it as his parents (and he) remembered? Or would it be new and updated now that technology was widespread and easily adopted for many people? And how had that impacted the culture and lifestyles of typical Indian citizens?

So, this book is like a memoir in some ways: his parents’ memories seen through the filter of his own American childhood (and the visits) but it was also an outsider’s perspective on how life had evolved in the modern world for the India of today.

Chapters are divided into large themes, such as “Anger”, “Pride”, “Freedom” – large categories that allow Giriharadas to group many disparate topics together and which works for the most part.

As a reader, the different pieces were fit together like a jigsaw puzzle but it did wear a little thin towards the last third of the book. (But how else to cover such a huge variety of subjects? I don’t know.)

The first two-thirds was the strongest piece, the final third (as mentioned) was a little drawn out and rather too navel-gazing for me, but then I had entered the book thinking it was a straightforward travelogue so it may have been some of my own fault really.

Despite this slightly tepid review, I did enjoy the majority of this read. Giriharadas is a solid writer with good descriptive skills and a journalist’s eye towards the internal and the external world. As an Indian, he was allowed access to “real life” India via his friends and family and it’s interesting to read how his perspective changes the longer that he lives there.

People change – and so do countries – and it was thought-provoking for me to think that something similar might occur to me should I ever upsticks back to England after more than 30 years away in the Colonies…

Library Loot: March 04 2021

I’ve been busy at the library lately so thought I’d update my stash of interesting titles:

  • The Colorado Kid – Stephen King (F) – was looking for another read by King since I loved his Misery title… (This edition actually has what I consider to be the WORST cover art in the world. I’ll get you a pic…)
  • The Water Museum – Luis Alberto Urrea (F/short stories). Love Urrea’s other work
  • Hitting a Straight Lick with a Stick – Zora Neale Hurston (F/short stories). Other Hurston reviews here: Barracoon (NF), Their Eyes were Watching God (1937)…
  • Mrs. Malory Wonders – Hazel Holt. (F/mystery). Just was looking for a cozy murder book and this title came up…
  • Bookmarks: Reading in Black and White: A Memoir – Karla F. C. Holloway (NF). I ILL’d this title but it looks rather different inside than I was expecting. We’ll see how it goes.
  • Around the World in 80 Days with Micheal Palin – Michael Palin. (Loved his travel book on the Himalaya mountains and wanted to read some more good travel writing.)

And more titles… (Told you I might have got carried away… 😉 )

  • The Sittaford Mystery – Agatha Christie (F/mystery). Already finished this – good fun.
  • My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier (F/thriller/mystery). Was looking for a Gothic thriller type of read… (Just realized that I’ve already read this. Sigh. No worries. Moving on…)
  • Ice: The Antarctic Diary of Charles E. Passel – Charles E. Passel (NF/travel/adventure).
  • The Round House – Louise Erdrich (F/Native American).
  • Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams (F).
  • A Traveller’s Life – Eric Newby (NF/travel).
  • DK Eyewitness Books: Astronomy. (NF). Just looked interesting.

Which one to read first?…. I know I’m going to read the astronomy Eyewitness book this weekend for starters and make a start on “The Commitments” by Roddy Doyle for Cathy’s Reading Ireland 2020 project.

General Catching Up…

February is almost done but it seemed to move very fast for me in some ways and rather slow in others. I teach at a university and we had some really bad weather last week (including about four inches of snow and ice). Since our area is not that experienced with snow, the entire week of classes and work was cancelled due to the weather, which was pretty weird. It was fine but it did make my week seem a bit off. 

And how did I spend that precious time? Not really sure. I know that there were some naps and a couple of library trips and some reading from the TBR. The Superhero had to go to work (since he’s a first responder person) which meant a lot of alone time for me (which was fine). I watched some more of the really addictive The Great British Baking Show (I love Noel Fielding), and made some bread-and-butter pudding (since the weather was so cold and it seems a very cozy pudding to me). That was yummy and easy to make. 

This week, I’m back in the office and prepping lectures and answering emails. The weather is now back up to the 60s as a high and the only traces of all the snow we had last week are a few patches in the shadows. Not to be surprised though, as West Texas is known for its weird weather patterns. I call the early Spring months the “ski jacket and shorts” months because you will probably need both of them by the end of the day. 😉

I’m still teaching online which is becoming more second nature to me and probably to the students as well. My preference is to teach F2F but with things as they are in the world around us, online it is so I’m striving to provide an equal educational experience via the online world. I have a feeling that it’s a learning experience for everyone who does it and I’ve definitely learned some tricks of the trade.

(Naturally, there has been a jigsaw puzzle in progress. Perfect weather for such an indoor sport!)

Book-wise, I had a B&N gift card burning a hole in my pocket (left over from Christmas) so I went there and spent a lovely hour or so strolling around their stock shelves. Ended up buying two NF paperbacks: America’s Best Travel Writing 2020 (edited by Robert McFarlane) and Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman. Very looking forward to reading these at some point in the near future…

Right now, I’m reading a book called “By the Sea” by Abdulrazak Gurnah, a fiction and rather a broccoli book if I’m honest. (“Broccoli books” are those that perhaps don’t taste that great but are really good for you… 🙂 )

ETA: “By the Sea” ended up being a DNF. Way too obtuse and wordy for me right now.

Library Loot: Feb. 22 2021

I checked out the following titles from my local library:

  • Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum – Elizabeth Warren. (I really enjoy looking at textile art…)
  • Snowstruck: In the Grip of Avalanches – Jill Fredston. (I was in the auto/bio section and this just looked very interesting.)
  • India Calling – Anand Giridharadas. (Still fascinated by India…)
  • Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick – Zora Neale Hurston. (I enjoy her work.)
  • The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells (Was looking for a classic and this looked short!)

So, of course, I’m not actually reading any of these just yet and reading something completely different.! 😉

Seconds – Bryan Lee O’Malley (2014)

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I was wandering the shelves at the library in the Graphic Novel section, and came across this title that rang a bell from a reccie from another blog out there. (Sorry – not sure who.) This was just a fun and more light-hearted read than a lot of other non-fiction graphic novels – some read as though they are a long therapy session sometimes. This one had more a philosophical ring and a mind-bending journey about space and time in the life of a young restaurateur, Katie.

Katie is in a partnership with a business man, and in love (she thinks) with a former employee of the restaurant that she co-owns. There is some friction between the two, and as the story progresses, Katie becomes to realize that the old building in which the restaurant is housed has a house spirit. (Bear with me a second more.)

As she becomes more aware of the house spirit (who’s a lot younger than Katie had thought), she learns the powers of the small sprite, one of which is the power of changing the past after she ingests a particular mushroom. Hijinks ensure, naturally, as Katie experiments with changing her past to affect her present and then, of course, her future.  She tries to change her mistakes in an effort to fix everything so the present (and future) would be perfect, and it was cringe-worthy to join Katie on these journeys and it was somewhat of a relief to get to the end of the book, TBH.

As for the end, it was one of PoMo’s nebulous endings, but in my case, I really wasn’t sure what was meant at the finish. Was it accepting your lot in life re: past mistakes? I’m not sure, and I know that’s part of PoMo – not having everything tied up in a bow – but this finale was very vague. Perhaps that was the point – that life is not something to be completely understood and manipulated, whether you can or not (or, to put an ethical stance on things, should or should not).

Either way, this was a fun read with excellent graphic illustrations in the sequential cartoon-like design. Katie reminded me just a little bit of Sonic the Hedgehog (similar hair, perhaps), but that’s not a bad thing. I enjoyed this read and am now tempted to get the author’s other works (including the Scott Pilgrim series). We’ll see how it goes.