'Ever English-speaking Indian man between twenty-five and sixty has written about the Hindi
movies he has seen, the English book he has read the foreign places he has traveled to and
the curse of communalism', says Mukul Kesavan. Like many of the insightful and provocative
comments for which his journalism is so widely admired, his deliberately large statement may
even be true.
What is certainly true is that Kesavan' s entertaining writing crackle with cerebral wit and
originality. A historian by profession, Kesavan is distinct from his tribe because his prose
ploughs a lonely furrow: it is a speaking, accessible, aphoristic and uncommonly elegant
cocktail of serious thinking and unserious fun, often standing commonly notices on their
This collection of essays is a distillation of his though on some of the central concerns of
our time. They are outrageously funny, profoundly cosmopolitan, and devotedly
'pseudo-secular' all at once.
Back The Book
Some years ago I was struck by the contrast between the beauties of Hindi film heroines and
the ugliness of Hindi films heroes. After researching the matter I concluded that the
explanation was straightforward: leading men in Hindi film were ugly because they were
Indian men were measurably uglier than Indian woman
while my observation was accurate and
the data I had gathered reliable I made the mistake of attributing the ugliness of Indian
male to nature. I Know now that Indian men aren't born ugly: they achieve ugliness though
practice. It is their habits and routines that make them ugly. If I Was to be schematic, I'd
argue that Indian men are ugly on accounts of the three Hs: hygiene, hair and horrible
habits. Why are Indian men like this? How do they achieve the bullet-proof
unselfconsciousness that allows them to be so abandoned ugly? I Think it comes from a sense
of entitlement that's hard-wired into every male child grows up in an Indian household.
That, and the not unimportant fact that, despite the way they look they're always pared off
with good- looking woman.'
About The Author
Mukul Kesavan lives in New Delhi. He teaches history, read fiction and has a
particular interest in cinema, cricket, and politics. He has written a novel, Looking
Through Glass a pamphlet, Secular Common Sense and a book about cricket, men in White.
Every English-speaking Indian man between twenty-five and sixty has written about the Hindi
movies he has seen the English books he has read, the foreign places he has traveled to, and
curse of common-aims You mightn't have read them all (there are a lot of them and some don't
make it to print) but their manuscript exist and, in this age of the internet, these masters
of blah have migrated to the Republic of Blog. A cultural historian from the remote future
(investigative perhaps, the death of English in India) might use up a sub-section of a
chapter to explore the sameness of their concerns. Why did a bunch of grown men in the
late-twentieth and early- twenty-first centuries write about the some movies, novels
journey, and riots? Why Naipaul? Why not nature? Or Napier? Or the nadeswaram? Why Bachchan?
And not Burma? Or-Bhojapuri? And, most weirdly, why pogrom and chauvinism? Why not programs
This seems mysterious but isn't. Our historian will have to be content with the
ordinary cause instead of the off-centre insight. The obsession with Hindu movies is the
easiest to explain .In the life of every Anglophone Indian there occurs an epistemological
break. Those who think this means a letter-written recess should know that this a deep way
of describing a big change in knowing thing. The big change comes about when the child
acquires English. All the stuff the child liked before learning English becomes connected
with uncomplicated enjoyment in the grow - up' s mind because the child is father of the
man. (I know Wordsworth wrote that but it needs another 'the').
Since English becomes the language in which he learns thinks, the Indian man begins to
associate Hindi films with unlearned pleasure.
This is a delusion: metropolitan children begin learning English around the time
they go to school, and how many Hindi film can you remember seeing before you were six? Some
where in the range of not many and none. This doesn't matter because the adult middle-class
Indian male, now socialized so thoroughly into English that he find it hard to summarize an
abstract thought in his mother tongue, begins to see Hindi Film as the lost hinterland that
connects him to the Bharat-that -isn't-India .The Hindi film because his passport to des and
his ability to write about Hindi film demonstrates (both to himself and the world) his
authentic connectedness. None of his rules out the possibility that he actually enjoys Hindi
film: it just explains why he writes about them.
He reviews English novels for the opposite reason that he sees Hindi film: if Hindi
film are his umbilical connection to his authentic mofussil self, reading and written about
English fiction is the open sesame that gives him entry to a properly metropolitan world.
His delight in Hindi film spring form a precious nurtured state of innocence, whereas his
connoisseurship of English fiction allows him to know in a cosmopolitan way. The ability to
put out a view about the oeuvre of Robert Musil or Anthony Powell or Machado de Assis (for
him these are all English novelist because he reads them in translation) is for him the
liberty equivalent of a one-arm-up: something most people can't do.
He travels and writes about his travels for reasons very similar to the ones behind
his interested in English fiction, but on the whole he does this less successfully. Travel
writing, invented by English and than American writers, is a form of amused knowingness.
Reading Robert Byron or Paul Theroux is a bit like turning into Radio Supercilious: the
funny bits, such as they are, generated by the discomfort of traveling to out-of the way
places or knowingness isn't easily replicated: you have to be first world and better off
than of then the natives. If you're Indian this is a problem, so the dominant form of Indian
travel-writing is the short magazine article because it's hard to act richer (or whiter)
then you are for any length of time. The scope for knowingness and sophistication is
consequently limited. It isn't a coincidence that writing about food and drink is the
fastest growing segment in Indian journalism because writing about Chinese restaurant in
Juhu is a way is a way of traveling without a passport, of being sophisticated on a budget
On the rare occasion that Indian writers attempt travel books-Vikram Seth's From
Heaven Lake, Amitav Ghosh's In An Antique Land, Allen Sealy's from Yukon to Yucatan-they
produce work that in tone and from redefines the genre because they tread the landscapes
they move through as dense real places, not as props and cues that help the sophisticated
traveler rehear his world- weary routines.
But it is the English-writing Indian' s interest in way communalism, particularly
his near-obsessive interest in the way majoritarion politics pick on religious minorities,
which is likely to draw the particular attention of our historian. Perhaps he'll take his
cue from that acute critic, Lal Krishna Advani, who coined a useful term for his tendency:
pseudo- secularism. In this view, since the majority of secularist critics are nominally
Hindu, this peculiar interest in Muslim or Christian welfare is to be charitably understood
as a from of misguided chivalry: misguided because it' s apparently Hindus who are harassed
and discriminated against in the name of secularism. When a critic of a Advani school isn't
felling charitable, this chivalric tendency is put down to the self- hatred that afflicts
deracinated Hindus. Other hostile observers see the 'secularist' tendency as an extension of
the knowingness and superiority affected by this sort of Indian in other matters, such as
fiction or travel-written, a posture intended to place the posture above the common herd.
Whatever their explanation these regularities in the behaviors of Anglophone Indian
await their historian and their anthropologist; the book that follows is an attempt to show
that their habit are odd enough to be interesting.
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