READING this book one does not know whether to laugh or cry. It is written by a young man whose parents left India for the United States in the 70’s, in the author’s words “when the West seemed paved with possibility and India seemed paved with potholes”. His parents had left India to make a better living in God’s Own Country, the United States, that had acquired the reputation of being an economic paradise where talent could easily make its mark and get amply rewarded.
No one can blame the senior Giridhardas’ considering that India in the seventies was struggling to keep alive, and there seemed no future for aspiring young men. So they left and judging by their son’s description, they led a happy life. They still loved India, but, according to their son, Anand, who writes about his return to his motherland, when they spoke often of ‘Indian values’ they were “distraction meant to suffuse” his feelings, rather than “commandment to live in this way or that”.
Anand grew up loving American values and was proud to be an American. One wishes he stayed on in the US and left India to its fate, judging from his comments about the India he returned to. He found India “confounding” at first, “more corrupt, more bureaucratic and more interfering”. Nothing seemed to be going right. The English the Indians spoke was amusing, the traditional family system was not as flawless as Indians liked to imaging, the country protected mediocrity, divorces were increasing and a judge is quoted as saying about the latest development “as another facet of the Indian awakening, a bitter side-effect of the liberation of spirit that was coming.
As Anand himself noticed, “divorce was rising because women were earning more money, because laws were changing, because taboos were eroding”. The young approached love in the way they approached success and consumption and the future itself, with an underlying assumption of abundance. Indians were converting by the day to the religion of personal success and there was diminishing patience for those who would divert their attention. As Anand puts it: “By the time I moved to India, the country had become a circus of money, concentrated at the upper levels but not exclusively”. A culture of “middleness was becoming a dominant national culture. As he saw the situation, “consumption-condemned as futile by the religious texts, strenuously resisted by my grandparents who denied its pleasures to my parents, who taught my sister and me to resist it in turn had become a new religion for millions”. The swelling middle class loved to shop. When they walked into the new malls and supermarkets, members of the consuming class were likely to pull out a credit card. That, too, spoke of a new ethos.
Anand is frequently shocked at the new India he had returned to. He went to Hyderabad and landed at its shining new airport where he was told that at the airport shops there were on sale “sixty three kinds of whiskey”.
What was coming to India now was a sense of awakening, much as it had in 1947. But this time it felt less theoretical – an independence of the soul, not just of the nation”. Was he wise, then, to come to India and give up the United States? Says Anand towards the end: “I never imagined that I would leave America to return to what had become another India. But history bends and swerves and sometimes swivels fully around. And so I sensed, when returning to India that I was not undoing my parents’ journey but in some way fulfilling it. Like them I was chasing the frontier of the future. Which just happened, in my case, to be the frontier of my own past”.
In the last three decades and more India has changed at a rate undreamt of in the past and it is still changing. Where and when it will stop changing, if at all it does, is anybody’s guess. What Giridharadas has written is an eye-opener. An old India is dying. The new India is summoning its children to seize hold of their destinies which is what they are seeming to do. And all power to them!
(Harper Collins, A-53, Sector 57, Noida (UP))