I completely agree with Rina Mehta’s revulsion at “cultural voyeurism” and her aversion to the condescension and token-ization that comes with the sort of inclusion that multiculturalism provides (“Beyond Samosas and Bollywood,”India Currents, June 2008).
However, in the latter part of the article, I wished she would practice what she preaches: one cannot condemn the fetishization of Indian culture in one setting (commercial, crass) and then turn around and participate in it in another setting (high arts, classical). They are, after all, two sides of the same coin.
Yes, kathak is a glorious dance form. I have seen Birju Maharaj perform in thesabhas at Madras and been dazzled by its beauty. But that’s not the point. The point is that this kind of mystique—which I know occurs in all dances—the beatification, the hushed sanctimoniousness, and the reverence that encourages are just an extension of the same kind of fetishization that Mehta was complaining about with respect to “samosas and Bollywood.”
POLITICAL DISCUSSION OF HINDUISM
I am writing in response to Anand Venkatkrishnan’s “Who is a Hindu?” (India Currents, June 2008). I fully expected the article to take a socio-political approach, as there are many political ramifications of the question posed. As various parts of India have been under the leadership of seemingly “right-wing” Hindu groups, it is a relevant question. This article considered nothing of the sort. The author seemed to feel the need to take a philosophical approach to the question, assuming that anyone can be a Hindu as long as he or she ascribes to certain beliefs, which were articulated in great detail. In fact, this is exactly the political question that needs to be discussed and isn’t in this article. Most Indians do not believe anyone can be a Hindu and that being one is not just a collection of spiritual beliefs (a point Venkatkrishnan attempts to address in his introduction and then steers away from). Social conventions have created boundaries for who a Hindu is or isn’t. Political groups exploit these conventions and create divisions within Indian society.
Venkatkrishnan clearly has a bright future, but the article misses its mark. I would love to see an article that actually addressed the question of “Who is a Hindu?” with respect to the rise of Hindu nationalism in India.
Sonam Shah, via email
In his review of Preeta Samarasan’s novel Evening is the Whole Day, Rajesh C. Oza writes, “Sometimes a story—a touching, lively, and perhaps even loving story—of a place, need not strain to be an explication about that place. If readers are hoping for a literary rendering of Malaysia, they will be disappointed by this novel” (India Currents, June 2008). Frankly, Oza’s words are puzzling and rather patronising. Anyone born and bred in Malaysia, or who has lived here long enough, will recognise immediately that Samarasan has her finger on the pulse of the country. Touristy holidays don’t count; neither do expatriate postings that reveal little beyong picturesque superficialities. It is obvious that Oza knows very little about Malaysia, which is quite all right, except that he shouldn’t then make sweeping, condescending comments about the work of a writer who obviously does.
Saras Manickam, online
It’s praiseworthy that India Currents is bringing forth emerging trends in the Indian communities blossoming in the United States. While on the one hand Indians have carved a niche for themselves in the world of science and engineering, equally commendable are the efforts of those in pursuit of their passions in film, the arts, music, writing, drama, and sports. Well-articulated articles on those topics offer great food for thought and inspiration. Of particular note is Ranjit Souri’s recent column, “Improvisation and the Winter Wonder Lake” (India Currents, June 2008).
I am presently facing some crisis in my life, and the concept of “yes-and” highlighted in the article not only encouraged me to accept my present circumstances as they are, but also inspired me to engage myself creatively by building upon what has been handed to me by fate.
How many of us actually stop to appreciate the beauty of life around us? And to do that especially when the going is tough … it’s commendable, indeed!
Anu S., El Cerrito, Calif.
WHO IS A CHRISTIAN?
I read with fascination Anand Venkatkrishnan’s article “Who is a Hindu?” (India Currents, June 2008). I wanted to respond with my own reflection on the question “Who is a Christian?” I am currently pursuing an advanced degree in Spirituality.
Who is a Christian? A Christian is anyone who feels an inner conviction that he or she must follow the historical Jesus of Nazareth and is willing to undertake a transformation in daily living from religiosity to spirituality, using the “red ink” words of Jesus that are in the Bible. Just being born into a Christian family does not qualify one to be considered a Christian in the eyes of Jesus Christ. He said: “If you wish to become my disciples and say that you love me then keep my words. If you don’t, then you are not my disciple.”
In my understanding, there are three requirements to be a Christian. 1) You must be born again spiritually to understand spiritual insights. 2) You must be willing to deny self, give up your material assets, and offer your life to proselytize to others. 3) You must be willing to “love” your enemies and not just those who “love” you.
Donald Rajendra Roy Sr., Founder of the Seaside Spiritual Retreat, Seaside, Calif.