Can’t Judge India in One Visit

While I enjoyed reading Rina Mehta’s article (Dancing With Joy, For Joy, March 2010), I was offended at her damning and somewhat arrogant conclusions about the future of India. I am not sure if this is Ms. Mehta’s first time in India, but it is usually good practice to thoroughly explore a country several times before making blanket conclusions about one of the most diverse places on the planet (and even then, have the humility to know that one can never truly “know” a place).

Mehta writes: “One senses amongst the people of India a quiet and masked sense of loss, self-hatred, and confusion.” Really? How exactly does one discern this from a brief visit? I was born and raised in India and have been back several times, and my experiences with the individuals there (emphasis on the word individual) have always been a mixture of pure joy, confusion, anger, humility, amazement … the list goes on.

The point is, they are imperfect human experiences, and they happen everywhere. One thing that I will always take back from my visits to India is the incredible sense of optimism I see there. Not every Indian is a petty, die-hard fatalist. The young people have such energy and optimism, are proud to be Indian, and genuinely want to see their country progress.

Yes, Indians have experienced colonial subjugation, and we are still seeing the effects of it. But Indians, as a people, also have agency in their individual lives. We are not victims of history.
Although I am sure Indian audiences loved Pandit Das’ performances, I found it quite ironic that Mehta felt they were “helping Indians reclaim a part of themselves that they are losing.” Believe it or not, India has one of the strongest classical and traditional arts traditions in the world. India still provides state funding for the arts, which you can hardly say about America nowadays.

Kathak and other Indian classical dances are not a dying art which need to be revived by NRIs, and modernity and traditional arts are not mutually exclusive. For a very simple example, do some Internet research on how the amazing young Indian bharatanatyam dancer Harinie Jeevitha’s YouTube videos have helped her gain recognition both in India and worldwide.

I too hate to make blanket observations, but I’ve noticed a tendency among Americans to travel to a country and seem to know all of its problems in one visit. I see some of this hubris in Mehta’s statement, “And though I have faith that the soul of India shall survive …” Wow. I didn’t realize that the soul of one of the world’s oldest civilizations is at stake!

I don’t wish to degrade Mehta’s earnest sentiments, and applaud her art and intentions, but some humility would be useful.

Diya Treasurywalla, Palos Verdes, CA

Why the Fear of Animals?

I was so happy to read Jimy Uranwala’s letter (Animals Have Feelings Too, April 2010) and wished I, too, had responded to the original article (Animal Matters, March 2010). Why is it that so many poeple are afraid of animals? Many of my friends will not enter my house unless my animals are put outdoors; I own well-behaved dogs who are just happy to meet new people.

Dr. Michael Fox wrote in Returning to Eden that animals are more like us than unlike us. People who are afraid can behave irrationally. Ragini Srinivasan, the author, shows her fear of Panda, the dog, who then realizes that he must be prepared to defend himself.

Srinivasan really ought to study more than rhetoric and begin to experience the great love and friendship one can receive from other-than-human animals.

Robyn Nayyar, Aromas, CA

Loss of Language is Not Loss of Culture

Thanks for forwarding your insights on the inter-relationships of language, thought, and culture in such a readily comprehensible manner (Transmission Losses, March 2010). The loss of a language to assimilation does not necessarily mean the loss of many other cultural factors that inform the character of so many individuals, families and communities in the United States. Our unique American culture has the opportunity to absorb what is best from the various cultures that arrive here.

Jerry Sullivan, online

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...