The question I want to pose now holds to the same theme, but with an important distinction: Whose stories can we tell?
Every academic, every writer, every filmmaker, anyone who has ever been in the business of producing narratives, encounters a limit placed by society, by self, or by convention on the kind of stories that s/he can produce. To give a simplified example, you rarely encounter proofs on Shakespeare by number theorists because literature is not their area of “expertise.”
When it comes to academic knowledge, most of us would agree that there is some logical limit as to what each discipline should work on (though within most fields of study, this is a vigorous, ongoing debate!). But what about in journalism? What about creative knowledges?
Novelists are frequently asked if their fiction is derived from autobiography, as if they couldn’t possibly create stores that entirely exceed or escape their own lives. Filmmakers like Sarah Gavron and Shekhar Kapur are questioned when the subjects they choose to explore—a Bangladeshi immigrant community in London (Gavron); the legacy of Queen Elizabeth (Kapur)—are seemingly beyond the realm of their personal experience.
We put a lot of stock in personal experience. Maybe that’s why the craze for memoirs; maybe that’s why the craze for reality television. Philosophers would have much to say on the subject of the human preoccupation with “Truth,” but I have more plebian concerns. When we collectively place demands on academics, writers, filmmakers, or magazines to be “true” to “their” set of experiences or acquired knowledge, we are also placing a demand that the work in question be limited to that set of experiences and knowledge. We are also demanding that “our” experiences be “accurately” portrayed by appropriate, legitimate, authentic representatives.
I think that’s a very dangerous, slippery slope of expectations and demands.
Why shouldn’t a British filmmaker want to go to Brick Lane? Why shouldn’t Hollywood make a comedy that pokes fun at stereotypes of Hindu gurus? Why shouldn’t an Indian actor play a non-ethnic character, with an American name, on mainstream television?
For that matter, why shouldn’t an Indian magazine publish articles about archaeological digs in Iraq or automated restaurants in Germany? When would it be appropriate to do so?
India Currents aspires to honestly and thoughtfully communicate South Asian-American experiences in their varied complexity. But what other stories—who else’s stories—might we want, or need, to tell?
|Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan was Editor of India Currents from July 2007-June 2009.|