India Calling – A Review

By Shilpi Mahajan

India Calling by Anand Giridharadas is a story about a young Indian American rendezvous with the nation of his ethnicity. Born and brought up in the US, Anand moves back to India in search of the new “emerging” India. However to me, while India Calling is a story of a nation suspended between time, it’s also a story about the chasm that exists in the hearts of many American Indians. To them India is a visceral emotion in the memories of their mother, a hopeless nation in the rants of their fathers and yet, in someway its a place where they could have belonged.

It’s a reverse journey to understand a country and experience it.  Anand’s parents moved to the US in the 70’s- like thousands other immigrations that happened in that era. His sense of India is created and molded by his parent’s memories. It’s a time warp where events come to you in no specific sequence and you understand what you can. While America gave his parents the opportunities to grow and expand as people, it also gave him an opportunity to experience the world through a different set of perspectives. As he grows, Anand decides to return to India and experience it first-hand.

As Anand wades through the multiplicities of India, its contradictory existence, he manages to unveil a portion of an emerging India. Confident in its skin and loftier in its ambition, this India is changing. Or is it? It’s Anand’s constant doubt of the reality of India’s reinvention which he visits through multiple case studies that makes India Calling a must read. In a time when Thomas Freidman’s World is Flat made India the talk of the world, Anand takes a different tack. He ventures under the skin to visit the multiple mutinies happening in the small towns of India and at the same time questions the direction in which they are heading.  In Ravindra, a shoeless son of a coolie, transforms into a local Dale Carnegie and in the singularity of his focus becomes the most respected man in Umred.

As Umred begins to dream, a local town hums with multiple songs and self-invents itself in the unfolding drama called “shining India”. Yet Anand questions Ravindra’s ability to think for himself in his love life.  Or be it the high-powered banker Mallika, who lives with her parents and  finds herself succumbing to the weightlessness of modern India.  As she experiences failed love, her confused existence is a testament to the fallibility of extreme freedom. It’s this suspension between two existences that makes today’s India a land of contradiction and the life of its people as complex as ever.  Or be it Venugopal, journalist by the day and the Naxalite by the night. His struggle is against capitalism. To him globalization is the new caste and “comparative advantage” the new caste system.

For many Indians globalization was a deliverance from the past but for Venugopal, it was a return to the past. He calls the software engineers as the new age Brahmins and yet works for a multinational newspaper that in his own words is a shill for the Indian transformation story. “I am working inside the system and yet writing against it. The basic need of a person is to be able to do whatever he wants to do but first he has to live for there is no free lunch, I have to first earn my lunch”- a contradiction with his own inner “self”.  The young India is chasing dreams and experiencing frustration as it tries to balance the old and the new and in the process reinventing itself. As India dreams, there is not only a shift in social and economic status but also a profound change in the spiritual and the cultural milieu of the nation. The world is no longer maya, it’s not enough simply to do one’s duty and do it well and be satisfied with what God gives; parents are not always right and marriages are not always made in heaven. The entire karmic philosophy on which the Indian civilization rested is being challenged and where it takes India, only time will tell.

More About Shilpi Mahajan

Shilpi is the founder of culture curry India, a company focused on travel to India through a cultural lens. An MBA from JBIMS, Shilpi took a sabbatical from her corporate life after her daughter Sehar was born. Together with her daughter, they traveled around North India and discovered her love for travel, photography, writing and found out how beautiful the country was, inside out.

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