Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Memories of India

I've been thinking a lot about India lately, what with recently finishing The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga and seeing Slumdog Millionaire over the weekend. Both of which were excellent, by the way.

In The White Tiger, Balram, the narrator, claws his way to success out of a poor rural village in India, aided by nothing but his charm and wits. He's not always the most admirable character--he murders his boss, for starters--but his spirit is irresistible. Both White Tiger and Slumdog show the decency in a world of acute corruption.

I read an interview with Vikas Swarup, the author of the novel on which Slumdog was based. One quote struck me as to the heart of why I'm in love with All Things Indian:

Wall Street Journal: Terrible things happen to these characters, but they never whine about it. Why?
Swarup: That's the spirit of India. People move on with their lives. Even the slums aren't places of hopelessness and despair. People are forced to live their lives there because of their temporary circumstances. But that is how they see it, as temporary. Constantly they are trying to get out of the slums. Nobody sits around and moans and groans.

His quote transported me to a cross country train trip I took from Delhi to Bihar, where I was to spend several weeks volunteering in a dirt poor village (literally--my hut was made of mud and I had a emaciated cow as a sometimes-roommate.) At station stops, chai-wallahs would pass tea or bananas through the windows for rupees and street children would board to sell whatever they possessed. Often men with what I assume was leprosy, as they were missing legs, would scoot themselves on board to sweep the floors for whatever change they could scrounge. It was depressing, for sure, and the distinct memory has stayed with me all this time. But I've always admired the tenacity--the sheer will to survive--of the people working the trains.

10 comments:

Janna Qualman said...

I think I've said it before, but you'll have to write about your time in India someday - in extended length.

Melanie Avila said...

Wow, you've given us a very powerful image.

WendyCinNYC said...

Janna--From all that I've heard and read, the whole country has changed so much since I was there 10 years ago. It would be tough to write about it today.I kept a journal, though!

Melanie--Thanks. I remember it clearly, down to the smells.

WendyCinNYC said...
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Amy said...

There's a special place in heaven for you. I had an aunt & uncle who visited India in the early '90's and I hate to say it, but they totally turned me off from ever wanting to go there. I'm embarrassed to say this, but I'm not sure I could handle the poverty and desperation. And my aunt couldn't shut up about the smells.

WendyCinNYC said...

Amy--I think I'd probably have a different reaction as a tourist than a volunteer. On vacation, I'd be there for a completely different reason--to see the sights. Yes, I'd be exposed to the poverty, but I wouldn't have had to opportunity to see the humanity behind the awful surface. That's why I'm a little hesitant to go back with my family. The reason I loved India was because of the people who took me in.

And although Delhi was a big stinky city, sometimes, just around twilight when many people were cooking outside, the whole city smelled like spice.

colbymarshall said...

I'm with Janna- I want to hear all about this.

Joanne said...

So much of what we bring to the page comes from our own living. Do you think any of your experience there, which seemed to really move you, influences your writing today? Not necessarily your storylines, but some underlying thread to your craft?

Benjamin Solah said...

I loved this book, and actually found murdering his boss not that questionable; that whole family were assholes after all.

But the voice of the character was so so strong. Kept me reading.

Donny said...

I agree