An American Scribe's Sideways Glance at India

By Arun Kumar

Washington, June 13 (IANS) "Sideways on a Scooter", a new book on India by an American journalist who lived in New Delhi for some years, is billed as a "deft cultural examination" that peels back the "stereotypical image of India as a land of call centres, yoginis, and Bollywood".

But in the end it turns out to be just that - a sideways fleeting glance at India from Miranda Kennedy's apartment in Nizamuddin, a New Delhi colony, from where she reported on South Asia for five years as a National Public Radio (NPR) reporter.

"I see many different things happening at once in the emerging India. It remains a very exciting economy, offering opportunities to new generations of Indians that wouldn't have been possible 20 years ago," Kennedy acknowledges in an interview with IANS.

"But even as so many people's lives are radically changing - as more people move to the cities, and pull themselves up the social scale - many things remain the same when it comes to social and cultural habits," she suggests. Her book "looks a lot at age-old practices which were long ago officially outlawed in India, like child marriage, dowry, and caste discrimination," Kennedy says.

"And yet these ills continue to plague the lives of young Indians today, restricting their chances and freedoms," she asserts.

The book's title, a reference to the way sari-clad Indian women sit sidesaddle on the back of scooters and motorcycles, was, she thought, "an apt metaphor for the things about women's lives in India that have not changed in spite of so much radical transformation in the last 20 years".

Kennedy sets out to examine the status of Indian women through the eyes of six women characters, including a "modern" PR person, a chain-smoker journalist and a couple of her maids, whom she "came to know well in India."
"They also represent a fairly broad span of caste, class, and religion," she says though she acknowledges, "I do not consider them representative of India's diversity in any full way."

"I wanted to be sure to get in a wide array of perspectives but this is not, of course, a sociological study; it is a journalist's book looking at women's lives in detail," says Kennedy.

"The book is part memoir, part reportage," she says as she "wanted to meld the two genres, to make the point that just like the women characters in the book - the people I worked with and befriended - I was going through shifts in my personal life, too."

While the book is targeted at a general audience in the US, Australia and Europe and other parts of Asia, Kennedy thinks it will also "be interesting for Indians living around the world."


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