Book Reviews

Traversing the Indian Mindscape

Indians reading this book will grit their teeth in anger till at least the first forty pages. Twelve years before she wrote this book, Sarah MacDonald made her first trip to India. That was in 1988. It turned out to be a terrible experience and she left hating the country vowing never to return. At the airport minutes before her departure an airport employee reads her palm and predicts a successful career, a late marriage and a return to India. Not on my life, she says to herself, but all three predictions come true. She returns to India after eleven years breaking her vow and leaving an important job with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation because she cannot bear to be separated from her boyfriend who has been posted there in a high paying Australian media job.

However the years have not dimmed her memories or dislike of the country, whether it is the noise, smog and pollution of Delhi, the Sardarji on her flight to Delhi trying to move his finger close to her pubic region or the mind bending traffic chaos on the streets.

A little further along the book during the course of an earthquake in Rishikesh, Sarah experiences a sudden change of heart. Filled with a vomit of hatred for Indian attitudes she starts to question her own attitude. 'As I hear myself rant I begin to hate myself for hating - for being so middleclass and pampered and comfortable that I should now be so shell shocked.'

From this point onwards the book takes a turn and Sarah begins her exploration into the different faiths in India including Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Sufism and Hinduism. Sarah visits different parts of the country including Kashmir in the North and Kerala in the South, attends an Indian marriage, goes to temples and takes part in meditations, ceremonies and yogic practices. It is a fair introduction to someone with little awareness of the myriad faiths of the sub continent and perhaps not an inappropriate focus for a travelogue on a country steeped in religion. Sarah is transformed by the religious quality of her experience. Her boyfriend's tenure gets over and Sarah returns to Australia with 'sacred knowledge' but also a baby growing in her stomach conceived on her last weekend in the country.

The initial criticism of India is interesting despite the fact that it is the 'spoilt child narrative' of a Westerner who has grown up in an affluent environment, finds it difficult to adjust to the Indian reality and therefore hurls abuse on whatever happens there. Her subsequent journey through the myriad faiths in the land transforms her understanding of the country and may provide some gratification for a reader. However while her travels may have dimmed her prejudices and led to personal revelations they hold little interest or novelty for an Indian reader. The canvas is too large and her acquaintance too limited for her to do justice to the subject matter.   


More by :  Rajesh Talwar

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