Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Reviewer's Unfounded Fears

I knew the love couldn't last. I've just read a post by an Indian blogger who accuses me of being "anti-Indian" in Monsoon Summer because I talk about India's poverty, the caste system, and dowries. This guy seems to ignore that there's still a huge gap in India between the rural poor and educated people who live in the fast-changing booming urban economies. I'd like to ask him this: "Have you spent time in India's poor communities, getting to know the women who live there and hearing their stories?" I have, and am so thankful for the friendships I made there. I hate to be cynical, but isn't it often poor, uneducated women in a country who suffer the most, and wealthy men who forget all about them?

I don't blame the dude; part of me is jealous of his strong, starry-eyed defense of India, however misguided. The problem is that nobody likes to hear truth about their own country, land that they love. Americans call us unpatriotic when we write about the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. Indians do the same when it comes to their society. And we immigrants, who aren't equipped for passionate national allegiances, are caught between cultures once again.

As the San Jose Mercury News put it, in Monsoon Summer, I tried to provide "a clear-eyed look at my native India." The blogger worries that American teens will get a bad impression of India. Au contraire, my friend. I, too, love India and strive to introduce young American readers to the beauty of it. As a Kirkus reviewer put it, "Monsoon Summer enlightens readers not familiar with the richness of Indian culture." And, along with trying always to tell a truthful, good tale, that was my goal.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mitali,

I don't think you have to respond to your detractors--that's just giving credibility to what they say! (And imagine if all authors responded to their reviewers!)

Monsoon was fantabulous. You are a very gifted writer; I look forward to your next.

Mitali Perkins said...

I wouldn't have responded if his comment hadn't stung. Once again, I felt squeezed — Indians think I'm not Indian enough to write about India and it seems that most American publishers only want me write about being perched on the immigrant edge of America. (My trilogy set in Burma, called the Bamboo People, has been thoroughly rejected.) Writing my rebuttal helped me regain my balance as I keep walking along the border. Thanks for your kind words, though.

Anonymous said...

I understand, but after reading Sanjay's blog entry again, I really don't think he and I read the same book. He's defensive about everything; poverty, caste, dowry, cows, etc. does exist in India. As much as we'd like to think we are "the next super-power", we are just not there yet. India is still a public health disaster and has no infrastructure outside of a few cities. It's still a tradition, agrarian society. (And if you want stats, I can post them here as well. I am ready to defend my statements :)) I love India; I write about it, too. But I think Indians/Indian-Americans have to be honest with themselves about the shortcomings of our mother-country and it's people.

I also *hate* that Indian-American artists are always blasted by other Indians/Indian-Americans for "unfair portrayal" as if we have to include *every* representation of India in our stories, i.e. as he writes, "I can’t find a place to access it (internet). Sister Das didn’t even know what I was talking about when I asked her" This is Pune in 2004? One of the great IT outsourcing hubs in the world?

A story is a story is a story. It's ONE representation.

/end of rant.

Mitali Perkins said...

How many orphanages on the outskirts of any town in India have internet access anyway? That was the whole point of why they needed Jazz's Dad's computer expertise. And Jazz talks about the countless cyber-cafes all throughout Pune. Hey, guys, please don't do a search and click on that post, it moves him up in the google rankings! (Read the cached version if you must; that doesn't affect his standings.)

Anonymous said...

Wow. I was very surprised to hear that someone would say such a thing about Monsoon Summer, since it was an absolutely amazing book! Unfortunately for everyone, India is full of the caste system, poverty, and much, much more. I find it shocking that he said it was "anti-Indian"; on the contrary, it provides a beautifully accurate portrait of India for those who haven't been there. Some of the most wonderful culture of India comes from the tiny villages with poverty, farmers, and trash. I think he needs to be a little more realistic.