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."
(Arun Kumar can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)