india love (free print downloads)

I’m in a bit of a hurry so I won’t wax poetic about why I love India, the country of my birth and heritage, but I’ll quickly tell you a little bit about the prints. The top one is the first line of a beautiful old patriotic song about India. (I remember it from the Indian school I went to on Saturdays, so it wasn’t a total wash Mom and Dad). The second is obviously a map of India with a heart on Calcutta (now Kolkata, but I don’t call it that) where I was born. The third is a picture of the Rajdhani Express -if you’ve ever talked to me about India you’ll know my favorite thing to do is get a first class ac ticket and ride around India by train, (something that I’ve yet to do with P). The last is a map of all the Indian railways, again with a heart on Calcutta…when we visited India growing up, we always ended up taking the Rajdhani from New Delhi to Calcutta, either to visit cousins there or in Jamshedpur (a small city a few hours outside of Cal). Those are some of my favorite memories.

Here and here are the maps so you can add your own heart.

And remember, these are for private non-commercial use only, dhanyawad.

These are also a part of where my where we’ve lived series.

Phew, I’m exhausted by making these and it’s ceasing to be fun so I think Madison and Boston are going to have to wait until next week.

Happy Independence day to all you Americans!

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Every once in a while I read a nonfiction book that blows my mind- one that is engaging as it is informative and immaculately researched. Some examples include Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas about busing and integration in Boston in the 1960s, and Ghost Wars by Steve Coll about Afghanistan and CIA involvement precluding Bin Laden. Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” while not as tome-like as the previous two, ranks in this category.

India is the country where I was born and where my family comes from. As anyone who has been there knows, the people, the poverty, the pollution, the dust, the noise all hit your senses at the same time, the juxtaposition of extreme poverty and extreme wealth fly screaming into your face. When I was little I remember being distraught that other girls my age could be kitchen maids at my own grandparents’ house or so poor they were literally sitting in shit in a slum as we drove past them. Unfortunately as I grew up and came back on many subsequent visits my horror eventually turned into acceptance. In India you quickly learn that some people are born lucky and some are not.

Which brings me to Katherine Boo. She is a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, who doesn’t speak Hindi or Urdu. She researched this beautifully written book about a very run-of-the-mill slum surrounding Mumbai’s international airport called Annawadi with the help of three translators. Ms. Boo doesn’t judge or prescribe (thought I certainly wouldn’t mind if she would do some prescribing), just paints the story of 3 slum-dwelling families over the course of 3 years. While India experiences previously unknown growth there are many who are being left behind, and their stories are never told in the giddy articles about the exciting upward mobility of the middle class. Ms. Boo shows us a world that we know very little about. Often books about India or anywhere that there is extreme poverty are so eye roll inducing, (see: Maximum City, Three Cups of Tea). This humble vignette about the struggle of families trying to claw their way out of poverty is one you simply should not miss.

And while P prefers footnotes with reporting notes, Ms. Boo has a chapter about how she did her reporting at the end of her book:

“The slumdwellers I’d already come to know in India were neither mythic nor pathetic. They were certainly not passive.  Across the country, in communities decidedly short on saviors, they were improvising, often ingeniously, in pursuit of the new economic possibilities of the twenty-first century. Official statistics offered some indication of how such families were faring. But in India, like many places in the world, including my own country, statistics about the poor sometimes have a tenuous relation to lived experience.”

I’d also like to share a quote from the New York Times review of her book:

You wonder, intermittently, about the book’s omniscient narrator. Perhaps wisely, Boo has absented herself from her narrative. The story of how a white American journalist overcame the suspicion of her subjects (and the outright hostility of the police), or dealt with the many ethical conundrums created by close contact between the first and fourth worlds, belongs to another book. Instead of the faux-naïf explainer or the intrepid adventurer in Asian badlands, you get a reflective sensibility, subtly informing every page with previous experiences of deprivation and striving, and a gentle skepticism about ideological claims.

Get it here or download it to your ipad or kindle.

India: a Portrait//Patrick French//Penguin Books

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“‘If life opened its gates to them and offered them food and healthy conditions of living and education and opportunities of growth,’ Nehru asked from his prison cell during the Second World War, ‘how many among these millions would be eminent scientist , educationists, technicians, industrialists, writers and artists, helping to build a new India and a new world?’”

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i just finished reading “india: a portrait” by one of my favorite (if not my favorite?) non fiction writers, patrick french.  his snapshot of my country of origin is clever, dispassionate, and balances the hopes and potential of its future with its gritty and tragic present realities. it ends on on the above quote and i am obviously rooting for india to take advantage of its moment. i also suggest you purchase quickly for immediate consumption. 

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ps. one of the reasons i love mr. french so much is because he introduced me to my favorite fiction author sir v.s. naipaul in his unflinching and aptly named biography ‘the world is what it is.’