Last Night In India

Once again tipsy on cheap whiskey. Ahhh, India. Today I did my much anticipated book reading at the literature class of Prof Harish Narang at Jawarlahal Nehru University. Many thanks to Prof Narang and his students for making the experience truly a wonderful one.

I was veritably overwhelmed by the students’ interest in what I had to say, their diversity and impressive ability to quickly access some challenging concepts. In fact, I was impressed by J. Nehru University on the whole, as it represents the trend I’ve been alluding to throughout this travelblog: the rebirth of a powerful, youthful, optimistic and brilliant India.

It helped my mood that there was a strong anti-Bush sentiment on campus. One impressive sign: “When Bush comes to shove, shove back.” It reminded me of the sole positive influence George Bush has had on the world– as a polarizing figure, he has managed to unite the otherwise fractious Left.

To top off the day, my hosts and I decided to see the movie I’ve been mentioning often, Rang De Basanti. With my eight words of Hindi, I was nonetheless able to follow the minimal plot. The film is beautifully shot and well acted, but the story is predictable and thin. But it is nevertheless an important achievement in Indian cinema.

See, it’s about the modern urban youth of India awakening to the corruption in their country and doing something about it. Though it stars 42-year old Aamir Khan as a college kid, the film succeeds in conveying many of the same themes I’ve been expounding in this space, specifically that there is something new, youthful and exciting happening here, and it has everything to do with the enormous bulk of Indians under the age of 25.

The film is worth seeing if only for its wondrous images of India’s diversity. Mind you, it is suspiciously lacking the stray dogs, touts, street dwellers and pretty much anyone who isn’t seemingly middle or upper class.

Perhaps more important was the experience of being in the theatre. Recall that India is a nation in love with its film industry, more so than I’ve seen in any other country. Families are encouraged to attend, and indeed the theatre was filled with ancient grandmothers and howling abbies, and no one seemed to mind. It was also an audience that interacted with the film, in a very positive manner. Film is India’s most important artistic medium, as it touchs everyone and is taken seriously by all.

Well, the whiskey is pushing me to my bed. This has been an excellent day in India, starting with an inspiring experience at JNU, and ending with a poignant viewing of India’s biggest film. Tomorrow is my final day, ending with a trip to the airport.