I have recently reposted my blog entries from my 2005 and 2007 field studies in India, entries that I took down when I moved my blog to this new site. These can be accessed through the blog archives, or through my “india posts” page.
To be honest, I’ve been hesitating to repost these entries. This was partly because I wanted a chance to make sure the formatting for each post (with images and so on) was working with my new template before making them available again. The other reason, though, was that I hadn’t decided yet whether I still wanted people to read what I’d written about my time in India.
You see, I have never once have I been asked by the Republic of India or any of its individual citizens to come study their culture and religions. Never have I been appointed a spokesman for Hinduism, for the state of Tamil Nadu, for the village I lived in, for any of the people I met, or for any other group or institution. Yet as soon as I say anything about the things I saw or learned or felt in the cumulative year I’ve spent in India, it feels like that’s the role I’m assuming; or, at least, that is the role I risk having ascribed to me.
The honest truth is that in spite of my months in India, living in a rural community and visiting major religious sites throughout the country; in spite of the multiple-day train rides, the hot and oppressive afternoons, the amazing food, and the friendships I made; in spite of sitting in temples, mosques, and churches; in spite of talking with people about their their families and beliefs, their livelihoods; in spite of contemplating day after day what this vast new cultural world signifies in terms of what it means to be a human being; in spite of all of this, the authority of my words still does not extend any further than the version of India I’ve imagined up in my own head.
As Beryl Markham has written of Africa, so it could be said of Inda:
It is not only a land; it is an entity born of one man’s hope and another man’s fancy.
So there are many [Indias]. There are as many [Indias] as there are books about [India]—and as many books about it as could be read in a leisurely lifetime.
All of these books, or at least as many of them as I have read, are accurate in their various portrayals of [India]—not my [India], perhaps, […] but an [India] true to each writer of each book. (Markham, West With the Night, 8)
I don’t quite know what value my version of India has for anyone else, but it seems such a prodigious waste to have invested all that time and money traveling there if it was for my benefit alone. These blog entries are only the smallest, most convenient way to share my journey with those who care to try the road, if only in small stretches. As long as it has been made explicitly clear that speak for myself and myself alone, I think I can be comfortable with the company.
If you really want to know about India, though, might I suggest that you go out to find it for yourself, and see what it can teach you.