When I think of India, I remember reading Lights of the Veil, the smell of a friend's curry cooking in her dorm room, and Monsoon Wedding, one of my favorite Bollywood films. I call to mind memoirs which have included pilgrimages through India, which observe extreme poverty and begging children and then continue on their way to a Hindu temple.
When I think of India, I remember watching Mowgli in Jungle Book as a child. I envision shrines and saris. I flash to a pink tunic, discarded by my brother's friend and worn by me for several years. (I rarely wear pink but I was enthralled by the intricate embroidered design.) I think of princes and tigers and slums. I don't know anyone who currently lives in India but I have several friends who called it home at one point.
Up until several years ago, I didn't think much about this swirling mix of stories I'd absorbed about India, the US, myself. I didn't question the accuracy or assumptions made. As I pressed in to my then-job as a hospice social worker, I heard such a wide variety of stories from people with all manner of backgrounds, cultures, and class. I could not help but start to read books and hear stories (told by someone other than the individual) with a more critical lens.
To paraphrase Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, there's danger in listening to only a single story. Although I trusted my friends who recommended Behind the Beautiful Forevers, I worried this look at an Indian slum would confirm the sole image many bring to mind when they hear "India." What story would Katherine Boo share?
Please join me at the Red Couch as I introduce our March book. Will you be reading along with us? (Also, we now have a Facebook discussion group!)