Sunday, December 4, 2011

Inside out and outside in: Two travelogues

I happened to read two travelogues recently. Two books similar in certain aspects but different, even diametrically opposite in some other ways. First one is written by a US citizen about the experiences he faced in India when he lived here for some months. Second one is an account of travels around the globe by a US settled NRI. Both are humorous and immensely readable. But the way in which these two men finds other cultures, the way they describes them, makes the sharp contrast.

Mark Mattison worked as a teacher in India for a few months along with his wife, who is a diplomat and wrote the book Surrounded by Indians, using his experiences of his stay in and around Delhi. He is wondered by the exotic nature of Indian culture- temple of rats, pachyderms roaming around the middle of the city, sacred cows, honest cobbler, Royal Enfield Bullets.. At the same time he is appalled by the chaotic nature of it- rough traffic of Delhi, men dancing noisily on weddings, troubles with red tape  and unclean conditions of hotels and streets. 

The other book that I read was by M P Prabhakaran on his travels around the world. The reason I picked this book was its title: "What Makes Islamic Turkey Different From Islamist Saudi Arabia - The World As An Indian Sees It". I felt it could be a complementary reading with V S Naipaul's book Among the Believers. But it was just a small part of the book, when author visited both countries and wrote an article deliberating the difference Islamist rule of Saudi has with Islamic state of Turkey. Author is particularly impressed by the degree of freedom enjoyed by women there. But I have to admit that I was not disappointed by the book. It was funny and a real page turner. The author conducts himself with much humility and tolerance to unknown cultures as a student eager to absorb them. Also though he is settled in USA, he acts as an ambassador of India, projecting the image of India as a multi-cultured nation every where he goes. 

As I had mentioned earlier, these two books can make a good study of contrast. One is a view of India from outside world and other one the view of outside world through Indian eyes. Mark Mattison's work is insightful and entertaining, but the judgmental nature of it cannot be ignored. He sees every thing by the eyes of an American and compares every thing in terms of US. One example is men dancing in a Baaraat. He feels they are desperate men, who never have an option to get a girl friend. At the same time, Prabhakaran shows a way of seeing things without passing a judgement. He watches unknown with a wonder akin to a kid. And that makes this book interesting.              


  1. Are these new releases?
    I am glad that the American was positive in his outlook...but the tourism scene is pathetic with louts, cheats, no drinking water and no clean toilers for tourists.

  2. will pick one soon from the bookstore nearby :)

    Weakest LINK

  3. Thanks for the review. How two persons view the world differently makes for interesting reading.

  4. A very balanced review.And yes, many books about India by Americans tend to be very judgmental which is very disappointing.

  5. Nice post....))) I really liked the way you designed it...