Diaspora: Special Issue of South Asian Review.
John Hawley’s account of an evening at the Bellagio Centre in Italy is a fitting beginning to the central themes of globalisation and diaspora. Hawley recounts how Habib Tanvir presented his ideas to a large group of foreign academics in Hindi to their complete befuddlement. The reaction to Habib’s lateral narrative underscores my point—the listeners pretended to have understood his language and began making their individual interjections in Japanese, Spanish, Italian and pig Latin.
This cacophony was perhaps Habib’s "orchestrated assault on the dominance of ‘the word’ and rationality itself." There is indeed a method in this madness, one undercut by forces of globalisation that had brought the diaspora together, yet thrown up cultural diversity.
K. D. Verma’s splendid collection of essays is scholarly and authoritative yet straightforward and accessible.
Both topical and literary, it has a greater cultural than economic focus. Revathi Krishnaswamy, for instance, compares two commentaries on cricket: Ashis Nandy’s The Tao of Cricket and Ramachandra Guha’s A Corner of a Foreign Field in terms of Arjun Appadurai’s Modernity at Large. All three critics believe that Indians have indigenised cricket and that it is more Indian than English. Nandy reasons that it is the British who reinvented the Indian village game of gulli-danda and dressed it up as "cricket".
The Bollywood "hit", Lagaan, turns both games head to head; the final victory lies with the globally acknowledged game of cricket, but well suited to its indigenous surroundings. This "dream team" symbolises a nation that has overcome its caste/class barriers, yet it is led by "a salt-of-the-earth Hindu youth and correctly includes a Muslim, a Sikh, and a Dalit."
Krishnaswamy claims that women remain the excluded minority supplying only the love interest in the film. But is has to be acknowledged that the colonial memsahib is, after all, the cricket coach. The only concession cricket has made to women is through the commodification of the game by Sony TV to rope in the female viewer. This also shifts focus from the cultural to the economic, and from the local to the global market.
Geoffrey Kain interestingly links the progress of technology with the domination of Asia and Africa by Europe. The emerging technology of genetically modified organisms and transgenic seeds and their importation into the third world have led to the coinage of terms such as "genetic imperialism" and "bio serfdom".
In Gandhi’s India, where cotton has been harnessed to produce khadi, there has been a good deal of resistance to genetically modified cotton plants with cries of "Monsanto Quit India" or from associations like Vandana Shiva’s "Navdanya" which are set up to protect local farmers’ methods and knowledges and halt the "colonisation of the seed".
This collection moves to more literary concerns next—Raja Rao, Amitav Ghosh and Salman Rushdie.
The themes of cultural essentialism as against the forces of global capitalism discussed in these essays give place to similar issues in a more contemporary Indian set up.
Sangita Gopal shows how religion uses the Internet for its new online avatar. Blessings-onthenet.com, saranam.com and ePrarthana.com permit Hindus all over the world to practice their religion "with the click of the mouse." These websites "function on the premise that Hindu identity can be purchased: buy Hindu, be Hindu."
The Hindutva websites have enabled the global rise of the Hindu Right, and culture has become a commodity sold on plasma screens. In the US, particularly, Hindutva ideology has managed to appropriate a large section of the diaspora. Hindutva, an ideology that seeks its strength from its ancient origins, discovers its ultimate strength in cyberspace. From Savarkar’s civilizational and non-doctrinal definition of Hinduism, where Hindus were united as a jati through bonds of blood, we now inhabit a global Hindu culture on retail.
In turn, the US-Indian communities have fashioned a pan-Hindu agenda which is, however, free of systems and principles. It includes a VHP of America which has its own website that promotes "the Hindu way of life" and creates its own brand of Yankee Hindutva.
An average website contains a definition of who Hindus are and gives information about Hindu festivals and Hindu news. The websites also sell "Puja Packages" for the "beginner" and "Advanced Packages" for the "repeat visitor".
One may even "order" proxy pujas and havans online, which can be performed for the non-resident Hindu in an Indian temple of his or her choice.
Thus the US-Indian can enjoy the spiritual bliss of the homeland even as he/she grooves materially into the West and so, reap the benefits of "dual" citizenship.
This issue of South Asian Review, which is published from the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown, is devoted to an analysis of how problems concerning diaspora have emerged as a political force and how the politics of immigration have been fashioned with larger consequences for transcultural politics.
On the evidence of its various essays, the collection should prove to be a valuable source of ideas and discussions on its various subjects relating to nationalism and its cultural politics.
In years to come, it could become an essential reading for students and teachers anxious for looking into global politics.