Coexisting creatively
Humra Quraishi

New Delhi-based German writer Roswitha Joshi talks of her new
book, Indian Dreams, and being in India

Roswitha Joshi has that passion to write. The latest is this novel Indian Dreams (UBSPD). And though this is not the first time I am writing about her in the context of her books, but then, each time I see her equipped with oodles of enthusiasm and that intensity to write further on. Perhaps, this alone explains that want, that need to write and offload more and much more.

Roswitha Joshi coexists very well in the Indian milieu
Roswitha Joshi coexists very well in the Indian milieu

This latest from her is the recently launched novel Indian Dreams, which is a heady mix of emotions and changing circumstances. Excerpts from an interview with the New Delhi-based German writer Roswitha Joshi:

How much is the story of Indian Dreams your own or, at least, snatches from it ?

The plot of my novel is purely fictional, but some of those travel inputs are from my own experience, whilst I have been travelling to the various locales and region of this country... I travelled even to far-flung places in Saurashtra and Chhattisgarh and, at times, I have travelled all by myself .

Did you find it safe to travel alone along an unknown terrain?

I have never been exploited or harmed during any of my travels ... Looking back, it could have been risky but, then, I didn’t perceive as a risk and also wanted to prove to myself that I have guts to travel alone and my experiences have been okay. In fact, I have used these travel inputs in my writings. And one of my observations was that some of the erstwhile rajas were converting their palaces and havelis into hotels and motels but were embarrassed about it, as though it was below their dignity to say so openly.

You have been living in India for almost forty years. What changes have you noticed in the urban sectors?

Earlier, people were judged by their educational standards, but now by their material wealth. The change or focus on the materialistic is very obvious and with that there is availability. Then, I see a change in the attitude towards girls — they are moving about freely and there is an intermingling at parties etc. Earlier kissing on the cheek was not seen even on the circuit, but now it’s almost a done thing at social dos and parties.

What adjustments did you have to make to a living here in India?

Instead of the word ‘adjustments,’ I would rather say ‘co-exist’. For, I do believe in the space factor, in the very concept of coexistence in harmony without disturbing or bothering the other ... and I have co-existed very well.

In this context, what are your comments vis-à-vis tension prevailing between the West and this part of our subcontinent?

It is ironical that though on one hand we talk of globalisation but these divisions are coming about. And this is arising basically from the fact that people are insecure and scared of intruders and intrusions into their space ... the very concept to co-exist has to be focused on to avoid these divisions ...

Suppose you hadn’t moved here to India with your husband Jagdish, do you think you have perceived life differently and not been passionate about writing?

Whilst I was in school in Germany, I was keen to become a journalist or a portrait artist. But after marriage, when I came to India and we had initially settled down in Bangalore, I had enough time and took to learning English. In school, the focus was on my mother tongue, German. And Latin and Classical Greek were my first and second options. The English language was my third option and once in Bangalore, I took it upon myself to try and master it. Keeping a dictionary near me, I would begin to read English magazines and books and in about four months, I was comfortable with words and didn’t really need a dictionary `85and with that began writing travelogues and humour pieces ... Now, this is my fifth book in English. I have even translated some of my previously published books to German ...

As a German writer, comment on Hitler and those disastrous offshoots of the holocaust?

The impact of the misery caused by the holocaust and lost war, both attributed to a German people misguided by Chancellor of the Reich Hitler, was as tremendous on the German psyche as Partition on the Indian one. My entire youth was overshadowed by it. For the older generations had to come to terms with the material and ideal losses, they had suffered while facing children and grandchildren who questioned their very sanity and integrity.

Gradually, however, the shame of calling oneself a German was replaced by pride to have risen like Phoenixes out of the ashes and that, too, against all odds. Hence, the desire to be better than others was mainly channelled into economic competitiveness and sports.

To learn from the past the post-war governments of Germany made a conscious effort to expose young Germans to foreigners by, for example, organising students exchange programmes and seminars with the aim to banish or, at least, reduce the fear of the ’otherness’ and avoid hostility towards people of different race, religion or nationality. During one of those seminars, I met my future husband who was then a doctoral candidate from India at Hamburg University.

Curiosity to learn about other cultures led many a German to foreign shores. On the other hand, foreigners were welcomed into Germany as students, guest workers or even refugees. Their increasing numbers and desire not to forgo their original identity has in recent years, however, led to clashes as the Indian concept of 'unity in diversity' has still remained rather alien to German thinking.