I read Kabir’s excellent review of the Leela book by Alice Albinia. However since it is easier for me to start new posts than write a new comment I’m going to take a slightly different tack.
How receptive should we be when Western authors want to write on the Subcontinent.
(1) William Dalyrymple is an excellent example of appropriation; he’s invented a few Indian ancestors (I’ve seen another white chap do that to run an Indian organisation) in order to become the preeminent Western historian on the Subcontinent.
(2) white authors benefit from white privilege at home (they glide the corridors of pr & power almost effortlessly) and from the desi/third world /coloured slavishness towards white people in the “Rest.” White privilege in the West is magnified a 100x over.
(2a) Uganda is a great example; when the Brits were administering it they were disliked. After they left they were almost worshipped and even if Uganda is a 99% black nation, the most elite neighbours (Kololo etc) is at least 30-50% white, Asian.
(3) there is no doubt Asian privilege vis a vis Black people but as in the law of large numbers; the number one spot can buy out the rest. Just as the US military is larger than the next 18 militaries combined so to is white privilege so much more effective than any type of racial privilege.
(4) I would hazard, in Britain at least, that a sensible white working class lad has as great a chance at success as a very well educated Asian & an elite Blake person. Success at Work isn’t about 9am – 5pm but actually 5pm – 9am.
(5) I have seen it time and time again when the Beeb wants to consult “local experts” they’ll consult the white English person who speaks the local language. It’s almost absurd but the privilege is so invisible and pervasive that’s it almost hard to deconstruct. Also Asians hate to come off as whiny whereas Black people come off as too pushy.. it’s a good cop bad cop combo but the deconstruction of privilege has barely started (elite restaurants, colleges etc barely represent the demographics outside, except when an effort is made at tokenism).
I do like Joe Scalzi’s definition of white male privilege. It’s like a video game where the default level is easy whereas for other people (minorities, women) it’s normal (white women, Asians) or hard (black people).
I have seen though that excessive privilege leads to decadence and breeds arrogance. Too much privilege is a bad thing but too little of it (where you can get thrown out of a Starbucks) is also harmful.
In principle I don’t want to read about my subcontinent from white authors, who can never the soul of South Asia and what it means to be desi. As E M Foster said one cannot glide effortlessly in both worlds.. I will never truly understand a WASP society because no matter how Waspy I become; I am not white, I don’t have white parents and my wife/children are not white.
Therefore It would be absurd for me to write a novel about a white family channelling Jesus and using the parables of the Holy Bible & Yahweh’s voice to construct a meta-narrative. It would in fact be a bit condescending..
That’s why a God of small things, A Suitable Boy remains the definitive icons of South Asian literature because they’re authors are brown like us. And us I do think Slumdog Millionaires, Hotel Marigold, & Lion are shit degrading films (apologies for the harsh language) which extol and fetishise brown poverty and are aimed at white audiences who want to feel good about their rape of the Subcontinent.
There is a schadenfreude in seeing poor brown and black people because the immediate connect is that it wasn’t there when we were ruling them. The power of the subconscious mind is orders of magnitude more than our hypocritical conscious selves. Just as we may decry colonialism we also abet it when we show poverty porn.
Are Bollywood and Lollywood really that bad that their output can’t transcend the cultural divide into the mainstream West?
I saw the Persian film, the Salesman, and it’s only because it consciously aped Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman was it able to get the Oscar.
Apologies for the vitriol but just sharing my feelings..