Old Jewel, New Crown


Credit: Reason Magazine

Pictured here is the jacket of The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy (inset), the prime literary exhibit of what has been called "Indo Chic." Interest in India extends from high culture (music, film, art, and fiction) to low (body painting).

This is the West's third round of such fascination. Kipling's India was a piece of colonial exotica; the India of The Beatles, out of Herman Hesse, was a mystic cartoon. This round also displays exoticism, but whether Western interest is welcomed or derided depends on one's view of cultural synthesis.

"India is now the jewel in a new U.S.-centered crown whose key elements are capital, leisure, and high technology," sniffed University of Chicago anthropologist Arjun Appadurai in The New York Times. Appadurai may not like it, but he has the pieces right. Since it moved toward a market economy and developed an exploding middle class, India's voice–especially, as with Roy's novel, when it speaks English–is increasingly becoming part of international culture. Much the same thing happened in postwar Japan.

Meanwhile, in India, the middle class is trying Kellogg's Basmati Flakes. A "transnational capitalist class," sneers the academic left–but we'll see if they enjoy their breakfast.