29 July 2012


I am not much of a cook; in fact, the culinary achievement of which I am most obscenely proud does not happen, really, to be particularly impressive. It was Rogan josh, made not from natural ingredients but from a lone sachet of curry paste I had rescued from a random grocery aisle. This, of course, remained unbeknownst to my guests—a lovely South African couple who have since moved to Dublin—until after dinner, by which time the kind compliments and several bottles of wine had relaxed me well enough to finally confess to my cheating ways. 

I share this only because lately I have once again been pretending to know Indian stuff—all sorts of it, and not just food. First I read Bharati Mukherjee's Miss New India, with its portrait of a small-town girl drawn toward the promise of increasingly metropolitan Bangalore. This came after (but not shortly after) my having read Upamanyu Chatterjee's English, August and Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger. Then I watched John Madden's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which you probably already know is infinitely more English than Indian. (I did laugh out loud at Penelope Wilton giving new meaning to BLT, and at Dame Maggie Smith attempting to smuggle Branston pickles to sustain herself throughout her stay in Jaipur.) The next night, wondering if someone else's India could be as light-hearted and colorful as Mr. Madden's, I downloaded Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, which I think is an okay film, expectedly eccentric, but not quite as good as I'd hoped it would be, although of course I am under no authority to speak of films, and even less qualified to speak of India. Unlike in books, I can't say I have had an introduction to any sort of homegrown talent in film (Slumdog Millionaire is only slightly less English than Marigold), but I guess what intrigued me the most about both Marigold and Darjeeling was not how authentic both films were supposed to be, but how familiar they looked, at least to me, with their tales of the comedies and sorrows of migrant Westerners in the East. This is to say that if Mr. Madden's film is about the English, and Mr. Anderson's about the Americans, then both may as well have been about the English and the Americans in the Philippines.

Even if I don't recommend either, there is a golden one-liner in each of the films. "We haven't located us yet," blurts out a character in The Darjeeling Limited; meanwhile, in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Ms. Wilton had the fortune of being given the line, "When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you." You've got to watch out for it!

Up next for me: Jerry Pinto's Em and the Big Hoom, recommended by an Indian friend whom I absolutely trust knows her stuff. I shall take notes as usual and write out what I think of the book. But first I have to find it.

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