Monday, July 22, 2013

Sideways on a scooter: Life and love in India

By Miranda Kennedy
Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

I picked up this book for one reason. In my college textbook Communicating Effectively 10e (McGraw-Hill, 2012), I include boxes that are labeled "Consider This" and "Another Point of View." These boxes are designed to illustrate, add further value to, and even counter the ideas offered in the textbook, and they have proven to be, over many years now, popular features of my book. I am always looking for new student-friendly material to insert into these boxes for each new edition.

My quest was satisfied by Kennedy. I found an interesting description of how she had "to transform [herself] into a proper married lady" (page 23), and an explanation of middle-class Hindu weddings" (p. 197) that more than fulfilled my expectations. It was just these specific, detailed narratives that I was looking for. If you are seeking various contrasts between the Indian and American cultures, this book is a great place to begin.

Remember as you read this book that Kennedy is a reporter. She is not a trained historian, a well-honed intercultural specialist, a cultural anthropologist, or a person of sophisticated educational credentials. What she has, and this is important to understand, is a background of writing "extensively about women, caste, and globalization in India" (back flyleaf). She is a journalist, and she is a fine writer.

Sideways on a scooter offers a down-to-earth, pedestrian, person-of-the-streets, personal point-of-view. There are a few "selected" books in her "suggested reading" list, but she has no footnotes nor any index either. This is not a well-researched, academic examination. She is just describing some of her observations, adventures, and experiences. If you are looking for an enjoyable read while learning something (albeit superficial) about Indian culture, once again, this is a good place to start. She is entertaining.

In addition to Indian attitudes toward homosexuality (it is a criminal act there), the entire dating, husband-hunting, arranged marriage, and even Indian attitudes toward sex is explored by Kennedy. She handles all of this with aplomb. Consider, for example, the joke she offers on page 138:: "How do you tell the difference between a good Indian marriage and a bad one? The cynical punch line to that joke is that you can’t: Both are grim tests of endurance."

Another aspect of the book is Kennedy’s own relationships with others. Her conclusion, when it was clear her relationship with Benjamin was deteriorating, was that she "was too itinerant, independent, and cold to hold down a relationship with anyone at all" (p. 188).

Her own reflections on her life were interesting: "And the evidence was mounting that my current lifestyle—tromping around Asia, covering conflicts and having affairs—was not sustainable" (p. 189). Watching Kennedy grow up was certainly an integral portion of some parts of this book: ". . . my friends in New York were growing up, too. Each time I went back, I’d half expect everything to be the same as I’d left it, and would inevitably be pisqued to discover that my friends now had priorities other than downing weeknight margaritas at our favorite Mexican bar in Brooklyn and making dinner of the free chips" (p. 189).

Kennedy’s treatment of the ways that Indians handle sex, sexual issues, discussions of sex, and sexy clothing (pp. 243-251) did not come as a surprise for me since I lived in Pakistan (now Bangledesh) for a year and traveled throughout India, Kashmir, and Napal during the month of Ramadan. Their ideas are backward, archaic, and incredibly naive.

Take this book for what it is, a personal narrative about Miranda Kennedy and her relationships with others, her accommodation of Indian culture and its various expectations, and her observations about all that occurs around her while living in India for five years.






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