Wednesday, December 7, 2005
The myth of mystical India
OK, I'm always excited to see India things in Western media. But so, so often, the allusions are fetishizing a stereotype of the country that doesn't exist in reality or worse, spreading misinformation.
I could quibble about the recent Bollywood photoshoot on America's Next Top Model, but let's put that aside for now.
No, I want to highlight a Web site that normally, I adore -- Knitty, an online knitting magazine.
Witness Namaste, a pattern for a yoga-mat-carrying bag.
Now, the pattern seems nice enough. But is it really necessary to take a picture of the bag with a Chinese/Japanese (yes, I'm incredibly ignorant, please enlighten me) character? What were the editors thinking? "Ah, well, India, China, Japan -- they're all over there, yeah? I think they eat a lot of rice? Run it!" Senseless.
Furthermore, the site has chosen to run an introduction to the pattern:
"Namaste is the traditional greeting given at the end of each yoga practice and loosely translates as "the divine in me salutes the divine in you"."
Which, again, ignorance. I can't vouch for the validity or invalidity of this statement, but...don't they realize that "Namaste" is also a pretty generic term? It can be used for hello, goodbye, good evening -- really, a greeting or departing word that connotes respect that can be used anytime.
Women in leotards trying to attain some semblance of inner peace are not the only people who can use this phrase. It's a small point, but the littlest things matter.
When we try and translate India and present only the most superficial, jingoistic explanations, we're enabling the ignorance of people outside the subcontinent. People should be smart (logical?) enough to smell something fishy here, but it's always an editor's best interest to assume that her reader is a moron -- and clearly in this case, the editor is the moron.