Saturday, May 20, 2006

I'm not so sure about that...

In the May 31, 2006, issue of Delhi City Limits, Hirsh Sawhney writes:

"Why move to Delhi from abroad? firangis -- NGO workers, diplomats, corporates, NRIs, zealots, spiritualists and writers -- come because we can impose ourselves on the Capital, much like our colonial predecessors. Our presence here is transient, and our integration tenuous. We live out fantasies of philanthropy, celebrity or religion while enjoying servants, cheap rent and obsequiousness. This type of behaviour wouldn't be tolerated in London or New York" ("Cheap Thrills," p. 7)

I'm not sure if I could disagree any more with Sawhney's assessment.

One: I am of the mind that you can't really generalize about anything, so immediately I am wary of the claims. I don't understand why this couldn't have been written as a narrative, without pulling me and hundreds of other individuals into it.

Two: Not all of us plan on being transient. Not all of us want to avoid integrating. Some of us have moved here because...well, because we're not seeking anything. I for one aim only to absorb what is going on around me. To live as a person in Delhi lives (which, admittedly, is difficult because I make more than 98% of people in the city and I live in a posh flat and have an air conditioner and can afford to eat out frequently, etc.). But, nonetheless, I am trying my best to be respectful, to fit in while, simultaneously, consciously attempting to avoid an unnecessary, artificial imposition of my Americanness upon an environment that is not my own.

Three: While you may have gotten me on the cheap rent part...really, not everyone likes having servants. S and I employ a woman to wash our clothes, as we can't afford a washer/dryer, but it's a strained relationship. I, fundamentally, am uncomfortable with a strange woman touching my soiled underthings. And I think most Americans -- particularly those who have any recollection of, say, U.S. (and world) history pre-1960s -- are more than a little uncomfortable with the division between servant and served, employment and exploitation.

Four: New York wouldn't accomodate transients? The city demands everyone to be a native? Have you ever BEEN to New York? Read a book about New York? Heard of Ellis Island?

Five: Colonial predecessors? Do you really want to go there?


hs said...


thanks for writing about this piece and your feedback... you’re completely right. generalizations are always inadequate. with only 500 words allotted to me, it was impossible to do a better job on issues that i feel strongly about.

i can totally empathize with your discomfort with things like domestic labor. in fact, it's seemingly unavoidable relationships and dynamics like these that caused me to write some of those facetious and deliberately provocative words at the end of the piece...

like you, i personally enjoy my life in delhi and do my best to integrate into the city. although it's not necessarily "our fault", i do think there are some inherently negative things about being a foreigner in delhi -- or about being a wealthy person there for that matter. at the same time, for me, aknowledging these dark sides and scrutinizing my relationship to them is the first step in working against them...

to answer some of your questions, my father immigrated to new york in 1959, and i was born and raised outside of the city... while i have read a book or two on nyc, i've never made it out to ellis island...


Never Just An Ordinary Girl said...

Cool! Hey, glad to see you here. I totally understand the constraints of a word count, etc. I've just been frustrated of late because the newspapers and magazines I've been reading lately have seemed somewhat fixated upon foreigners "invading" (see: HT's Brunch from two weeks ago) Delhi.

I suppose I'm a little defensive, because one tends to dislike the things that they see as their worst traits. I'm forever a bit afraid that the people I work with, or the people I walk past on the street every day, think I'm someone who's come here only to wring every possible benefit out of the city before fleeing, leaving nothing of worth behind.

That said...I'm really glad you responded here, and I wish you all the best.