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November 23, 2007 / lazybug

Just Read: The Indians – Portrait of a People

I have finished reading Sudhir Kakar‘s The Indians – Portrait of a People. This book tries to capture the essence of the Indian psyche. What makes us Indians what we are. Of course, the first thought that pops up is how can you do that in one book? This country is too vast and too complex for that. And this he admits in the Introduction itself when he says:

How can anyone generalise about a country of a billion people–Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains–speaking fourteen major languages and with pronounced differences? How can one postulate anything in common between a people divided not only by social class but also by India’s signature system of caste, and with an ethnic diversity characteristic more of past empires than of modern nations?

And yet, he, along with his wife and co-author Katharina Kakar, manages to pin point the vital characteristics that are woven together to form the Indian identity. This identity is something that is common to every Indian irrespective of where he / she lives. Just like it would be in the case of a person from Africa, Japan or China. He is an African or a Japanese or a Chinese first, everything else follows. “The Indian-ness”, he says, ” is about similarities produced by the overreaching, Indic, pre-eminently Hindu civilization that has contributed the lion’s share to what we would call the ‘cultural gene pool’ of India’s people.”

The Indians - Portrait of a PeopleIf I have, to (gulp!) put his thoughts in my words, I’d say we are Bhel Puri of sorts. The main ingredients being Religion, History and Hindu culture patterns.

The Indian-ness is something that is so woven into our minds that we don’t even need to learn it. We imbibe it in ourselves as we grow up. It’s so ubiquitous, that very few of us fail to recognise this all important characteristic. We are just too involved in our day-to-day chores. Take for example, the existence of Hierarchies in our lives. They are everywhere. At our workplaces, families, schools and even in informal gatherings. We want to know where we stand in comparison to the other person(s). Else we feel that something is missing. Not that we use this as a yard stick to measure our ‘performance’. But somehow, we are more comfortable when we know where we stand.

Another important part of our lives is the ‘family name’. What does your father do? This is perhaps the most important question that Indians ask.

Sudhir Kakar covers all this and many more ingredients in this book. I enjoyed reading it.

Image sourced from here.



Leave a Comment
  1. Chittaranjan / Nov 25 2007 8:07 pm

    Stoopid Spammers!!!! Same Comment in many of moi posts 👿

    OT: I bought a new one today: The Templar Legacy 😛

  2. Liju Philip / Nov 26 2007 1:50 am

    Same spam in my blog too. I wish, i could stick up some asbestos up the spammer’s ass. I flagged the spam and now akismet blocks it.

    Btw, anyone read “The Argumentative Indian – Amartya Sen”?

    A few more questions Indians love to ask are “are you married?”, “how many kids?” 😉

  3. lazybug / Nov 26 2007 5:35 am

    Deleted the spam!

    @Ycee: When will you get beyond those novels and detective books?

    @ Liju: I heard that Sen’s book is a good read. Will pick it up someday.

  4. Chittaranjan / Nov 26 2007 1:25 pm

    👿 This is an attempt at ‘moving on’ from ACD or AC!

  5. lazybug / Nov 26 2007 1:35 pm

    Stop attempting and move on!

  6. Chittaranjan / Nov 26 2007 1:39 pm

    Only after I’ve finished reading will I move on re!

    P.S: That comment of mine above was #6666 😛

  7. Sonali / Jan 20 2008 6:44 pm

    Thanks for your piece. I found it online after hearing about ‘Portrait of a People.’ I recently found Sudhir Kakar’s work highlighted in a spring edition of the magazine ‘Little India’ published out of New York. I live in Portland, Oregon (in the States), and frequently have had deep discussions with my first-generation Indian friends born here (like myself) who struggle with this issue of possessing various cultural identities.
    Thanks for your thoughts… I will make sure my dear friends check this book out.

  8. lazybug / Jan 21 2008 9:06 am

    Thank you for the kind words, Sonali.

  9. chickensaag / Aug 15 2008 7:20 pm

    You guys have too many “baggages”

  10. lazybug / Aug 16 2008 9:18 am

    Err, thank you Chickensaag, we prefer it that way.

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