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picturing south asian culture in english

As a seasoned cricket-watcher, I have become familiar with British, or rather English, perceptions of South Asia and its sportsmen. Cricket writers and broadcasters are forever waxing lyrical about the 'mystical elegance' of Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar, the 'sinister ball-tampering' of various Pakistani fast bowlers, the 'magical wristiness' of Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Murilitharan, and the 'feebleness' of the Bangladeshi national team. There is an element of truth in each of these depictions, but far more interesting is the way in which English pundits are prone to talk in terms of stereotypes and typecast individuals and teams according to nationality.

Because of my cricketing interests, and for other reasons, I was particularly interested in
Picturing South Asian Culture in English, edited by two academics at Edge Hill, Tasleem Shakur and Karen D'Souza. This book explores a fascinating and perhaps neglected topic - the portrayal of South Asia and South Asians in English culture. These terms need unpacking. 'South Asia and South Asians' means mainly India and Indians, but the remit of the book broadens out to cover all areas of the sub-continent. Likewise, 'English culture' denotes literature, film, television and popular culture in general.

The book has many merits: most notably, a helpful, scene-setting introduction and a clear, thematic structure. In a world in which national stereotyping is becoming more and more prevalent, this is a fascinating study, and helps us to understand how South Asian Culture has been interpreted, and represented, by English writers and film producers (there are key chapters on James Joyce,
The Far Pavilions, Heat and Dust, East is East, Bhaji on the Beach, and even The Simpsons). When Shakur and D'Souza recently visited the Cornerhouse cinema in Manchester to present a Sunday-lunchtime talk on the subject matter of their book, their ideas were well received and they provoked much discussion.
Peter Davies
Department of Humanities
University of Huddersfield

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