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review of
picturing south asian culture in english

I have always liked reading anything connected to India. This book certainly provided me with a rich variety. There are examples of personal connections (eg. the impact a professor had on his PhD student) and more thorough academic research (eg. the role of the historical novel in the formation of cultural images) from the perspective of acquisition of personal knowledge of south Asia.

It is a book ideal for dipping in and out of, or simply using as a reference. For me it brought to mind the great texts relating to Indian culture such as my favourites by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Anita Desai. I agree about the interpretation of the texts into films - something of the real India does get lost, but I also remember my hunger, growing up in Britain, for the opportunity to seeanything with India in it. I enjoyed debating in my head the theories and propositions produced by the authors of the various articles in this book, even when I did not agree with them. For me, enjoyment was gained by having the time to reflect and leaving the book when it made me annoyed. At other times I was unable to put it down.

The book provides a fascinating historical perspective as it gives an insight into south Asian culture from the days of the Raj right through to modern times. I enjoyed seeing characters such as Apu from The Simpsons being discussed side-by-side with classics such as Heat and Dust, and modern productions, such as Bhajis on the Beach and East is East. Analysis was done both by Asians and non-Asians on media as diverse as cartoons, fiction and visual cinema. There was depth, such as in the introspective exploration of M. M. Kaye's novel The Far Pavilions in forming the personal knowledge of Sylvia Woodhead. The author acknowledges how isolated she was, growing up in England, to the contrasting impact of globalisation on the experience of people living in the East. The book is organised into sections which do not shy away from discussing Colonialism and the Raj; Communicating Identity; and the Critique of Culture. In summary, the book reminded me of going into a traditional sweetshop. I felt that I came out with a bag of multicoloured favourite sweets as well as buying some that I simply liked the look of, but could try out in my own time. It is a book that has sat on my coffee table, and that many people have flicked through and then I have found reading a particular chapter.
Rosemin Najmudin manages 'Community Partnerships', a project addressing race and equality based in Worcestershire

Review from The Development Education Journal Volume 11 Number 1 2004

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