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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why Indians Read and Write

So I decided to kind of work my way through each of my possible topics here. I really would like to narrow it down so I can better focus my research. Reading a bunch of novels and background stuff is great for the trip, but it doesn't do much for my project.

In studying what Indians read and write, I want to look at where literature is in India today. When I have lived in India, I have never really ever noticed anyone reading anything other than a newspaper. Most homes I have visited had textbooks and possibly some religious books, but not always. As far as I could tell and from the few people I asked in passing, it really seemed like most Indians did not do much reading for pleasure or self-motivated instruction. Granted, I do not have many rich friends in India. Maybe they are the ones who read more. There are many book stores, both legitimate as well as black market. Supposedly in a part of Hyderabad there is a book sale every Sunday. There are books, I just cannot seem to find the readers. Or the writers for that matter.

Another aspect that I am interested is in how Indian literature in English relates to post-colonial literature. I have been doing some background reading into the state of post-colonial literature and how it works. From here in the West, there is not much exposure to Indian literature, and so they fit nicely into the paradigm of post-colonialism. However, there are hints in some things I have read, and in my assessment of Indian culture that there is more to Indian literature than just trying to navigate out of a colonized mindset. I want to go see what is on the ground in India. What are they writing and reading thematically? How often is the influence of the British mentioned? The robustness of Indian culture that is independent in so many ways to the West suggests that perhaps Indian literature is also more independent than the West gives it credit for.

In India with this project idea I would get to know people, interview them about what they read, what books and authors they are familiar with, how they feel about Western and Indian literature. I would visit book stores and publishing houses to see what trends are happening, where the publishing market is going, where the authors are coming from, and what their goals are. I would find whatever authors are available and see if I can meet with them about their writing, why they write, and who they are writing for, and also what they hope to accomplish by writing. I would also meet with university professors, officials, and k-12 (well, the Indian equivalent, since it isn't quite the same, I should post about that actually) teachers and administrators about what they teach in the classroom and how they feel about what Indian students should be learning.

I guess the ultimate goal of this would be a kind of ethnography of reading (thank you Ashley giving me the label). I want to get a snapshot of reading in India. This would orient me to where India is in the world of literature. Maybe they should still be babied in post-colonialism. But maybe there is enough there and enough independence that it is essentially bigoted to lump them in with every other colony from anywhere in the world. I think a big part of this is, while post-colonial scholars do note that countries like Canada and the United States are colonies themselves, there is definitely a different tone to the United States' literature's label as "post-colonial" and India's literature's label as "post-colonial." I use these terms a lot, but I think I need to stop and define the difference between post-colonial and "post-colonial," if there is a difference even.

Some concerns: The more I think about this topic the more I feel crushed under its size. It is a simultaneous feeling of it crushing me under its weight as well as the feeling of trying to catch fog in a jar. It just is ephemeral and floats away and spreads and I cannot really grasp it. I feel like this could actually be like five different projects focusing on each of these. I feel I could probably combine some of these ideas, but I worry about it being too broad and general to really mean anything. The label of ethnography also makes me nervous. To me an ethnography is something huge that takes place over at least eight months to a decade that involves a ton of research and an eventual big report or book. I understand that is not the expectation of a field study, but I worry that what I can accomplish in three months will be too small. Everyone is important and part of the data, but knowing what a few people think that is not really conclusive across a culture in any way is kind of wasteful to me. The experience regardless will be good, but I do not want to start a project I feel is futile from the start. I am not an anthropology major, so I don't know that having a failure experience with ethnography exactly fits in with what I want to do with my life. Also I do not know that it will in any way help the discussion of literature in India, which is part of what I want to accomplish. I think my primary opposition to this idea is that I really do not feel capable at all at conducting an ethnography. I do not know that I have the skill set to do this. I do not know if I can reign in the topic enough to make it both viable and interesting to me. But this idea is what brought me to a field study in the first place, and it is one of the most legitimate reasons to actual visit the country.

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