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Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Abhay Kumar's email arrived this afternoon with an enormous attachment: his new book. Titled River Valley to Silicon Valley, it appears to be a typical migrant success story, the kind of rags-to-riches story that I read yesterday in a recent Good Weekend (9 June). That article, about Iranian-American writer Khaled Hosseini, describes him as "a middle-class doctor" (which he is). Journalist Mark Coultan also notes the Hosseini family's "classic migrant successs story": all five children of the first-generation parents become professionals.

I also have on my computer the story my father wrote, beginning in 2000, of his rise from penury in the 1930s, his father a migrant from Portuguese East Africa, to success in the field of engineering. So when Kumar's email arrived I was less than excited.

The text itself, at least the introduction, which is about 700 words long, manages to cram every stereotypical observation available into its short, and not sweet, extent.

"India is an enigma wrapped in several layers," it starts. Along with a multitide of infelicitous grammatical constructions, it keeps on in this vein. From "a slow growing backward British colony" to "a successful and modern secular democracy". Puhleeze.

He neglects to mention that it was due to British endeavour that all this is due. Indians, and most people from countries that once were colonies, always feel resentment about their earlier subjugation. But the British were accidental rulers, guided primarily by the demands of greed and the geopolitical realities of the era in which their ascendancy developed from the operation of trading stations to hegemony.

Without the British there would be no India today. Certainly not a secular state with a thriving economy. And without English as the only national language, Indians would not be as successful as they are.

"Outsiders often think these changes to be superficial as millions of Indians still live below the poverty line; almost half of its children grow up malnourished," he continues. Without wanting to be a spoil-sport, I must say that this sort of destroys his claims of India as a "successful and modern secular democracy".

A story in a broadsheet recently described the billions a single entrepreneur was spending on a palatial home in Mumbai while just nearby poor citizens live in a slum that dwarfs in its spread, many Western cities.

I'm sorry, Abhay, but your wooden prose and outdated opinions just don't entice me to read chapter one.