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The Priest or the Smartphone? #WhichIndia

Congratulations Shastri! He just won $100 as part of our microscholarship program. Learn more about this program and read his winning essay.

Shastri Akella from India studying at the University of Massachusetts is our third microscholarship winner this spring. We award $100 micorscholarships to students who write short essays answering questions we ask.

For this microscholarship, the topic was What do you feel is the biggest misconception about your home country? 

We still have more microscholarships to award!

Click here to apply!

Read Shastri’s winning essay below:

International perceptions about India, it is often said, are stuck in a time warp. Media, films and fiction tend to perpetuate an India which, to quote Mark Twain, is a land of saints and snake charmer. Coldplay’s latest video came under sharp criticism for such a portrayal of India—it is antiquated, the critics claimed. It perpetuates stereotypes, said my friends on Facebook.

And yet, I find myself resisting this counter-culture, one in which young Indians and a socially-conscious media shun this version of India.

I once took a poetry workshop in which I rewrote Indian myths from new points-of-view: from the perspective of a demon, say, or a minor character. “Why do all your poems have Indians who are priests or princes,” asked an incredulous classmate, “Why does everyone sit on the floor and eat? Why not show us the real India where people go to offices and wear shirts and trousers and stand around a coffee vending machine, checking their smartphones?” In response I told him that whenever I travel back to India, my mother and I still sit on the floor and eat. I told him that a priest comes home every November, even now, to perform a ritual in the name of the Hindu god Siva. The priest and the ritual of eating on the floor, I asserted, are very much real, and not extinguished threads that survive only in the realm of fable. “Just as celebrating Christmas and eating turkey is as real to you as checking your smartphone or buying a latte,” I said.

When we acknowledge only a digital, modern India, the mistake we make is the same as the mistake made by those who only talk about a mythic India: we acknowledge one kind of temporal existence and ignore the other. Because fact is—as anyone who has lived in the country will readily acknowledge—that the modern and the old coexist. To call it the old, in fact, would be wrong. The tradition or the idea might be old, but it is expressed in an iteration that is entirely contemporary and that thrives and talks to its twenty-first century audience. Old goddess hymns are remixed to the tunes of latest Bollywood songs and played every October during the Durga festival: this fact, I think, is an excellent metaphor for the simultaneous existence of ways of life that began at different points in time and that are all contemporary—the smartphone is as contemporary as the priest.

My country’s diversity has been its poster face in academic circles as well as in touristic circuits. This notion stems from its plethora of languages, traditions, and people, and it is entirely accurate. What I would like is for us to acknowledge that this diversity also stems from a plethora of times. We use Whirlpool washing machines to make lassi at weddings and when there is a naming ceremony for a child in the family, we Instagram pictures of the moment when the mother writes the baby’s name in a plate full of rice grains. The response to the question “which India” is not complicated so long as we agree that it is impossible to box the country in a single time frame.

2016_Shastri_Akella_js_MG_9977.tifShastri Akella

Home Country: India

University of Massachusetts

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