India Uninterrupted: Now through the Lens of Then is a collection of essays which aims to immerse the readers in snippets of Indian reality and people’s lives and thoughts, along with some pertinent historical and socio-cultural perspectives. The main objective is to generate, sustain or stimulate the readers’ interest towards India without sensationalizing and exoticizing it and to inspire further study and exploration. At the same time this is difficult, because India is unique in so many ways. My goal is to demonstrate the idiosyncratic cultural and intellectual flow of India where almost nothing is completely rejected or discarded and lost, where every new concept or practice enters this uninterrupted flow and enriches it in such a way that what we see now is directly rooted in what was then.
The essays are based on the encounters I had during my frequent visits to India. The unique perspective it offers stems from the fact that before I went to India I had been involved in the study of Indian languages and cultures for 14 years. When I traveled there, I related what I observed around me with what I knew academically and thus I started connecting the dots. I made numerous trips to India between 1997 and 2013 on different occasions – educational programs, conferences, workshops, projects or research, which allowed me to meet with a large variety of people in terms of age, occupation, social status, gender, beliefs, language and region. I met some people once by chance and for a short time, others I had a chance to visit again and there are those with whom I developed long-lasting friendships. I made it a point during each trip to video record some interviews in Hindi in order to expose my language and literature students to the wide range of cultural perspectives, practices and speech styles. This effort has given me a chance myself to become more aware and appreciative of the immense diversity of India which can only compare to that of Europe.
After coming back from my trips, my students and friends would expect me to recount my experiences at length and details, with questions, such as “Why?”, “How come?”, “What is the reason?” “Then?” and “Where can I read more about this?”. Then, to preserve my observations as fresh as possible, I started to write journal entries and thus, the memories gradually turned into more elaborate narrations. First, I published them in a book in Bulgaria in 2008 and now they have become the basis of the current collection in English. It took me a few years to give it a structure and to develop the essays with basic references while keeping in mind my students at New York University. Among them some have academic reasons to study Hindi or Indian culture and others with an Indian descent have personal goals linked to their family background and the formation of their identity. Many have already traveled to India, but their experience has been either as tourists, hence through a polished commercial glass, or as guests, hence sheltered and controlled by their hosts or relatives. Therefore, they usually lack spontaneous contact with the wide range of individuals I intentionally seek to interact with.
I have included in each chapter of the book one or more voices of people I had communicated with, background information about the place we met, a particular set of socio-cultural issues relevant to the speakers’ lives, and useful primary and academic resources when needed. This is not a travel book and my goal is not to provide a comprehensive description of the places I visited. Neither is it purely academic, since it has a predominantly impressionistic style. Thus hopefully it will serve as a tool towards the development of cultural sensitivities and the expansion of horizons.
I decided to upload all the chapters in an e-format, which would allow me to expand and update them, rather than putting in time to publish them in a book. By the time it comes out, India with its pace of change and development would make it outdated very soon. The e-format allows me also the freedom to use as many images, as I consider useful and relevant. The names of the people I introduce and the photos in the essays are not their real names and real portraits, but the stories are real. I have used photos from my own collection gathered during my trips and from two more collections.
I am grateful to my friends Dinesh Shenoy and Himanshu Joshi for letting me use their photos and I have explicitly noted their names. Also thank you to Zaara for letting me use her art. Thanks to Alexandra and Tahira for editing the essays.