My Love-Hate Relationship with India

Irina Pino

Bollywood dance show in Bristol.  Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — The Taj Mahal was a love offering made by the Muslim emperor Shah Jahan to Mumtaz Mahal, his favorite wife, who died during childbirth. The imposing splendor of this palace attests to the endurance of the emperor’s feelings.

George Harrison was captivated by a book about reincarnation. Later, he met the Yogi Maharishi Mahesh and musician Ravi Shankar. The English musician became incurably enamored of that land, and these influences led him to convert to Hinduism and to regularly practice the mantra chant. He even went on to produce the single Hare Krishna Mantra, performed by worshippers from the London temple of Radha Krishna. Harrison learned to play the sitar and practiced meditation as a form of spiritual elevation, helping others and seeing his love requited in these enterprises.

As for me, the peculiar sound of Indian music, the country’s dance traditions, the texture and colors of its fabrics, the sari (a garment worn by women), the delicacy of its pottery, these are the beautiful things I like about the country.

I also love that great pacifist, Mahatma Gandhi, who said that humanity could only rid itself of violence through non-violence, and the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote: “How happy you are, child, sitting on the dust, amusing yourself all morning with a broken twig!”

Many friends have told me about Indian food, about their exotic dishes and use of spices, India’s history and its gods, the Kama Sutra, etc. However, there is something ugly in India’s culture, a dark side to India that I abhor: its caste system, based on a religious system, which is perpetuated down the generations, particularly in rural areas, a system that subjugates many human beings and denies them all manner of opportunities for social development, a form of power that persists.

Bollywood films seem vacuous to me. It is a film industry for the masses. The singing, the music, the dancing and the love triangles make up a kind of empty amalgam for those who content themselves with such clichés.

The terrible and denigrating aspects of Indian society are portrayed by independent artists who dare challenge this entertainment industry. A case in point is director Deppa Mehta and her tetralogy Earth, Fire, Water and Sky, which shows us the true, dark zones of Indian society, the rape and murder of women, male chauvinism and the inequality among genders.

6 thoughts on “My Love-Hate Relationship with India

  • Yes I have loved this movie.

  • Another great and “not so Bollywood” file is Slumdog Millionaire, which won quite a few awards, including 10 Academy Awards, 4 Golden Globes and others.

  • I disagree. Irina posts belongs to the “diaries” category. Irina has a right to express her perceptions and I find interesting to read her comments.

  • I do not like the caste system in India either. The idea that an individual is trapped in a social situation from birth displeases me deeply.

    But I guess for people who were raised in an egalitarian ideology, as Irina in Cuba, it must be even more unbearable! 😉

  • Superfluous, sensationalist, condescending and w/o any point.

  • Do you have opportunities in Havana to go deeper into Indian culture, especially through their films? In my youth I was profoundly influenced by the films of Satyajit Ray, especially his “Apu Trilogy.” Have these been shown on any of the late-night film programs over Havana television? or perhaps at a cinema society (like the Merry-Go-Round Cinematheque in Miami, in which I participated in the early- and mid-70’s)? Perhaps the vaults of I.C.A.I.C. contain some copies).
    Another film, this time about India by the French director Louis Malle, was the 363-minute (!) 1969 documentary, “Phantom India, ” which I saw over several nights at the Central Square Cinema in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the early 1970’s; At the time the Indian government didn’t like it because it showed too much poverty and underdevelopment. (In fact, they shut down the B.B.C’s Indian Bureau when the B.B.C. refused to stop showing it! Earlier, the Indian government tried to withdraw funding for Ray’s “Apu Trilogy” unless it had a “happy ending!”) For any senstive viewer, however, the film was an utterly hypnotic experience. Although Malle and his film crew may have had a plan, they quickly abandoned it and surrendered themselves to the spectacular sights, sounds and smells of India. All of this is available (much in episodes, snippets, bits and pieces) on YouTube, but of course you have to have internet access, and at high speeds, otherwise you’d be glued to your screen for much longer than 363 minutes!

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