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Sounds Smells and Voices

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

By Dilip D'Souza
Harper Collins, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 329, Rs. 399.00


There are not many Indian authors who had the courage and confidence to write about the United States of America despite the fact that many young and not-so-young men, and young and no-so-young women in post-Independent Indiaespecially from the 1950s and 1960s onwardshave literally grown up loving American popular fiction, popular music and popular cinema (Hollywood). When satellite television came in the 1990s, the America-hungry folk in our cities just grabbed every bit of the jaded soap operas like The Bold And The Beautiful and Santa Barbara. In the last few years, a much younger generation got hooked on to Baywatch, Friends and even Ally McBeal. It was in many ways a passive absorption of everything American. This did not however find expression in books, essays, stories from the Indian side. From Bharati Mukherjee to Jhumpa Lahiri, the stories were mostly about Indians settled over there. The only exception but in the non-fiction genre was Allan Sealys From Yukon To Yucatan, a travelogue from the northernmost point of the north American landmass to its southernmost tip. Sealy set out to break the silence and barrier of an Indian writing knowingly about the land, but he admitted that the book did not sell in India or in the US. Sealys however was a literary undertaking and perhaps he did not desire it to be a popular work. Dilip DSouzas attempt to write on the US is in the popular, journalistic mode is both interesting and refreshing. Roadrunner is indeed a travelogue but an intimate one, where places, sounds, smells, people, voices come alive. DSouzas writing does not have a serious and even tone. He is in turn enthusiastic, nave, banal, yes banal, sentimental, serious, critical, provocative. It can be said that he would not have been able to achieve lyrical peaks which he does at some points if he was afraid to touch the bathetic lows. The book starts off an irritating note, of an outsider who has too much of knowledge of an insider and who brazenly exhibits it as well. But the reader will have to persist through these irritating moments before he or she reaches the finer and event finest moments of the narrative. He travels to smaller towns, disaster spots, big cities as well and collects the voices, sets down his impressions. What he has to say are not always well thought out. He is aiming more ...

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