Days of our Lives!

September 20, 2012

Book Review: Holy Cow! – Sarah Macdonald

Filed under: Books,Travels — Santhosh @ 10:50 PM
Book: Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure
Author: Sarah Macdonald
Genre: Travel, Religion

The first third of the book is fantastical poverty porn and reads like Borat attends Ripley’s! There are lepers begging at the airport, ash-smeared naked aghoris at traffic signals in central Delhi, earthquakes that claimed hundreds and yet ‘hardly is in the news’ because it’s common in India, Apollo is ‘the only good hospital in New Delhi’ but is ‘half a city away’ and has a ‘For Poor People’ special entrance, her boyfriend has to stay with her in her hospital room since rapes are very common in Indian hospitals, hijackings, dead cows, dowry deaths, female infanticide, child marriage, girls not allowed into schools, vomit, urination, pollution, population, brown skin, phlegm, crowds, beggars, astrologers, green goo, paan, etc. Her “you know what, I am in a strange foreign land where everything is strange, so up your’s” narrative is one where anything strange (and only strange) that may have happened is mentioned (a model shot dead in an illegal bar, a superstar hitting his actress girlfriend, a monkey causing panic in Delhi, etc). Crass, cheap, voyeuristic, patronising, and just plain fantasy.

The rest of the book, though better in terms of content, still suffers from her over-the-top recital. Every hotel she checks into is filthy and without water or power, trains and flights always seem like crashing; all Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Christians she meets seem to be unhappy with India and either want a separate state or join Pakistan or China. Indians are very shy about public displays of affection, the parental bond is very strong, social mores are very critical, the traditions are strange, there are festivals of colours and lights, wedding rituals and last rites, all of which seem very eccentric and queer. It’s called a different culture, goddammit.

As mentioned, the book does become better in terms of content once she starts actually living in India, as she transforms from tourist to resident, and as she starts trying to experience and understand the religions, the spirituality and the people. The hyper voiced news reporting morphs into some decent long-form narrative journalism. She visits, experiences, lives with and learns about Vipassana in Dharamsala, Sikhism in Amritsar, Islam in Kashmir, Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, Buddhism in Dharamsala, Judaism with Israeli backpackers, Zoroastrianism with Parsis in Bombay, “Amma” Mata Amritanandamayi, Sathya Sai Baba, Our Lady of Velankanni, Mother ashram in Pondicherry, Sufism in Pakistan and some Jainism. She learns from Buddhism about controlling the mind, from Hinduism about respecting other paths, from Islam about surrender, from Jainism to make peace in all aspects of life, and from Sikhism about the importance of spiritual strength.

Sarah Macdonald does end the book with the expectedly patronising lines on how much she has changed as a person, how she’s realised how much privileged she is, how much she’s learnt and irrespective of how much exasperating India is, she feels a force pulling her and somehow India feels like home for the soul. However cynical that may make one feel, one does get the feeling that she’s really had a life changing transformative experience and the changing narrative of the book is a reflection of how she’s actually growing as a person over the course of the book. And for just that, she gets an extra star.

My Rating: 3/5


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: