India: The Seductive and Seduced "Other" of German Orientalism

India: The Seductive and Seduced "Other" of German Orientalism

India: The Seductive and Seduced "Other" of German Orientalism

India: The Seductive and Seduced "Other" of German Orientalism

Synopsis

Challenges the German's claim to an encounter with India projected on a spiritual plane of communion between "kindred spirits" and shows that such supposedly apolitical encounters are really strategies of domination.

Excerpt

The year is 1965. I am standing in line at the Ausländeramt. When I finally enter the office, what greets me is the sight of rather shiny shoe-soles—the face of the bureaucrat at the desk is vaguely visible behind them. I hear a bored voice asking for my papers, using the pidgin German that is reserved for foreign workers. As a student studying German literature at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, my German is fluent. I request him to show his face, whereupon he leaps up and apologizes profusely for not having done so earlier. Much more interesting is his explanation for this inexcusable behavior: “If I had known—I thought you were just one of them, you know what I mean.” I insist on being taken to see his supervisor. He stammers some more apologies on the way and tries to explain the situation to the supervisor. “Oh yes, you are from India!” says the latter. “Beautiful country, I’ve heard. They were once a highly civilized people, the Indians. I read somewhere about Indo-Aryan and so on—we have a common tradition. You will definitely wish to remain here. the terrible poverty there, superstition, widow-burning, child marriages” (emphases added). the deftness with which these “facts” are laid down renders me speechless. in recounting this incident later to fellow students, I remember the reference to “Indo-Aryan” and wonder how widespread this still is, twenty years after World War II. Other incidents come to mind, especially one where a friend comments: “I would like to become as brown as you, not darker.”

In his article The Necessity of Myth, Mark Schorer comments, “Myths are the instruments by which we continually struggle to make our experience intelligible . . .

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