The Upside-Down Tree: India's Changing Culture

The Upside-Down Tree: India's Changing Culture

The Upside-Down Tree: India's Changing Culture

The Upside-Down Tree: India's Changing Culture

Excerpt

Uttar Pradesh (UP), in northern India, may be the place economist Kenneth Galbraith was thinking about when he called India a “functioning anarchy.” Mentioning Uttar Pradesh may elicit a laugh; it is what one Indian friend once called a “loser state.” Known as a home of deep poverty, incurable corruption and sticky social problems, UP is not the India that now appears regularly in The New York Times and Newsweek. This is the other India; the one that modernity has largely left behind. This book is the result of my repeated residencies over the last 18 years in that state.

Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh where I spent 2005–2007, does not have many international call-centers like Bangalore, or movie stars like Bombay, or even much of a tourist industry like Varanasi or Khajaraho. One thing it does have, however, is history. In the late 18 and early 19 centuries, while imperial Delhi fell into chaos and the British overran the province of Bengal, Lucknow became, briefly, the locus of the final flowering of pre-British cultural life. Here, the dancers, singers and poets of the Mughal court flocked to find their last patrons, and here in 1857, soon after the final dissolution of the Awadhi monarchy, Indians made a valiant stand against the inevitable tide of British military might.

For this reason, Lucknow gives the visitor an interesting vantage point from which to watch this century’s changes. Like their ancestors of the 1800s, many of the residents of contemporary Lucknow also resist the currents of history and cling to a traditional way of life. This struggle is often interesting, sometimes comical and occasionally frightening. The battle between tradition and modernity in Lucknow today is far from over.

From Lucknow, I traveled extensively in north and central India. Chapters of this book will take the reader to Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal, to . . .

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