By Anita Felicelli
Delirious Delhi, a Q&A at Books Inc.Uploaded: Aug 28, 2013
On August 27, 2013, I went to see Dave Prager speak about his book "Delirious Delhi" at Books, Inc. with Jaya Padmanabhan, the managing editor of India Currents magazine. The area in front of the lectern was packed with people: a lively, engaged crowd, including many people who identified themselves as being from Delhi.
Dave was very tall with a shaven head and a gentle expression. He was a Brooklynite working for an ad agency when his employer approached him to see if he and his wife would be willing to move to India to work for the agency's Delhi office. Surprisingly, the extent of his reading on Delhi before going was a Lonely Planet guidebook and other travel guidebooks. He was mostly excited at the possibility of getting home-cooked Indian meals.
Most white Westerners who go to India write about how they hated it, but grew to love it. Dave and his wife, on the other hand, loved it, came to hate it, and eventually adopted a more balanced impression of the country.
I tend to be skeptical of Western travelogues set in India as too frequently they're awash in stereotypes, either gushing about how special and spiritual India is else or how dirty and backwards. Jaya mentioned from the outset that she was relieved to close the book and not hear of Dave's spiritual awakening and her stamp of approval made me a little more receptive to the book and the Q&A than I might otherwise have been.
I've only read the first chapter (and listened to the author read other anecdotes), but I gather this is not the annoying kind of Indian travelogue. For one thing, it's much funnier. For another, it seems to be self-aware and self-mocking. Or if it is that kind of travelogue, the author comes across as so well-intentioned, I couldn't really fault him. The intent of the book seems to be to make people laugh about the differences in Indian daily life versus American daily life, rather than to claim a privileged status as someone who really knows Delhi or to argue that one way of life is better than the other.
One of the most amusing things that Dave talked about was "gora evasion"the practice white people have of avoiding eye contact or saying hello to other white people traveling in India. Each white person wants to feel he or she is a Magellan, a Vasco de Gama, a great explorer blazing a trail through India. Seeing other white people ruins that illusion and so at all costs, you must look away or find something else to look at.
Growing up in the Bay Area in the Eighties, I always found that when I encountered other Indians, we always made an effort to acknowledge each other. I suspect the exact opposite impulse motivated uswe didn't want to feel like a solo traveler.
One of the draws of this reading was that Dave and Jaya would compare notes on the best rajma masala in the Bay Area. Unfortunately that didn't happen, so I can't say what their recommendations are.
What are your favorite Indian food restaurants in the Bay Area?