The West tends to think and speak of ancient India as a spiritual lot, as a place and time which gives extraordinary importance to religion, and other dimensions of otherworldliness. The poet R Parthasarthy goes to the texts, different from the usual epics, that engage with love in all its corporeality.
The Indian stand up comedian Anuvab Pal jokes that Gandhi gave the mantra of nonviolence or the message of “Don’t Fight” to the people who did not want to fight in the first place. Gandhi recognized the reluctance and laziness among the Indians to fight against the British. Well, that’s one theory.
A little before John Donne and George Herbert penned their devotional poetry in the sixteenth century, a couple of bhakti (devotional) or sant (saint) poets in India began to write about the glory of God and the sentiment of devotion. Surdas, Tulsidas, Mirabai and Kabir are among the medieval saint poets becoming increasingly well-known outside their native India. However, with the exception of Tulsidas whose Ramcharitmanas is known to the West as the Bible of North India and has been translated several times in English, it can be difficult to separate the historical, authorial personalities from the interpolations by later poets who continued to compose in a similar vein.
In 1900 Mirza Kalich Beg, celebrated as the first Sindhi novelist, translated a 13th-century Persian text called Chachnama into English. Ali Kufi, the author of Chachnama, in turn, claimed his work was a translation of an 8th-century work in Arabic. The English-language Chachnama is thus apparently twice removed from the ever-elusive original text, a rumoured book that deals with the conquest of Hindustan by Muhammad bin Qasim.
Two interesting phenomena intersected at the turn on the last century. Just as Indian women were becoming globally visible as winners of several international beauty pageants, the racialized body (non-white, brown, along with Arab) became visible as the Other in the aftermath of 9/11. This stark polarity marks the subject of a new book on South Asian diaspora community that studies how appearances make and unmake attitudes about beauty and what sort of people become public icons.