Tigers, snakes and monkey-brains: How to write about India if you're a tourist
Once you are actually in India, get yourself a blog. Write about real India, meaning, the dirt-lined streets and that smell.
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1. Prepare for your trip by watching Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom. Pay special attention to two scenes in particular, first, where Amrish Puri offers human sacrifices and the other, when Indian kings and dignitaries work through a feast of baby snakes, beetles, and chilled monkey brains.
2. If one evening, your yoga class ends early or you are feeling extra adventurous, go home and watch Slumdog Millionaire. Be warned, though: its Indian protagonist won't sound anything like the people you will actually meet in India.
3. Eat at Indian restaurants. Learn how to make paneer, lassi, and curry at home. Pat yourself on the back for your global awareness when you perfect the pronunciation of naan.
4. Practice how to say "namaste", "haan", and "theek hai", the only three words/phrases you will ever need.
5. Amp up the volume of your yoga routine. Tell your yoga classmates that you are headed to India. Agree with one and all that it will be "life changing", even though you will only be there for three weeks.
6. Do not read anything substantial about India such as the hydraulic engineering of the Indus Valley Civilisation or the legacy of the Mughal Empire. Nor bother with Tagore, Narayan, or Desai. Lap up Rajesh Koothrappali on The Big Bang Theory instead.
7. Once you are actually in India, get yourself a blog. Make sure the background is either orange or brown. Write about real India, meaning, the dirt-lined streets and that smell.
8. Do not forget the cows. Or the monkeys. Or the Ganges.
9. Never ever forget the slums.
10. Notice all the poor but happy faces. Feel rewarded for such original thought.
11. Adopt a sad plus caring plus indignant voice in all your posts, even though such an idea does not occur to you when confronted with urban poverty in places like LA or London. But India is different. It is an alien landscape after all.
12. Take pictures of sadhus. Make sure they have matt-dreadlocked hair, leathery faces, missing teeth, and saffron scarves.
13. Discover that not all Indians do the headshake. Or the headstand.
14. Allow for your children to be astonished by feral dogs and hungry kids since fear, hunger, cruelty, and intolerance do not exist where you come from.
15. Discover that there is nothing called curry that's actually available on the menu.
16. Give alms to beggars, lepers, homeless children, blind singers, and feel superior and crushed at the same time. Wallow in self-pity and care. Later, blog about it from your MacBook. Even later, discuss this as one of those life-changing moments of your trip with your yoga buddies, while sipping on kale juice fortified by chia seeds, further fortified by a handful of dirt.
17. During the entire length of your stay, do not discover a single Indian not suffering from one or more of the following: dowry, child marriage, arranged marriage, cricket fever.
18. Return home and rejoice! Tweet that you can finally drink water straight from the tap!
19. Wear your newly purchased Fabindia kurtas everywhere. Use your Anokhi scarf to tie up your hair inside the yoga studio. Incite fresh envy.
20. Now write an essay titled "100 Days in India". It will get published because by this time, you have perfected your voice. You sound suitably sad, indignant, caring and contrite all at the same time.
Author's note: This how-to list is inspired by Jennifer Sinor's poverty-porn essay 100 Days in India available here. In recent decades, contemporary travellers such as William Dalrymple and Pamela Michael have written meaningful, thought-provoking essays about India. Sinor, however, has written with every cultural stereotype in place and in 2015, at a time when more people perhaps know better. She is beautifully aided in her quest by Brevity, the journal that published her, through its censorship of critical comments on her essay.