tv Maria Hinojosa One-on- One PBS December 26, 2015 4:00pm-4:31pm PST
>> hinojosa: in 1977, his parents left india to give him a better life. 30 years later, he moved back and found himself witnessing the greatest transformation in the country's 2,000-year history. new york times columnist and author of indiacalling, anand giridharadas. i'm maria hinojosa. this is one-on-one. >> hinojosa: anand giridharadas, it's great to have you here. >> great to be here. >> hinojosa: so how'd i do with the name, all right? >> yeah, very well. >> hinojosa: because it's an... >> that was like top two percent. >> hinojosa: now, when you were growing up in ohio... okay, so this is a couple of years ago, you're growing up in ohio. you're born there, from indian parents, and they looked at your name and what did they do?
>> they often asked if there was anything else they could call us, and my... one of the ways that my family, my parents, thought of coming back against this was when these telemarketers called and asked us, you know, to spell our name. someone gave us the idea of spelling each letter using a disease, so we'd say, "g for gastroenteritis," "i for intestinal disorder," and people stopped calling. so that's one of the advantages of a very... of a very difficult name. >> hinojosa: well, it's interesting, because your name is one way to enter into this conversation only because, you know, it is an interesting name. but in fact, right now in the united states of america, your name, anand giridharadas, is kind of normal almost, right? >> the president's name is barack hussein obama, so, uh, anything goes now with names. >> hinojos here in the united states, and your whole life, you have been going to visit india as that place where your parents came from, and then you basically
decide, "i'm going. i'm going back." and there's that moment when you're on the plane ride going back and somebody who is returning home looked at you and they were, like, "what are you doing? you're leaving the united states to go to india?" >> this guy... i was filling out my landing card to arrive in bombay, and he kind of looked over and he asked for help with his, so we got to talking and he said, "so what are you going to do over there?" i said, "i'm going to go live there." he kind of looked at my american passport and he looked at me and this data point that i was going to go live there, and he almost thought that i had made a kind of ticketing mistake, and he was, like, "no, no, no, we're all trying to go that way." >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) >> you know, and i... in a way, i didn't yet have the vocabulary to tell him, because i hadn't seen this new india up close yet, that the world is changing, and the world of... the assumptions with which he came of age and that he had in old age, that india was a better place to depart, were giving way to new assumptions,
and that's happening country by country all around the world. >> hinojosa: there's something that you did in your book, which is a beautiful book. it's called india calling: an intimate portrait of a nation's remaking, and it really is very intimate. this is your story, your very personal story, and there's a kind of honesty that you have in terms of your perspective, again, born in ohio and looking at india. and there's one thing that you-- i'm going to read this back to you-- you wrote, "i used to look at the cracking paint and white fluorescent tube lights and dank bathrooms and wonder how anyone could be happy in a home like theirs. and i suppose they might have looked back at me, with my burning and unfulfillable american cravings, and wonder how anyone could be happy with a mind like mine." so where does that stand now? >> i think when i was growing up, i only had access to half of that thought, the first half of that thought, which was, india was this place; the first thing i knew about it was my parents
left it. and so, that fact was then mingled with other facts like, uh, what you saw in the newspapers in the '80s and '90s when i was growing up. it didn't seem like a particularly desirable place. maybe a stampede here, a fraudulent election there, a poverty, you know, a human interest story there. >> hinojosa: a political murder... >> all of those kinds of things. and, over the course of my childhood, therefore, i pushed it away, and that feeling of wanting to push it away was actually deepened by going there rather than annulled by it. you know, it seemed to be a very different place, both from here and from the place that it's become now. it was a place that felt very shrunken, uh, this great civilization of the world that we all read about. it didn't feel that great and that dynamic when you were actually there. and when i then, toward the end of college, was thinking about what i wanted to do and that was something like, "be a writer," but i wasn't quite sure how...
>> hinojosa: and this is after 2001, after september 11, so there's a whole other mentality going on in our country. >> and i think that was part of it. it was also that, you know, there's a lot that we all don't know about that outside world, and for me, i was thinking about, "where do i go in the world?" i think i had the idea of going somewhere that would kind of stir me into being a writer, but that was a very undeveloped plan. and once i had that idea, then it came to me that if you're going to go anywhere, go to the place that you have this strange relationship to. it's on your face, it's in your blood, and yet i knew very little about it. i knew much more about the history of, you know, almost any country in europe or the u.s. than i did about indian history. but i went, and a whole kind of world opened up to me. >> hinojosa: when you told your parents, "mom, dad, i'm moving back," what did they say? >> it's funny, they were very supportive, um... >> hinojosa: your parents sound amazing, by the way. i mean they're, in a way... they should be held up as role models of, you know, the true american
spirit, if you will. they were so open. they came from a society that was incredibly closed, and yet here they are, shaker heights, ohio, and they're... they're open to you, to your new way. i mean, that's pretty amazing. >> i think when you're an immigrant family, there are two ways my parents could have seen the logic of their lives. one way was to pay a lot of attention to the specific places you left and places you went to and to say, for example, "i left india, i came to america, america's great, india's terrible." or the reverse, you know, "i just came here to make money, but india's the true worthy country," et cetera. and to kind of cling... it's a kind of clingy attitude that a lot of immigrants end up having. my parents, fortunately, abstracted from their journey to see an idea behind it, i think, rather than a specific country leaving and country arriving. i think they saw in it the idea of reinvention, the possibility
of reinvention, as being a beautiful ethic, the chance that everybody should have to go somewhere else and make themselves new. they happened to leave india and happened to come to america, but when it came time for me to say, "i want to actually go to india," they didn't see that as a kind of cancellation of their entire life. they saw it as a fulfillment of their life. >> hinojosa: you talk a lot about how one of the things that impressed you, when you would return to india, was this kind of sense of so many people before being kind of resigned to the caste system, to their lot in life, to their future, to their mediocre job, and now, when you've returned, you know, a more modern india, is it the same thing? >> it's night and day. if anything has moved, because there's a lot in india that has not moved at all, but if anything has moved, it is what you just said. the most striking thing for an outsider about that old india
was what you may call karma, or the kind of attitude to fate, destiny, your position in the world. and this was partly a kind of concession to just a bad economy. it's not terrific to kind of dream of big things if you're living in an economy where those are not going to happen very often. but it was also an entire kind of spiritual, philosophical, religious paraphernalia that had really convinced large numbers of people that destiny is something you get from the outside world, you inherit rather than make. and when i moved back, the most striking thing i found-- and i found it day after day over six years-- was that people now believe that destiny was man-made and woman-made and child-made, and they believed that you... as one of my characters says in the book, "our generation believes our decisions are our destiny." there's, in a way, no more subversive idea a society could get a hold of than that idea.
everything else can kind of be derived from that idea. and so a lot of things have not yet come to india, but that has come to india, and a lot is coming out of it. >> hinojosa: but this notion that now, you know... when i'm watching popular culture with my kids, teenagers in the united states of america, and then they all know the bollywood dances. i mean, you know, dancing with the stars or, you know, so you think you candance?, and actually competing in bollywood styles in mainstream american popular culture. tell me how weird that was for you as a kid who grew up, you know, in ohio, again, who never saw that stuff on american television. what's it like to see it now? >> it's very... it's surreal for me, because i... you know, i feel that i've lived, just by virtue of when i was born, on kind of both sides of this divide. you know, when i was growing up, this still hadn't happened yet,
and so there was, you know... no one really knew anything about us or where we came from. people in cleveland would ask my mother a question that, you know, she's wearing a bindi on her forehead, red bindi, and, you know, she was asked in an elevator once, "is that a hole in your head and that's the blood?" you know, it's unimaginable today. and i just recently was all over the country for my book tour. it's amazing. you can go pretty far out in the u.s. to all kinds of places and people are asking sophisticated, third-level questions about what's happening with the maoist movement in india, what's happening with this, what's happening with that. so the days of asking whether that's a hole in your head are really over, and that's partly a result of great media coverage in this country of india in the last many years, many more correspondents, books, but it's also obviously a result of popular culture and just india's changed stature in the world. it's important to remember that when a country's stature changes, it doesn't just affect the things we often think of in
terms of economy and diplomacy. it filters right down into whether an eighth grader feels comfortable doing a bollywood dance for the talent show, or just does ballet like everybody else. and these big geopolitical things trickle down, in a way, to these very small, human things in immigrant families. >> hinojosa: so would you have ever done a bollywood dance? what would have happened if your mom had said, "anand, let's do, you know, for the talent show this week, let's do this traditional dance that my mother taught me." you would have said what? >> "no chance." >> hinojosa: and she would have... ? >> i still wouldn't, but that's just me. but i think, you know, i wouldn't have then, and it would have been a very unwise thing to do then. today, i may still not, but it would be a very wise thing to do. i think it would make me a very popular eighth grader, based on some of the kids i've met and spoken to. they are now... and my mother now teaches in a high school, and she just says all these indian-american kids and kids
from other backgrounds are dying to find any way to show where they're from. it's just a very, very different universe. >> hinojosa: so, given that this is clearly a trend that is happening... i mean, more and more immigrants in our country. but you know the resistance. you don't have to look too far. i mean, we have, you know, in so many places, openness of, you know, the true american spirit of being open, and then you have a lot of retrograde perspectives, and looking at you, and, you know, there have been hate crimes, assaults. so put those two things together for me. >> i think they are the two sides of the same thing, and it's important to remember... i mean, i'm actually very, despite my own background, very sympathetic to the psychology of people on the other side of this, because... remember, this is not just an american problem. we have a world that is changing in this aspect very quickly.
so, to give you one statistic that really captures this, the world has been majority rural for all of human history until the last decade. so this is a huge milestone in human affairs. it should have been a banner headline in every newspaper. most of us now live in cities. now, the important thing about that is, most people didn't originally, a thousand years ago, you know, spring out into lower manhattan, right? cities are places to which people come. they come from other countries, they come from rural areas, but they're all migrants. they're not... no one's from cities, ancestrally. and what that means is we're living in a world that, not just people like me going back to india or immigrants, but in which rootlessness-- people unconnected from where they originate-- is the central fact of the human condition, more and more. how many people live in one country, work in another, either by crossing a border on a bus or by putting on a headset and taking credit card... you know, customer service, phone calls, or by doing any number of other things? how many people have relationships across ethnic boundaries, national boundaries?
how many people don't speak... how many children don't speak the language that their grandparents spoke or speak? this is an increasingly common thing. now, for people like us, this may be a wonderful thing. it's a multiplication of possibility. someone with the middle name "hussein" can be president. that's terrific. i think we also have to be empathetic about the fact that, for a lot of people, for good or ill, will experience this as quite a serious shock. doesn't mean it's... >> hinojosa: and something scary. >> doesn't mean it's wrong, but we have to understand, and i often feel people from complicated backgrounds take it for granted that everybody should immediately be cool with this. cosmopolitanism is a quite difficult idea, and if you are living in the middle of missouri and suddenly globalization comes and, you know, wipes out your manufacturing industry, suddenly the average skin color in your neighborhood in the course of 40 years changes drastically. suddenly, women gain all sorts
of privileges that they should have, but are still quite unsettling to every institution as you've understood it. suddenly, the president is someone of a kind that you've never had as a boss or you've never had as a friend. and all these things are happening in, like, a 30- to 40- year period. it's a lot of change. and so when we think about... when i think about these hate crimes and all this other stuff, i think about it as a very dark outcome of what is just a genuine fear and anxiety and inability to process this new future that a lot of people are struggling with. >> hinojosa: well, you understood that part of conquering that fear was by speaking, writing, talking, telling your story. so that's what you do now, you write because you want... and i mean, the cool thing about writing now is that it isn't just for an american audience. i mean, you work... you write for the new york times. it's an international audience. i mean, your book now is doing great in the united states, but i'm sure that in india... is it
on the best-seller list? has it... it is? already? >> yep, yep. >> hinojosa: wow, amazing. which means that, actually, if it's on the best-seller list in india, you're, like, selling tons and tons of books because... >> here's what's more important than the best sellers in india. it's been pirated in india... >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) >> and you are nobody in the indian book market until your book has been ripped off and... because you know why? they bookstores can store 2,000 titles or 10,000 titles, but those kids in bombay at the intersections can only hold, like, ten books. >> hinojosa: oh, my god! how did you know that... what happened? >> someone, uh... i think told me on twitter, if i remember correctly, and i felt, finally, that i had arrived in my career because my book had been ripped off by the... >> hinojosa: but it actually means something in terms of...? >> those people understand the market. the people who sell those books at the intersections in bombay, they understand the market better than anybody. >> hinojosa: so put that into a context of being somebody who is from the united states, who's got to deal with a publisher who's looking at that and saying, "oh, my god, we've just
been ripped off! wait, wait, wait a second!" so this is, you know... >> well, this is one of these few issues where the publisher's interests and the author's may not be aligned. you know, the publisher, obviously... and i don't support piracy as a policy matter, but, uh, it's very interesting that in a country like india, where the kind of, you know, elite bookshops where my book is sold in a place like bombay or delhi are, in many ways, still only for certain people. and it's kind of this sense that it's going a little bit down into the layers when you see it on the street. there's a wonderful story amartya sen told me a few years ago. he landed in bombay and, as he made this turn out of the airport, this guy knocked on his window and had this stack of books and he noticed his own book, the argumentative indian. and he writes a lot of very complex philosophical and economic works. this book was not one of those,
and it was available on the street. and, um, the guy leaned in and he said, you know, "so how's that one doing?" and he said, "oh, it's very good." >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) >> so, you know, i'm goingo go wait to get the reviews now from the street kids. >> hinojosa: so why, after having spent six years in india, and it's... i mean, look, it's a booming economy. i mean, in terms of growth, it's the place to be. so why come back to the united states that is struggling economically, that is struggling in terms of our own identity? why come back? >> two things to say about that. one, i think we overblow the extent to which everything's over for america. we drastically overblow this. and all you need to do is go to a place like india or china to see this. because you have to separate certain areas where america genuinely is in trouble from areas where it's not. if you're trying to make software, america is in trouble. there are a lot of people who
can do it cheaper, better, faster elsewhere. if you're trying to make shoes, there are a lot of people who can do it cheaper, better, faster elsewhere. if you want to create yale... name the country in the world for me that can create a yale or can create more than one, let alone one. >> hinojosa: okay. >> and the indians and the chinese will be the first to tell you that they don't have a yale and don't know how to create one. >> hinojosa: okay. >> if you want to create silicon valley... tell me someone who's doing that. why is it that the ipad and then the iphone before it and the ipod before it... in this era of decline, why does all the cool new stuff always seem to come from here? you have to separate... i think the important point is americans are doing very badly, certain americans, a large number of americans. america as a kind of collective entity is still very much at the helm of a lot of things and is losing ground on other things, and i think segmenting those is important, number one. in terms of... for me personally, one of those areas
that's more like the yale and the ipad is, what kinds of places in the world are good places to sit when you want to think, not just about india or not just about one industry, but you want to think about the world, which is what a writer does, a journalist does? and india has many advantages, and i will live in india again, i'm sure, but i felt, for my development as a writer, for my ability to speak about more things other than just india, you have to be in a part of the world where... that is global and where people are thinking about all kinds of different problems, and, um, india's not quite at that place yet. the focus in india is india. there's not great global think tanks that are thinking about, you know, all kinds of issues. there's not a real literary culture that writes about things other than what's happening in india, and that's fine, but i think it's very important, if you want to have a voice on a number of things or think about a number of things, to know... to know people beyond that one subject, and that's what i wanted to do.
>> hinojosa: so, as i said, one of the things that's really cool about your book is the fact that you are so honest. there's one part of it that i just had to underline and i was, like, "okay, we have to talk about this," because you said that you were... it was the story of you also adjusting to being back in this home country, and you said, "yes, i had to come to terms with the incessant male touching and hand-holding." so how did you come to terms with that? >> you know, um... a friend of mine... there's a crude and a sophisticated way to answer that. the crude way is that, you know, a friend of mine once was... was heard saying, "friction is friction," and i think there's part of the reason that people have been fascinated by indian men holding hands. it's nothing other than the fact that in a society where male/female contact is still, for many people, still fairly limited, people have a human need to just touch and hold and be touched, and some of that gets kind of transferred onto friendships that are in no
way romantic-- well, in some cases they may be-- but just kind of, you know, it's nice to touch another human body or hold another hand. and if you are, you know, lower middle class from a reasonably traditional family in bombay or delhi, you cannot walk around, even today, holding hands with a woman very easily. and so some of that is absorbed by kind of male friendship. if you're rich and privileged and educated in india, you can do whatever you want today. unfortunately, for 95% of indians, they really don't have the freedom to, you know, walk around holding hands in public or to even have a girlfriend that they can go to a restaurant with. and i think that's unfortunate, that's... at this end of the spectrum. i think what will happen over the next many years and decades in india is a kind of liberalization in romantic affairs, and the self will begin to assert itself more and people
will have more romantic love rather than family-arranged love, and it'll become, in that regard, a little bit more like the west. what's scary is that we know what stands at the other end of that spectrum, because we're in it, and that's 50% divorce rates and, you know, people who have eight marriages and serial hookups and, you know, a culture in which the idea of commitment is almost kind of vapid. and i think it's interesting for both societies, for india to think about, "how do we move along this curve without having 50% divorce rate?" and women who, according to surveys in the u.s., are unhappier than they were before the feminist movement. and for people in this country to think about, "how do we kind of preserve this wonderful gift of empowerment, freedom, young people being allowed to kind of pursue lives of their... that are meaningful to them without having that kind of spill into degeneracy and no one... and people feeling only rights and no obligations?"
>> hinojosa: so... just to end up here, so are we hopeful? are you hopeful? is it, um, you know... if your vision... if you could decide what the world looks like, actually, in the next 40 years, what does it look like? is it in fact... yes, the united states will always be powerful, but there is an undeniable increasing power, presence politically, demographically, culturally, religiously. so... optimistic? or it's going to be painful before we get there? >> those two things are not exclusive. i'm optimistic and it will be painful. but here's why i'm optimistic. the analogy i would make would be to what happened with the entry of women into all kinds of spheres of life over the last 50 years, which has happened in this country and elsewhere in the world. what we have now realized, 50 years on, is that half of human
ingenuity, half of the great ideas we could have had, half of the ways of seeing things were actually not in the room, and we didn't realize, in a way, they were not in the room until they were in the room, and now life is at least twice as rich. this is happening, in a way, with the entire geopolitical puzzle, except it's worse than half. until now, about five percent of the world has led the conversation and has shaped everything from how we dress to what we wear to what we eat to our political philosophy. everything. and we're now entering an age that will see a massive infusion of all the perspectives that weren't in the room, and it will be painful. but i don't think you can seriously say that it won't be a better world. >> hinojosa: or that it won't be fun. >> ( laughs ) absolutely. >> hinojosa: and thanks for helping us understand a little bit more. so, thank you again anand
>> funding for "overheard" with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community. experienced, respected, and tested. also by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. and viewers like you. thank you. >> i'm evan smith. he's the author of four essential reads on the civil rights era, including "parting the waters: america in the king years 1954-1963," which won the pulitzer prize for history, as well as acclaimed books on two topics that couldn't be more timely in 2015, college sports and the clintons. he's taylor branch. this is "overheard." [applause].