Thursday, December 16, 2010
Part of my ongoing exploration of South Asian literature, this mixed media artwork was inspired by Anita Desai's Winterscape, a masterpiece on cross-cultural minefields.
Sometimes, I have the students in my Cross-Cultural Perspectives class read this story. It is a perfect case study of the infamous pronouncement of Kipling, "The East is east and the West is west and never the twain shall meet". In a span of 20+ pages, Desai lays out every cultural trope: our culture/their culture, our norm/their deviance, to name a few. Just when we assume that we know where the story is going, Desai being a master storyteller that she is, pulls the rug gently from under our feet. In the small act of taking a photo of Ma and Masi watching the snow together, she makes Beth cross a cultural border and, gives her a glimmer of understanding of how her Indian husband came to be raised by one sister while born to the other. It is an understanding that comes not from rational processing but from something deep, almost mystical. Beth's impulsive act to get it on the camera may have been as much to capture the moment as to remind herself that she understood.