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About this blog: I grew up in Palo Alto and now live in Mountain View with my husband, daughter and two corgis. After about a decade grappling with the law, first as a law student at UC Berkeley and then as a litigator around the Bay Area, I left ...  (More)

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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 us—we 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?

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by member, a resident of another community,
on Aug 28, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I think the equivalent of "gora aversion" exists in places where Indians have migrated to. It is quite possible you were lucky to not have that kind of experience.

On Indian restaurants, I love Amber India on Santana Row at the higher end. However nothing to beat the "Thayir vadai" at Saravana Bhavan in Cupertino!

"The Menu" in Mountain View has good food, but their service is appalling; same with Chaat Paradise.






 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anita Felicelli, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 29, 2013 at 6:28 am

Yes, of course, anything's possible, but I've been to enough places in the United States and observed the reverse treatment by Indians of all different professions and class backgrounds - a warmth and expectation of friendliness- to doubt it's a phenomenon that occurs as commonly as Prager claims gora evasion does. I had high hopes for The Menu when it opened- but the service is some of the worst I've seen in an Indian restaurant. I don't think Chaat Paradise's service is bad, but even if it were, the food more than makes up for it. Agree with you about Amber and Saravana Bhavan.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by SZ, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 29, 2013 at 2:54 pm

I agree about the Desi evasion. It happens right in mountain view, where Indians will go to lengths to evade each other :).

One of my favorite Indian places in Bay area to eat is 'Amber Cafe' in Mountain view. It is the only place I know which does not produce orange/red colored Indian dishes, but it has a limited menu. It has better service than Chaat paradise, but could be slightly better. It is a 'mid-end' place. Their Chicken or Veg Thali is really good, with no hint of orangeness, with a lot of variety and ample quantity. One secret find is their 'Naughty noodles' from their kids menu which comes in grown-up portions, and is the best indo-chinese dish that I could find in bay area. The food in the Saravana Bhavan is great, but the service, noisy ambience and hygiene (just check the carpets) I find is seriously lacking


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Reader, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 30, 2013 at 7:28 am

The book is more a post-Modernist narrative with echoes of imperialist nostalgia--go to India as a Westerner full of self-deprecation, apologize for being an American while very much engaged in capitalist pursuits, talk about how rich and exotic the culture is, and then, well, just celebrate it all in a book that only Americans seeking the anti-thesis of a tourist guide are attracted to.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by I was there too, a resident of Waverly Park,
on Aug 30, 2013 at 10:03 am

@Reader

Really?

What I saw on Tuesday evening at Books Inc was a witty American writer and a large audience, at least half of which appeared to be from India, sharing laughs together about their common experiences and the unique charms of Delhi.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anita Felicelli, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 30, 2013 at 11:29 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@I was there too,
I think it's entirely possible that the book itself has the overtones described by @Reader, though I wish he/she would elaborate on examples of "imperialist nostalgia." The Q&A was great and the atmosphere friendly, but sometimes a book is very different from the impression given by a reading or author talk. I also want to note that many Indian Americans were present, but a fair percentage, including me, were there because the editor of India Currents was leading the Q&A and had endorsed the book, not necessarily because they felt they were the ideal readers for the book. There were a couple of things that I noticed at the reading that rubbed me the wrong way and that make @Reader's comment seem valid- Dave's admission that he wanted to get photographs with lots and lots of brown people, for example. That might not be offensive to everyone—some Indians would find this quaint—but there's certainly an element of seeing people as exotic scenery for one's own ends, rather than seeing them as actual people in a comment like that. And certainly Dave's in-person wittiness allowed me to elide those comments he made that made me feel vaguely uncomfortable.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anita Felicelli, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 30, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@SZ- Naughty noodles- will have to try them. I've only eaten at Amber Cafe once and I can't say I enjoyed it, but I'll try again. Have never been a fan of Indo-Chinese cuisine though my cousins swear by it-- guess there's still time to learn to like it.



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