Asia Society presents; 57
Prison. Is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people. Your host on this series is the noted author on the ward winning broadcaster league. Here now is Mrs. Graham one of the most gifted women I know is in our studio today. She was born in India and I think very well that gap if there is one and I Miss Frey this deal is one between east and west. She is the daughter of a distinguished Indian diplomat and an active then brilliant mother. But she has accomplished a great deal on her own and her name is sounds that Rama Mr. Ahmed the author of a number of books. Her latest book I think is somewhat of a departure for her. It is called the adventure and the adventure is certainly it is up to her title. She is a most provocative woman and I suggest that you read the book
which is centered around and this Ramadan. You were educated I know your earlier schooling in England and then here you went to Wellesley College. The United States your home however is in Bombay. Yes it is. You find no confusion or no difficulty in going from east to west. Well on the contrary I like it but I'm mot it's long and rather tiring commute. But now I feel very very much at home in America in a country that I like very much always delighted that I do have an opportunity to come here usually at least once a year. Are many books written in one of the Indian languages. Oh yes a great many. Is there one Indian language which is perhaps the literary one now. Well two I should think the most active modern literary movement is probably a Bengali
and perhaps the language it has a long standing tradition of literature perhaps Tamil. How about Sanskrit is that Greek classical. Well that it has a language Yes I mean that is not spoken anymore now is it understood by some people scholars Yes indeed I would compare it perhaps with ancient Greek. It's that kind of thing there are there is a great literature in it and scholars who understand that literature have written translations and vast commentaries about it has it about in language it doesn't exist. Mr. Morale however are some of the books which have come down through the centuries in written in Sanskrit. Are those books then translated into more contemporary Indian language you know yes indeed the plays of Khalid us up for instance are not only translated but performed in many parts of India or we have eight major languages and countless dialects.
And they do get translated would you say without blushing that you are unusual as far as an Indian woman and literary artist is concerned Are there many women writers of your reputation in accomplishment. Well I think we have quite a number of women writers in India and at least two or three are really quite well-known in the West. You may perhaps have heard of come Lamarckian Dyer. Who read a book called doctor in the city of some years ago which I think was that wriggled selection I'm not sure in any case it was an exceedingly good book. And that a good friend of mine who is the daughter of that Mrs. Pandit who was a one time ambassador here she is also a novelist. And there's several others that I could mention. The interesting thing that links it all perhaps next is a bit different from the rest of the Indian writers is that all of us belong to a generation that
was educated in English whether it was in England or not. It was before Indian independence in the medium of instruction in schools in India was English. And so all of us write in English and have a mastery of the language which is difficult of a quiet later in life. Although they have time to grab your book The Avengers for example be translated into an Indian language. Well it is going to run that as a serial in our biggest magazine in India and in English. Whether it will be translated into Indian languages I don't yet know. Could you tell us a little bit about your father's accomplishments because the experience that you have gained through visiting and living in various places where your father was appointed to various positions has given you background for this book to a great extent as your father said. All over the world in a number of places. The place that I
found most interesting and enjoyed most and was certainly the background of the first part of this book and that was he was the first independent India's first ambassador to Turkey and I went with him at that time. And became immensely interested in Japan about which I know nothing other than that naturally in the Japanese. I think is a salmon that I hated most was when he was the Indian High Commission and South Africa which was. Absolutely monstrous. And we were all miserable there. But that was very very please leave South Africa. Why for the obvious reason well I think said the obvious reason is yes and discrimination and the barbaric treatment of the Africans themselves. And of course very strong discrimination against the Indian population that a sizeable Indian population. It was the first time my life I'd ever been. So to speak on the other side of the fence and a member
of the minority that is being discriminated against. Does India nevertheless maintain diplomatic relations with South Africa not any longer but it was a very educational experience I will say that although we did not suffer from it directly because of being members of the diplomatic corps in a way that was worse you knew that all the other Indians could not hotels where the Whites lived or go to restaurants that were exclusively for quite saw a movie houses or any of those things. So whether one was a black African or what is known as the colored or mixed race or Indian. Oh yes and the degrees are variable and so are the discrimination of course varied from community to community. But the Indians certainly came in for a good part of it and. Nothing like the blacks of course that. Certainly a lot I suppose a salutary to have that experience because
all of us belong to some minority and I'm with you. And the only way to find out what it is illegal has I'm going to yes to others you are yourself required part of one's education. Well in a way I think so too I don't know quite how one would arrange it but I know that. I learned a very great deal more from just one tiny experience that happened quite soon optimizers tonight arrived in South Africa. This was on a summer holiday we always joined our parents wherever my father happened to be stationed although we were at school in England. And we hadn't really gathered the fact that there was this kind of discrimination I remember one afternoon we decided to go to the movies and telephoned that is his office and asked if we couldn't get off early and join us at the movies and he very carefully asked where we were going to the movie house was and so on and we didn't realize at the time why he was being so precise about it. Well the reason why was not that he was going to join us that but
because he was going to telephone the management to say. My daughters will be coming to this particular movie. Please do not allow your office to turn them away at the door. And let it diplomatic immunity because we are going to community as and when we went in we were there and we were seated and realize that the entire row. Each side of us was absolutely empty. There we sat watching this movie. Well as you can imagine we never went the movies again because I was a government so nearly ugly and terribly ugly that engraven in my memory and I will never forget what it felt like to really feel that the other five people in the audience felt so strongly about you because of the color of your skin that they could not that a certain even in the same. Ugly but that is just plain idiotic. What it is I mean the stupid it is appalling but when you imagine that a
living with that you can't even have any sympathy for the stupidity because the White House. If you grown up with it must be. Incalculable the long view is that it can steal the show it believes that it's in time. Or else. Did your father soon which I assure you enjoyed more than South Africa. Well Turkey of course comes first in my book. He also was ambassador in Washington for a while and the reason why that doesn't come first is because I was a college yes I was in the new country to me when he was as ambassador here. And in Turkey I was of course absolutely. And what's more I had so many misconceptions about it because. I had grown up you see with very much the Western attitude towards the Japanese particularly during the war that they were a poor sort of buck toothed monster capable of cruelty and
atrocity and vice and so on and that was astonished when I got that the pride and civilization of such extraordinary subtlety and trauma. And. People that I like that much indeed. Those are ghastly things that we have to be told about our enemy. We can hate him properly. Yes well the Japanese have a saying which is in fact quoted in this novel yesterday's enemies today friends. And it is true because what makes them into enemies is not the kind of people that they are told. It's just something that has to do with politics and with. Quite distant events from Walk the lives of the people on what is contrived to suit the purpose of political Yes it certainly has and if there were any way all of the people themselves being in communication with each other. I feel that the costly misunderstandings that and in war really wouldn't wouldn't arise. So much of it is based on ignorance.
If we talk a little bit specifically now about the heroine of your book The adventurous who is you give the impression that not only a very clever highly endowed very skilled rather manipulate in her dealings with a very attractive quite irresistible command a woman that everybody would like to read about. However I miss when I'm around. A woman of any background and have this ability perhaps more than a woman of the Western world ability to deal with people and even seek the revenge necessary at times. If you had been hit by it. Not quite. Glad to know that I can see that the book might be interpreted that way. In fact I have been asked whether it was a liberation women's liberation novel.
I really wasn't a need no letter and it wasn't intended as a woman's thought of revenge or ability to get the better of a man in her life it was intended to show how much more. The sort of situations in which you have to be manipulative and clever and canny simply to stay alive and that these situations are quite often forced on you by circumstances to be out of your control. And then you have to use whatever which you can just to stay alive. And the problem of just staying alive is one that I think is very quite foreign to Westerners and it's one that you live with absolutely every day and that. We're over protective for the most part and I think our women are even more so than our men. Therefore many of us do not have this ability and more's the pity. Or perhaps since we don't need it we don't dwell on it. But you think that
this also might be an essential part of a person's education. I think it certainly is. And if you've grown up in any way spent your early childhood as I did in a country like India there are all kinds of things that you learn more or less by osmosis that that I think is perhaps quite difficult to grasp. Later on you do learn that the majority of people the mass of your country lives in such outrageous poverty. Poor conditions and lack of any hope of betterment within the lifetime of that children's lifetime of any significance that and. That forever change is your view about what the necessities of living are or indeed what the goals of living are and I think that is that
something is very difficult to explain to Westerners because here if you think about poverty campaign for instance. You think in terms of better housing or better food or better schools or better something in a country like India you think not of better housing better housing and get any house and i've ever heard your head and not that a food that food rather than famine and not a better school system but any school system at all. Can I add that 80 percent illiterate. Still still I suppose that is a great difference in the thinking between east and west. We can talk rather glibly of long range goals because of short range goals we have fairly well under control but in India or other places where people are struggling they're just happy to go on a 24 hour basis and I think. Well then how do you how do you do you see other kinds of goes and I think it's rather interesting that the youth in America these days
find themselves dissatisfied enough with the goals of the SAT THERE WAS they seem to feel primarily materialists go so that they are seeking the goals of a society like India. Or Japan when there was this great craze that everybody was studying and so on looking for some object to that living that was beyond merely the acquisition of material comforts. You know if you really compare India with Japan Don't you feel that your brand is becoming much more materialistic. It's the third gross national product. Yes Nathan and I. Well it's becoming much richer which is not necessarily the same as becoming more materialistic. Still there's an emphasis on acquiring material comfort. I think there certainly is and and I'm not intending to make. In the end any sort of moral heroes out of this because there are plenty of people in India that are deeply
concerned with material comforts and the interaction there is a deeper spirituality in India. Perhaps the last country left where it exists. Well you all certainly brought up that to believe that that is the highest that you can aspire to in your life. You know conventionally the Hindu live to traditional Hindu life is divided into four periods the first one which is when your baby and other people take care of you and you have no responsibilities. And the second when you're a student when you are learning whatever it is your craft or your scholarship or whatever it is you will be doing in life. The third is when you take on the responsibilities of life when you marry have children do whatever work you do and the last and the most important by far the most important is when you renounce your attachment to any concerns of all the living that has gone on up to now. And
when you do see what for lack of a better word one calls in Latin mint and where you do pursue our goals and it is assumed that this is the peak of anybody's life. This is what you are aiming for in the end. A detachment from anything that is material or connected with materialism. Therefore there must be a differing viewpoint towards age. Age is and is not something to be avoided but rather look forward to a time of life when you may be most fulfilled. Oh most certainly yes. In fact I remember having a very funny conversation with my grandmother when I first came back from college in America and she was asking me exceedingly seriously about life in America and she said Is it really true that people in America live apart from that children that their children have a separate establishment. And so I said well when they marry Quite often yes they do and the old people
have their own apartment or something and she said You mean even in a city where their own children also lived there they would have a separate house. And so I said yes sometimes and she said You mean an old lady alone might even live in a hotel by herself or something like that and I said well yes it does happen you know. Well she was clearly being terribly shocked and I said well you know a lot of them do prefer it that they would like their independence they don't feel that they wish to be other burden on the young people and also they have their own friends in their own interests and they don't necessarily want to live with their children. And she looked at me in terrible scorn and she said Oh I wasn't feeling sorry for the people I was feeling so very sorry for the young. How sad for them not to have the people in their houses. Yeah well you know all the different view yeah yeah. Does a different view then also prevail about women in general. By that I mean I think one of the striking things about your country is the fact that women might have been
somewhat behind the women of the West in earlier times it seems to me in many ways they are ahead certainly politically. The prime minister is a woman. Women are active politically in our country. Indeed yes. Not just voting but running for office. And I wondered about the viewpoint towards women in India how you might compare that to what you think is the viewpoint towards women in the United States. Well the Indian women come by this apparently recent emergence into public life very honestly they come about because they have not indeed been deprived over the centuries of all kinds of basic rights. I know that in the west this one is very apt to assume that a poor Asian woman is a downtrodden backward creature. This is far from the truth. And again to refer to my grandmother just to give you an example my early childhood which was spent in her house it was a joint family which meant that my grandparents all the sons of the house their wives all the children
of all of my uncles and aunts and so on as well as my sister and myself all lived in the same compound. Now the ruler of this small empire was unquestionably my grandmother and she ran all the finances she any money that was and in the house was turned over directed to her. She apportioned how much you could spend on what Which child needs a college education which did not. Which one should have music lessons which one shared an interest in tennis with whatever it might be. She rules that place completely. But on the surface she was always deferential deferential and not only to her husband but to all the men in the household. They would be served as a meal before any of the women and she would eat last of all by herself in the kitchen and all the surface manners were extremely deferential to the men and very retiring. That was the true power when in the hands of the women its a country of women there is no question about it.
Would you say then that in Asia one does not hear of this problem of loneliness and of the idea nation we seem to be suffering from here. You couldn't be you know part of something in point well I think it's very much there that we aren't anything like as mobile a society as you are and that the family system is still exceedingly strong just about anywhere in Asia. And both those things I think tend to mitigate the two problems that you mentioned South that run morale is much too short a time. This conversation with the beguiling peers. Thank you talent. There's I'm delighted that you were here. And. You are a part of this conversation is a part of the A-T Society present series. I like to say that I get that Rob morale is a distinguished literary artist and her new book which is a novel is called the adventurous and all I'd like to say about it is that if you are not very much taken by the adventurers then you surprise me very much. She is there also a beguiling person. I thank you and goodbye.
That concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society presents with Lee Graham. The series comes to you through the cooperation of the Asia Society. If you would like to comment on tonight's program or would like further information about the society and how you can participate in its many interesting activities please write to Mrs. Graham at WNYC New York City 100 0 7 and make a note to join us again next week at this time for another edition of the Asia Society presents.
- Asia Society presents
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- Asia Society presents is a series of programs from WNYC and The Asia Society. Through interviews with experts on Asian affairs, the series attempts to strengthen listeners understanding of Asian people and ideas. Episodes focus on specific countries and political, cultural, and historical topics.
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