Whose Real is it Anyway?

Whose Real is it Anyway?

This essay should be read as a response to Amitava Kumar’s essay ‘The Shiver of the Real,’ which appeared in the May 2014 issue of The Caravan. In his piece, Kumar proposes a manifesto for Indian fiction, so it is possible that in the process of responding to his claims and suggestions I end up providing the semblance of a manifesto as well. If it be so, I must clarify that none of my assertions here are directed to that platonic idea of the successful and grey-haired Indian writer producing notable works in Malayalam or Hindi or English. I am most interested in addressing the writers of my generation, a group in which I include Indian writers born in the eighties or early nineties, most of them currently floundering in the twin oblivion of what-should-I-write and I-haven’t-published-a-book-yet. That what Kumar says might not be applicable to us may simply be posited by presenting the age gap itself. When I was born in February 1986, Amitava Kumar was already twenty three years and eleven months old, his literary and sentimental education already in its final leg.

My position as a representative of my generation of writers is grounded in simple facts that do enough to illuminate my tiny successes and failures as a writer: I have been writing fiction for four years now, I have not published a book yet, I have nevertheless published many short stories in magazines in India or in the United States, and so on. For the purposes of this essay I start with a coincidence: my short story ‘Conrad in Calcutta’ appeared in the same issue of The Caravan in which ‘The Shiver of the Real’ found space. This was partly the reason why I and my writer friends happened to read and discuss Kumar’s essay at length. All of us agreed that Kumar had completely ignored the young emerging Indian writer and seemed to address his concerns only to those who have already passed the hallow gates of publication and widespread distribution. Unlike political manifestoes, artistic manifestoes derive their value from their radicalism, from the proposed severing-off (often violent) from the status quo. Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto comes immediately to mind. Kumar’s essay, on the other hand, does not propose any radicalism to the neophytes. His intention seems to be to merely nudge his compatriots towards newer ways of expression, only with somewhat greater focus on the ordinary.


Kumar presents his manifesto early in his essay, in fact in the second paragraph itself.

Here is my own manifesto for Indian writing. I hereby call for a literature that engages with “the real”: not just the depiction of blood on the streets, or, for that matter, the cold air of the morgue, but also the warm, somewhat moist atmosphere of unwanted intimacy in the waiting room in which we have left behind a little bit of our past.

Sad as this may be, to merely read this in isolation is in itself an act of criticism. A stream of questions arise. Why is he so abstract? What ‘real’ is he talking about? What does he really mean with ‘the waiting room’? What ‘past’ is he referring to? Is my past included in ‘our past’?

One would assume that the rest of Kumar’s essay would be a systematic exploration of the concepts presented with such confidence in the poetic manifesto. Kumar chooses, instead, to take a wild detour. He delves into his personal reading and writing life, specidically exploring his anxieties about getting recognized in the West, a subject on which he ends up giving very contradictory opinions. He starts with quoting from his correspondence with the novelist Siddharth Chowdhury, where the latter, in reply to Kumar’s anxieties about the reception of his first novel Home Products by a literary agent in London, says that ‘getting published in the West is not that important.’ Chowdhury further asks Kumar, rather dramatically, ‘is Paul Auster ever bothered about how he is perceived in India?’ The question has an immediate, near-patriotic allure, and in retweets and shares of Kumar’s essay, it was indeed one of the lines used most often as a fronting quote. But like all things close to patriotism, it is completely hollow on the inside. It doesn’t require much to know that exchanges between cultures are never exact and equal. And whether this phenomenon is a residue of History or whether cultures have their own hidden logic, the point remains that the whole world makes do with whatever snapshot it finds itself stuck in. As an Indian, it feels wrong that Paul Auster can choose not to care about publication in India while Amitava Kumar has to care about publication in the US. But it doesn’t seem so if you compare readership numbers in India and the US, or if you compare the magnitude of literary discourse in the US versus that in India. Add to that Kumar’s unique position as a writer who lives in New York and can still write excellent books about Patna. Surely, he can be assumed to understand the inequality of cultural exchange between US and India better than anyone else. What is he really trying to say, then, by quoting Chowdhury?

It becomes clear soon enough. Kumar uses the Auster mention to deep-dive into his experiences of reading the American writer. Auster’s usage of the phrase ‘the starving children of India’ in one of his books appears to Kumar like a genuine connection. Then Kumar once again presents his anxiety about being invisible to American writers, especially Paul Auster, an invisibility that he claims feels worse because he lives only an hour and a half away from where Paul Auster lives. (This somehow doesn’t register as a complaint, but instead as a signifier of some sort of privilege that is immediately discomfiting to an emerging writer like me. Is it mentionable that that I live half an hour away from Jerry Pinto and that @mahimkajerry knows nothing about my work?). Kumar’s complaint ultimately results in the articulation of a wish where ‘American writers read and engage with Indian writers just as Indian readers have read and celebrated them all these years.’ I find myself recoiling at this statement. Note how, even when he is hypothesizing, Kumar wishes not for exact reciprocity, but for his own version of it; not for American readers to read and engage with Indian writers, but for American writers to do that! In sum, he wishes for Indian writers not an American readership but high-brow American nods, a glowing review in The New Yorker, participation in panels and discussions, et al. Moving on, from a position that Kumar probably considers beautiful if not unique, he tells us that he loves both Philip Roth and Shrilal Shukla, and that the fact that the two will never come together pains him. Here, I cannot resist the temptation to establish an analogy with the recent Sharapova-Tendulkar affair. Isn’t Kumar’s wish of Roth and Shukla getting to know each other or each other’s work almost like Ishant Sharma the cricketer wishing that Maria Sharapova and Sachin Tendulkar become the best of friends? Sure, Kumar’s view are more nuanced, and non-violent, but in their essence they are no different from the feelings of the millions of Indian cricket fans who gave Sharapova a tough time for not knowing who our cricketing god is. Things are further complicated if we consider the particular case of an Indian-American cricket fan who lives just a mile or so away from Sharapova’s residence in New York.

Whatever be the efforts to rationalize it, Kumar’s position betrays itself as one of assumed inferiority. One wonders what Shrilal Shukla would have said about this. Somehow, I am certain that while Shukla would have been delighted at the prospect of a large American readership, his evaluation in the eyes of Philip Roth (whose best work, Portnoy’s Complaint, is about a teenager’s struggle with masturbation) would have mattered to him much. The socio-economic, religious, and ultimately even moral, systems that the two greats came from, did not match much.

Let me get this straight then: I want my generation of writers write their Raag Darbaris and to seek publication in every corner of the world, and I want them to do it always in the search for new readerships and never in the search for recognition by writers of that country or culture.


The word that Kumar uses often in his essay is translation. In his readings of Paul Auster or of Tennessee Williams, he remembers making connections that bring him back to some or the other aspect of his homeland, India. What he means, of course, is that he translates these Western works inside his Indian mind, sort of allowing himself to free-associate using some of the specifics as springboards and eventually landing at something intimate and personal and Indian. One of the major arguments in the essay, and certainly one that I do not disagree with, is about how this translation can happen in the reverse too. An Indian work may also be translated in a Western mind, and Kumar gives a good example of how Ajay Navaria’s stories of Dalit discrimination may, in a reading by Paul Auster, appear to the American as analogous to his family’s experiences with anti-semitism.

But is this thought really as profound as Kumar makes it appear?

It might be interesting to introduce my mother to the readers at this point. My mother can only read comfortably in Hindi, and has practised even that quite rarely over the years. I asked her what she thought of My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, a novel that I made her read (a fairly good Hindi translation has been available for some time now). Keeping Kumar’s usage of the word in mind, I gave it some thought as to what sort of translation had probably occurred in her mind. More so because Pamuk’s My Name is Red is a unique case of an Asian writer who feels himself close to Europe, telling a story that feels almost eerily intimate to most Indians. My mother confirmed my notions: she had mapped Pamuk’s story to her own concoctions of the miniature painting culture in India, referenced most of the action with what was happening in the Mughal India of those times, and then developed an almost Ottoman-esque sense of loss for the splendor of that potent version of India. This interview with my mother told me, very simply, that the appropriation of a story’s culture and context to one’s own is the by-product of every text-reader relationship? And so, what’s the big deal with cultural translation, really? If Mr. Paul Auster reads Meena Kandaswamy, he might end up thinking of Martin Luther. So what? What’s the inherent value in this?

Let us stretch the argument in the reverse. Let’s ask: Does it matter to Orhan Pamuk how he is perceived in India? My hunch is that it does, because such mattering and non-mattering must be a question of the degree of overlap between the writer’s (or the concerned work’s) assumed culture and the culture to which the work travels. The writer of a Turkish novel about miniature paintings is likely to be concerned about its reception in a country where miniature painting was almost as important (of course, this can happen only if the writer is an established figure and knows that his work will travel to the other country). The writer of a German novel about the Third Reich is likely to be concerned about its reception in Poland. The writer of a Hindi novel about the intersections of caste and class in rural India is likely to be concerned about its reception in countries where similarly complex socio-economic structures exist. But why the writer of a great book on Patna should fret too much about the reception of his work in Brooklyn is beyond me, unless of course the writer himself is one of the few cultural entities common between the two places.


If my essay appears to have deviated from the issue of a manifesto for Indian literature, it is because I am strictly following the detours of Kumar’s piece. It is unclear at this point what Kumar intends to propose to fellow writers: Is he talking about NOT bothering about the West at all, or is he talking about presenting the shivers of India’s realities while pretending not to bother if these realities travel well or not? Should we write thinking of that (cultural) translation or should we ignore that translation? What exactly is this ‘real’ again?

Thankfully, after the platitudes on translation, Kumar’s essay does veer towards addressing the abstractions in his manifesto. ‘The depiction of blood on the streets’ and ‘the cold air of the morgue’ – these push Kumar towards a discussion on violence, and how violence is represented in media and in literature. In a statement that can only be called ill-advised, he ventures to say that ‘a writer’s task today, more than ever before, has become one of making sense of violence.’ (Such delineations of the ‘writer’s task’ are always problematic, and do little to provide anything utilitarian to anyone practicing the art.) Nido Taniam, the young man from Arunachal Pradesh who was murdered by a bunch of shopkeepers in Delhi, is recalled. Kumar focuses on the manner in which Taniam’s killing was reported, he notes the sense of inevitability inherent in that tragedy, and presents an arbitrary sentence that makes tasteless use of the words ‘chronicle of a death foretold.’ At a general level, Kumar presents a writer’s construction of sense in violence as another act of translation, because ‘a writer often has to report imaginatively to a report of violence from a part of the world other than the one in which he or she is living.’ It is difficult to disagree with this, and one looks forward to how Kumar will present examples of such imaginative usage by writers of past, and what new imaginations he will suggest to present writers. To begin with, Kumar gives us a shockingly inept appreciation of Uday Prakash’s story Tirich. We are never told just how Prakash managed a commendable depiction of violence in his short story, for Kumar does not really elaborate the technique of the story any further than using the adjectives sensitivesofttender… for its narration. He is, on the other hand, too eager to fall back on his own personal experiences of reading or meeting Uday Prakash. Once again, from a position that betrays I-am-there-already, a position that presumably allows Kumar to dine with Pankaj Mishra and Uday Prakash in different continents in the same week, he tells us how he discussed Tirich with the Hindi master while watching an India versus Pakistan cricket match. ‘Such sad inevitability!’

A general appreciation of Prakash’s work follows, after which Kumar notes another example of the sort of translation that he has glorified earlier in the essay. Apparently, he was gripped by nostalgia when he encountered in Prakash’s work the names of people and places because they sounded to him like – er – like Indian.

So then, Kumar starts with violence only to digress majestically, without offering even a semblance of a point in between. He does return to the topic of violence, yes, but before that there is a barrage of general appreciation that the reader has to trudge through, none of which seems very well linked with the objective that he began the essay with. He appreciates the fiction of Salman Rushdie and Jhumpa Lahiri, credits them with the ‘complicated art of cultural engineering’; he appreciates English, August, Upmanyu Chatterjee’s first and best novel, rightfully crediting it with a persisting relevance; he appreciates a Pankaj Mishra essay, giving credit to Mishra’s 1988 portrayal of ‘ruin in decaying towns like Varanasi and Allahabad’; he appreciates Vishal Bhardwaj’s film Maqbool, citing it as an example of a new kind of translation from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Whether we agree or disagree with Kumar’s perspicacious appreciations is beside the point – we have already reached the last page of the essay, and no clarifications on the poetic manifesto have yet been presented. Instead, Kumar predictably plunges into an anecdote about this opportunity he once had to write a screenplay for Mahesh Bhatt. ‘Such glory!’


The essay’s return to violence is achieved through examples of two fathers whose daughters suffered the gravest of crimes. In the first one – the case of the young woman whom we all know as Nirbhay – Kumar focuses on the father’s honest admission of being first and foremost worried about the money that would be needed in providing care to his daughter. Kumar rightfully ponders over this fact’s ability to hint at something quite unfathomable yet real in the way we might respond in our most tragic hours.

But in the second example, that of a young Dalit woman raped and murdered in Haryana, Kumar presents us not with reportage but with a piece of text that could very well contain a dash of fiction: it is probably Kumar’s own written version of the news story. This is undoubtedly the bravest point in the entire essay, and Kumar’s text is not without its intended horrifying effect. (After all, he is a great writer.) Here at last he provides a sample of how a writer might exercise imagination and blur the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction while responding to an act of violence.

But the tragedy of the essay follows immediately. From the incredibly affecting description of a body devastated by the insurmountable terror it had to face, Kumar ends up making a ‘plea for the ordinary,’ for ‘startling quotidian arrangements,’ for ‘verandahs, advertisement hoardings, waiting rooms, pincushions, paperweights.’ Paperweights! The shift from one kind of reality, of a scream stifled in the mouth of a body in rigor mortis, to the other, that of the paperweight, is hurried and arbitrary. In a country where extreme sexual violence is the norm, why exactly is Kumar NOT asking for ‘urgent voices hoarse from all the shouting at Jantar Mantar’? I and my writing friends still assume a bemused look when we think of this last section of Kumar’s essay. It is as if: after we had contemplated the excessive blood on the streets, after we found ourselves disgusted by the putrid smell of the morgue, – which is to say, after we had a glimpse of the color of the so-called real – we had been pushed into a sanitized waiting room, where a smiling nurse gestured in a way that meant we had to remain quiet, and notice nothing more than the slow trails of sweat droplets on each other’s faces!

‘The Shiver of the Real’ ends soon thereafter.


It is not that I am against the ‘ordinary’ in fiction, or that I believe that today’s India needs literature of the consistently howling variety. I love my Amit Chaudhuri and my Saadat Hasan Manto equally. I’m just bemoaning the loss of opportunity in Kumar’s essay. Violence, its depiction in the media, the reception of that depiction by the masses – literature can and must address all three issues, and Kumar could have spent more time thinking about just how literature can think about these questions anew, if there is any need for the new, that is.

When he begins to talk about violence, Kumar says that he ‘read(s) the news careening about on social media about shootings and terrorist attacks, massacres and gang rapes.’ One has to pause and think, is this really true? Does social media really present acts of violence to us like this, like careening sets of reportage? Or is there a more complicated process at work?

Let me try to throw some light on how the non-TV watching generation, my generation, gets news about acts of violence. It happens through Facebook (or Twitter, although the modalities are only slightly different). As a halfway politically and morally sentient person you (or your friends) have liked pages of most Indian and global newspapers and magazines, and so after you wake up and login you will see, interspersed with stupid updates from your friends, a post from The Economist that talks about the violence in Ukraine, a post from The Atlantic that talks about violence in Syria, a post from Times of India that talks about a latest rape in Uttar Pradesh, a post from a politically hyper-active friend that just shows a photo-shopped Narendra Modi holding a bloodied sword, et cetera. Unlike the TV, none of this is a detailed broadcast. So if anything interests you, you are not going to be automatically subjected to reportage. The medium is not passive. You will be required to click on the post and land on another website that will give you more information about your chosen act of violence. If the massacre in Donetsk interests you more than the one in Mosul, go for it. While the bombardment of terrible news on TV creates its own mental fatigue and is interesting to the cultural commentator in its own right, the bombardment on social networks is different in nature. It is restrained; it has that colossal element of choice combined with that ease of the mega-ignore. And note how the effort required for the mega-ignore is of a different sort. One doesn’t switch the channel or turn off the TV, one stays on the same medium, merely flicking down or up. And while TV always has this capacity to rapidly communicate details that might still grab your attention through sheer noise or spectacle, a FB post is at best a link to these things, and is in that sense one degree farther away from the act itself than TV is.

All of this is to say that even the most sensitive folks of my generation have a unique experience of violence as a faraway thing of choice. We know all the headlines but deep-dive only in what really interests us. Which is good because none of our knowledge of the world’s horrible ways is an accident. Which is bad because as time goes on, we deep-dive less and less.

A generation whose knowledge of violence comes to it in this manner will tend to view violent stories not as separate narratives with tragic arcs but as components of a list. The real nature of violence, which its reportage retains to a certain degree on the TV, is quashed. Its ugly spectacles are neutered of their affective power. Violence in the world becomes a thing among other things. News of a rape can appear just beneath the photograph of a two day old baby girl that one of your friends was blessed with. The private ordinary merges with the public spectacle, and the experience of either is governed by simple rules of choice. I’m not suggesting that this element of choice was not there earlier, or that it is not like this with TV; my only claim is that list-like nature of experience has reached its zenith with social networks.

The ethical problems are obvious. But the writer’s task here is a difficult thing to set down in detail. It is one thing to be able to create the father’s voice in a rightfully affecting way. It is another thing to understand that for crimes like these to not fritter away insignificantly as foretold deaths, it is the neutered way that such news will reach the new generation that will need to be challenged. Artists should, I believe, be inspired by the second problem, which is a structural one, one entwined with the zeitgeist, and therefore also the one that is more challenging to crack.

In other words: the problem is not so much to write about violence in a deeply sensitive way, which anyone can do, but to understand and respond to a particular crisis of the 21st century, in which violence manifests as a banal list, all mixed up with lists of various other kinds.

I can think of a couple of ways in which literature can respond. Imagine if the list-like nature in which we get news of violent acts is presented as is, but in an alternate setting. The sentient reader may understand that the sheer excess of elements in the list, while insanely boring, also hides the horror of the real excesses of violence in a very real world. Something like this was achieved by Roberto Bolano in his last novel 2666. Bolano, for whom the concealment of true horror by true boredom is a constant thread in almost all his work, provides, in the fourth part of his behemoth of a novel, called ‘The Part about the Crimes,’ a list of chronicles of the murders of scores of women in the imaginary Mexican town of Santa Teresa. These chronicles, which are usually atonal descriptions of the women’s mutilated bodies (almost all of them vaginally and anally raped), benumb the reader with their sheer excess. Reading of a new murder causes no new feeling, and side stories of cops and investigators on the trail of the criminals prove to be mere Macguffins. After it becomes clear that none of the crimes will be solved, the reader can do nothing but prepare herself for a long bout of boredom created by nothing other than the sheer excess of the horrific.

Perhaps the other option in writing about violence, the tougher one, is to challenge the tyranny of the list as it pertains to a single event. To do this, one can choose or imagine a particularly violent crime, say a Nirbhay-like rape, and define an artistic project that does nothing but describes that crime again and again, through various perspectives and in varying amounts of detail. To just reproduce, in text, the content of the numerous TV reportages of that violent crime, a reproduction done as is, without embellishments, will be a curious enough experiment whose effects might achieve more than the most sensitive and realistic description of the ghastly crime. It will introduce us, hopefully, to the risk of not clicking through on each and every act of violence.

In both these ways, the feeling of estrangement (and not identification) with the victim is the first outcome, which soon enough should bring about a feeling of guilt, of not thinking and acting as much as one should. Note that this estrangement effect is brought about not by describing the ordinary, as Kumar’s essay touts as the good strategy espoused by Amit Chaudhari, but by artistic excess, which in turn will push the aesthetic idea that in this world flooded with spectacular images, the extraordinary has begun to register as ordinary. All the sincerity necessary in depicting acts of violence in literature can follow from there.

I sincerely hope that writers from my generation recognize that the coordinates of what is a spectacle and what not have changed dramatically once again (the first change probably happened with TV). Also, I secretly hope that not all of us overburden ourselves with the ordinary. Since the time of Joyce and Proust, and to our very own Amit Chaudhuri, the ordinary has had its brilliant proponents. I propose that in our mad age, it is the extraordinary that may need the stilts provided by literature. We should take on the extraordinary, every now and then.

Of course, the two ways to write about violence are mere suggestions. And my notions of the ordinary and the extraordinary are also just that – my notions. I neither have the authority nor the desire to recommend something in black and white to my fellows. Do I myself feel so strongly about violence when I am writing fiction? I don’t think so. At least not yet. Apropos my birth in February 1986, I should perhaps mention that the place was Muzaffarnagar, where I spent the subsequent seventeen years of my life. I followed the recent bloodshed in the district keenly, more so because my parents – Jaats – live in the city and were not entirely clear from the line of fire. There were nights when my father could not sleep a single minute. But sitting as I was in Bombay, I never felt like writing about any of it. I could have probably written an essay about this very literary nonchalance regarding the violence in my hometown, but it would surely have turned out as a vulgar thing, a self-indulgent piece that would do little more than to highlight my air of earned privilege, of making the arduous journey from mofussil Muzaffarnagar to cosmopolitan Bombay. I instead wrote a short story in which I imagined a young Joseph Conrad meeting a young Rabindranath Tagore in late 19th century Calcutta. My story did not stem from the ‘real,’ did it? it had nothing to do with the question of ordinary or extraordinary. But should it not have existed then? Should it not have tried to be a credible one? Was I wasting my time?

Zadie Smith said something to that effect, and I believe it to be true: we writers do what we can do. There should be a sense of progress, yes, and it is indeed our task to discover new ways of expression. But doesn’t it also mean (to respond poetically to Kumar) that we cease swatting those cobwebs of history inside the waiting room before hell, and instead take on the streets of the present world, streets that are sometimes calm and sometimes bloody.

The ‘real’ does not exist in itself, it is made by the artist. I want the writers of my generation to define the multitude of their reals in unique ways, impressed yet never burdened by the achievements of our precursors. If your ‘real’ includes the fantastic and the extraordinary, so be it. If it requires the gruesome, it’s fine. And if the minutest concerns of sibling rivalry form your ‘real,’ that is welcome too.


Nearing the end now, let me bring to light one last dimension that Kumar touches upon in his essay. He calls the diaspora story, as told by Bharati Mukherjee, ‘by now a familiar one.’ I think it is a fair assessment. And he is also fair when he shows respects for Jhumpa Lahiri’s fiction of the diaspora, for her kind of cultural engineering, done just fine. On the home base, he rightfully brings to light the importance of English translations of Indian regional literature.

But the diasporic and the regional are yhe only two varieties of Indian letters that receive critical attention from Kumar. It might appear to a reader of Kumar’s essay that there exist only two kinds of good stories – one that resides in the West but is not Western, and the other that has absolutely nothing to do woth the West, one that Kumar wishes to leap and lead, translation-wise. To his credit, he does mention English, August, a novel that fits neither of the above two types. Urban Agastya finding himself in the mofussil and feeling exiled – that story will never go old in India.

My claim is that there is more; there are are other, newer stories now, stories of my generation, a generation that gained its sentimental education in an globalizing environment inside India, a generation that is neither enamored by the diaspora nor by the desi, and also a generation that, by some strange sort of cultural pole-vaulting, does not feel in exile in the mofussil. This might be because we are a queer generation; we belong to our little districts and the world at large, simultaneously.

Imagine a young Indian man kissing a young French woman in Pali Naka, Bandra, and a nearby guava seller witnessing the event with curiosity. There are two Kumarian short stories possible here. One from the point of view of the young man, who in fact holds an American passport and was born and brought up in San Francisco. In kissing his girlfriend, the young man is doing something completely natural to him, and yet he feels something strange during the act. This strangeness is a product of the place; he feels looked at, and this troubles him. This is the story that Jhumpa Lahiri can write extraordinarily well.

The other story is from the point of view of the guava seller. He is a migrant from Eastern U.P. and has taken to selling seasonal fruits in Bandra because of the higher mark-up he can extract in this neighbourhood. He witnesses such kisses everyday, and these both bemuse and excite him. For some strange reason he finds himself offering a discount to all white women accompanied by Indian-looking men. Sometimes the younger fruit sellers tease these ‘guests.’ Our guava-seller takes a very harsh view of such tomfoolery and regularly teaches a good lesson to those loafers, often at a great risk to himself. This is the story that Uday Prakash can tell better than anyone else.

I propose a new story, one told by a nearly-omniscient narrator, in which the young man is from Muzaffarnagar and is spending half his salary to pay the rent for the house he shares with the French woman, whom he met three years ago in a university exchange program. The French woman is, let’s say, from a small town in Brittany, say Vannes, and has chased our young man for love. She is now beginning to get tired of the squalor of India, also its deplorable behavior towards foreign women. She wants to leave. The only way the couple can be together is if they get married, a concept that the girl is not sure she trusts. The kiss is perhaps one of their last kisses, formed out of the last vestiges of a passion that the man is trying hard to rekindle. The guava seller has seen them kiss on this street over the last three years, and has secretly coached himself of the language that the kisses’ grammar hides. He notes that this kiss is somehow different, terminal. He goes up to the couple with his finest guava and presents it to the woman. ‘From India, with love,’ he says in broken English.