Global Soul

By Sunil Kumar

In the age of the internet; most of us are global souls. Remember a fascinating discussion on the subject in the JLF last year. So, today’s blog is going to be about Pico Iyer and “The Global Soul“.

United States

Visit  (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

In his colourful style; Iyer lets us know that he is a global nomad; born in England; but a citizen of another place, and currently lives in Japan. This book is circa 2001; the world has transformed substantially, but some of his observations are spot-on. Moving from Toronto to California, London and Japan to Bombay; Iyer’s journey is personal.

There is a profusion of “I’s in this book” (as in I did this, I went there etc etc); so there’s the fact that the writer is pretty narcissistic, as indeed most people are around the world. His observations on England were fascinating.

Correctly stated that a substantial proportion of Indians, especially who are brought up within the country; have a slightly romantic conception of the bleak island on the edge of Europe. (No comprehensive sample survey of everything and everybody). The marketing power of Western civilization vide its television serials, novels and movies can obfuscate reality for some people who do not look carefully at the warts beneath the surface.

Contrast this to the brown “yob” South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan) who populates some parts of London(South Hall, the East End) and you can get a somewhat accurate picture of what I’m trying to say. (It’s youall freshies in’it, mates?). Today’s news: Indians displace the Irish as the largest foreign-born population in the U.K.

Iyer tells us about the rarified England which some nerds conceive of through the classics(books) that are a more romanticized version of life; rather than the real thing.

In his meeting with novelist such as Kazuo Ishigoro(“Remains of the Day” fame); the England that seems to resonate in their mental frequencies is yesteryear; the stiff upper lip dandy past that is now increasingly extinct(or probably always was except in limited enclaves). According to him, British India(the remains of what’s taught in our textbooks) does not prepare one for the present-day country; which is quite true of course.

In Toronto; Iyer discovers another substantial expat community and a multi-cultural experience. Racism is always subliminal; according to his narrative, but he finds some elements of the same everywhere; even in Japan and India. It’s rather obvious that he has not lived any time in present day Sir and Dude Bombay(Mumbai); so his approach towards the country of his parents is very peripheral.

In the global sojourn; interactions with people from various nations; and the habitual categorization of the author(as with some other people) belonging to another country are hilarious. Most people everywhere tend to generalize; putting a certain individual in a convenient cubbyhole that suits their own fancies.

Japan; a Confucian relic which sometimes pretends to be an American clone; is an interesting case study.  The custom officials trying to ascertain the author’s identity with questions such as the significance of Kyoto and asking who Masako-San is. Although the Japanese are slightly skeptical about his identity; place of birth(apart from the obvious language problems); they come out in this author’s experience as a society more stoic and resilient than the Americans; who Iyer believes are damned to sadness in their materialistic “pursuit of happiness”.  According to him; with grounding in the more Asian virtues of fatalism may lead to more contentment.

A few other snippets of knowledge; Los Angeles Airport is a mammoth structure; as is Osaka’s Kansai airport; one of two man-made structures visible from space(after the Great Wall). The requisite nod to theatre; the West End in London, but not Broadway.

This is largely a non-fiction account about a rich expat’s longing for a place in the world; going here and there, yakking on and on about himself;  but is peppered with interesting turns of phrase; and some wonderful lines.



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