“I have seen every American film,” my language tutor Ajit boasts as we sip chai in the hot Indian sun.
This is a bold claim for an American to make, but for a student at India’s University of Hyderabad, and as a lover of American movies myself, I’m intrigued.
“‘The Dark Knight,'” I test.
“Everyone has seen ‘Dark Knight!’ Christian Bale is a hero.”
“The Notebook,” I try again.
Even I have never seen “The Notebook.”
“Ugh, very sad,” he reminisces, and sips deeply on his chai.
He can tell me something about every film I think of, but he flips when I say “Pulp Fiction.”
“Tarantino! My favorite all-time! So great.”
American media and enterprise have spread around the world like a fever since the start of the 20th century. India has caught that fever as much as anywhere else, and in these blog posts I intend to explore how globalization has shaped this process along three dimensions. The struggles and successes of the American culture and companies that have made their home in Hyderabad over the last 30 years can tell us a lot about America itself.
First, culturally. Why do so many kids slap their wrist and chant, “Ben Ten! Ben Ten!” when I introduce myself?
Second, economically. Why does Microsoft have more employees in Hyderabad than anywhere outside of Seattle in the world? What’s the draw for American multinational corporations to this landlocked city in the center of India?
And third, gastronomically. Why are McDonald’s and KFC the powerhouses they are in Hyderabad? Have they changed Hyderabad’s eating habits, and how has Hyderabad changed these establishments?
In closing, I’m reminded of an Indian tale I heard when I was a little kid: a king brings some blind men into a room with an elephant, and asks them what they feel. Each man touches a different part of an elephant and is separately convinced that the elephant is a pillar, or a rope, or a spear. As a kid, I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to do to blind people, but since I’ve been in India I’ve been thinking:
Maybe it means India’s the elephant. And America’s the blind man. And McDonald’s is the spear. Or it could mean India is the spear and America is the pillar and it’s the world that is blind. And I’d like that.
But that ain’t the truth. The truth is, America’s the elephant. And I’m the blind man. But I’m tryin’, readers. I’m tryin’ real hard to be the king.
If this sounds interesting, or you’re my Mom, come back to this page every Wednesday for new posts!