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Book Review: An Indian In Cowboy Country

Ranjani Saigal
08/06/2008

” An Indian in Cowboy Country is a must read…. it is the tale of an Asian Indian’s journey in an alien society, simultaneously maintaining one’s moorings and moral center” says Nandan Nilekani, CEO of Infosys Technologies in the forward he wrote for the book.

Surprisingly the journey begins not in America but rather in Bombay, India where protagonist Satish as a Tamil immigrant to Bombay witnesses the Bombay riots. People who were suspected to be immigrants (not belonging to the state of Maharashtra) were attacked. It is quite a shock for Satish who never saw himself as an immigrant. The tale then moves to IIT Bombay where the lives of academically skilled but socially undernourished undergraduate IITian are chronicled. The book leaves immigrant lives out for a moment and takes us to the working environment of an Indian company and later into the spiritual space of Shirdi where Satish experiences some miracles at the Shrine of Sai Baba. This chapter is well written and the details of life in a small town have been brought to life beautifully.

For the reader expecting  the traditional immigration stories, The Interview and The Touch would take them through experience of an Indian engineer working in an American company. The all too familiar incidences of the subtle and sometimes not so subtle discrimination and the constant struggle between not letting your dignity go while keeping your visa status alive is lucidly described. Many an Indian immigrant engineer is bound to identify with this.
Going Home and Bride Hunting in Bombay will again be something that most Indian immigrants can identify with. The delightful reentry to India where spaces and people seem unchanged and yet ever changing and the unquestioning love and support of a family that can see no wrong in their son is beautifully brought out.  The details of a Tamil home in Matunga can quite make you smell the Rasam and taste the Poriyal. Bride Hunting, as expected is a rather humorous tale of determined parents trying to find a wife for Satish in a very short time. The good news as always is that they succeed! And Satish marries the one that his mom puts on the top of the short list!

The rest of the book deals with the painful incidents of being unfairly terminated from a company and trying to find a new job. Two Lines, The Hunt and Labor Day are really the highlights of the book and is a must read for anyone facing the prospect of losing a job.  It shows how one could change a problem into an opportunity and be rejuvenated by the experience.

In fact this is a theme that stands out through the entire book. The protagonist never looks at any issue in a negative light.  Be it divorce or job loss he is always looking to solve the problem at hand in the methodical manner of a typical engineer. He tries to move to the next phase rather than pondering on the present. This is an inspirational message that could serve well for anyone going through a rough patch in life.

This attitude is arguably also one of the negatives of the book. Anand does not touch upon any deeply emotional issue. He brings up huge topics like divorce, alcoholism, spousal abuse, two career families and yet mentions them as words without spending any time on them. The topics do not enhance the tale in anyway and could have been left out. But once having brought them up, the writer rather than the engineer in Anand should have dwelled on the topics more. It would have given more depth to the book.

Overall it is a fun read and serves to enlighten the reader on a few important issues. For more information on the book please check out http://www.pradeepanand.com



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