Country Insights India: City and Village Life (Children's Book Review)
By: Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach
India in Your Living Room Learning Series
Want to know how the average person in India lives? What is it like to live in village India? How does living in the village or in the city create a unique way of life? David Cumming attempts to answer in his forty-eight page book, Country Insights India: City and Village Life, while providing an overview of India’s modern culture.
Through stories of life in the city of Bangalore (Karnataka state) and the village of Thrickodithanam (Kerala state), the reader gets a good impression of how an average person lives; their triumphs, their struggles, their opportunities and desires for change. The narrations are accompanied by vivid, colorful and realistic images of daily life of average people. The photos of average people quoted throughout the book are not models, they are everyday people doing everyday things- eating their dinners, walking barefoot to school and sweating in the heat. These images may not be glamorous, but provide a raw, tangible aspect to the book. This is real life, whether it is India or America or any other country- there are people of all kinds of backgrounds living different lifestyles and making their lives successful with the knowledge, skills and resources they have or aspire to have. This is one of the lessons I have learned from the book.
I really enjoyed reading the quotations accompanying the photos. People of all ages share some interesting aspect of their life in one or two sentences. The children’s perspectives are always so simple, sweet and bring a smile to my face. For example, Ashok says, “We have to wear a uniform, like all school children in India. I’m going to be in trouble because I’ve lost my tie.” (p. 31) More cute quotations are on pages 12, 25, and 38.
As India is so diverse and difficult to describe in kid-terms, I give kudos to the author for achieving this. Though the book reduced stereotypes by focusing on individual people and telling their stories, there are parts of the book that I felt could be improved.
Throughout the book, the terms ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ are used. It is true these descriptors have a grain of truth- but for whom? Why should, for instance slum dwellers or villagers be labeled as ‘poor’? Is this a label they created for themselves or the author has created for them? And to what is this compared to? It is true that many villagers and slum dwellers do not make a lot of money, but being a graduate of a social work program in India, I do not call these people ‘poor.’ In some ways the villagers and slum dwellers taught me an important lesson in prosperity. When visiting their homes, they had few food or drink items. It is also true they had little money. But, as it is considered puniya (good luck) to serve something to guests, they would do anything to offer us any food or drink item, preferably tea, with milk. Villagers would come together and pool ten or fifteen rupees (US .20-.30) to buy a packet of milk to feed tea to me and my friends. To me this is a wealth beyond financial definitions. Their spiritual, mental and emotional wealth helped them temporarily overcome any financial challenges they were facing. Impressive! A specific example of judgmental wording is seen in the photo descriptor on page 20. Next to a picture of a man in a village sitting next to his one room house made out of what appears to be scrap pieces of wood reads, “None of the people in this Colony have the money to build a good home.” In this sentence are two words I contest: “none” and “good house”. To illustrate my contention with these terms, I will share one more story. There was a person in a Chennai slum who wanted a new house. Their house would be a one room wood construction with mud walls. This person was so proud, happy and appreciative to provide a roof over the head of his family. He had been saving for months to have a new home. I met the builders of this house. They were happy to provide this service for this man and his family and were also happy to have a job so they could provide for their own families (see a picture of these construction workers here). It is true, if you put a person like me into that situation to live, I may feel lack or need, but the people who live in these situations may not feel this way at all.
I understand it is difficult to write any book, story or blog from a true non-judgmental or biased viewpoint. As humans we write from our viewpoint, which is inherently biased in someway. It is often the reader’s intuition and worldliness that inspires questions. This can be done as an adult, but can children always make this discrimination? Would children question the words ‘poor’ and ‘rich’ especially when coupled with powerful images (such as the man sitting next to his house)? This is important for parents to do when reading books and when sharing any type of media with their children. Because I believe it is a rare find to read or watch something truly unbiased with your children, rather than not share it, share the questions that come up in your mind as you read it with your children. Ask them what they think ‘poor’ and ‘rich’ means or any of these black or white descriptor words. Have a discussion with your children, see the world through their eyes and keep teaching each other about the world around you!
Have you read David Cumming’s book, Teens In India? Share your thoughts below.
This review is part of the 'India in your living room; media review series. Browse other reviewed items at the archive.
Thank you for reading. If you have ideas of products for me to review for this series, e-mail me.
India Country Insights: City and Village Life, Amazon.com.
Photos of my Social Work Master's Program, Chennai, India 1999-2001
List of Hindu Holidays
I nterfaith India/America Calendar
Author of this post and owner of this blog; Jennifer Kumar, CC, MSW, is a cross-cultural coach. If you are adjusitng to a new culture with children and want help in creating ideas to teach your kids about your homeland, I am happy to help. Contact her for more information at authenticjourneys at gmail dot com. See her coaching site, Authentic Journeys.
Updated Jan. 2011