In the Hot Unconscious by Charles Foster is his experience and perception about India and the reader travels through India with the writer.
Foster allows the Indian readers to laugh at their own religion and community, which is a great achievement because in this apparently “politically correct” world, they have forgotten to do that.
Distancing himself from the generic breed of western authors who glorified everything Indian as equivalent of attaining nirvana, Foster says, ‘I am not of those western authors who rhapsodize everything Indian’. And true to his words, after reading the book, you might find him very cynical.
His upbringing led him to believe that he did not belong to one community and he empathizes with a common Indian. About India’s culture, Foster modestly reflects that India is an amalgamation of communities and thus, he has much more to learn from India and its people than they have to learn from him.
In the cacophony and the echoing silence of India, Foster confronts his own religious presumptions, and wonders whether the mystical traditions of east and west can be married. Most of all, he questions what it means to be realized, and if his expedition can lead him to that.
Foster is uncomfortable with many of his encounters with other people…. whether Indians or westerners. The westerners are mainly convinced that they have found a superior philosophy and nirvana in various ashrams but he doesn’t feel so. According to him, there are enough horror stories about the search for nirvana or the non-effectiveness of religious and social systems.
More than the content of the book, it was the narrative that engaged me more. The author has talked about things that Indians take for granted or to be their second nature and thus, don’t think much about them.
For example, if in the third para itself you read about an Indian man urinating in an open drain, being an Indian you don’t seem to mind it. But for any foreigner it’s a big shock! Yes, having travelled to so many countries I have never ever come across a local man in any country doing that and can imagine why he wrote about it.
To be honest, at this point I began to wonder whether I want to continue with the book or not. However, gradually the author settles down to his bizarre Indian journey. His encounters with Indians at one level are of the typical western man meeting an Easterner, except that his stories tend to be a bit different.
Every chapter in the book starts with a quote and the conversations are laced with Zen humour. His writing is magical, shifting easily between buoyancy and contemplation. Certainly his take on the subcontinent is both harsher and more humorous than that of many travel writers.
I observed that in the book, a final realization about everything is not reached; as if it is not important to reach conclusions or has been left to readers to do it.
Charles foster says
I love India. I didn’t always. My first trip here was one of the most traumatic times of my life. That was entirely my fault. But since then, India has become tremendously important. This is a land of great riches. Its people have managed to hold on to so much of what is important. India has been a kind, gentle and patient teacher.
Physically, I didn’t like the paper quality of this book. I always believe books are our treasures and are for the keeps but unlike other books, this won’t survive for long. Pages and the cover are not as strong as we generally get to feel. Something to do with the printers I guess. It is published under the Tranquebar Press imprint of Westland Books. I have read many books by Westland and I found this one below their standards. Very light weight book. 🙂
I won’t call it a ‘must read’ book but yes, it’s good time pass when you are waiting or travelling.
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