The New York Times launches India Ink


Nearly two decades ago, I made a bet with an Indian friend who was an economist at a Hong Kong investment bank and mired in a gloomy, early-1990s NRI pessimism that Indian pop culture would take over the world within a decade.  I understood my friend’s despair: he was as intelligent as anyone I’ve ever known and India had given him an incomparable education, but there was relatively little opportunity then to apply it within the country.  Still, I felt certain his despair was blinding him to India’s prodigious strengths.  My friend has since gone on to become quite an important strategist so I will spare him the indignity of naming him, but suffice to say he lost the bet: I collected in 2002 when Andrew Lloyd Webber — an arbiter of middlebrow cultural tastes if ever there was one — created his Bollywood-inspired musical Bombay Dreams.  But there are any number of ways I could have collected on this bet: food, music, film, literature, textile design, and on and on.  Today I wrote to him again, this time to collect on an expanded, doubled-down version of the bet because the New York Times launched ‘India Ink,’ its first-ever country specific blog dedicated to all things Indian which extends far beyond pop culture.

It is notable that this was not a China blog, though one can imagine that is in the works.  As was true in the early-1990s and inspired the initial bet, India has an inner complexity and multi-dimensionality that China once had and will no doubt have again but, in the interim, is being drowned out by the growth at all costs story.  What India has now that it did not have two decades ago is reasonably sound economic policies that don’t throttle Indian initiative with red tape or stultify its political class with self-defeating goals like industrial self-sufficiency.

The country still has its problems: we’ll read about those, I hope, in ‘India Ink.’  A lot of the Indian national press coverage, especially of its pop culture, has an unmerited upward bias of affirmation that makes it read like paid-for advertising.  It would seem unlikely the Times would continue that ignoble tradition but some of the early pieces — like this interview with the actress Archie Panjabi — feel notably slight.  But in the last year or two, the Indian press has played an instrumental part in revealing the engine of corruption driving Indian politics and this teeth-bared investigative role is what I look to the Times to undertake itself or, at least, bring attention to others who have done it.

In the early-1990s, I told my friend that all India needed, really, was the confidence that comes with economic success; the rest, it had already, in abundance.  However, that was how Indians needed to change; in addition, everyone else needed to learn about India as it really was, to see it beyond its folkloric stereotypes and and overly romanticized mysticism and take it seriously as a country to be engaged with on its own terms.  ‘India Ink’ is both a reflection of that education and, presumably, will be a contributor to it.  With headlines like “Welcome, Madamji” and “Newswallah” it assumes a familiarity with common phrases and suffixes that is very, very encouraging.  Let’s hope they don’t dilute that in the weeks and months ahead in the name of accessibility.


I took the photograph above on a visit to New Delhi in 1995 — as it happens, for my friend’s wedding — and I thought, really, how can you not root for a people who will launch a magazine with such an intellectually honest but advertising unfriendly title as Skeptics?

Click here to read about the aging woman I met in Kerala who is the last known practitioner on earth of a strange form of puppetry.  For my encounters in Tamil Nadu, click here to meet a master veena player who lives along the tsunami-ravaged shore or here for the hints of Bali and Cambodia — echoes of a once vast Tamil empire — that I saw along the roadside.  Or click here for archival footage of a journey through the Khyber Pass in 1930.

Click here to see my India photographs, drawn from nearly two decades of travel to the subcontinent.


One Response to “The New York Times launches India Ink”

  1. […] heralded the arrival of the India-focused New York Times blog India Ink less than three years ago, I find that the […]

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