Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Favorite reads for understanding India

The transition to USA (both the time zone and just living here) is underway. It's been a month since we arrived in Portland. It is taking longer than I expected, but I'm back in my right mind (mostly) and ready to write, think, and discuss!

Over the last eleven years since I first visited India, I've read dozens of books and hundreds of articles and websites on interacting with Indian culture. Here are my top picks of books for the record. If you're doing to go to India for more than a month, or need to interact with Indian on a regular basis, these are invaluable.

Speaking of India: Bridging the Communication Gap When Working With Indians by Craig Storti (Washington, D.C.: Intercultural Press, 2007). Primarily for the business context, this goes beyond how to be polite or customs and delves in values or beliefs that are different. For example, what is the purpose of the meeting or the role of a manager in the India vs. the West? Very practical, helpful and full of case studies by a guy who used to be in the Peace Corp and has consulted with businesses in USA and India the last few years.

In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce (New York: Anchor Books, 2008). Written by a British journalist who was stationed in India and is married to an Indian, this is a great overview of the paradoxes and amazing statistics of growing India. Also, you don't have to read from beginning to end. There are chapters on all the main issues today: the rise of the lower castes, India vs. China, etc. Great interview and crisp writing.

Being Indian: Inside the Real India by Pavan Varma (Penguin Books, 2004). A former Indian diplomat and well-known author asks the question, "With all the sub-cultures inside India, what are the common things or values that make all Indians tick?" He belives (and I agree) it is a unique pursuit of power, wealth, and technology combined with a contradictory embrace of violence and acccommodation.

Lastly, if you need a simple overview of India's history, traditions and customs, or etiquette (don't use your left hand to eat, etc.), then I recommend India - CultureSmart! (a very short booklet) or, for a little more depth, CultureShock! India. And a great book that is not India-specific but which definitely applies is Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot and Cold Climate Cultures. This book -- along with Being Indian -- has the added benefit that it's written from a neutral cultural viewpoint. In other words, you could read this book along with your Indian friend and have a great discussion while the other books are targeting a Western audience.

Do you know of other great reads -- especially recently published books -- on India? I'd love to learn about them!

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