A pink taxi

A pink taxi

August 14, 2011

Western-integrated Intellectuals of the Developing World

My older brother does me the biggest favor by sending me articles that he selects very carefully. He knows I am fanatic about leMonde and that I have the attention span of a biased reader: the topic has to be addressed to my interest and the style has to pass the test.

He sent me an article from the Guardian that would have otherwise sounded banal: "There is Progress in Afghanistan even if the Afghans don't want to admit it." I gave it a chance and soon enjoyed the reading immensely. I thought the writer had wit and an inner understanding of the mentality. There was a small autobiographical reference where she mentions that she had lived in Afghanistan in the past. This lead me to believe that Nushin Arbabzadah is Afghan. But had she not mentioned it, I would have still known that only an Afghan has the references she has.

Foreign experts, even SouthWest Asians, like Iranians and Pakistanis, cannot write about Afghanistan the way Arbabzadah does. They may know their facts, but as foreigners, like their Western colleagues, they are careful in their criticism, respectful in describing what they observe if they are good journalists or otherwise sensationalist if they are not.

Native journalists and experts, of any SouthAsian country usually have too much pride to "wash their dirty laundry in public" and rarely, though unconsicously, criticize their own country. Here on the other hand, is a self deprecating journalist who is astonished at the attitude of her compatriots. Afghans have never "had it better" is what she says, almost using that straight foreword lingo, and they "dare complain" is how I would paraphrase her thesis sentence for that article. Her writing style is very AngloSaxon bordering on Americanized. I therefore guessed that she is a Westernized Afghan. She has been trained to think and express herself in a Western way, yet her knowledge of the subject matter is intimate and different from the Western expert on SouthAsia.

I encountered another Westernized Third Worlder. A friend of my husband sent him an Economist article about an emerging talent in French literature: a native of Congo-Brazzaville. My husband, like my brother, knew that I would be interested, so I got the email eventually. I ran to the bookstore and have read Alain Mabanckou's novel Black Bazar in 2 days flat (granted its my Ramadan reading, I stay up late reading).

His writing is very engaging, his style flows. I am not engrossed in the narrative as much as I am impressed with his language. He has mastered French to perfection, without sounding erudite. French is therefore his mother tongue. As for the Afghan journalist, I can tell that his soul is African, but his tool of expression, his sarcasm and self criticism is very French. A white Frenchman would not have been able to write about the cocktail of African emigres and how they interact in France in the same fashion. But an African intellectual, without his francostyle, would not have sounded the same either.

I know there is a former generation of Indian writers who have written novels in perfect literary English. I have applauded Salman Rushdie and Jumpha Lahiri in this blog, but their voices are Indian down to their prouesse in English. Only Americanized Vikram Seth, and this applies only to his Golden Gate (Suitable Boy had an Indian voice) could fit in this group made of the Afghan Nushin Arbabzadah and the Congolese Alain Mabanckou.


  1. At a dinner in Monaco,I met an interesting couple who just came back from Kabul after spending their honeymoon at Serena Hotel.The Kaldenian man,member of a dwindling Christian sect that speaks Aramaic and numbers 700,000 worldwide,wed his Danish love and decided to celebrate in Kabul out of all places.They were both 70 years old,having" lived in sin for 10 years" before they changed spouses.They had donated $18,000 to build a water well in one of the villages to allow them to have a crop of the best raisins in the world.
    So I guess Kabul is becoming an interesting place to visit and celebrate anniversaries,weddings and promenades. I was assured that the security risk is exagerated and that all is well in a country that has suffered decades of Soviet,Taliban and US occupation.

  2. I have been reading "The Scramble for China" which is the history period of the Qing dynasty between 1850-1914.It shows the wickedness of the Imperialist British Empire at it's worst,when the last Chinese kingdom was rotting from within,and trying its best to stay closed to the outside world.Whether the Western powers were after a ripe or rotten apple,was left for history to prove after the Mao revolution of purification.
    The British found out that by forcing the Chinese to open their secret kingdom to the opium trade,they can use their Indian subjects to fight on their behalf and steal the secrets of the Tea industry and transplant it on the Indian subcontinent.
    The British were successful for a century,until the Chinese dragon woke up and looked down on the British cat,that was a lion at one time.