Sideways on a Scooter – Miranda Kennedy – book review
I have read a few travel memoirs, and a few books about India. I am a huge Salman Rushdie fan and recently read “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” for a book group, which left me with a lacklustre feeling, considering it’s hard-hitting subject matter – abject poverty in Indian slums. I was reading this one for my Destinations Book and Dinner Club, which is a great group, but the meetings are often more about the dinner than the book.
It’s very informative, interesting and well-though out, a higher quality of writing than some of the travel memoirs I have read recently. Miranda Kennedy is an American journalist who moves to India for several years. I found myself liking her a lot. I’d like to go to the pub with her, I bet she has even more good stories than she put down in this book.
She talks about settling in to Indian ways, how a single woman (shock! horror!) goes about acquiring a flat in Delhi. What she does is she lies and say she’s married. Actually, she has to lie to almost all the Indian people she knows, some become her good friends, but she can never be truly honest about who she is. She tells us all about her friends’ lives and the conversations she has with them about their lives, and she really wants to understand them and empathise with them. But I struggle to see how they could really get to know her, with absolutely no frame of reference in which to put life in the US, which must have made her stay there very lonely.
Kennedy goes into lots of detail about the complexities of employing household help, and does a pretty bloody good job of explaining the caste system in India, and how it affects Indian people’s every lives right now. She manages to get the exactly right balance of facts, statistics and history alongside the personal stories of the people she meets. There are the interesting bits and very sad bits and the humorous bits and the proper laugh-out-loud bits. My favourite story is one of bra-shopping in modern India – brilliant!
She talks about two Indian friends in particular, both unconventional modern Indian women. One has a long-term boyfriend who she cannot live with for various societal reasons. One who had moved to Delhi from the country to work until she was 30, and had yet to marry, we are told the story of her search for a man, Indian-style, and the subsequent sort-of courtship and wedding. There is, of course, lots of stories and viewpoints from the perspective of women in India, as I would argue things are changing the fastest for them right now.
I visited Delhi myself, about four years ago with a female friend, we were shocked and amazed several times a day at Indian men’s reaction to us. I can’t imagine what it was like to live there for years. The only criticism I have, and it’s not much of one, is that she never tells the reader why she’s there. OK, some of her family members have been there in the past, but that’s not enough for me, she could have gone anywhere, and for the most part, India seems to annoy her a bit, I’d love to know what she likes about it, I don’t think she ever says.
When a Western woman is issued with a visa to visit India she should also be issued with a copy of this book as standard.