Utpal Borpujari

March 1, 2009

All the clichés are reversed today : B S Prakash

If he had his way, B S Prakash would have taken to teaching and writing as a profession, his free time devoted to listening to classical music. While he does listen to classical music even now, because of ‘livelihood reasons’, he went on to clear the highest level of competitive exams and join the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) after not getting any teaching job. But then, Prakash, the son of a doctor from Shimoga and currently posted as India’s Ambassador to Brazil, has continued with his passion for writing. Proof of that lies in the just-published Clueless in California (Konark Publishers), a collection of vignettes about his experiences during his previous posting in the United States. A graduate in physics from Central College in Bangalore and an MA in philosophy from Manasa Gangotri in Mysore University, Prakash has written newspaper columns in newspapers in countries like Sri Lanka and Uganda about Indian culture, cinema and literature, apart from authoring papers that have been published in academic journals on international relations on subjects like UN reforms and conflict resolution. A keen follower of Kannada literature, Prakash has served in many countries as a diplomat. He speaks with Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari about his book:

Your writing has a irreverent style but the issues taken up often are of importance in a socio-cultural or socio-political sense…

I am curious about cultural issues and about the `human condition` to use a grand phrase. I guess, I mull over some issues at any point in time, get to know more by reading or talking to people and then write, if I feel it is of potential interest to my readers.

Clueless in California is an interesting title – are you still ‘clueless’ about American way of life or now can claim to have some idea about it?

I am always clueless and interested in knowing more about how and why people acquire certain traits and how the national `character` gets formed.

Can you tell something about how you developed the broad contours of the book?

After finishing my term in California I reflected on all that I had been observing — some broad themes suggested themselves: the enigmatic Americans; the Indian Diaspora; my experiences in the wonderland of the Silicon Valley; my encounters with the famous and the infamous, etc. These are the broad clusters in my book.

The presentation of American vignettes – “America in bits and bytes” as you say – is it a precursor to a more substantive book on your experiences in the US?

Honestly I don’t know. At the moment, I am immersing myself in another culture in Brazil.

Why was it America that you chose to write on, when you have observed life in various other countries during your various postings? What is so unique about it?

It is true that every country provides stories. And I say this honestly, not only for diplomatic reasons. But the connections between America and India are so intense and diverse today. Also most of us have someone in the US to relate to. So, I guess there is a ready and immediate audience. Secondly, there are so many facets of interest to an Indian readership to narrate from: success stories of Indians, technology, Hollywood, Las Vegas, `the ugly American`—the themes that people can relate to are many more. Having said that, many of my stories even in this book go beyond America to my experiences in other countries.

You have written about some really interesting characters that you encountered. What incident among all your encounters in the US you found to be the most interesting?

I was once in a small university town near Montana. When one of the American students, who was also a part time worker in a call-centre kind of operation in that American town for an Airline company came to know that I am from Bangalore, she became visibly excited. I asked her why she was so taken up with Bangalore never having visited India. “I don’t know why, but when I answer calls, many of my clients ask whether I am speaking from Bangalore and what my real name was“ she replied. Here was a real White American from Montana and people think she is a Sheela or a Saroja from Bangalore. I think it is a story that epitomizes my theme that all the clichés are reversed today.

As a diplomat, you cannot write about many things even though they might be really interesting, especially incidents involving important people. Do you plan to write a fictional account, maybe a novel, on such experiences some day in the future?

I would like to write a political novel about Sri Lanka based on my experiences of that country during a difficult period. Obviously I cannot do it while serving in the IFS,, but perhaps one day…

What are your definitions of an American, and an Indian-American?

I do not go into definitions. Identities are fluid, these days, I believe.

(Published in Deccan Herald, http://www.deccanherald.com, http://www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 01-03-2009)

http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Mar12009/editpage20090228121359.asp

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