Re: Hippy-dippy traveler culture in South Asia (Himal mag)

Ernest Prabhakar (
Mon, 28 Sep 1998 14:32:41 -0700

Interesting. I was particularly struck by his dissection of the
"myth" of Eastern spirituality [below]. Now, I would (and did) argue
that traditional cultures are more spiritual than the secular West. I
still think that's true. However, I would also agree that the
romanticised sprituality that the west thinks of *is* quite different
than that actually practised in Indians. Someone recently claimed that
"Hinduism" per se is actually a British construct (sort of like curry
powder - a generic native idea repackaged as something specific). Most
'sprituality' I see in India tends towards animism, idolatry, and
lingum worship (look it up), rather than the sort of mystic Hinduism
most often exported.

Then again, that's my view as a Christian visiting "heathen" India.
Rohit, d you see it differently?

-- Ernie P.

Eastern spirituality is a Western construct, an essentialism that
today is very much inherent in any traveller's mind. Does their dreamy
image of India mirror what is there, or is it a land of their
imagination? Veena Das, in Assessing Cultural Anthropology, argues that
it is the Brahmanical imagination that managed to shape the European
representation and master narrative of India. This master narrative and
essentialism nevertheless proved useful for the Western-educated
Indian elite, who, in the struggle for independence, had to base an
indigenous nationalism on values different from those of the colonial
power. The Gandhian emphasis on ahimsa (non-violence and vegetarianism)
clearly shows the transformation of Orientalism into a way of

Indians and Nepalis do appreciate it when they come across someone
wearing clean clothes, and they wonder why so many travellers insist on
looking so undignified. Travellers, for their part, still expect to be
treated with respect. Behaving according to norms and values of the
travellers' universe, they don't care if this is offensive to the