India is so vast and complex that having managed to capture in just over 300 pages a rich personal experience, plus a synthesis of the country’s historical evolution, added to its cultural, political and religious contradictions, can be classified as a miracle. However, nothing more earthly than A trip to India of flesh and blooda fascinating chronicle of the journalist Fernando Duclos about his trip to India, recently published by Ediciones Futurock.
The “miracle” comes from the ability to order chaos or, rather, to transmit it in a coherent way; how to “tell” India in a story that contemplates, at the same time, extreme poverty and the emergence of a technologically modern and enterprising country; that shows India as a whole and, at the same time, that penetrates its ethnic, linguistic, political, religious and geographical diversities.
Duclós, also known in the world of social networks as “Periodistán” (from his posts on his previous trip to the East, reflected in the also recommended book An Argentine on the silk road) chooses a narrative structure that ends up being friendly and instructive for the reader: chronicles, etchings, anecdotes and sensations experienced on the ground are complemented (sometimes it happens the other way around) with contextual reviews, which locate the uninitiated in history and the news from each region of India.
The stereotyped image of the country thus explodes into a thousand pieces: one finds oneself dragged towards the communist tropic of Keralabut before he meets the phenomenon bollywood and a few pages later he will discover the millenary dispute between the North of Indo-Aryan origin and the Dravidian South, to later touch on the holy waters of the Ganges and then try to understand, through a remarkable chronicle on the border between India and Pakistan, the permanent conflict between Hindus and Muslims.
There is also, in Duclos’s books, the attempt to escape “orientalism”: the historical mystification of oriental cultures exercised by the western gaze. This is a Eurocentric interpretation into which Latin American journalists and writers tend to fall, often unintentionally. In the interview granted to PageI12, Duclos admits that it is very difficult to get out of the cultural matrix imposed by the system. But he tries. “What I always try to do is play devil’s advocate for myself, even what I think, to understand at least why things happen- points out the author-. In India, for 80 percent of the population, the Hindus, there is life after death as an accepted truth, that is, you reincarnate, depending on the karma you have, it will be the life that touches you, etc. For someone who believes that after death another life follows and that to die at some point is to be born again, it is no longer simply a matter of eating more or less spicy food, praying as many times a day or not, using clothes different from mine. It is about understanding time in a different way. When you understand time in a different way, your vision of work, love, friendship also changes. I try, as far as I can, to get into those heads. Sometimes I achieve it minimally, other times not”points out.
Duclos made part of the trip with Raúl, his father. As soon as they arrived in the country they wanted to tell them the story of their uncle and the police stopped them. In other sections of the journey, the author was once again exposed to scammers, lowlifes and -fundamentally- customer-hunters. He also experienced mystical moments, his stomach burst with the spicy curry and a hitchhiking trip to the Himalayas went wrong (relatively wrong, strictly speaking, because the difficulties experienced today are already anecdote).
–Unlike your previous chronicle books, this book seems to offer a less “romanticized” image of cultures far from our idiosyncrasies. There is the dazzle, yes, but also the anger in front of small “vivadas” that you suffered in your own flesh.
-I agree, yes. A less romanticized image because it was already my second time in Asia; some things perhaps no longer dazzled me so much. And it can also be due to the shock, because of what it implies for the body. It’s hard to feel like everything is okay. One gets used to the stimulus, to the excess, to the exaggeration, and it ends up being addictive, but that same word speaks of something that is not entirely good, part of the charm lies in that non-perfection. Neither did I before say that the other countries were perfect. What happens is that it focused on the good, and more so when one is used to receiving only the bad from those places. But In India it is impossible to go and feel that you are on a “pleasure” trip, vacation, rest, enjoy and relax. One goes to something else, to see humanity without a filter, to collide with the world, to see what the human being really is like. Without the idealization, it has the same charm to see the world without blinders.
Indian postcards: in Varkala, a beach in the southeast of the country, Duclos meets some young people, all of them belonging to the Brahmin caste. All very relaxed. One of the girls, Yashaswini, is liberal, even the first night she manages to get marijuana. When the journalist asks her if she would marry someone who does not belong to her caste, she answers: “Not even a thought, I can’t. It would be something terrible for my family.”
In the “ghats” of Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges, where the ritual cremation of the Hindus takes place, Duclos discovers another dimension of the Indian universe. From the loudspeakers comes out, like a litany, the most important mantra dedicated to the god Shiva: “Om namah Shivaya, Om namah Shivaya, Om namah Shivaya…”. A dying woman crawls between the steps. A newly married couple, surrounded by a crowd, goes in a procession towards the temple, amidst music. They are surrounded by ascetics and vendors who shout their wares. There is a smell of flowers, of shit, of curry. All in the same place and at the same time. It can be, according to Duclos, the most unpleasant and the most extraordinary of experiences.
–Beyond the whirlwind of sensations that the encounter with the multiple cultures that coexist in India left you, what preconception did you manage to dismantle? Or rather, what did you find that you did not expect?
-Many things. But if I had to highlight something, it would be this idea that there is only one India. There are many Indies. If you go to the southern state of Tamil Nadu, with 80 million people, you’re going to meet a guy from India, with people who speak their own Tamil language, and if you go to Punjab, near the Pakistani border, It’s a completely different India, they speak Punjabi etc. What equals them? What is it that makes “Indianity”? Nobody has the answer. It has to do with a network of social relationships, expectations regarding life and the relationship with the lives of others; with religion, too, with castes, with a way of life, but the concept is very lax and is being continually reworked.
–The title of the book alludes to India “of flesh and blood”. As if you wanted to immunize yourself from the spiritual charge that emanates from that civilization. However, many of the texts convey the feeling that you were finally involved, moved and even overwhelmed by this maremagnum of gods and rituals. It was like this?
-I chose that title because before traveling I started looking in bookstores for texts about the history, about the people of India and almost the only thing I found were books about spiritual India: gurus, yoga, Ayurveda, Osho, Sai slime etc As if it were a country where people get up, meditate for 18 hours and go to sleep. Once you are in India, he realizes that it is not so. Obviously, spirituality is a very important dimension, but it is a very humane country, as opposed to the “divine” that one perhaps expects and which is the dimension that sticks the most. That’s why I gave it the title “flesh and blood”, as if to say “this is not a spiritual book”. But During the course of the trip I entered a kind of introspection, an interior journey, which perhaps I did not reach through the path of the spiritual; It’s not that I locked myself in an ashram, it’s not that I did yoga every morning. But I got to that because India is a country that shows a reality so different from what one is used to, that one inevitably begins to think to oneself. When you see how arranged marriages work there, you start to wonder why they work in a society like India and not work in a society like ours, and to what extent castes actually exist all over the world but have another name.
–At one point during the trip you wrote: “You are beating us, India, but this battle continues.” How did the match go?
-India was beating me and beat me by a landslide, because yes or yes, it always ends up submerging you in its own current, there is no way to escape it. It’s you and your beliefs and your body and your head and your life trying to stay intact in a country of 1,400 million people, which is more than a country is a civilization. There’s no way I won’t touch you. To some it comes more from the spiritual plane, to others from the body, others from the psychic side, it doesn’t matter, India takes you. The easiest sign to see that India beat me is that I left there in August, thinking that I would never want to return, because it is a country that tires you out physically and mentally, and if you ask me today I would tell you that I would return tomorrow. . The body gets used to the stimuli, to the intensity and excess of 24/7 in India, where anything can happen.
-Are your chronicles -I am thinking of the texts on Iran or Afghanistan in your previous book, for example-, are they also an attempt to “demonize” certain cultures?
I don’t know if it was what I was looking for. What I was looking for in the beginning was to tell, nothing more, to tell what I saw. But it would be foolish to tell you that didn’t happen. It also has to do with the story that comes to us from other cultures. It seems sometimes that there are not even people there, that they are demons, that 99 percent of Muslims are Osama Bin Laden… when you could say that 99 percent are Benzema or Salah, what do I know. I liked that “demonic” role, but also when a thousand bad things come to you about something, suddenly someone tells you something different, that’s the effect. And later, yes, that effect was consolidated and I grabbed hold of it, I realized that it could be there. But it would be a lie if I told you that all Indians are good, all Iranians are good. The only thing I say is “they are people”, there are good ones, there are bad ones, like anywhere. Something like this happened to me with India too. I think that the prejudice that exists regarding India is that everything is poor, that you arrive and see absolute poverty. And yes, I am not going to deny that there are a lot of poor people and that it is a poverty that one does not see in other places, but it is also a very rich country. You get on a subway in any Indian city and it’s crazy how well they work, ‘the infrastructure that exists, the development that exists.
Journalistan, from Twitter to paper
Fernando Duclos is “Periodistán”, the character he created in 2019 to account, via social networks, for his experiences on the Asian continent. Very soon his posts went viral and thousands of people began to follow his adventures in Afghanistan, Oman or Iran. “When the first trips began, what was happening to me was crazy,” Duclos recalls today. “I went from zero followers to 80,000 in three months. Like all power, because the truth is that it is power, it comes with great responsibility. It is a difficult change, because love also appears but also hate in the networks. The issue is that what started as a hobby became a job. Once they invited me to a campsite that was on top of a mountain in Georgia, a place where there was no internet or anything, and I doubted: I was going to be ‘out’ for five days, I wasn’t going to be able to connect or write. “Are they inviting me to a spectacular place and I’m going to stay here typing on a computer?’ Also, if I stopped experiencing things because I had to work at some point, I would have nothing more to tell. So, I didn’t want to for this to become something bureaucratic, if I have to spend long periods without it I do network writing”.