Vikas Dhawan grew up in India and has been living in England for the past two decades. He enjoys writing for leisure as well as in a professional capacity and has experience working in the education sector at the UK Civil Service and the University of Cambridge.
He spoke to Asian Voice about his latest book, ‘India India Feeling’.
Q - Which part of India do you come from? Tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up in Punjab and Chandigarh, the capital of two states in the north – Punjab and Haryana. My father used to work at the State Bank of India, a transferable job, which led to varied experiences, some of which I have captured in the book.
My grandfather moved from what is now Pakistan during Partition in 1947. He established himself from scratch as a revenue officer in Punjab and later gained reverence as a preacher of moral, spiritual and national values. His influence in our lives has been deep.
Q - What made you come to the UK? How was it like adjusting to a new culture?
I landed in London nearly two decades ago to study, later finding a job at Cambridge. I didn’t find adjusting to the new culture challenging as such. Intricacies of the human mind are the same everywhere. I did however have to learn a few things, for instance, that you don’t have to stand up when your teacher enters the classroom in the UK! I also had to learn to cook for myself and to be ready to talk about the weather on any occasion.
Q - In your perspective, how much has India changed since your childhood?
For me, the warmth of families and friendships remains the same.
I do see new shopping malls, new highways, and the latest cars at every visit. During my childhood, things were simpler. There were fewer choices and more time. And perhaps more acceptance of differing views in the society. I wonder how much of that is a global trend now, amplified by social media.
It gives me great delight to see the youth in India nowadays more confident, more aware and more entrepreneurial than in our times.
Q - What does your book intend to convey to the readers? Why should the diaspora grab a copy?
The book is a light-hearted celebration of growing up; an exploration of India using my memories that brings to life things that defined growing up, eg scooters, Doordarshan TV, power cuts, cricket, street food, kite flying, and more.
Many of your readers would be able to relate to my experiences and relive their own memories. There is a certain comfort in revisiting your good ol’ days, more so during these uncertain times. The younger audience would also find the book entertaining and a nice gift for their family and friends!
Q - Do you think British Indians know enough and the right details about India?
The first generation that moved to the UK would have a different ‘India India’ feeling than the subsequent generations. When I moved to the UK, I found it fascinating that the Indian community in the UK observed Indian customs more traditionally than their counterparts in India which were great. I see parents of Indian origin around me raising their children with British values and at the same time living their Indian heritage, be it through music, dance, beliefs, food or festivals.
Q - If you were to describe Indian culture and India to people in the west (in the context of your book), what would it be like?
I won’t attempt to give a single description of the Indian culture. It’s more a way of life, as diverse as life can be. A mélange of fathomless customs, scriptures, cuisines, languages, art, landscapes, philosophies, aspirations, and conflicts that shape your view of the world. It’s all things temporal and spiritual mixed in one. I am a product of that way of life. The readers, those with links to India or not, would see a reflection of this in the book through my memories. Enjoy reading.