Fall 2004, London
Finally, there is a word for where I live: Bollystan. For years, those of us with roots in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other subcontinental lands pondered what to call ourselves. The age of ethnic hyphenation produced "Indian-American." Then came the all-inclusive "South Asian" -- inclusive, that is, of all but our adopted homelands. Today, we have desi, a Hindi and Urdu term meaning "people of my country."
On the latest cover of Another Generation, a glossy British magazine for young, upwardly mobile South Asians, the hazel eyes of Miss World 1994 Aishwarya Rai gaze out from above the definition of Bollystan: "A state without borders defined by a shared culture and common values." Inside, contributors such as writer Pico Iyer and musician Nitin Sawhney discuss what it means to create in spaces that are neither here nor there. They dissect this process at a time when all things Bollystan are in vogue, from henna tattoos to Bollywood-inspired dancers gyrating on the big screen to rappers rhyming to bhangra, traditional Punjabi folk music that is often mixed with hip-hop.
"The beauty of Bollystan is that it’s everywhere, as everywhere as the World Wide Web or our human concerns or the air we breathe," writes Iyer. "It’s a state of mind, as all places are, but it’s a state of mind that manages to keep a conversation going, often in several languages all at once, wherever one happens to land."
Another Generation, launched in London three years ago under the name Indobrit, was created as an "intelligent, sexy, and stylish publication for the United Kingdom’s ‘other’ population," according to publisher Farah Damji. The title was changed to Another Generation after Damji, who has a colorful past as a New York art dealer and London gossip-column fixture, lost a battle over the Indobrit name. The fall issue marks the magazine’s U.S. debut, tapping into burgeoning Bollystans from the suburbs of New Jersey to Silicon Valley. Given that Indian immigrants constitute the wealthiest immigrant group in the United States, the publication’s journey across the Atlantic is timely.
Thanks to the sudden ubiquity and trendiness of Indian film and music, the Bollystan concept might survive. Rai, long a household name in India, tested her luck with Western audiences in October with her starring role in British director Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice. In Chadha’s adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, Lizzy Bennet becomes a character named Lalita Bakshi who doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Another example is the hit song "Mundian to Bach Ke" by Panjabi MC, one of many proponents of bhangra. The song became a hit in Germany in 2002, but when New York rapper Jay-Z added his lyrics and name to the track a year later, the song blared on car stereos and in dance clubs across the world.
Ironically, some of the issue’s strongest essays focus on the need to further unveil South Asian culture. In one, Sawhney and singer/songwriter Raghav vent their frustrations about Asian music’s enduring "underground" classification. In another, the editor of a collection of essays about sex and erotica titled Desilicious muses on how such a book came about: "We wanted to give our compatriots (and those interested in all things desi) a generous dose of some much needed desi lovin’ -- with all its passion, naiveté, delights, and yes, even messed-up-ness," Zenia Wadhani writes, adding the crucial desi lament, "But what would our parents think?"
Some of the writing feels inconsistent and inaccessible, such as a rambling essay on the branding of Bollystan by London School of Economics lecturer Rana Sarkar. The cover story and review of Chadha’s upcoming movie also fails to probe Bollywood’s crossover power. But these minor shortfalls are more than compensated for by pieces such as the introductory essay by American scholar and guest editor Parag Khanna, who combines the necessary foreign-policy and pop culture references to provide a broad view of Bollystan’s global relevance.
"Bollystan’s import-export marketplace of literary genius, spiritual essence, cinematographic border-crossing and, increasingly, political savvy, have done for South Asia what nuclear weapons have not," Khanna writes. "They have made it a great power."