orientalist cliches

How to design the cover of a South Asian novel: include a shy woman in dupatta, the Taj, mangoes

Across the world, publishers package prejudice by pandering to readers' stereotypes.

A few days ago, Sinthujan Varatharajah, who runs a Facebook page called Roots of Diaspora, which collects stories about the flight of Tamils from Sri Lanka, compiled the covers of some South Asian literary novels works translated into European languages. No matter in which part of the subcontinent these tales were set, Varatharajah found that they employed the same motifs: dupatta-wearing women, the Taj, close-ups of hennaed brown feet, brides with nose rings, mangoes.


Image by Sinthujan V


Varatharajah was inspired by an article on the culture studies blog Africa Is a Country, which last week ran a collage of 36 covers of books written by African writers or with Africa as the theme. The books were set in South Africa, Nigeria, the Congo and further afield. Yet, as the article noted, the covers all featured the same imagery: an acacia tree in a crimson sunset.

"The covers of most novels about Africa seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King,” the blog noted.


Image by Simon Stevens


Books about the Arab world are victims of the same stereotypes.  In a post on the ArabLit blog  titled Translating for Bigots, M. Lynx Qualey noted a pronounced fascination for veils. She turned to Adam Talib, who teaches Arabic literature at the American University in Cairo, for an explanation. It's a question of fulfilling readers' expectations, he suggested. If the reader "finds an Arab woman not wrapped in ten layers of fabric, forced to marry her cross-eyed cousin, and pushed to the back seat of a car", they say, ‘What an unrealistic depiction of Arab women’,” Talib surmised.

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As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

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At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

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At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.