Amusing insights

Amusing insights

Multi-Stories: Cross-Cultural Encounters
Kalpana Sahni
Routledge, 2010,
pp 192, Rs 595


Kalpana Sahni’s book Multi-stories: Cross-cultural Encounters is highly recommended for anyone with myopic vision of history and culture. This delightful book effortlessly shatters the myth of superiority, authenticity and exclusivity that compels people to glorify their own race, culture, religion, ways of living, etc to the detriment of others.

A collection of 60 previously published essays, Multi-stories celebrates the fascinating cross-flow of peoples, religion, language, music, cuisine, folktales, etc between different cultures and countries across the world. The book brings to life several long-forgotten incidents of this ‘give-and-take’ that have contributed significantly to shaping the collective human consciousness and binding people together with an invisible thread of love and acceptance beyond all barriers.

The reader follows coffee on its aromatic journey as it travels from Ethiopia, its land of origin, to Egypt, Syria, India and then Europe. She walks with the caravan of gypsies from northern India as they traverse the world splashing a riot of colours, dance and music along the way while fiercely maintaining their freedom and the connection to their roots.

She makes a surprise discovery of the deep bonds that India once shared with Armenia and marvels at the African influence on Roman and Greek cultures that has never made it to the history books. In a highly engrossing style laced with witty humour, the author writes about the more contemporary examples of such cross-cultural links that we often take for granted but which define our day-to-day realities nevertheless.

Having come across many humorous and startling revelations about the complexities and intricacies of different cultures herself throughout her extensive travels, she transfers her sense of wonder and joy at such experiences to the reader effectively with her endearing style of narration. Be it her discovering the magic of Bollywood in the island of Bali, feeling at home in the faraway land of Georgia or savoring the surreal emotion of placing her one leg in India and the other in Pakistan at the Wagah border, she makes the reader identify with her realisation that boundaries only divide lands, not hearts.

The book also reminds us the fact that ‘objective history’ is an oxymoron as it narrates the attempts made by different cultures and nations to highlight their glorious periods and erase the unsavoury parts while recording history. Such ‘blackouts’ in history also served to wipe out the memory of outside contributions to maintain the ‘purity’ and ‘authenticity’ of the respective cultures. However, as Kalpana rightly states, “…cross-cultural pollination, an ongoing process, always reveals itself through the ignored cracks of history.”

As a testimony to this fact we find Hindu gods and the Buddha transformed into and revered as Christian deities in some communities, the Black Madonna being worshiped throughout Europe despite the image of a blue-eyed blonde being so popularly attributed to her, and Sanskrit words enriching the vocabulary of Thai and Cambodia people.  

Multi-stories also amuses with its several interesting anecdotes about the comical situations that arise when peoples and cultures of different lands try to connect with one another across their differences. For an open-minded reader the book offers an exhilarating insight into the true meaning of the Indian concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family). Multi-stories is a must-grab book that both educates and entertains.

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