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  1. 1. INTRODUCATION The Inscrutable Americans is a 1991 novel by Anurag Mathur. Tri-Color Communications adapted the book into a film in 1999.Plot Gopal Kumar, the son of a hair oil tycoon in Madhya Pradesh, arrives inAmerica to study chemical engineering in an university in Eversville. Being arural boy, he is singularly a virgin. Randy Wolff, his designated buddy attemptsto introduce him to the dating culture of the USA, which Gopal resists at first.He is slowly coaxed by him while discovering more of America. Towards theend of his stay, Gopal becomes frustrated due to being unable to "score" a girl.He leaves America still a virgin, but on a flight, he meets a mysterious womanwho shares his affection, although they dont touch.Movie Tri-Color Communications adapted the book into a film in 1999. It wasdirected by Chandra Siddartha.SUMMARY 2 “The Inscrutable Americans” opens on a comical note with anextremely hilarious letter that Gopal, our “Fresh off the boat” protagonist writesto his brother on his arrival into the world of Uncle Sam. From here on, it takesyou through Gopal‟s whole year in the little known University of Eversville,where he encounters several of what he calls the “inscrutable “symbols ofAmerica like Randy, his one constant companion in the Lala land, Peacock,who shows him that discrimination and poverty co-exist with the prosperity thatenvelops the rest of white America, and a series of romantic misadventures withSue, Bernice, Ann and Gloria to name a few. Armed with a masters degree andthe experience of having spent a year discovering the intrigue that is America,he goes back rejuvenated to the sojourns of hometown Jajau. There are several instances where his gentle innocence leads him intosome pretty hilarious conclusions like at the customs, where one of the baggagehandlers tells Gopal “Watch your ass,” and Gopal quickly assumes that the manwas referring to the two donkeys the family had bought before his departure. He
  2. 2. wonders how they know about the two donkeys and believes it is all part of abigger conspiracy of the CIA that collects all the data they can about everyonecoming to America. He sees himself as a cultural ambassador and tells anotherIndian friend that because of India‟s superior culture, they must set an exampleso that the Americans will improve their behavior and therefore, India‟sbilateral relations with America will drastically improve. Gopal‟s character has a rustic undertone to it while the other characters inthe book are sophisticated in their American ways as far as food, women anddating are concerned. The author‟s comic timing holds you through the rest ofthe book. For instance, Gopal waxes eloquent on the changing favorablebalance of payment situation of India in order to charm his way into findinglove with a blonde woman he just met. All‟s well with this story, which is acomic satire on the stereotypes and prejudices of Indian migrants in theiradoptive land, except that this is precisely all that the book has to offer. One keeps wishing the end does not come so soon, before Gopal comesof age or into his own, and that somewhere along the way, Gopal tries to findgreater meaning and depth in his perceptions about America. All the while, thereader is tempted to believe that a higher calling awaits Gopal other than thepursuit of female conquest. After all, he has been the recipient of the „MostPromising Young Man of The Year‟certificate that the All India Association ofHair Oil Dealers issues to him back in Jajau. One wish that he matures into a reasonably suave personality and takesback with him a little more than superfluous impressions of America, that heevolves into a thinking individual willing to make a difference to his life inIndia based on his learning in the U.S. These aspects are markedly conspicuousby their absence. All in all, “The Inscrutable Americans” is a good read for allthe funny episodes it has to offer but here‟s wishing a more relevant sequel willsoon follow. Hopefully, Mr. Mathur is listening?SUMMARY 3ReviewThe Inscrutable American by Anurag Mathur.Published by New World Library, Novato, California, 1997. Originallypublished by Rupa Publishers, New Delhi, 1994.
  3. 3. Anurag Mathurs The Inscrutable Americans is an upside-down, round-the-bend look by a f-o-b Indian at the contemporary American society. Thenovel gleefully reverses the clichéd orientalist perspective that saw Asians asinscrutable and formed the basis of western perception of other cultures formore than two centuries, and applies it with insouciant wit on Americans. Gopal, the protagonist of this novel, is a recently arrived student from asmall town in India who encounters the "Dullesville capital" of US with an oddmixture of wide-eyed innocence and worldly wisdom. Inscrutable Americansrecounts Gopals run-ins with American hickdom with an amused tolerance thatsprings from the authors understanding of both cultures. As a classicimmigrant/exile, Mathur has a wry sense of detachment that arises out ofphysical and emotional distance experienced by all people who have movedaway from their native cultures and have tried assimilating into a new one.Mathur is a cultural hybrid with affiliation to two cultures like a vast majority ofpeople in todays world. He therefore, has the ability to observe and enjoy thequirks of American as well as Indian society. This dual vision shared by bothMathur and his protagonist is common to all immigrants, and makes anenjoyable reading for people of diverse cultures. This is undoubtedly a book that Indian as well as other immigrants canunderstand and empathize with. But the irony and humor with which Mathurpresents American society might come as a surprise to American readers. As theinstance in the novel where Gopal tells Tom, an American with pronouncedright-wing sympathies that "People are people. Indians are also like this"."Really?" Tom was surprised. "Yes, yes. Everywhere people are the same. I amhaving uncle who is so proud of India and culture that he is thinking all areinferior". "India has culture?" Tom was downright skeptical. "Going back 4,000years. Many palaces, tombs, art and dances". "How come no one ever hears ofit? I mean no offense, but lets face it. Whos heard of India?"(p.183-4). In thisparticular example, humor is two-edged. Mathur makes fun of Gopals highlyindiginized "Indlish", but the real focus of his satire is American insularity andignorance of other civilizations and cultures. Mathur and Gopal are cultural hybrids; creatures born out of this enforcedunion between east and west and familiar with both societies to some degree.This knowledge equips them to judge both cultures with a clinical eye, as theyhave the advantage of belonging as well as detachment from both of them. Welaugh at Gopals efforts to find a burger cooked by the American equivalent of aBrahmin. But along with this display of Indian foibles, Mathur also providesstereotypical American bloopers about elephants, poverty, and caste system that
  4. 4. they typically associate with India. Thus making American ignorance of othercountries and cultures target of mild satire. For instance, an old Americanwoman once asks Gopal, "Young man, tell me, do you drive elephants indaytime as well as nighttime? I mean do they have headlights and taillights thatblink when they turn at night?" The institutions and traditions that Americans consider normative, whichare actually unique to them and hence, incomprehensible or bizarre to theunaccustomed eyes of a new arrival like Gopal, are presented with great effectin the text. This novel projects the outsiders view of sacred American ritualsranging from mammon-worship in the malls ("the cathedrals of modernAmerica"); to a game of football with its naked display of apparently senselessferocity and gratuitous sexuality in the guise of cheerleaders. Watching afootball game for the first time is almost always a culture shock to mostnewcomers and Mathur illustrates it very effectively in his novel. Till a few decades ago, west considered itself as the observer/interpreterof the east, which was a corollary to its political and cultural dominance overmost parts of the globe. But with the assumption of sovereignty, most formercolonies gained confidence to return the critical gaze of their former masters.Inscrutable American is an example of this phenomenon where former subjectshave turned their inquiring gaze onto their former masters. Though this is notthe literal truth about India/American association, each of these countriessymbolically represents the two polarities of imperial/colonial enterprise andseem to be engaged in rewriting a new chapter of their frequently prickly butdynamic relationship.SUMMARY 4 A funny take on an Indian boys first experience of America. Of course,this was just the prototype of all the novels that were to follow, and all theABCD movies that were to be made. This was the original and the funniest,most honest response of an Indian to America.Set, in the Early 90s, this book is a hilarious account of a small town young boyfrom India who travels to US for a years study there.His prejudice at all things American and Americans, infatuation, andinquisitiveness about sex and etc is nicely set with a very funny touch!Probably I have not laughed while reading any other book than this!
  5. 5. An interesting view of America through a non-natives eyes. I was embarrassedthat most of his pre-conceived ideas about America revolved around sex and ouradult entrainment industry. Even though it is a work of fiction, Ive heardsimilar things from other folks as well. The writing took a little to get into but itwas interesting nonetheless.Mathur has written another book after this, but nothing has matched the successof this first book.„The Inscrutable Americans‟ starts off with a super hilarious letter written bythe protagonist to his older brother, about life in America. This mini book that‟sjust over 250 pages is a non stop ride in hilarity.Our hero Gopal hails from the small town of Jajau in India and the story startswith him arriving in the US for his further studies. Everything is a culture shockfor him starting with his American friend, Randy who meets him at the airport.This is quite shocking for Gopal who fails to understand how his parents couldname him that!Gopal‟s misadventures continue as he experiences the modern US life with itssupermarkets, freeways and the conveniences of the city. He haggles for thingsat the supermarket, where even the exasperated owner gives in and gives himthe goods at reduced prices. As Gopal knows (from his shopping experiences inIndia) that unless you have done some bargaining, it‟s not shopping :-)Gopal also has a tendency to do a lot of day-dreaming especially the dreamsrelated to his imaginary girlfriend and the subsequent heartbreak he suffers.While Gopal struggles to make sense of it all, his friend Randy is onto adifferent mission altogether and that ‟s making Gopal go the distance.Whathappens with Gopal‟s straightfaced atttitude and Randy‟s brashness is onehilarious read.The best part is that this is one of the few books in which every incident by theprotagonist is spoken in typical Indian style, if you know what I mean.There is avirtual translation of the sentences we speak in Hindi to English that makes youlaugh as you read along. I have to present some excerpts from the book to makeyou realize what you have been missing, if you hav‟nt read this book as yet.In one of Gopal‟s letters to his brother he says:How much I am missing one and all I simply cannot say. My head is eatingcircles with all new things. Two weeks are already proceeding and I do not evenknow. Also no one is bothering who you are and you are also not to bother. You
  6. 6. do not believe, but I am calling respected Professors by first name. One issaying to me, ‟‟My name is Sam, not Sir Sam. The British are not knighting meyet.‟‟ Good joke I think. Brother, are you imagining if I am going to GreatPrincipal of Jajua College and calling him by first name? I think he is dying ofheart attack. At Customs, brother, I am getting big shock. One fat man is grunting at me andlooking cleverly from small eyes. ‟‟First visit?‟‟ he is asking, ‟‟Yes,‟‟ I amagreeing ‟‟Move on,‟‟ he is saying making chalk marks on bags. As I ampicking up bags he is looking directly at me and saying ‟‟Watch your ass.‟‟Now, brother, this is wonderful. How he knows we are purchasing donkey? Ithink they know everything about everybody who is coming to America.‟‟The Inscrutable Americans‟‟ means the American people who cannot beunderstood easily. The title makes a lot of sense vis-à-vis Gopal, for whom theAmericans continued to be inscrutable even as he returns to India, a much wiserperson. At just 100 bucks this is the cheapest way to a three hour laughathon.Enjoy! The Inscrutable Americans by Anurag Mathur, is story about smalltown(jajau) indian boy(Gopal) visiting US for higher studies. Gopal lands onEversville, where he is going to spend the next one full year of his life, he meetsRandy - a thorough-bred American. As soon as Randy hears Gopals views andethics, he announces his mission for the next one year, convert Gopal into a sex-maniac. Gopal steps to wider-world to explore american lifestyle. Its very veryhilarious exploring americans though Gopals experience. also the other-way,exploring Indian aspects through the eyes of americans.SUMMARY 5 The novel gives a completely humorous take, with a pun intended inmany situations. It narrates the experiences of an Indian student named Gopal,of a year spent in a small university campus in USA. He hails from a small townin India, named Jajau, also known as the „Paris of Madhya Pradesh‟, by theproud locals. The whole novel revolves around Gopal, Gopal around America,and America around him! The theme of the book is his comic discovery ofAmerica, his growth and maturing, through his many adventures there.Gopalcomes to America to complete his chemical engineering. His English iscomical, and his puerile innocence charms the reader. The letters written by himto his family in his version of English are worth reading.
  7. 7. His classmate Randy familiarizes him with the American lifestyle.Unfortunately he is faced with hurdles at every step. Thus, Gopal portrays thecharacter of „the ambassador of his country par excellence.‟ In the broadercontext, Anurag Mathur differentiates India from America, through his fictitiousprotagonist. He not only compares the differences but even brings out issueslike racial discrimination and terrorism, mixed with sexual abuse, issues veryrelevant to today‟s age and time. The author manages to maintain the flow ofthe story admirably. The reader does not encounter stagnation and saturationpoints. Being able to identify with the characters and situations generatesgreater interest in the readers. The title „The Inscrutable Americans‟, is appealing as the character ofGopal, has an amusing outlook towards Americans who he believes to bemysterious. The reader fails to find any lose ends. The writing style of AnuragMathur is polished. The book can be rated as a must read for all ages. The novelhas an intensity and a depth of meaning which goes beyond the obvious comicimplications of the situations that emerge at the onset.. I would love to see asitcom based on this book. Not a bad investment at all!