Title: Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India
Author: Miranda Kennedy
Release Date: April 26, 2011
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Travel
Source: Amazon Vine
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Journalist Miranda Kennedy leaves her job in New York City and travels to India in search of something she is missing in her everyday life. She settles in Delhi, but is unable to (and doesn’t want to) afford a flat in the posh area that Westerners live, and instead settles in an area for locals. Kennedy comments on the dichotomy of the large city, the traditional values that clash with the increasing modernization of India.
Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India is a memoir about the state of women in India. Though India is a country that is modernizing rapidly, with an emerging educated and wealthy middle class, it is still grappling with problems when it comes to social issues. Specifically, while India is trying to be like any other Western country on the outside, it still has a traditional culture and values, which makes it difficult for women to enjoy the advantages of the country’s modernization.
Though Sideways on a Scooter is a memoir, the most interesting aspect of Kennedy’s memoir is when she discusses the people she’s met. From Geeta, a modern young woman who lives away from her parents (though with an elderly family friend) to Radha, the proud Brahmin women whom Miranda employs as a house cleaner, Kennedy is interested in women of all ages, backgrounds, and stations in life. She makes it a point to get to know the people around her, to see the real India underneath the façade that Westerners see when they visit.
Kennedy also tackles the difficult issue of caste in modern day India. Though the caste system has officially been abolished, it permeates every day life for those in India. From choosing your servants to deciding whom to marry, it is ingrained and embedded in Indian culture. One of Kennedy’s friend throws all tradition to the wind and allows her Dalit (more commonly known as “Untouchable”) maid to also cook for her, which is not allowed per the caste system. On the other hand, Miranda found that her maid Radha wouldn’t clean the bathrooms because it was below her status as a Brahmin. It was so interesting that the caste system holds so many people back, yet they still ascribe to it. In Radha’s case, being a Brahmin was one of her few sources of pride, and she clung to it as desperately as she could.
The subject of marriage is an ever-present one over the course of Sideways on a Scooter. From her arrival India, the subject is on Miranda’s mind - after all, she isn’t able to rent an apartment in Delhi until she lies to the landlord, saying her boyfriend in New York City is really her husband, and that he’ll be joining her soon. Women have no real independence in modern-day India. Often, they move straight from their parents’ homes to that of their husband, and often his family. While the notion of dowry seems completely foreign, Radha had to struggle with it when she was trying to marry off her daughter. Because she was poor, she had little to offer any prospective bridegroom’s family, and as a result, had to resign herself to a less-than-ideal situation. Though more modern, wealthy families are now turning their back on the concept of dowry, it’s still an important facet of marriage in India.
There are so many tidbits and interesting stories contained in Sideways on a Scooter, it’s difficult to review it coherently. Kennedy does an excellent job juxtaposing the plight of the poor against the luxuries of being rich - but also the difficulties that come with both stations. It’s a completely fascinating and absorbing book, and though it can be difficult to read and completely maddening at times, it’s an insightful look into the status of women in “modern” India.