My previous books are academic studies related to India and anthropology (see below). This does not mean that my writing is grimly academic all the time. Three of my comic pieces (nothing to do with India) were shortlisted in in the Women in Comedy Festival Comedy Writing Competition in 2017; I perform comic monologues at local venues, and in an earlier phase of my life, broadcast humorous travel pieces on BBC radio, Womanâ€™s Hour. I have also published travel and opinion pieces in the national press.
My grimmer publications include Reversible Sex Roles: the special case of Banaras Sweepers, Pergamon, 1981; Contextualising Caste (ed.), Blackwells, 1994; Religion, Language and Power (ed.), Routledge, 2008.
Dancing to an Indian Tune - Mary Searle-Chatterjee (2021).
Like many others, Mary first went to India looking for philosophical and spiritual enlightenment. However, she did so as a student at an Indian university on a Commonwealth Scholarship in 1963, somewhat before the hippy trail got going. She both enjoyed and suffered the inevitable culture-shock of a Westerner in India, for two full years. Then her grant ran out and she returned to the UK. When she went back to India in 1969 under her own steam – by train and overland, alone - she did so as a qualified anthropologist. It had been the challenge both to her own cultural assumptions and to understand another culture that had interested her the most. She has since made a career as an academic anthropologist and explorer of Indian culture.
However, this shift is not the direct preoccupation of the book. Instead, it’s the enjoyment and the suffering - as well as the adventures - which occupy the pages. Mary was a student at the Benares Hindu University. Benares – or Varanasi - is one of Hinduism’s most important and culturally rich cities, on the banks of the River Ganges, and she had the opportunity to witness some of the major gatherings and rituals of Hindu religion. However, university terms were apparently short and she also had time to travel – to the South, to Bengal and to Kashmir - and even beyond, to Nepal, very nearly to Tibet. However, it’s the people she met along the way that are the main point. She lived with other foreign students in the University Hostel – some western, some from further east, all of whom gave her cause to reflect on her own reactions. Above all it was the Indian friends she made who both invited her into their culture and who questioned hers.
Reading the book brought back to me my own experience of arriving in India in 1979. I also enjoyed and suffered, and made huge friendships with the people among whom I lived. My own culture has never been the same again. I would recommend Dancing to both the general reader and to anthropologists – indeed to all those interested in India, in understanding other cultures and in a good story.
by Kevan Bundell
Mary Searle-Chatterjee is a retired Social Anthropologist, author and editor of academic books on India, including Contextualizing Caste. She has also published travel, opinion and humorous features. Her cross-cultural interest has always been combined with exploration of her own social and historical roots. Hence this personal narrative, Dancing to an Indian Tune.
Born in London in 1942, on â€˜Empire Day,â€™ inspired by the ascent of Everest in 1953, the young innocent dreamed of Tibet. Ten years later she began studying Indian philosophy and religion for two years at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi. A return journey overland alone by public transport in 1969 (the first of three) led to a dramatic change in her life.