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'Immodest Indians' to heal Swedish malady

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'Immodest Indians' to heal Swedish malady
07:46 CEST+02:00
A famous violinist and an errant lunch box are part of India's big public diplomacy push to cure the Swedes of their ignorance of India, something which has surprised the ambassador since she set foot in Stockholm.

"Swedes are well-travelled, they are well-educated. They really have no excuse to know so little about India," India's ambassador Banashri Bose Harrison tells The Local with a wink.

Swedes' lack of Indian knowledge soon became a primary challenge since arriving in Sweden, so Bose Harrison helped rally an advisory board to tackle it. A new series of events, dubbed India Unlimited, kicks off full-scale on October 31st with classic violinist L. Subramaniam gracing the stage of Stockholm's Berwaldhallen concert hall.

"He's created wonderful fusion music, he has composed for both the Oslo and New York philharmonics," Bose Harrison explains.

Watch L Subramaniam - Spanish Wave Live - Global Fusion Music

On November 4th, there's a tribute to Ravi Shankar at Stallet in Stockholm, and those interested in a slice of the Indian market can have it with a cuppa at the "India - Your cup of tea" business seminar and tea tasting in November.

The project managers have also helped bring over three Indian films to the Stockholm Film Festival. While they are all technically Bollywood - produced in Mumbai - they aren't typical of the genre.

"Monsoon Shootout, for example, is not a typical Bollywood film, it's quite dark," India Unlimited manager Sanjoo Malhotra tells The Local

The second film follows an errant lunchbox in the enormous dabawallah network - where housewives entrust their husband's lunch to an intricate delivery system that has been studied by foreign researchers for its extreme efficiency. The third film, ABCD - Anybody Can Dance, is lighthearted.

"These films represent the new modern Indian cinema," Malhotra adds.

He calls The Lunch Box "a foodie romance," and knowing the power of the taste bud, he has made sure a food tasting is also on the cards during the India Unlimited programme that will stretch into 2014. Malhotra has lived in Sweden for 16 years, and is now Swedish - "but I'll always be both," he laughs.

"He sees India with Swedish sensibilities, and sees Sweden with Indian genes, that never quite go away," Bose Harrison interjects.

"Not an interpreter of maladies, but of countries," she adds, a reference to Indian- American author Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize winning book.

And talking about the US, a big and young generation of Indian-Americans keep the US in the know about the subcontinent. The UK, meanwhile, has its ties to the former colonial crown jewel that keep them clued in. With neither current nor historical ties, in contrast, the Swedes are less on the ball.

In her frequent meetings with Swedish businesses, the ambassador recently stumbled across an observation that surprised her. A Swedish industrial giant confessed that its employees were keen to apply to job postings in China, but less so in India.

"Maybe I am an immodest Indian, but to me that is completely inexplicable, that young Swedes would go to China rather than India," Bose Harrison says.

Part of the reason could be the media blackout on all things India - unless horrific or stereotype-driven.

And while the Wall Street Journal long ago helped set up business daily Mint in India and the New York Times covers the country in detail in its India Inc. section, Swedish media interest in India appears to be at best tepid, at worst stereotype-driven, with a disproportionate sprinkling of tigers and elephants.

The ambassador admits that communicating about a country of 1.3 billion, when most Swedes have never travelled further than the beach and party hot-spots of Goa or Kerala, is a difficult task. News reporting is either strictly business or non-existent. While Swedish public service radio and TV have contributors in India, Swedish print media have no full-time correspondents there (while many have two or more in the US). Coverage is limited.

Hence the name of the new project, Malhotra and Bose Harrison explain: India Unlimited.

"There is frontier-challenging creativity in India, which few Swedes know about," Bose Harrison concludes.

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

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