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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Justin McCarthy: Dance without Borders - Page 2

Written by Cara Waterfall
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McCarthy draws energy from India itself - the “most cynically real of all places I know as well as the most ceremoniously theatrical - the ritual play of realpolitik.”  It is a country whose mass – in land and people - denotes grand possibilities and immense challenges. Entrepreneurship has exploded since the “License Raj” (that had shackled the economy) was dismantled in 1991, but the dark side of development is the annihilation of communities and a subsequent loss of traditions.  Corruption is a continuing scourge: he particularly deplores the appropriation of North American aspects of working life although he admits “ancient crooked business practices have been in India for thousands of years”. 

Nowhere was this red tape more evident than the immigration office where McCarthy secured his Indian citizenship: he completed mountains of paperwork including “character certificates”, abandoned his American citizenship, and informed the public of his “intent” in two newspapers.  The final hurdle was a bribe request that McCarthy rejected.  Months later, disencumbered from bureaucracy, he emerged as an Indian citizen.  Indeed, the beautiful and ugly can never be reconciled in India, but he says that “it is the edge that one loves here.”



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McCarthy is wary of labels: he prefers to see himself as a universal citizen although he admits to “occasionally feeling outside the human race, a feeling which most frequently occurs during international travel in airports”. But there is no question he is contributing to India’s modernization as one of the new faces of India by breaking down barriers. 

He does miss his family and certain aspects of American culture like “curling up in big armchair in front of fireplace in the evening, snowing outside, dog at feet, book in hand”.  But he is comforted by the commonalities between America and India: they are both enormous, diverse societies with chaotic politics. And his American background will always be a part of him: “The spatial aspect of American landscape and the paintings of Jackson Pollock are in my veins: the first through no fault of my own and the second admittedly more consciously cultivated.” 

McCarthy finally made it to the Taj Mahal in September 1999; it had taken him 25 years to get there.  He braved the monsoon with a friend and then huddled under an umbrella exchanging “each other’s entire rainbow life stories to the accompaniment of the Beatles”.  For a day the American-born Indian who had never felt like a tourist became one. 

© Cara Waterfall

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All Pictures © Sreenivasan Ramakrishnan

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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