Land of Evil

For Halloween 2022, I’ve decided to go as the scariest kind of monster: myself.

, you may say,

Confused? I was too, initially. I used to believe that I was a of horror, until I read a handful of classic horror stories and realised that I am, in fact, a of horror. For I hail from the Orient, that land of dirty sad-eyed inscrutable people who roll around in filth, cast curses on unwary white travellers, and worship demons. I am Indian, and that’s all I need to terrify readers – or so many authors would have us believe. Just pick up “The City of Dreadful Night” by Rudyard Kipling, and shudder at his lavish descriptions of those ghastly brown people having the gall to sleep in public, on their own land! To him, Indian bodies are objects of unholy horror, like living corpses:

Or, if you prefer more recent fiction, “The Mistake at the Monsoon Palace” by Christopher Fowler, which opens with charming descriptions of Indians cheating hapless white tourists and using rupees to wipe our nethers:

There you go. I belong to the darkest species of evil: I’m Indian, a dirty, mournful, corpse-like thing by nature, a prop to be used in horror stories by white British men. Why should I pen horror when I the horror?

I’m being sarcastic, of course. Reading works like these, being openly labelled as something filthy and unnatural, felt like receiving a punch in the face. I had to physically close these anthologies after just a few pages, just to collect myself.

Frankly, I’m almost impressed at the sheer level of vitriolic racism contained within Fowler’s story in particular. He actually surpasses Kipling. According to him, we are dirty, mournful, curse-ridden, greedy people who do not know how to take care of our land, and therefore we need a white American woman to punish us for disrespecting it. The latter brings up another dimension of discrimination: in addition to the overt racism (Fowler at one point calls Indian Americans “invisible” and unworthy of attention), there is a strong streak of casteism – perhaps unintentional, but certainly the consequence of shoddy background research – through Fowler’s tale. Shere, the aforementioned cheat, carries an Adivasi name, Banjara. The workmen in the story are eager to desecrate the titular palace’s lands, and die brutal deaths at the end, a horrible mockery of the fact that many manual labourers in India – most of whom belong to oppressed castes – die in workplace tragedies due to the negligence and indifference with which their lives are treated by their supervisors.

Now, I do not believe that white authors should set horror stories in India. I reading literature which draws from international mythologies, and India has more than its fair share of weird, wonderful legends and monstrous beings. I firmly believe that India should not be represented as an idyllic, utopian society, and that writers should freely criticise the darker aspects of India’s society. But narratives like Kipling’s and Fowler’s are everything wrong with horror. They are lazy, ill-researched, dumps of bigotry, which treat entire nations like caricatures – like mystical creepy backdrops against which the white heroes’ stories play out.

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Software engineer; emerging author; almost certainly not a changeling. I write about the uncomfortable parts of Indian & American history & culture.

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Aditi Ramaswamy

Software engineer; emerging author; almost certainly not a changeling. I write about the uncomfortable parts of Indian & American history & culture.