Curries, Bollywood and the Beatles in India

Indian culture continues to fascinate non-Indians to this day. Indian food provides one example. When the British colonial administrators returned home from India they often took recipes with them. The first reference to “currey” appeared in 1747, and in 1810 an Indian entrepreneur, Sake Dean Mahomed, opened the Hindoostanee Coffee House, the first curry house in London. Curries are now a staple of the British diet – more common than roast beef and tastier than pies and mash. Curries found their way to other parts of the British Empire too. In Jamaica, curry goat is a favorite dish and in Guyana they eat crab curry. In South Africa “bunny chow” is popular – a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry. Curries are eaten outside of the former empire too. In Japan, karee raisu – a thick curry stew of potatoes, carrots, onions and chicken – is common in school canteens.

Indian movies provide another example of the worldwide appeal of Indian culture. The Indian movie industry, with its center in Mumbai – the city the British called “Bombay” – is often referred to as “Bollywood.” It is the largest movie production center in the world with an output of close to two thousand movies per year. And it is not only Indians who are watching. Bollywood movies are popular throughout the subcontinent, in Southeast Asia, and they have a following in the Middle East and Africa too. Posters of Indian actresses can be seen at car mechanics in Nigeria and women in West Africa have been known to wear saris as a way to model themselves on movie stars they were watching. In terms of global ticket sales, Bollywood far outsells Hollywood.

India has also had a strong spiritual influence on the rest of the world. Or rather, Europeans and North Americans have often considered Indian culture as “spiritual.” As such the country has attracted people looking for religious experiences. In February 1968, the Beatles traveled to India to take part in a meditation course at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru. The Englishmen wrote a number of songs here. Following the Beatles’ lead, all rock stars of any stature had for a while to have their own gurus. Indian spiritual practices such as yoga and meditation have now entered the mainstream and are no longer identifiably Indian.

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