Celebrated American author Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning, a quirky tale about the misadventures of a group of American tourists who blunder through China and Myanmar, also wrongly describes the Buddha, who was born in Lumbini in southern Nepal, as an Indian.
Though the novel was first published in 2005 and copies of it are found in Kathmandu’s book shops, the mistake has remained unspotted.
In the sixth chapter of the novel, published by Harper Perennial, where the Myanmar adventures of the travellers begin, the narrator, who is the ghost of the group’s murdered guide, prattles about Buddhism in Myanmar.
“The Buddha did all this (wanting nothing and losing one’s ego),” the ghost talks to herself. “He became so much a nobody that he became famous, the biggest nobody of them all…But I do admire him for his attitude and discipline. He was a good Indian son.”
“Not that all Indian families would want such a son – famous but desiring none of the rewards,” he added.
The slip is surprising since the ghost confesses that she was raised a Buddhist – “a Chinese kind of Buddhism” – and Buddhists revere Lumbini as a holy shrine.
It is also surprising because Tan, the author of such acclaimed books as The Bonesetter’s Daughter and The Joy Luck Club, is also admired for her painstaking research and insight into Asian cultures.
The mistaken notion about the Buddha being an Indian could be due to the fact that he spent his adult life in neighbouring India, where he attained enlightenment and subsequently breathed his last.
There is also a strong possibility that other works of literature or even films may contain mistaken information about the birthplace of the Buddha.
While the error in Chandni Chowk to China was easily spotted due to the close proximity between India and Nepal, other mistakes would be much harder to locate and rectify.
The political tension between Nepal and India is probably also responsible for the Bollywood film being banned in Nepal though after objections by the censor board the offending dialogue about India being the Buddha’s birthplace had been erased from the version screened in Nepal.
It remains to be seen if the Maoist government of Nepal would now take up the new gaffe issue with the American government or the publisher or even the author herself.
Nepal’s foreign ministry has been asked to lobby with the Indian government and make the Bollywood film remove the incorrect dialogue from the master copy that is being screened in India and elsewhere.