Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 20, 2015

From India with Love (2015), by Latika Bourke

From India with LoveWinner of the Walkley Award for Young Australian Journalist of the Year in 2010, Latika Bourke is a 30-something journalist who works for Fairfax, covering national politics for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.  She has also worked for ABC and 2UE in Canberra.  But From India with Love is not a book about federal politics, it’s a book that’s on a mission to promote the value of inter-country adoption.  From the horse’s mouth, so to speak, because Bourke considers her own experience as an inter-country adoptee a success story.

I should say at the outset that I don’t have an opinion about inter-country adoption.  But I know that there are very strong opinions out there, on either side of the debate, and that there is an Australian actor (whose name escapes me) who is currently on a high-profile mission to have Australia’s controls relaxed.  So this book, From India with Love, for all its wit and charm and confessional style, has politics at its heart.

Politics (from Greek: πολιτικός politikos, definition “of, for, or relating to citizens”) is the practice and theory of influencing other people. (Wikipedia)

It’s a lovely book, which traces Bourke’s happy childhood in rural New South Wales to her success as a young journalist, and her eventual realisation that she needed to visit her birthplace.  She writes with self-deprecating humour about her refusal to acknowledge her Indian origins because she felt so Australian.  She tells us that she experienced no racism, and she tells us that she has no curiosity or angst about not knowing anything about her birth mother because it was always accepted that nothing could be known.  She grew up in a loving family of eight children, (three adopted, all from India but not related to each other) and they grounded her in security.  Apart from the somewhat rocky adolescent years, she has a great relationship with them all.  She writes with great compassion, and a sense of her own good fortune, when she travels to Bettiah in rural north-eastern India and witnesses at first hand the grinding poverty in which she could so easily have been raised, had she indeed survived.

Yes, Latika Bourke is a poster girl for successful inter-country adoption.  If a reader finds this sunny picture completely convincing, it’s a case of mission completed!

There’s also a sub-theme about the need for Australians to take more notice of India than they do.  Bourke admits that she was shamefully ignorant about India before going there, and it made me wonder a bit about the course content of the journalism studies she completed at Charles Sturt University, said to be one of the best in Australia.  I recognise that such a course has to provide generalist skills that provide opportunities for all kinds of journalism, and political journalism is probably well down the rating scale of desirable jobs for many a graduate.  But journalism isn’t content-free.  I recognise that India has been off the Australian radar for a long time, and that expertise in Indian affairs would be rare amongst Australian journalists.  (LOL I suspect that doing the hippy trail would probably be more of a liability than an asset.)  But … I’ve pontificated here before about Australian journalists being woefully underprepared for postings in our neighbouring countries because they don’t speak anything but English, and this book made me curious about other kinds of under-preparedness among our journalists.  Perhaps Bourke has expertise in Asian affairs closer to home that she hasn’t mentioned in this book because it was outside its ambit.  But her confession about ignorance of India made me curious.  Surely applicants for serious journalism are expected to have specialised in relevant content such as international relations, or Asian Studies, or whatever?  It’s a worrying thought that our political pack in Canberra might be too parochial to have stepped outside the Australian politics bubble to understand something about our complex place in the Asian world…

Author: Latika Bourke
Title: From India with Love
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, 2015
ISBN: 9781742377735
Review copy courtesy of Allen and Unwin


Fishpond: From India with Love


  1. I agree with you about your concern about the ignorance of Australian journalists about Asia and lack of language skills. This just reflects the woeful ignorance of the wider Australian population.

    I am trying to incorporate the history of other Asian countries in my history blog. The history of Chinese and Indians in Australia and the interaction between Australia and Chinese and Indian places goes back in some cases to first European settlement. We don’t know that Australians fought alongside Indians at Gallipoli. We don’t know that there has been significant trade between China, India and Australia since the nineteenth century. We don’t recognise the significance of the work of cameleers from the Indian subcontinent in establishing a European presence in central Australia.

    I don’t know much about journalism courses but I don’t think the media would require depth of knowledge and understanding about any country outside Australia in journalists they hire. I would think that they would just expect the journalist to learn it on the job IF required. The exception may be SBS. This attitude is pervasive throughout society. It is such a myopic attitude. Economically we are looking to a shakier future. Building deep relationships with the rest of our region is such a necessity in an era when we can no longer expect countries to come flocking to us to buy our minerals. We need to put the effort in.

    The fact that only a few people are discussing this speaks volumes for our ignorance.


    • It would be interesting to know just how many universities offer courses in Asian Studies, and if there are any students learning Hindi, for example. I know that English is widely spoken in India, as it is in many other countries, but one doesn’t learn the culture of a country without learning its languages IMO.


      • My daughters are doing Asian Studies at ANU. The friend of one of my daughter’s is studying Hindi. The ANU Asian Studies Department has a good reputation and teaches well, however the department is under review by the university. I hope that is not code for cutting courses.

        My brother and I studied languages at university but have concluded that university is not a great place to study them. I want to read newspapers and the internet in another language, not dissect a tedious, irrelevant postmodern novel. My brother said that the time he spent living in Germany was a much better way of learning German than studying it at university.


        • I did Asian Studies at Murdoch in WA, and part of that was studying Indonesian. Most good language courses include in-country study (though LOL maybe not for less common languages like Norwegian or Bulgarian). I finished off my Indo studies at Monash which included in-country intensive study in Yogyakarta, which did wonders for my fluency.
          Every time the government does a review of this issue they always conclude that there should be more students learning a language from Prep to year 12 and at uni too – but they never match the rhetoric with money.


          • That sounds like a fabulous course you did.

            I’m a bit cynical about this periodic desire expressed by governments for more Australians to study languages, particularly Asian languages. There is a bit of hoo hah, a little bit of money, and then the money and the idea quietly disappears after a short period. We need a sustained and funded policy that lasts for an entire generation if we want to increase the number of Australians who are fluent in another language. We also need to encourage non-English speaking background people to maintain their first language as well as learn English. I had three grandparents who spoke a language other than English. Hardly any of this was passed down to us.


            • Yes, absolutely. I was on the Victorian state committee that devised that Prep-Y10 curriculum for Indonesian. I was President of the Indonesian teachers assoc that was given $ to support it. But budget cuts came along, monolingual principals whinged about how hard it all was, and the thriving teaching of Indonesian in primary schools has now all but vanished in Victoria…


              • My daughter learned German in Prep from a great teacher. It turned out the teacher was qualified to teach Indonesian and preferred to do so but the school wanted German instead.


                • Yes, that happens. At a policy level, there is (or ought to be) a process for choosing the language, which includes a whole lot of factors, not least of which is whether the students can continue with that language at secondary school. Following that process can take a lot of the tension out of choosing the language, but schools don’t often do it.
                  When Keating inroduced the proper teaching of LOTE and funded it, there were 5 priority languages and each state could also choose 3 more which would also qualify for funding. The 5 were Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, French and German. In Victoria you can see the influence of domestic politics in the choice of the other 3: Greek, Vietnamese and Italian, none of which have any economic value at all. Ok, there’s value in learning any language but it was stupid not to choose Arabic, Spanish and Hindi, because of the value of having a pool of people fluent in these countries that we need to trade with, and are languages widely spoken throughout the world.
                  In the end of course it didn’t matter because Howard defunded the support anyway, and the universities couldn’t continue the training of teachers and so on. The whole saga is just one frustration after another….


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