Minister Basdeo Panday may be surprised to find glimpses of Trinidad in
the land of his maternal grandmother. Every now and then I come across
sharp reminders of my Indian childhood in Trinidad.
is in a sunny rose garden, the crumbling steps of a colonial home, gold
dust on a dusky highway, the pungent scent of a garland of jasmine, a
throng of people outside a cinema flanked by the pink icing faces of
Bollywood (Bombay’s Hollywood), or even a freshly washed temple floor in
don’t need a ticket to New Delhi to go along with the Trinidad and
Tobago contingent. We can fill in with imagination and memory and follow
the eight-hour flight to London. Then the 10-hour flight to New Delhi on
Air India with sari clad air hostesses. We have arrived at Indira Gandhi
International Airport. Let’s skip immigration and lines.
is the red carpet; the glittering welcome to a country which understands
pomp and combines it with the exquisite manners of her emperors. And tight
security; to keep the Kashmir separatist terrorists at bay. Then there is
the traditional garlanding of the Prime Minister; who is whisked off in a
limousine to the President’s House.
rest of us? We are outside the airport, New Delhi, capital of a country of
800 million people. It is cold, anywhere between seven and 21 degrees
Celsius. We hear calls of “coolie”
and lean leathery men in loin cloths scuttle over and double over with
trunks of baggage.
airport lounges we see middle and upper class India. Women in silk
sari’s, salvaar khameezs (a long tunic and trousers), embroidered
Kashmir shawls, and diamonds - a certain expression which is bred only
with an easy life with many self indulgent pleasures and servants at your
command. This is North India so the skins are light, the noses straight.
on the way out - sudden throngs - crowds and crowds of people - jostling.
Glimpses of the other India - tiny hungry looking women with thin scrappy
saris, a baby in their arms, small children around her sari, thin, dirty
children with big eyes - men, women and children begging for alms surround
we drive off you think of the Mahatma who fasted for peace and of emperors
adorned in jewels who conquered and lived with harems and armies. India is
a land of immense contrasts - wealth
and poverty; old and new. A country you either hate or love intensely but
cannot ignore. We are still driving. It is very foggy. When you see
motorcyclists and cyclists riding with covered noses and mouths it’s not
a fashion, it’s pollution from the buses, cars and auto rickshaws
(three-wheelers, running on diesel) sounding like drills.
blows their horn whether they need to or not. And nobody pays any
attention to the honking. You drive, you honk. And there are no lanes.
Just a cluster of traffic moving in two directions. As we enter the
capital city, intimations of an ancient civilisation, tombs and numerous
ruins mark the city’s history; from the imperial Gupta dynasty 1600
years ago to the Mogul conquerors to the colonial Raj.
city of gardens and fountains; a profusion of winter roses, chrysanthemums
and violas bloom in the Lodhi, Mughal and Roshan Ara Gardens. We pass
boulevards of flowering trees. Along the Yamuna river front memorials set
in flowering gardens have been built for 20th century national leaders as
Mahatma Gandhi, Jawarharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri.
New Delhi, over the next two days, some of us stay in five star hotels;
glimpse academies of music, dance, drama, art and letters; visit
libraries, archives and museums and change money at the State Bank;
banking headquarters of India.
may stop off at Queensway, famous for its emporiums; an entire complex
where India’s 20 states are represented each for their own craft,
jewellery and fashions. We mill about in Connought Circus, a fashionable
shopping area of restaurants, nightclubs, tailors, boutiques and an
underground shopping arcade.
Prime Minister Basdeo Panday has been staying at Rastrapati Bhavan, the
official residence of President Shankar Dayal Sharma. The Presidential
House, formally the British Viceroy’s residence (Mountbatten was the
last to have lived there), combines the best features of modern English
architecture with traditional India.
peacocks in the garden, hanging vines, marble pillars, the famous rose
garden and freshly watered lawns. Inside, all the splendour of a colonial
past; shinning floors, life sized portraits, tiger skins, tall mirrors,
silver, etc. The next day Mr Panday is the chief guest at a dinner
reception hosted by Indian Prime Minister HK Deve Gowda’s.
must have been no more than 10 years old when my parents took me to meet
Mrs Indira Gandhi in the gardens of the home where she was to be shot 12
years later. The lack of security then was astonishing. At the time people
were pressing at the gates, surrounding the house; a collective crowd
roaring “Indira Gandhi is good, she keeps her promises.”
that dream was shattered and now, with the anti-terrorism alert, the Prime
Minister’s home must have wall-to-wall soldiers. Those of us who have
not been invited, take our own tour starting with old Delhi. The streets
of old Delhi are irregular, a confusing mixture of narrow and winding
streets, culs-de-sac, alleys, and courtyards.
Chawk, an enormous market place more than 300 years old, is like
Alladin’s Cave. Your senses are overwhelmed. Old Shops selling gold,
silver and diamonds for centuries. The sharp tang of incense mingles with
delicious frying sweets and vegetables.
every stall somebody is bargaining for a better price. Huge figurines of
Hindu gods, marble chess sets, leather, cottons, silks, fruits and flowers
all jostle for a buyer. Poverty and grandeur live together without any
seeming awareness of the contradiction.
Red Fort is one of the most impressive buildings of the old city. Its
massive red sandstone walls are 75 feet high and enclose a complex of
palaces, gardens and military barracks. Mogul Emperors created the Indo
Muslim architecture mostly found in the old city. The Qutub Minar is an
adaptation of Hindu materials and style to Islam motifs. The Red Fort and
the Jama Masjid is made of
marble and elaborate florid decorations.
here and there are slums inhabited by construction workers and low income
groups... another facet of the city.
Delhi, Mr Panday attends a luncheon banquet at the President’s House,
addresses academics and diplomats and on the following day is special
guest of India’s Republic Day parade and then he will leave for Agra
where he is sure to be photographed at The Taj Mahal; a wonder of the
world and an undying testimony to love. And we will follow him there too.