imagination is very convenient. It is selective. It can leave out the
discomfort and jet lag, the hassle of unpacking and packing and if
you’re in India for the first time, a bad stomach. But we have followed
all the rules - avoided milk-based foods and drinks, carried our supplies
of mineral water, resisted the hot frying Gilebis, the tangy gol-gappas
and the channa bhaturas.
Kashmir and Punjab the people are tall, big boned, pale with green and
blue eyes. In Goa we encounter what we might mistake for “Chinamen”
but they are Indians, descendants of Tibetans. They are not the same as
the large community of present generation Chinese immigrants. In Madras
the Drividians are dark with shining black eyes and everyone else
traditions, art forms, languages, religions of many ancient civilisations
have taken root here. This reminds us of India’s history as a much
conquered country - today the
world’s largest democracy. Ever since Alexander in the
sixth century, India has experienced military invasions. Armies
from Turkey, Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, later the Portuguese and British
have stayed here. Intermingling with the true Indians, the Drividians from
the South, have helped create the India of variety and contrasts we find
brought sheik kebabs, the lamb biriyani, the rich milky sweet ras malai,
almonds, Persian poetry, elaborately courtly manners, etc. But despite the
conquerors much of the original India survives. In Bangalore we find the
delicious dosas - papery thin rice pancakes served with rassam and idli.
is no such thing as curry powder, really. The curry leaf is only one
condiment of hundreds in Indian cooking. All the spices are freshly ground
.The cuisine (and language) varies vastly from state to state. But enough
about our stomachs. The heart has taken over.
visit to Lakshmanpur was charged with emotion. The village is named after
the Lakshman, the brother of the prince Ram who was exiled from Ayodya for
14 years. Rama returned in triumph after 14 years to take over the kingdom
and no doubt the metaphor is not lost on either the Trinidad contingent or
the villagers of Lakshmanpur when the Prime Minister returned to his
grandmother’s village as Prime Minister of a country.
this journalist has never visited the area we can only guess at Mr
Panday’s feelings and the excitement of the Trinidad contingent.
Lakshmanpur is not be very different from many of India’s thousands of
villages. It can’t have much sightseeing to offer. But we, like the
Americans and the rest of Caricom, are children of the New World. We also
understand that it is vital for all of us to understand our past, to know
it as intimately as the shape of our hands before we can move on - to
ignore our past is to remain incomplete.
transplant is relatively recent - we are still pliant and bend and twist
here and there, look to bigger and older trees until we feel rooted enough
not to look anymore. And that mutation will only come thousands of years
the PM’s link is now all of ours - a bit of the puzzle has been fitted
and this, rather than tying us down to that faraway country, only
liberates us and allows Trinidadians of Indian decent to move on.
there were the celebrations and we imagine the traditional dances, the
festivities, the garlands, dozens of them, jasmine and bright yellow
flowers welcoming their own Lakshman after his long absence, the joy of
the villagers at this unexpected honour being conferred on them. The
grandson of one of their own women had returned as the Prime Minister.
so we are now ready for another spiritual experience. The audience with
Bhagvan Sri Sathya As Baba. Many people pray to the Baba as he is
affectionately known in India (hence Bhagvan which literally means God).
I draw on a memory which is imprinted on the mind of a child and has
amazingly remained sharp for more than two decades. How did we get there?
I remember a long trip by car from Bangalore, the city and capital of
Karnataka (formally Mysore). Bangalore is characterised by wide streets,
boulevards of huge trees, the Alsur lake and has the most pleasant climate
in India - always cool, temperate.
did I know as a schoolgirl in Bangalore’s Sacred Girls High School (run
by the ubiquitous Irish nuns) that I was in the midst of a centre for
publishing (newspapers and periodicals) and the headquarters of the
regional radio broadcasting station. But the last time I was in Bangalore
in June ‘96, I witnessed what
can only be described as a hack job on the city, which was now as hot and
almost as dusty as Delhi and Bangalore.
once wide and leafy boulevards are all but gone, the gracious colonial
homes are crumbling unprotected by Government, and being demolished by
“developers” who build sardine-like flats and put them on sale for
extortionate prices. Ironically everything which made the city “hot”
property was now being destroyed. Our
childhood home was just one of many casualties in this race for property.
The garden with the guava, mango and tamarind trees, the roses and Jamun
tree, the swing and tree house had disappeared.
its place was a hideous cramped concrete structure. The main house now
crumbling was inhabited by about 10 squatter families who were biding
their time till the “developers” destroyed it.
if the Prime Minister is staying at Windsor Palace Hotel or the Holiday
Inn, reminiscent of a modern day palace, he may be taken to what in my
childhood language I dubbed the golden palace - the Palace of the Maharaja
of Mysore - now the legislative council, perhaps a walk through the Lal
Bagh (a botanic garden laid out in the 18th century) or, security
permitting, a boating expedition on Alsur Lake to its small islands, just
large enough for a comfortable picnicking party. We have not had enough
time here - but we have to move on to meet the Satya Sai Baba.