are on our way to visit the Baba as we continue our imaginary journey
though India. The Prime Minister’s party has set out from Bangalore to
meet him. I recall a long trip, stopping in the imposing waterfalls of the
summer hill station Nandi Hills and stops at various little places for
pickled chicken sandwiches and cups of tea - until we arrived at a large
compound with a big hall.
Baba’s aura created a controlled excitement. You didn’t want to miss
anything so you barely dared to breathe. Sri Sathya Sai Baba, known as one
of India’s most holy men, renowned for his miracles, sat on a stage in
his saffron robes; around his neck were brown beads, his black bushy hair
the hall was transfixed and pulses raced as the Baba called up a stringy
hippie American woman (one of many who went to India for spiritual
salvation) to him. He then handed her a pair of scissors and said:
“You’ve been thinking how wiry and bushy my hair is, that I should
have it cut; here, you try.” And she tried and tried. The scissors was
sharp enough to snip her own hair but not the Baba’s. But these are
mostly matters of faith and everybody’s experience is different. And
soon enough we’ll hear Mr Panday’s version.
it is now February the first. We have arrived at Ahmadabad, headquarters
of Gujarat state in west central India, the birthplace of the man who
changed the map of India - Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi’s power was not
derived from politics or wealth but from a deep sense of justice and
tolerance, a firm belief in justice, in secular India. His tools against
warring Muslims and Hindus during India’s turbulent period of
independence and partition were not guns but passive resistance, learning.
He believed that “an eye
for an eye makes the whole world blind”. And his spirit encompassed all
have no doubt that this pilgrimage to Gandhi’s birthplace was a near
spiritual experience for Mr Panday. It is difficult for us to imagine it
otherwise. Our trip draws to a close with Bombay, Bollywood, India’s
financial capital and principal port on the Arabian Sea, heaving now with
the ills of an expanding industrial city - pollution, slums and
overcrowding and one of the highest population densities in the world.
is also the seat of Indian nationalist and regional Maratha political
activity. Half the population is Hindu but the city has large communities
of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and Jews.
Prime Minister tours film city, a city which sprung up almost a century
ago with silent films, the famous “Bombay talkies”. In the ‘50s,
Mehboob Studios and RK Studios of Raj Kapoor dominated the studios. Today
the industry has mushroomed, to one of the largest and most sophisticated
in the world.
musical films are churned out by the hundreds every year. The playback
singer Lata Mangeshkar made the Guinness Book of World Records for
recording the most songs in the world. In these famous studios dreams of
the high life are manufactured and sold to the masses who help make this
industry the billion dollar business it is. Here movie stars are born -
not discovered - into this tight-closed industry and with the backing of
powerful film families are molded into icons. They are wealthy and adored
is no incongruity in a family living in the slums going to a movie
featuring designer clothes; jewels; spoilt rich girls who holiday in
Europe; actors who have everything - mansions. The movies are an escape
from drudgery and a world of magic and fantasy.
leave without a definite opinion of India. Is she poverty struck or is she
a powerful industrial and technological force? Is she made to host lavish
and extravagant banquets in gracious rose gardens or is there, as the
records say, a growing middle class, a narrowing of the gap between castes
and classes? Is she materialistic or the home of gurus? Is she united or
hit with internal strife? One thing we know - our senses have been
world view will never be the same. India, the world’s largest democracy,
will remain an enigma, as contradictory as a child labourer carrying a
slab of marble. And as memorable.