view on her (India), or even judgment, unless you are living there, is
pointless without a comprehensive understanding of her complex socio/
historical/ political state.í
when India looks at itself from the outside in will she realise that her
priority is to create a society which gives more people a chance, a way
asked me what I thought of India. My mind went blank. I had to confess.
Travelling to three cities in as many weeks in India, I lost my
camera swung on my shoulder, untouched. The pages of my diary remained
clean. My pen rolled around in a handbag. I went through one day after the
next, unable to catch my breath, as wave upon wave of India knocked me
over: all I could do was gulp for air.
huge, ugly, beautiful, intricate, simple. All adjectives apply to India.
is impossible to cram India into any category. If you do, she will burst
out on all corners with contradictions. Any view on her, or even judgment,
unless you are living there, is pointless without a comprehensive
understanding of her complex socio/historical/political state. She is like
a woman you cannot pin down.
as the poets used to do in the old days, writing odes to parts of a
womanís body - ankle, wrist, or eye - I will attempt a mere pencil
impression of India through its domestics, or servants, as they are known
the West, the struggle for survival often turns the poor, uneducated and
disadvantaged into aggressors. This is because they live in societies
which pretend that, given half a chance, anyone can make it on top. And
those who havenít made it lash out. I say ďpretendĒ because we all
know that in the end, in our system, chances are, if you are born into a
financially comfortable, educated home, you do well, and if youíre not
you generally donít unless you are exceptional.
India, the age-old caste system, a belief in karma (which basically means
you have many lives and you reap in this one what you sowed in the last),
a history of feudalism perpetuated by the Raj where various Maharajas and
Nawabs ruled over hundreds of villages like feudal lords, and colonialism,
has created a kind of fatalism amongst the underclass who number in the
that circle of fatalism, there is the underworld of hustlers, those who
make a trade out of poverty and disability, cracking bones and maiming
children to make them more able beggars, the crook shopkeepers, the pimps
and madams, the corrupt bureaucrats, the black market economy without
which survival for so many would be impossible. But also in the circle of
over-population and poverty live the innocents who, whether Muslim,
Christian, or Hindu, believe fervently, and try to live according to the
tenets of their faiths. These are Gandhiís people, the humble, the meek;
but it does not appear that they will ever inherit the earth. For the most
part, these simple men, women and children make up one of the most finely
honed service industries in the world. And not just the tourist industry.
They are the servants of India.
live in the servantsí quarters, an integral part of every middle- and
upper-class home. Here, in a couple of tiny, dark rooms, two families live
off the leftovers of the masterís house. From these tiny rooms emerge a
small army of people whose entire purpose in life is to serve - make life
comfortable - for the privileged: The butler, the cook, and many little
handmaidens rush about to answer the call of the Saab, Memsahib and their
offspring, who tend to be plump from eating too much rich food. In the
afternoons when Memsahib rests, legs are massaged, hair is oiled or
washed. With one call, they come tearing across hallways and doorways to
answer oneís bidding. The children of the servants, in contrast, are
ragged, thin, shunted, out of sight, but, being children, amuse themselves
with dirt and bits of leaves, and the world of imagination that children
the main houses, the sandalwood is dusted, silver and brass gleam, and
embroidered cushions plumped up. Cups of tea appear miraculously, dirty
clothes are whipped away and replaced with beautifully laundered ones.
Floors glisten. The dining table is always luscious, each dish cooked with
spices ground separately by the scullery maid. Mealtimes are very
important in these households. Dinners and lunches of many intricate
dishes garnished with cashews, cardamom, thick cream, yogurt, coconut,
almonds appear. After meals, warm water is poured over your hands, the
towel appears. The servants are the invisible of India. They are paid very
little, their lives are handed over to their masters, and they are - no
matter their age - treated like children. If their masters are good and
kind, they benefit; if not, they suffer. The masters, too, are caught.
They believe they are giving people a living and food in their mouth. It
is the system, they say, drinking their tea in china. If we didnít give
them jobs, where would they go? That, too, is unanswerable. As I child, I,
too, took them for granted. Now, as a visitor, I see that a mediaeval
world of serfdom exists in India. The
serfs, the servants, are caught between Indiaís progress in the modern
world and the foundation of her rich heritage. And only when India looks
at itself from the outside in will she realise that her priority is to
create a society which gives more people a chance, a way out.
probably true of most societies in the world. But take one look at the
crowds, the huge machine India is, and you see that life without fatalism
in India would be impossible. And thatís why in India you go blank, and
become one of the unseeing.