Beggars and snake charmers

southcentral

I wish I’d read this before visiting India. I only came across this wonderful blog trapped in a hotel in Delhi whilst outside people pelted each other with paint. It was the festival of Holi and I was using Andrew’s laptop to try and find out more about what was going on. The above link tot he blog of the lovely sounding Dave and Jenny gives an excellent Western angle on what it’s like to live in India in the 21st Century. It was the first of many surprises that this wonderful, manic country had in store for me.

Whilst filming in the Punjab, at a town called Fatigarh Sahib, the people I was with interviewed a very canny old chap about his stance on sex selection (the basis for the film). He was charming and liberal in his views, an instantly likable character, much given to expansive gestures with his long fingers and flashes of his brilliant white teeth. nelsonLater, as I sipped sweet tea, I chatted with him. “You are from England.” It was a statement rather than a question, but I replied that I was indeed. “Then you know,” he continued, “where Nelson beat Napoleon!” I quickly said that I did know where Nelson beat Napoleon and more that that, came from the county where Nelson was born. He wasn’t interested in this however; “Trafalgar!” he cried triumphantly, the fingers of his left hand splayed upward in gesture of emphasis. “I used to get all the English papers delivered!” I was really warming to this man. I admitted to him of my own surprise at finding the north of India to be so well developed and prosperous. “Of course,” he smiled again, showing off his gleaming grin. “You think we are all beggars and snake charmers!” He was absolutely right.

I only spent a week in India, and then only in relatively rich northern Punjab region, but even so I was blown away by what I saw and the people I met. I was expecting the whole place to be a ghetto like those depicted in Slumdog Millionare, and these do exist and are much, much nastier than I could have imagined, but it’s also a place of incredible beauty and sophistication. In South Central Delhi there are branches of Louis Vitton and United Colors of Benneton. I didn’t know whether to be delighted or outraged, delighted at the level of development towards a western style shopping district, or outraged at the vast and blatant gap between the have and the have nots. And in India you either have it or you don’t; there is no inbetween.

With general elections coming up very shortly, India is a country fast becoming a major world player and has long stepped out of the shadow of British rule, which I have to admit was about all I knew of India before I went there. The campaign to increase voting Lead India 09 have even spawned it’s own incredibly sophisticated subversion, Bleed India. The people there are as politically aware and interested as any Western nation (probably more so). I even bought a book out there to help me understand it better, India: From Midnight to the Millennium, by Shasshi Tharoor, which I have to admit is pretty heavy going. But I’ve only had a taste of this vast and diverse nation, I’ll be going back.

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4 Responses to “Beggars and snake charmers”


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