“A Short Walk in the Hindu Crush” is the title of the chapter in “A. A. Gill is away” where is talks about India. For some reason, though i enjoyed rest of the book so far, i was not sure how i was going to feel when Rapier wit of Gill unleashes on India. Not that I am a nationalist person. First, I am in no position to do so when I have spend last 10 years of my life in a foreign country but other than that, I don’t see how being overly zealous of geographical boundaries is any different than being zealous about religion or color. But all the rationality aside, i was still uncomfortable.
Anyway, as I had expected chapter started about poverty and its perception. Also other than in general western country, viewpoint of British is always interesting after ruling the country for 150 years. Gill captured that attitude by naming it “Born Again Sahibs”. He also mentions some of issues that I have heard too such as poverty and as Gill calls it “gastric liquidity”. Some of the things he mentioned are so perfect observations. He talks about Indians being obsessive about personal hygiene but being so dirty when it comes to social hygiene. He talks about “Horn Please” being painted on very truck. Honestly, I have wondered about the same things for year. I don’t know what purpose it suppose to solve. I convinced my self, it was part of the driving culture where horn is just as important as breaks, steering, accelerator and clutch. He also talks about people telling how what great things British brought to India. I remember having similar conversations with my grandpa who worked most of his life in “British Raj”
There were this things and then there was part about Taj. First it was one of the best way I have seen Taj being described and second I felt ashamed that I have yet seen Taj. Here is what A. A. Gill had to say about Taj.
“Everyone should see the Taj once. It is an absolute, there are few absolutes in the world. It is absolutely beautiful, absolutely stunning. Set in the corner of a garden laid out in Arab fashion, but with Victorian confidence and hubris.-replanted by the Victorians line and English country garden, the Taj sits against the sky on the middle banks of a river. Its absolute symmetry, the maths of perfection, is almost painful to contemplate. It is the most complete thing ever built by man and nothing can diminish it. Not the queues, not the crowds, not the kitsch of endless reproduction and familiarity; not the sneers of Noel Coward or the epicurean India Snobs; not the clicking lines of newlyweds waiting to be photographed on Princess Diana’s bench. Nothing can touch it and nothing adds to it; not moonlight, or dawn, or dusk, that’s just weather and light. If you go to India for just one thing, if you go to just one place abroad in your life, it should be the Taj.”
WOW, Apart from being well written, I think if Taj was the girl, she would have agreed to marry Gill for this.
Then he talked about bunch of other cities. He hated New Delhi. He calls it a city without soul like other capital cities such as Canberra and Washington. Then he talks about Bombay and I must say “Bombayboy is officially a fan of Mr Gill”
I am glad we have something in common Mr Gill. In his concluding remarks, Gill says…
“India is a poor place but only in economic terms. On any other scale you care to think of, it is rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Any fool country can have democracy and freedom of speech and a rudimentary social security system when they’ve got the cash but to achieve these things when you don’t is humbling. India is that most miraculous of all modern states, a secular, democratic theocracy. And if we measure wealth in terms of any of the things that really matter-family, spirituality, manners, inquisitiveness, inventiveness, dexterity, culture, history and food–then India would be hosting the next G7 conference and sending charity workers to California. Of all the places you will never get to because of squeamishness, trepidation, laziness and a dodgy bowel, India is by far and away your greatest loss.”
It is surprising the hear comments about India democracy because when my father and I discuss the politics in India, he voices the exact same logic as Gill does. It is amazing to see India democracy survive and flourish over last 60 years in the region it can be seen as an anomaly. My father always says many Indian people are illiterate but they are not stupid. Yes it is not perfect yet but hardly anywhere it is.
Last year one of the admiral of the Indian fleet was fired because of ignoring direct order of democratically elected government. Whatever the admiral could have been seen as an action of the man who is deeply patriotic. But when my brother and I were discussing this incidence, we both thought that as a confirmation that Indian democracy will never succumb to military dictatorship.
To be fair though, India has changed since 1999 when this article was written. I visit India once in two years and every time, I feel the change. It is different in terms of people, culture and everything else that gill mentions above. Bombay, e.g. from being a Vada pav raj, it is Becoming a Burger country. It has also changed a little bit in terms of economy. Middle class in India is much more richer than it was 10 years ago. I am not sure how many things have really changed for really poor but I see dabbawalas talking over cell phone and that definitely was not the case 10 years ago.