60 Years of India's Nationhood
Standing on the broad sweep of the grand steps at Rashtrapati Bhawan and looking down Rajpath on 10 March this year I felt a huge surge of satisfaction and reflected on the state ceremonial exactly a week before with which the President of the United States was greeted. It is universally acknowledged that India has arrived as a major player on the world's stage, and that significant status has been achieved within her 60th anniversary of her Nationhood.
Nationhood is the term I want to use - not that old cliché 'anniversary of independence'! This ancient great country which through past centuries gave so much to the world through early science, mathematics, engineering, arts, music and above all spirituality was only colonised for a mere two centuries by Europeans and in particular the British. The over riding result of those two centuries was to meld the subcontinent into the world's largest multi faith democracy encompassing its diverse peoples. That is a great achievement, and for me a child of that 'independence' all be it a British child I would ask all Indians and those who love the country to be immensely proud.
However, with achievement and pride comes collective responsibility. We all know that when one reaches the top the rest of one's energies invariably have to be deployed in staying at the top. Now young Indians - the next generation have the torch of achievement metaphorically passed to them - please I ask do not squander that precious flame on just seeking shallow material individual wealth and self aggrandisement; look at yourselves and your country, indeed if you are non resident then also look at your country of residence and say "What can I do to enhance and give back?"
It was so good to be back in Delhi and the first few days on a return to India is spent enjoying old haunts and playing out old rituals - such as tea at The Imperial Hotel on the terrace - with the solicitous waiters and anticipation of fresh gulab jamuns and ras malai! Graham my husband always looks so happy that inevitably the waiter even becomes enthused with our evident enjoyment.
As ever, we are gluttons for the tastes of very fine Indian cuisine and after a quick change we went to The Maurya Sheraton, where HM The Queen of Jordan was fulfilling an engagement. Even if you have to wait the Bukhara's wonderful lamb kebabs are so excellent that the time spent in anticipation is well spent! Goodness, is that a busy restaurant open till late into the night full of Delhi's movers and shakers.
We had arrived by Air Sahara from London; the service was excellent in the Business Class, but Oh! did we experience a 'tamasha' for the return flight which was cancelled. The untruths and ineptitude of the airline's ground staff was a demonstration of why the airline is now not that well regarded within India; it was thought that it would be subsumed by Jet Airways but apparently this huge merger has faltered at the last minute. I personally highly recommend British Midland whose excellent services we used as nearly all of us passengers on our return flight had to fly down to Mumbai and return with BMI nearly two days later. Graham and I were the only Europeans on the flight and I was so disappointed to see how many British Indians became very negative - in fact they said they would never again trust an Indian airline. For us British it was an interesting study of people under pressure. Moreover, what really distressed us was that we witnessed a huge level of ignorance about India in our fellow passengers. Whilst travelling by coach from the airport to the very excellent Oberoi Hotel I gave them a running commentary on the important sights of Delhi. I further recommended that they spend this enforced leisure time visiting some of its historic places and then our temporary predicament would be seen in perspective.
We had been invited on our arrival earlier in the month to visit the new Library for the Indian Parliament. This is a truly wonderful carefully planned building which will stand the test of time - something sadly unlikely to happen for our own controversial Scottish Parliament!
We had also visited Teen Murti Bhawan and found the museum to the late Jawarharlal Nehru very moving. I had been born just before independence and grew up in India during his years of premiership so I found it very interesting to look at all the material through mature eyes. As I looked out on the peacocks strutting on the well kept lawns I fancied he would be proud of where India now stands amongst nations.
Then we drove round to Gandhiji's Smriti. I had visited here in 1998 but Graham had never been and last year was the commemoration of the Dandi Salt March of 1930; the place is well maintained and the Martyr's Memorial now has an elegant stone canopy which enhances it. Yet again, standing in the evening light as the sun set I felt desolate that evil men sought to ruin the fledgling nation by assassinating a vulnerable peace loving, but intensely courageous old man. His words ring true today as they did all those years ago in my infancy:
The India of My Dreams
I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel
That it is their country, in whose making they have an effective voice;
An India in which there shall be neither high class nor low class of people;
An India in which all communities shall live together
in perfect harmony. There can be no room in such an India
for the curse of untouchability or the curse of
intoxicating drinks and drugs. Women will enjoy the same rights as men.
We shall be at peace with all the rest of the world.
This is the India of my dreams.
I was in India yet again to go and research for the last few chapters of my third book on southern India. It was a most enjoyable but lengthy journey and encompassed such delights as seeing wild dog - the dhole at Bandipur a truly rare sight, wild elephants in Nagarahole at Kabini, fabulous hospitality at Orange County Resort in Coorg and, the cherry on the top, experiencing two days at Hampi - Vijaynagar.
Especially comforting in all the long journeys we did on Karnataka's uncomfortable roads was the evidence of rural India really showing signs of prosperity with tractors in many fields, house building in the villages, children looking healthy and enjoying school and diverse crops flourishing throughout the countryside. The infrastructure in Karnataka still requires a massive building programme but at least it is now happening and in a year or two travellers will be able to really appreciate all that the state has in terms of historic old cities, temples, wildlife parks and amusements and the sheer beauty of its countryside and beaches.
There is no profit however for a great country if its rural heartland is still destitute and people lounge around the five star hotels in air-conditioned splendour in the capital and other great cities seemingly careless of the dire poverty in the villages; India's prosperity must trickle down to the rural poor and the simple villager so that we all can reflect with pride on Gandhiji's aspiration "I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country….".
That too is my dream for the beloved Land of my birth.