Some months ago, I was sitting on the steps of the Taj at closing time waiting for my driver to show. When I finished saying goodbye to my friends, four young Brit women accosted me with “You’re Indian right?” I shrugged and looked around as if to say “I and a hundred others”. They clarified: “No I mean you’re Indian Indian, not someone who grew up somewhere else and visiting?” I reassured them. Then they said “So tell us where is the real India?” I smiled and replied “In the brochures”. It didn’t produce an answering smile so I wondered if the accent was really some obscure Middle-American one. I asked and they were definitely from the UK, so I assumed – quite rightly as it happened – that they must be on some sort of “spiritual journey”. I asked them to describe the place they meant. It was the brochure but I’d already used that line and it hadn’t gone down well, so I decided to give them some good copy to put on their blogs.
Think of India as a music store, I said, with every kind of music there is. When you enter the store, it’s all playing at once, so all you hear is discordance and cacophony. You need to walk around a bit, get used to it. Then you will begin to hear individual styles and instruments and you’ll find something you like that you’ll want to take away with you. But the important thing is that the store cannot tell you what you are likely to want, you need to figure that out yourself. There was more on the theme but my closing gem was: You can either see the muddy pond or the lotus blooming in it. Similarly, you can look at the lotus as a flower or as the seat of a goddess. You can see that goddess as good or evil. India is up to you. In fact, the place you seek is already in you – you just have to locate it.
I was going good when a compatriot of theirs with the full complement of the national sense of humour and a fine sense of carpe diem rescued them, saying he lived here and was having an after-party if they were interested. He told me in an aside that if I dropped the lotus motif, I could go too. But my car had arrived so I declined politely, wishing him success in his endeavours. I was going give the tourists some yogic parting advice but was foiled by the Guardian-reader pointedly holding the door of my car open. It was a good end to a great evening.
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