by Raju Peddada
(Swans - December 29, 2008 - January 1, 2009) India is the antithesis to what Morocco is in every conceivable way. We were in Morocco this past summer and just three days ago returned from a trip to "incredible India," as the understated advertisement claimed. This expiatory, elegiac, and cathartic trip I undertook with family was to honor my father's memory, and was primarily to experience the "air-spaces" we lived through with him. Personal pathos restricted my visitation with some old friends, as this piercing loneliness is the hallmark of pain, suffering, and loss. This then was for being alone with my father, to experience him in mental images, in his prime guiding us in life. It was also a poignant reminder to me of how short life is and how our dysfunctions dominate our living moments. The well-known photojournalist Art Shay once referred to "air-space" as a place where one's memories took shape, a place where the air and space meant time and space lived by people, who later relive those memories by visiting those places. Another reason for the trip was my maternal cousin's son's marriage in Hyderabad. I would not have taken this trip if my father continued living.
Dear reader, you are welcome to tag along with me as I will sometimes meander and detour into my indelible memories to relive the moments I missed and loved so much. In the sixteen years elapsed I had heard many stories from all sources about India's progress, and after this decade and a half all my five senses woke up and assembled for a quick recalibration when we landed in Mumbai to change plane for Hyderabad. The feel of saturation was palpable, the smells, the colors, and the relentless bustle, a kind of urgency that you could feel but couldn't see, the rush to get ahead, survive and flourish; a complete contrast to the flaccid, languorous and indolent atmosphere in Morocco.
After we were picked up by my maternal uncle's family and an old friend at the new and expansive Hyderabad airport we were whisked in the wee hours of October 17, 2008, to a hotel in Kukatpally, a suburb there, to catch up with our sleep as the marriage loomed the following evening. I woke up suddenly at five am the next morning to this lovely evocative call, a melody I hadn't heard for decades -- it was a nightingale on a tree close by welcoming my senses back to my own lush tropical memories. This cooing was so refreshing it erased my jet lag and lingered in me for hours, a natural exculpation of sorts. Later that day we moved to my uncle's place. Their corner apartment on the ground floor was greeted daily by a buffalo dairy (Indians consume buffalo dairy and not cow dairy products) on the banks of a lake to the east, and as we moved south in the corridor with the dairy to the right, we could see the lake wrap around the apartment building as a cool easterly breeze joined us at the door. In the foreground towards the east, adjacent to the dairy, was a fishermen's shack and on the horizon across the lake stood a dusty row of belligerent buildings under construction. Considering the scenes available from most apartments, this was a veritable visual feast. Early in the mornings everyday, I was treated to a scene full of birds and the easterly breeze; one November morning in a seventy millimeter view I actually saw a blue kingfisher with a fish in its long beak, a crane, a heron sitting on floating debris, grey doves picking at the dirt by the edge, a blue jay resting on a stump, tiny yellow wrens flitting about in the bushes trying to catch the lake flies, mynas, common sparrows, ducks and ravens hopping nervously. Nightingale being a shy bird was never in sight, but her calls hallowed our mornings. Our host, our dear maternal uncle here in Kukatpally, is a character identical to Howard Roark of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. He and his family together are anachronisms in the 21st century, righteous to a fault in an age where "get rich at any cost" is the modus operandi.
India is the land of education and fervid ambition, as it is also the land of diversity and universities. In the afternoon of October 18, we all were accompanied by my uncle to this south Indian wedding with anticipation. The loquacious marriage milieu included my eleven male maternal cousins, "the dirty dozen," most of whom had achieved high stations by mid-life with their trenchant personalities, and also carried their grandfather's sarcasm and dry-wit gifts to new heights. It was intimidating ground for me. Besides the usual comparisons and envious glances, we were received at the wedding with warm informality and sarcastic jokes, with no perfunctory hugs or kisses on the cheeks like in the West. I loved it. What followed was a colorful wondrous marriage ceremony with feast after feast of fascinating cuisine and people that I had never seen before. The sense of taste was jolted to life after decades of all the bland fare of the West. The marriage host, a cousin -- one of the "dirty dozen" whom I admire immensely -- is a sagacious character with a certain élan, an upstanding, prominent, and retired CEO of a large petroleum refinery, reveled in our presence as well as in the panoply of successful and powerful people who attended the marriage. This was also an occasion to see all of my cousins' sisters and their grown offspring with whom I never had any contact. The splendid marriage took place in the bride's town of Hyderabad, and the reception was six hundred kilometers away at the host and groom's home in Visakhapatnam, a coastal city in an uptrend with booming real estate and burgeoning employment. With our first train trip under the belt and upon reaching their place, our host (my cousin) showered us with warmth and humor despite the surrounding marriage madness. The English shortened the name to Vizag for this Miami of India. The national highway five snaked north and south, becoming a coastal drive-through town surrounded by hills covered in dense forests. The humidity's grip is relieved by late afternoon with the westerly breeze off the Bay of Bengal. The landscape painted is of lush green rolling hills sprouted with light colored buildings amongst swaying palms and coconut groves, all under a blue sky with huge cumulous clouds. The tranquil feel of the distant views disguised the hustle that persisted below, a busy city with plans to become a modern metropolis in a hurry.
On October 24, after a few festive and restful days at Vizag, my cousin arranged to travel and accompany us to my maternal grandfather's village, where my mother and her sisters grew up -- where actually, we all grew up. The drive from Vizag in the north to the East Godavari River region and then to the West Godavari district was almost five hours on the highway, dodging everything but life. We riotously enjoyed this drive with familial humor and reminiscences of our grandfather's bone-dry character and sarcasm. We stopped by a revered pilgrimage center called Annavaram on the way for blessings and snacks, then proceded to the city of Rajahmundry. Rajahmundry, sitting on the east river bank of the mighty Godvari River, is the center of distribution for all produces and is the district headquarters with the courts. Several of our relatives still lived there and where my grandfather frequented for the court work and entertainment during his heyday. The way to the West Godavari area and our village is only by an old and long road-rail bridge. Getting through to the bridge was an adventure itself, we plied through the bustling town that was nothing but chaos to us. This old bridge over the river and its islands intertwined with the stories of our family and village. Both the riverbanks are high and dotted with ancient and idyllic temples with stairs leading to the waters called ghats for bathing. The riverbank is called Gattu and is hugged by a frontier road that runs from northwest to southeast towards the delta on the west. We crossed the bridge uneventfully and drove to a village called Thirugudumetta, the place where my mother and her older siblings were born. Upon arrival through gutted roads that shook us, we were further shaken to find that no trace of the old house had remained; the place where the roots of our maternal homestead and grandfather started and spread was no more. This pretty much set the tone for the entire trip, to my dismay, as place after place our memories had been dismantled brick by brick and stone by stone. After a few minutes of regret at Thirugudumetta we gathered and drove to Annadaverapeta through a shortcut that supposedly was used by my great grandmother, who had walked barefoot in a snake and scorpion infested area back and forth from Ragolapalli during the decades between the late 1930s and late '50s. After a lunch and respite at Annadaverapeta we headed to Ragolapalli.
A few minutes later we arrived at this is indelible and idyllic village, with a large reservoir anchored by an old common well and the familiar tamarind tree, welcoming us as it did for decades of relatives. An old place where dusty bullock carts and cattle driven lanes overhung with centuries old trees and tiled houses defined the ultimate of rural retreats. That and the smell of dust, smoke, and cow dung mixed with the sounds of a dogfight in the distance, peeking residents with questions, children's play, and coterie in discussion on a verandah told me that I was in memory's lair. My mother's village of Ragolapalli dominated my memories, as we used to visit there in summers once every few years -- oh, what vacations those were! I experienced that "transportation" today and saw myself in the company of my grandparents in pre-dawn hours sitting around the fire. I have to be content with my imagination, and imagination is a boon when it comes to these types of consummations. Unfortunately, most do not have that faculty. We also visited our ancestral "Naga" temple in the village that sat atop a hillock flanked by a huge Banyan tree to the right. This place was carved and founded by an ancestor in the late 19th century. Unfortunately the Christian converts in the village had turned the front yard of the temple into a lavatory. It is one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen despite the abuse by the local malignants. Every December my cousin from Vizag performs prayer ceremonies there despite the local politics of usurpation. The temple complex facing east is serene with foliage around and distant views of rich rice fields with swaying palms to the north that offered peace. We later drove over to my mother's school, fortunately an unchanged location with tamarinds shading the school yard. The school looked the same as it probably did at my mother's time in the forties. I saw my mother standing quietly with a far-off look on her face in that serene compound. She probably felt like I did in other places. We drove back into the village again. This time I was escorted to a Rama temple and there I was shocked to find out that this temple was intact due to my father's largesse. My father's name was welded in steel on the door to the inner sanctum in Telegu. This place pulled my cathartic trigger, which broke my dam... I missed my magnanimous father. It also evoked a longing and sadness that made me pensive and withdrawn, taking in as much as I could with the time we had. I did not want to leave the place, but like life's ironies we do what we don't desire doing. We left at sunset for "Gootala," another temple my grandparents founded by their fields for a legendary mythological deity known as Hanuman.
We drove back to Annadaverapeta, six kilometers from Ragolapalli, for respite with my lovely nieces and their family. Now here is a family that fires on all cylinders with the energy output of a huge family. They are my Vizag cousin's older sister's family. Both my nieces are princesses of positive energy and alacrity along with their parents, as they received us with immense love. A typical day for these ladies is getting up at pre-dawn to do the yard and dairy work, followed by breakfast and more housework, then getting ready and traveling one hour each way on a bus to their schools to teach, come back later in the evening to resume yard work, bantering with their lucky parents finally settling down for the night...all of this in smiles. Here we all got rejuvenated physically and morally to resume our journey. The next morning, October 25, we drove to the Kotnis Hospital where I was born, six kilometers east between Ragolapalli and Annadaverapeta. This hospital was in Tallpudi, another river town by the Godavari. After chugging down fresh coconut water, nectar of the gods, we embarked out to the last destination, Kakinada. An hour and a half later, back across the river in Kakinada, we were received warmly by two families from the same building complex, my paternal uncle and family (my father's younger brother) and my aunt and older maternal uncle (my mother's brother, the older one) a certifiable polymath and an intellectual behemoth whose affection was equal to his intellect. After my Vizag cousin left us here, it became our temporary headquarters for our visits to Tungapadu and Velangi, which are mentioned hereafter. After celebrating a thundering and exuberant Diwali with the children and adults here on October 28, we left for Tirupati by train the next evening, on my birthday.
Tirupati is the name of the town, what many Indians consider a wonder. It is the biggest as well as the most revered pilgrimage center in India and one of the most celebrated and important places in the world for Indians. It is the home of the Hindu gods of good fortune. The location of the place is over seven hills (as aptly, it is called the lord of seven hills) reached only by a dizzying drive or for the strong-kneed and morally resolute, ten hours by climbing seven kilometers of hills. It is literally a heaven with protected forests and flower gardens, waterfalls and lakes, passing clouds and birds with a super efficient complex to process all the thousands of pilgrims that show up daily. On October 30, we experienced an epiphany in our struggle to see the lord. A struggle that involved being breathless in a jostling crowd, a crowd that was an organism out of control except for the railing that hemmed us in. The tight turns on the route is where we got pulverized, no place for the old or the tots as we managed with singular determination to see him. My wife, the non-believer, did better than most believers with her proactive attitude. She helped vigorously with our goal as we eventually were all relieved and grateful in the end to see the god. We sat there taking in the big picture and experiencing what millions do when they go to St. Peter's or Mecca or Bodh Gaya. It was indeed a visit of a lifetime with my two little boys who did not complain. Life blurs by if we get mired in the details and not see the bigger picture. Similar to that of the scenes from the various trains we traveled on. From a window of the train, the foreground blurs by, and as we lift up to see the landscape at mid-distance it is slower than the foreground, and the beautiful distant views are hardly moving.
The train, as we all know, is a delightful metaphor for life; it unites, it separates, it propels us, it moves us from one station to another literally and figuratively, it brings us into contact with friends who stay with us till the end or get off never to be seen again. There is something inexorable about an oncoming train, bringing good or bad omens. India is the land of trains and restless brains; it is also a land of parallels and contrasts. Trains have not changed much except now there are twenty-five thousand speedy trains spread like blood vessels throughout India to carry the marriage parties, pilgrims, job seekers, and tourists like us from place to place; a good percentage of the billion-plus on the move every year. The adventure that is the Indian trains begins after you purchase your tickets, which by itself is another story. We usually brought second-class three tier sleeper tickets. At the train station once your rail compartment is identified on a posted chart, the shoving, jostling, accusations of usurpation, and expletives exchange ensues, and the tough and the meek eventually get to their seats. Before the first stop all the surly and vociferous behavior and animosity mysteriously dissolves into camaraderie, and sharing of space as well as foods become commonplace. By the time you get off, ten, fifteen, or twenty-four hours later, you will have exchanged your phone numbers, personal information, and discussed intimate details that a few hours before seemed impossible and abhorrent. The Indian train journeys are tales by themselves and a tonic for the intrepid traveler; that is if you can transcend the scenes once the train stops.
One such revivifying train journey we embarked on October 31 was from Katpadi Junction in Tamil Nadu on the east coast to Mangalore Central on the west coast, cutting across lush green countryside and the sub-continent. Once the train moved and picked up speed, we were hypnotized by the gentle rocking of the train accompanied by a constant metallic lullaby of the wheels on rails...tek-taa-tek-tek, tek-taa-tek-tek, tek-taa-tek-tek. This and the settled fellow travelers' banter mingled in with intermittent vendor calls for tea and coffee made for a surreal personal reverie. To elevate all of this was the cool easterly breeze and the green clouds of lushness outside that blurred away with sudden exclamation of hamlets punctuating the landscape. One primal experience on the way with my older son was fantastic to say the least. On a train gliding at nearly one hundred kilometers per hour, we sat on the doorstep with feet dangling, with the door of the railcar completely ajar and nothing to hold but the bars on each side; and there was nothing between the blurring greenery outside and the train, with danger as the third companion. The whizzing countryside and villages, the breeze in the face and the gentle rocking, and the continuous symphony of the wheels all glowed in my son's innocent eyes; the joy of this short adventure for him outweighed all of the risk in logic, not possible anywhere but here. A train is always a fascinating sight no matter how many times you see it in a day. Upon slowing down near approaching stations we could see children and adults on verandahs of their tiled cottages or thatched huts gazing at us slide by. The mango orchards, the sugarcane fields, the swaying coconut and palm groves and the thick impenetrable tropical undergrowth, the colorful people, the quaint unfinished homes, the small sleepy stations with dozing travelers, the paddy fields with water buffalos and women with earthen water cisterns balanced on their bobbing heads were like essential elements and notes of an elaborate natural symphony; something that cannot be replicated by deliberate diligence but only by randomness of life and its chaotic movements in serendipitous juxtapositions. The rural scenes in the south beckoned me with promises of simple unburdened life, away from high-tech toys, bills, and real estate taxes. The small stations aspired to bigness, but it's their size that made them idyllic. All stations were identified by three languages: the local state language like Telegu, then the national medium of Hindi, and the universal one of English.
When our mesmerizing train journey terminated at Mangalore Central at five am on November 1st, we arrived looking like unkempt gypsies in desperate need of showers. To our great relief we were rescued by our warm lady host and her precocious children, who welcomed us into their affluent hearth and drenched us with their love and hospitality throughout our stay till November 4. We tasted new cuisine and fruits that we never had before. Now here is our host, who had met my father and mother for less than an hour in early 2007 on a bus to Bangalore. Even though I never saw her, our communication grew closer, like that of a family member, and we eventually acquiesced to this idea to visit her to validate and honor my father's last new friend. I am certain he would have been happy for this. While in Mangalore we visited a beach on the Arabian Sea and another fantastic temple complex in Kateel, suspended on a rock in a gushing river. I will not forget this place as long as I am alive -- it was a spiritual oasis. We took three such trips, including one from Hyderabad to New Delhi and back on November 12 through the 19th, which we will be etched in our psyches, simply for the company we had and for the magnificent countryside that went from lush green to sandy brown to lush green in scenic transformations and monuments of history spanning millennia no matter which direction we panned.
India is a land of beauty and yet the scene of dereliction of duty. There is revulsion against the political class here where corruption is endemic. This is a country that is flirting with the title superpower. How can a superpower's leadership buy twenty-year-old Russian carriers and submarines instead of building their own with all that steel available? Where is the plan and accountability for national hygiene sanitation and waste management? The back streets and train thoroughfares are filled with organic filth in India, but are we any better in the U.S., where one household produces enough garbage to supplant fifty households there, and what about all that filth we consume off of our colorful and enticing supermarket shelves...all that processed food? Again, where is the commitment to have secure water supplies for the population despite being the land of incessant rainfall and rivers? What are the priorities for the leadership? One early morning I saw my cousin, the CEO, waiting by his water cisterns virtually praying for the municipal water to come and fill them. We lived through the same problem in New Delhi in the 1970s when I used to pull buckets of water to our first floor apartment in an upscale area. The water problem hasn't been solved, yet the government spends and sends a rocket to orbit the moon -- is it for water? Progress does not mean cells phones, more cars, overpasses, and a space program. To me real progress is attitudinal change, the availability of basic amenities and infrastructure to benefit all, and unfortunately, given the population and political climate there, this progress is perpetually on the drawing board. Meanwhile, the business community keeps trucking, pulling the country to prestige and power. India is also the land of tropical fruits and political brutes. Most people here belong to associations, groups, sects, religious orders, fan clubs, political clubs and parties, hero and saint worshipper groups. Film stars attain sainthood once they become politicians with bizarre manifestos. This is the land of the gullible and the culpable, each trafficking their own brand of political potion for the private accounts. The average citizen is so fed up and cynical with the government bungling on floods, traffic, filth, and pollution issues, the rallying cry of the citizenry now is "just deliver to us a world-standard antiterrorism plan." The multiple-party system also causes political traffic jams tying up the coalition governance with no real solutions for huge nationwide problems and needs.
The traffic laws are made to be broken here. Anybody who honors traffic laws becomes a hazard. The scene of a whole family of five (father, mother, two toddlers, and an infant) on a motorcycle with the mother holding the infant in one arm, weaving, stopping suddenly, swerving and riding through the polluted chaos, is simultaneously confounding and astounding; and this being the only means of transport for thousands makes this sight ubiquitous. What becomes a bloody joke is the fact that last summer I exited a parking lot in an armored Tahoe in Chicago at fifteen miles per hour while working on our safety belts, as we were suddenly pulled over for violating a safety ordinance, and to make it worse, there was minimal traffic. Where is the common sense with the cops? I feel that common sense has been wiped out by our litigious culture. In a twisted and convoluted manner I liked the skillful driving here -- it is slow and excruciating, but every rider and driver depends on his anticipation, reflexes, awareness, and foresight. Traffic becomes a riddle and an applicable metaphor. Once in Hyderabad I purposefully stood in a corner watching the traffic and was literally stupefied by the patternless movement, its randomness, and the jolting unpredictability. I saw individual riders and drivers go in any direction they pleased creating bottlenecks, stoppages, and chaos; all that with infinite patience of the violated. The horn is a tool to prod others to move, whereas in the U.S. it is offensive to honk at anyone. There they request you in writing behind their vehicles to "sound horn please." Every little nuance in the traffic condition is discounted by the driver and a reflexive adaptation is instantaneous. They drive and ride the ebb and flow like a floating weed in a stream. There is no such thing as stopping. Laws have given way to the instincts and order had acquiesced to anticipation in a chaos that pits man-made law versus the natural law. Instincts overwhelm instructions and what seems like chaos outside is actually order on the inside. India is like the sea. You cannot legislate and police the sea. It will find its own level and equilibrium in the common sense. In my forty-plus days I did not witness one accident in this game of survival. The traffic in India telegraphs something else to me, the urgency to earn where there are no welfare handouts, and if you don't work, you don't eat. Where have all these values disappeared in the American society?
India is ancient and prescient. It is living antiquity as well as Asian serenity. I wandered around the country experiencing the air-spaces we lived through. As an ardent romanticist I revere writers that can experience the "transportation" like Marcel Proust, Edward Gibbon, Paul Theroux, Brian Fagan, V.S. Naipaul, and Jane Taylor did. I would be hopelessly engrossed in places with great antiquities and history like Greece, Italy, India, Egypt, China, and Turkey; and that is what happened in India to me. If antiquity in the U.S. is measured by seventy-year-old Coca Cola bottles, hundred-year-old stock certificates in collections, or three-hundred-year-old forts, the antiquity barometer in India is confounding to say the least. Here people still live in buildings and use tools that were built when Europe was going through a renaissance. I managed to finagle a pewter water container from my nieces that my grandmother had used in her youth -- it is probably a hundred years old and they were still using it. We also visited an ancestral Shiva temple built by my paternal ancestor in 1818, and once inside I peered at the inscription on a bronze bell that was donated in the late nineteenth century by a great aunt who adopted and raised my grandfather whose name I carry. My father visited his mother's village like I did as a child every now and then and probably played around the temple, where I was now standing in all solemnity and mawkish humility. It is tough to describe the feelings that welled up inside me. Writing becomes futile when trying to express the myriad feelings, emotions, and longings that emanate inside instantaneously, and which can never be shared. I believe that the business of pain, suffering, longing, and reminiscing cannot be shared; they are issues that are intrinsically exclusive to individuals and diminish in dignity once shared.
I traveled to my "personal" pilgrimage centers of mother and father's birth places, villages where they grew up and went to school. I was a whisper waiting for that fateful meeting between my parents decades ago, the bushes and the ruts where my father played with his cousins and the tamarind trees that my mother climbed in her innocence. The villages and the atmosphere had not changed much since those glorious and fuzzy days, only the spaces had been transformed. Most of these spaces we lived through were destroyed by the vicissitudes of land values and development, except for one place, where my father was born. The house in the remote interior village of Old Tungapadu is a dark brooding and gloomy mansion built nearly two hundred years ago for the biggest landlord of the area, my paternal ancestor known as Punyamurthula. My father had eight aunts and all of them came to their maternal home in Old Tungapadu to deliver their offspring, and my father was one of them. I met the last surviving, dignified, and reticent ninety-plus-year-old aunt of my father, as she guided us to the room where all the birthing took place. It was a metaphysical experience for me, witnessed by the present occupants of the house, who certainly must have thought of this strange intrusion in their calm lives. The room where my father was born probably looked as it did a hundred years ago; with a century old bed and wardrobe, a musty smoky aroma permeated the room suggesting time that had elapsed, I stood there without a word. Words cannot do anything in moments like these; you just feel your viability in the birth of your father and move on, no banal statements or grandiose platitude to belittle that space. Again, somehow I managed my emotions.
Two hours later we, with my paternal uncle and his son, left Old Tungapadu and drove between bright green paddy fields with the afternoon breeze creating waves on the green rice grass towards Velangi, an hour drive to my grandfather's village where my father grew up and came of age. There again I was very disappointed to see only an empty lot where my grandfather's house stood. This again is the air-space where my father and uncle were conceived in the 1930s and me in February 1956. The weight of the moment and the utter loneliness I coped with was with great difficulty, as this "picture" loomed huge emotionally on my total being. I got out of there holding it in. With all the changes in the locations the "space" part of the equation had been decimated and remains only in the mind's eye. Memories that took shape at these locations decades ago are now relegated to my mind, as the tangible location is no more. In New Delhi, where our family spent the most years from 1966 through '81, it was quite devastating to see the whole landscape transformed, vanished as they said in "Gone with the Wind." Delhi was an open space and today every urban crevice is saturated with structure, the streets I walked are no more, unrecognizable. It became another kind of pain inflicted with these changes to all those comfort zones I knew.
How can we explain India in a few lines? It is like transplanting a gigantic Banyan tree...impossible! India must be seen and felt, and the best way to see India is to experience its tolerance. As a typical American, it is the impossible that interests me, so, let me try. The history of India is a massive palimpsest that is layers within layers of civilizations, settlements, kingdoms, barbaric invasions, and resettlements. It is an imperative to have an acute mental and visual tweezers to surgically pry each layer of fact, myth, and legend that is the Indian history, if you are serious. Otherwise it is better to cultivate a passing interest like many tourists do in its history as details can overwhelm even a serious history buff. From tea leaves to the Taj Mahal, this is a country where there is no separation between the antiquity, present, and modernity; it is all an agglomeration for survival, an existential mandate, and quite inseparable. It is the land of paradoxes, dichotomies, juxtapositions, and parallels. Everything is congruent and incongruent at the same time. India is the Athens of possibilities and a New York of opportunities -- to comprehend, assimilate, mingle, adapt, survive, and grow tolerant. Despite the genocidal and proselytizing Islamic invasions starting in the tenth century and continuing through the seventeenth century British incursion and domination, the Vedic culture has remained intact and resilient through its tolerance regardless of all the intolerant "visitors." This unique and breathtaking culture finds unity in its diversity and diversions within this unity. This is nation where cognitive dissonance is as ubiquitous as elephants on streets along with BMWs and Bentleys; and where donkeys ply the main streets with CAT and Mac trucks, and where shepherds wielding cell phones guide their flocks through downtowns. The myriad dialects, languages from state to state, and indigenous cuisines that flourish here at grass roots level are beyond comprehension and a mysterious monument unto themselves. India is a living wonder, inexplicable to the thick and a chaos that is an oasis for the senses, with belief systems and societal movements resulting in compromise surfacing like fat on rich buffalo milk. All belief systems here cross-pollinate invariably generating a social lubrication that keeps the society within societies steaming along with the occasional combustions. Combustions will become frequent in this lovely paradise of tolerance as they sit on a ticking time bomb in the Muslim population, particularly the radicals, according to Mr. Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy in the U.S. The noted Indian historian Ramachandra Guha also wrote on the Muslim problem titled "India's Dangerous Divide" in The Wall Street Journal dated December 6, 2008. In contrast to the other ideology, the fundamental necessity of the Hindu majority is to visit and see their revered ones, and upon reflection, it is not a bad idea. I would rather see humans on this earth that assume the mantle of a god with their deeds, like Gandhi, Buddha, Mother Teresa, and Pope John Paul II than some ideology with dogmas and doctrines to keep us in perpetual fear, hatred, and war. All the religious and social groups within the country are watered and nurtured by tolerance, a great nutrient from the Hindu culture. Despite all the problems, India is one of the happiest places on earth and it showed on the individuals every day I was there. My observation was affirmed by my wife and in the best-selling book titled The Geography of Bliss. If I want to visit there again, it will not just be for the world renowned monuments and natural wonders, but certainly for another great living wonder of that civilization, "tolerance," which is as tangible, delectable, and succulent as a custard apple...ask my Moroccan wife.
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