Memories of two colourfully sari’d women kicking each other, fighting over scraps, the bags of rubbish carrying values that I cannot understand screaming in a language I do not know. Are they from Bihar or Uttar Pridesh or here in Delhi. The blank disinterested stares of the men around them, the gulf between the conference delegates and their lot too stark to understand. Amit bewildered and amused that I saw something his eyes might never.
Two cooks standing in tatty vests and loin cloths. The crows and that Indian shreek which every time I hear it makes me pause and go back hundreds of years. I think of the Parsi’s laid in their circlular Tower of Silence and carried to the universe piece by piece. But the vultures are dying and so are the Parsis. Which died first I do not know. They say the vultures were poisoned, but maybe it was those gentle Parsi’s who came to India from Persia so long ago and sought only to dwell amongst India and be loyal to it who are dying first. The glories they created so much a fabric of India today built by legends Tata, Avari, Godrej, Wadi, Modi.
Sitting on a lawn in an apartment building with Clare and Jimmy Modi in leafy Carmichael Road on a ridge in South Bombay. A lawn in an apartment .. Lights from the city simmering up to us the “lords” of the magnificent city that Bombay is, the beating heart of a thousand lives lived as one. Dining at the Taj carefree with smiling gentle Karin Singh and her lovely Daughters from Calcutta [pictured]. Perhaps restoring England in their American-drifting minds. A long Jaguar whisking them home, or was it a Carriage… my mind dancing between the present and a past that is mine. Past a 20 storey apartment block where they say 300 servants look after a family of 20 and 3 storeys of it are filled with cars.
Walking through the Mayfair streets of Calcutta, feeling at peace. Walking down the steps of the Governors House sensing that I had walked there once before in years past. Into the zoo in Calcutta – more looked at than looking where Clare and I have become the creatures. Driving to a slum at midnight in Bombay. How do the poor live ? What do you think it is like living under a tarpaulin ? How do the children go to school looking so clean and smart ? Silly questions finding no answers.
Memories of walking along the sea wall in Bombay; a party of young Children laughing and playing, then seeing me and pausing and then giggling .. “what are you doing Uncle” ? In that wonderful Indian lilt that takes seconds more to say “U..n..c…l.e” than anywhere on earth. Oh my how time must have passed but how they lift me. A connection made in a land existing because of them.
I look at the stars and I hear the sea and I look at the Mosque built in the sea. I think of Partition and I think of the nations, and see one India where we made “divasion”. Some inverted invasion where the one nation of India clawed and killed itself to three in 1947, leaving 2m dead, a billion sad memories of disaster and displacement and yet here I stand in an India with more Moslems today than live in Pakistan.
And I am welcomed as the friend to India I am. The British and the Indians are family. Each of us so much a part of the other. India gave so much to save England in two World Wars. The British Indian Army the finest on earth. Over 1m serving in WW1 and 2.5m in WW2. We built the wonderful Memorial Gates to commemorate them in London. I drive past them, just off Hyde Park Corner on Constitution Hill and think of them and I thank India, and I thank Pakistan and I thank Bangladesh and Nepal, and Sri Lanka too . Yes we did built those gates.. in 2002. Why on earth not before. Or is it like some family commitment felt in the heart but left for too many years as unarticulated as the love that binds them ? I hope it was that. and when I drive past the Quadriga on top of Wellington Arch depicting the huge bronzed winged Goddess of Victory, descending on the chariot of war. The face of the charioteer that of a small infant boy, the Angel of Peace. And I think of Rusi Modi and Aditya Kashyap each time I drive past; they were steel men, but they are there too. And how I longed to visit Rusi in Jamshedpur. One day Rusi, one day ..
No beef at the Taj now, the BJP striding out for “Hindustan” have banned it. A sacred cow writ large. Goad those Moslems; they stayed where they could have fled. And yet this land so much a part of me that I think I am a part of it. It has given me so much that a day not passes when I cannot look at the sky and hope to see the air that is India. So much borne on its wings. The sweet smell of India. The world’s largest exporter of beef as well.
India is on the move. It is my “China”. It always has been. I feel it as I write now. Its colour. Its thrill. Its smile and its sadness – all in a glance. More life in 1 yard than I can find in 1 mile at home. More breaths containing more past and present than any air anywhere. And the future is brighter than starlight, which shine down upon those who struggle and advance and grow rich. Where richness can be food. Where a man can arrive in Bombay with no language than his from his village and take 20 years to be so proud of that house built on a house which is built on another house and be so proud of that. Clare and I bewildered as we find that the house on the top is where our driver lives ..
But India needs its infrastructure to be built, its politics to evolve to more serve than be served and it needs its bureaucracy to become the enabler more than the inhibitor so that India can become the “new China” on the world economic map. England needs to be there with it.
India is the 9th largest economy in the world but with a GDP per capita of the 140th on earth, poorer therefore than Sudan or Dijbouti. The largest democracy on earth. India is a free country. Incredible India exists. And it is incredible that the Civil Service, the Railways, the Legal tradition exist as a legacy of our stay in India and my present. This is also the nation which will do more to keep the threat from China at bay than any other with its 200 Ship Fleet by 2020, the only nation to have already gone to war with China in 1962 and to have fought its Chinese-fuelled insurgency in the seven sister states of the North East Frontier Agency. It will go toe-to-toe and beyond with China if it has to. Wake up from your sleep England. Send those Type 45’s to your family, to protect those Indian Carriers before one of them is sunk with 2,000 brave young glorious Indian lives to the seabed. For India will send its Fleet to confront if it has to. Just as Japan and Russia will have to one day. That confrontation in the South China Sea or Indian Ocean will become a cataclysm of Naval power.
Half of all global GDP may come from Asia by 2050. It is 38% of our business now. Stand by for more long haul flights. They are coming.
And that “maritime Silk Road”, from the smog of Shanghai to the shores of Venice is being built now before our eyes by China, but our eyes are not seeing.
And we party in London …