The Past

The Future

Dilip D'Souza Dilip D'Souza

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The Rediff columnist lists ten reasons why he lives in India.

It made sense, the idea of this list, because what's on it answers the question I get asked most frequently: "Why did you come back to India?" After all, I lived -- studied, worked -- in the USA ten years. In the nearly 8 that I've been back, I reckon I've been asked the question several hundred times.

I'm certain I want to live in India. But that certainty has always been a feeling in the gut, rather than one prompted by a list of particular attractions felt and chased. So this exercise forced me to examine that feeling in the gut and tease out the reasons I'm here. Some overlap others in ways, some are Bombay-specific (though applicable in different forms elsewhere in India, I'm sure), some may seem meaningless to many. But they are mine. They add up indisputably, unerringly, to why I live in India.

So with no more ado, here are those reasons. I nurse the hope they will strike chords in you.


Suburban train, crammed with commuters. Dull grey, brown, darker brown flashes by; then, all of a sudden, patches of brilliant greens, reds, yellows, blues. The women's compartment.

The colours of India. Women's saris. Mounds of coloured powders as Holi approaches. Yellow bananas, green-yellow oranges, pale pink apples, bright green chillies, gleaming yellow limes, all at your streetside fruit and veggie vendor. Heaps of shiny glass bangles. Even the often horribly mismatched colours on railings or gates in public places -- but to Beelzebub with matching colours! Who wants them?


The song from Aradhana. Curiously, I've never seen the film, but I've always thought this is one of the finest songs ever written anywhere (right up there with I Believe I'm In Love by the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Barefoot Rock by the Blasters).

It's a terrific piece of music. Still, I don't mean just this song by itself, but the whole Indian film music scene of two or three decades ago. I never could keep straight who wrote or sang what, and in which film, but there was a steady stream of magnificent songs in those days. RTM, in Kishore Kumar's husky whisper, led the way.

Like old-timers always do, I marvel in wonder at the strange sounds that pass as film music these days. What can I say, except: "Aaj nashe mein, sara jahan hai!"


Not just any elephant and two geese. One morning at the office in Bombay's Fort district, twiddling my thumbs as usual, I looked out my window and up the always impossibly crowded lane that leads away from our street. It was crowded this morning as well. But strolling amiably along it, stopping to greet the occasional shopkeeper, was: an elephant.

Another morning, a grey and rainy one this time, the same street was utterly deserted. Except for, strolling long-necked-ly and nonchalantly towards me: two geese. I find the two have taken up residence on the pavement outside my building. In the heart of downtown Bombay.

Only in India.


Travelling home in a routinely packed train one evening, I had to make way for two men who got in carrying various bulky objects. They struggled to the centre of the compartment and unveiled: a mike, a small keyboard, an amplifier and a speaker. One played, the other sang. A nice mix of familiar songs and their own compositions. (Not RTM, unfortunately). The next day, a profile in the morning paper told me they were musicians from West Bengal, aspiring to the lights of Bollywood.

Where else in the world would two young men begin their hopeful trek to fame in a second-class compartment during rush hour?

And it isn't just musicians. Public transport of any kind in India is forever being worked by peddlers of everything: combs, agarbatti, fruit, keychains, diaries, drinks, juices, pens.

Even dreams.


Other places have their second-hand book stores. Bombay does too, the famous New and Second-Hand Bookstore at Dhobi Talao. But if you're a compulsive reader on a budget, you don't have to go there to find used books. On nearly every street in the city, in nearly every railway station, some enterprising soul has laid out a cloth and a few, or many, books on it. Always worth the halt to browse. That's how I picked up an excellent copy of The Bell Curve Debate from a tiny boy on the Bandra station overbridge. Rs 50.

And it isn't just books. Paper of every description is recycled. Which is why hope springs eternal in my breast about the diary I kept during my 3.5 month Africa trip. Lost it on the train 7 years ago. Left me morose for months. Perhaps one day, I will come across pages from it used to wrap the fruit I buy, or the channa I buy, or the eggs I buy. Well, I can hope, can't I?


Nothing comes simple in India. In contrast, the US often seemed somehow over-sanitized. I mean, take the bus I travelled to Pune in once. As my bones shook nearly to pieces, it occurred to me that this contraption would never have been allowed to ply in the US. Yet here it was doing just that, rattles and groans and loose floorboards and all. You know it will remain on the road for years to come.

Certainly regulations and so forth are good. Certainly they work to promote public safety. I'm all for them in greater measure in India.

Yet at the same time, it's these faltering things -- like rattletrap buses -- that lend a certain edge to daily life in India, a certain vitality, that the West seems to have lost. Call me perverse if you like, but I can't explain better than that.


Not one country offers the stupendous variety of fascinating places to visit that India does. Mountains? Temples? Mosques? The desert? Rivers? Beaches? Wildlife? Monuments? Throbbing city life? Double-decker buses? All those and more, in India. In the best tradition of travel, the more you do it in India, the more that's left to see.

So on my list that grows all the time: Kutch. Calcutta. Ladakh. Sikkim. The Northeast. Amarkantak. Jaisalmer. The Karnataka coast. MP. Bhuleshwar. Dwarka. Pulicat and Chilika Lakes. Belur/Halebid. I could go on. And on. One day I will.


By the mugful, stories drift about out there, waiting to be written. You only have to step out to have them drape themselves all over you. What's with the cobbler near Metro who has this sign up: "India ka High Hitler"? Who is the poor man who walks my street every morning, shouting unintelligibly, waving a long stick? What possesses a university professor to play carrom by himself for 24 hours in search of a Guinness Book record?

Always something more to be learned in and about India, something more to write about. And just for that little extra zip: in the learning and writing, the always-present chance to make a difference, however small. The chance to stimulate some thought, some discussion. The best reason of all to write.


Enough said.

1. THE IDEA OF INDIA, apologies to Sunil Khilnani

Off the top of my head, Bombay has at least 28 daily newspapers in 5 different languages. (I know I haven't got all the papers in those 5 languages, and there are papers in several more languages as well). I don't know one other city in the world where you'd find this kind of variety.

In an odd nutshell, that's India. This enormous experiment in modern nationhood, that would mould it out of diversity unknown anywhere. This gigantic effort to give innumerable disparate people common cause. After all, what binds together me and the Manipuri?

This experiment, this effort, this India -- it stutters and stumbles; by my count its failures far outnumber its successes; it is crammed to the gills with frustrating perversities; it is blessed with some of the world's most venal people as leaders. And yet in spite of all that, because of all that, it is endlessly fascinating, rich in life, a gold mine of opportunity and experience and learning.

Eight years back in India and I know more firmly than ever: I would never live anywhere else.

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