I kept a record of some of the lovably eccentric signs in evidence everywhere: ‘This Vehicle Respects Women’ (which is reassuring, but one hopes its driver does, too); ‘Go Slow, Blind School Ahead’ (it probably doesn’t quite mean that); ‘Footover Bridge’(footbridges have to pass over something, but not necessarily feet); and, inexplicably, one on a newsvendor’s stall, ‘No Bonking.’ These were as intriguing as the Times of India’s ‘Soulmates’ column. Here one can find one’s mate, listed helpfully by caste (Brahmin, Jain, Tamil Iyer, among others), by religion, language, and sex (‘Elite Brides Wanted’). My favourite is ‘Groom Wanted: Hindu Girl, M.Tech., Age 27, Height:157cm., very fair, from well educated, financially sound, Ezhava family, invite proposals from professionally qualified well settled Hindu Malayali boys.’ Not very romantic, perhaps, but one hopes she found a suitable match. I wonder what Jogi would have made of it. My favourite Times of India headline is ‘Stout Azhar Failed to Complete Terror Training.’ The accompanying story explains that a would-be terrorist was too fat to be accepted by his trainers. To make matters worse, when he returned to India, he told officials he was a Portuguese citizen; they retorted that he didn’t look like one. He then said he was Gujarati, but was arrested anyway despite his protestations of innocence.
India grows on one the more one comes to understand her. Hers is a complex ancient civilization facing enormous problems of development: overpopulation, unemployment, extreme poverty, political corruption, lack of basic amenities such as electricity, proper housing, and even basic education, but its population is overwhelmingly industrious, enterprising, possesses a deep respect for family and the elderly, a tolerance for diversity, notwithstanding the bitter divisions that exist between extremist Muslims and Hindus, and high cultural literacy among the educated. That India also possesses a low-wage economy that can attract foreign investment, has English as its lingua franca, a huge benefit in an interdependent world economy, and has a topography and history appealing to the tourist industry, as well as the ability, despite confusion and chaos, to ‘muddle through,’—all these are additional assets. India is well worth a thoughtful visit.
Amber Fort in Jaipur, India