On the train from Amritsar to Pathankot, we met a very friendly 21 year old call center worker. He asked us the usual questions and then asked us about the negatives. I kept quiet but SG spoke in general terms about this and that. Then he asked about the positives. Again, SG answered, saying the usual stuff about how beautiful the countryside is and how friendly many of the people we have met are.
The thing is, I was struggling to find a positive about India that did not relate to the natural environment itself (the bits that have not been polluted or degraded that is) or the relics of its past.
Of course, if I was to close off my heart and mind, and interact with India purely as a spectator, a voyeur and a consumer, India has much to offer – it is full of garish colours, jarring sounds, smells of all sorts, sights that range from the exotically beautiful to the most heart-rending. The food when not poisonous is amazing and the drugs if one is inclined to indulge is everywhere. And of course, there are great things to buy.
Plus, it is cheap – exploitatively cheap for the Western tourist. People who can only afford to go out for dinner once a week at home can live like kings in India and they get to lord it over the Indians too. But I’m not sure that the 1 dime carnival aspect of India is a positive even if I do believe this is why many tourists do come to India (or anywhere else in the world really). At any rate, it is not something that I would rush to proclaim to an Indian citizen – not from any particular sensitivity to his feelings but from shame.
So what can I say about India that is positive, after three months of traveling, observing and reading? The best I can come up with is that India has potential. But even when I am writing this, I cannot say that India has any particularly unique potential. Instead, it has the potential of its people, of its humanity just like any other country in the world does. I guess, what I really mean is that, in spite of its handicaps, India has potential. And these handicaps are in my opinion unique to India and is due primarily to its culture especially the highly prejudiced and discriminatory caste ridden aspects of it.
So maybe, my single positive of India is not that positive after all.