Many, many years ago, to catch a reflection of India in America was to be over the moon: a saree on the streets of New York, an Indian name in the phone book, a snatch of Indian music in a mainstream performance. Now of course India has become woven into the fabric of America, so it was no surprise to see the JFK Express – the train which takes you from the city to the airport – immersed in the images of Incredible India!
What is it with New York City – it’s simply buzzing! Today Manhattan is overrun by security, cops and traffic police, there are closures and enclosures everywhere and yet there seem to be people, people, people everywhere too! After all, how often do you get to see the Pope – and especially one is beloved as this one? An army of world leaders is in town for the UN Summit, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Also in town is the youngest world leader, Malala Yousefzai, for the premiere of the documentary ‘He Named Me Malala’ and also for delivering a powerful speech at the UN. And yes, even Priyanka Chopra, Bollywood Goddess, is in this frenetic city for the launch of her new ABC series ‘Quantico’.
“I was so amazed at the thought of somebody cycling me, who was just turning 20, who was a fit young American man, that I insisted on bicycling half the way myself. That’s how I entered India, bicycling a rickshaw, with the rickshaw-wallah sitting in the back, wondering what the hell I was doing!”
I was in the fabulous Udaivilas in Udaipur, enjoying the morning breakfast feast, when my eyes lit up. No, it wasn’t some grand Rajput jewels which had so excited me, though these gems I speak of were a rich golden orange and came wrapped in a delicate outer covering of gossamer beige.
On the Delhi-Matura road heading out to Agra, as our pristine luxury bus merges into the sea of dusty, meandering trucks, lorries, buses, cars, scooters, cycles and the occasional camel, it is possible to see life being lived in the open.
From the window of this secluded and privileged world, I can see India whizzing by: ramshackle paan bidi shops; one man – one table entrepreneurships selling chole matter for Rs.15; dingy snack shacks bursting with bottled water, chips, and of course Pepsi and Coke.
There are helmet stands with colorful helmets positioned on the sidewalk; a sign ‘Hell or helmet’ which tells of people’s growing awareness of road safety; a mini roadside temple to the God Hanuman festooned with marigold garlands; and of course, people, people and more people everywhere.
In India you can see man and monkeys living together in an uneasy truce. A photograph that got away was of at least 20 monkeys all dangling from a traffic light pole in Agra! Before I got my camera out, the bus had moved on and the clambering monkeys remain a delightful snapshot in my memory. I’m sure the monkeys run rampant in places like Benares, Mathura and Haridwar.
In fact, I distinctly remember having my toast snatched from my hand by a greedy monkey at the Haridwar Railway Station many years ago. Now I caught glimpses of monkeys – and humans, outside a small wayside temple near the Ranthambhore National Park. Seen as a form of Hanuman, the venerated Monkey God, these monkeys are indulged and even fed by passers-by.
It was only 8 pm on Dec 31st in Mumbai but already the drums were beating wildly outside my window in an apartment close to the Gateway of India. People are packing the streets here and I’m struck by the sheer energy of the crowds. The vitality of Mumbaikars is catching, their passion to live, to succeed. I’ve been in the city just three days but already I’ve met so many ordinary people who take each day as it comes and pack a punch into it.
India is serenity, beauty, calmness. India is noise, pollution, crowds. India is irony, humor, drama. India is sharp contrasts, extreme wealth and extreme poverty.
India is a billion people and you get to see many facets of their lives in Clive Limpkin’s book,’India Exposed: The Subcontinent A-Z’ (Abbeyville Press)
It entailed a helicopter ride from Washington, secret service personnel and caused traffic jams in New York but in spite of all these hassles, the most powerful man in the world, President Barack Obama, still made it to a Broadway show, ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’, right in the heart of Times Square. As he told reporters, “I am taking my wife to New York City because I promised her during the campaign that I would take her to a Broadway show after it was all finished.”
Such is the lure of Broadway, that all-American icon of theater!