I met my morning-walk park friend, an elderly retired professor, after a gap of almost four months and I found him extremely jubilant with childlike enthusiasm. Normally a sober, suave, silent and serious person, his energetic demeanour intrigued me. I never saw him so publicly cheerful and so crudely joyous. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked him mischievously whether his recent U.S. visit had worked something extraordinary on his nerves. He sighed, “Yes. I am glad I am back from that horrible place.”
I was flabbergasted. What? A place considered above the heavens for most high-end literate Indians has turned so condemnable? Could it be due to the recent anti-Indian, job-outsourcing rhetoric loudmouthed by every presidential aspirant, I wondered. Or, could my dear friend have had any bitter experience with stringent airport frisking and questioning? I asked him whether he was serious about what he meant.
The septuagenarian retorted that he was doubly sure of what he said. “What an inhospitable place! No soul to talk to. No one to open up to. No socialising. No festivity to cheer. No cheerful faces to turn to. No greetings to exchange. It is silent everywhere like a graveyard. Who needs a disciplined concrete jungle, artificially landscaped waterbodies, smileless spic and span gardens, excessively etiquetted people with borrowed mannerisms on the road moving like machined souls, synthetic illuminations and too monotonously moving vehicular traffic?
Even babies conduct themselves as though pre-programmed, he lamented. “How long would you squat before a lifeless TV and surf a thousand channels doling out inorganic soaps? There is no life in that damn place.”
I was stunned, shocked and stupefied beyond description at his uncharitable tirade. How come such an affluent paradise on earth had driven my benign friend to the extremity of acute repulsion! He went on: “Look at any place in India. It is vibrant, moving, agile, smart and happening.” He thundered: “Could you find a moment of dullness in our land? The garbage, the stink, the civic problems, the horrendous traffic, the ubiquitous corruption, the unruly crowd and the merciless weather notwithstanding, India is a heaven.”
“The U.S. is no match to my beloved country. People are living here, I tell you. There, they live synthetically. A row of silhouetted dwellings, painted structures, spruced up boulevards, trimmed roads and lifeless malls do not make a living complete. There should be life in people.”
He continued in the same vein: “Take India. It is a contagiously socialised set-up. People here are sensitive to everything around. There they are sensitised to live a life of chip-regulated, dreary robots. They may have wealth. They are no competition to our well-lubricated social set-up, though a few pockets in our land are impoverished, no doubt. Heére we breathe novelty and richness of our cultureinto life. There they move about as though it is an unpardonable sin to look at each other into the eyes.
“They are keyed in to live a chosen mould of plastic life. Here it oozes with human spirit all around. Their emotions are chequered and seldom high-voltage. Our sentiments are touching and penetrating. Their feelings are codified. Our passions are deep and genuine. My motherland is the greatest of all places on this planet,” he ruled. His non-stop encomium on life and things in India was compelling. I introspected on whether I was guilty of not appreciating the inherent virtues of my land.
I did not leave my friend at that. I told him that he might not have been to the great Niagara Falls, Disneyland and Hollywood. “Yes. They are marvels. But look at those who come to enjoy the wonders. They revel in narrow groups and small units. There is no thrill of maximising the pleasure of meeting a literal sea of men at such lovely places. They conduct themselves in isolation and to the exclusion of each other around. There is an unpronounced seriousness in them. They tend to glorify exclusive privacy. A place like that in India would throw up unprecedented camaraderie among visitors.
“Our trees, meadows streams and hills echo poetry. There they reverberate officiousness. Our birds sing lullabies. I did not find the same melody there. There is five-star culture everywhere, distant from the pristine earthly flavour of our land. They are conditioned. We are simpletons. We don’t put on airs. They have too much of professionalism, robbing themselves of the very charm of a carefree life. Our festivals, heritage and our spirituality have no equals and parallels there, you note,” he roared.
I added that he might not have tasted the spicy, night life of that dreamland. He instantly responded, “Yes. I had witnessed that sensuous liberty. It is spurning, I say, it is gawky, crude, short of exhibition of a beastly passion and devoid of civility. Living by flesh is no living. One should live by one’s soul. Too much of nectar is poison. A man does not live by bread alone,” he sermoned.
As it was getting hot with the morning sun arriving pronouncedly, I reminded him that it was time to part. Just then, a young lad rode his bicycle past us splashing on us the rainwater collected — during the previous night’s shower — in a puddle. My friend exclaimed, “Look. This is missing there, the very spark of mischief of life.” I was shocked at the man’s metamorphosis on return from his debut foreign trip. I remembered a naughty couplet coined by a participant in a kavi sammelan telecast a few months ago, “Promise you may, a hundred moons and heaven. Come what may, Mera Bharat Mahan.”
(The writer’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org)