Title: Holy cow
Author: sarah macdonald
publ: broadway books
once I loved to remain aloof from all those people of India who used to shout out during such occasions as the republic day, independence day etc. I am proud of india , mera bharat mahan etc. when they sang sare jaha se achchha, Hindustan hamara.. I preferred saying ‘sare jahan se kachcha, yeh qabristan hamara’. How could a country neck-deep in corruption and disease-sticken and full of dirt and filth be the best country in the world? This was what confused me. It was all sheer hypocrisy. All those people were being taught in school from their very childhood that they had to be proud of India. They had to be intensely nationalistic and passionately patriotic. but all that was mere lip-service. In India, nationalism is another religion. As are all other religions, nationalistic feelings are also injected when a child is not even grown up enough to understand what it means. Like all faiths, people blindly follow it and become fervent and even fight and kill for it. If they truly loved their country, why do they not strive hard to save it from the host of problems it faces and instead further worsen its misery?
But later when I left India and happened to go abroad and came face to face with various cultures and many different people and could get a good idea of what was going on in other countries around the world, my perception regarding India developed a new facet. I learned to see certain aspects of India that I had failed to see earlier. I knew the real India only when I was out of India! In spite of all its problems mentioned above, India had something special that most other countries lacked. I truly felt that India was better than most other countries that boast of many things that India lacked. Majority of india’s problems are mainly due to poverty alone and therefore could never have existed if India was rich. I started truly feeling proud of India. I talked about india’s superiority in many matters passionately to people of other nationalities. And I fell in love with India for the first time (But still I detest all those people who blindly say that they are proud of India just because their schools have taught them so and at the same time shamelessly rape their own country for their selfish ends). That had happened some years ago. And now, this book holy cow by sarah macdonald has made me fall in love with India all over again!
I really enjoyed it from cover to cover. Not even a single page is boring. Author Sarah is an Australian who visited India for the first time as a tourist and got to see its dirt and filth and slums and diseases and pollution and smoke and swore that she would never come back to this dirty land. This is what she told:
“Good-bye and good riddance, India, I hate you and I’m never, never, ever coming back.”
But she was destined to come back to India, though reluctantly, around a decade later when her sweetheart Jonathan who worked in australian broadcasting corporation was posted in new delhi as a correspondent for south asia. She hated living in this land. But by and by, she started to see India between the lines. She earned a lot of good Indian friends. She started falling in love with India. she talked to and traveled with people of all faiths and all sorts of spirituality. She saw the truthful and she saw the hypocrites. She encountered the rude and chatted with the friendly ones. She saw that even when she was harassed by the hooligans and suffocated by the most polluted city on earth, there was more to India than dirt, smoke and poverty. She took pains to learn about the culture of this land .She savoured the real spirit of India and to an exceptionally great extend for a foreign tourist experienced the real paradox that is India!
“Amid the manicured lawns of the embassy district cars slow down to avoid what appears to be a branch on the road. But it’s not a branch. It’s the twisted limbs of a beggar who’s been hit by a car; he is lying in the middle of the road crying and reaching out his hands for help. We pull over and Jonathan jumps out. But as he approaches the stricken man, a bus lurches to a halt; its driver gets out, grabs the beggar by his arm, drags him to the gutter and dumps him, his face and abdomen bleeding from the bitumen. He’s dragged in anger, not in sympathy; human debris removed. The driver, his route now clear, jumps back on his bus and drives away.
India is the worst of humanity.
At the traffic light, Pooja runs up to our car; she is a local beggar who knows we are the softest touch around. We’ve given her clothes, food and pay good money for the paper she sells. She has rat-tail Rastafarian hair, dimples and dirty teeth but still manages to be the most beautiful child I’ve ever seen, with a smile that would melt stone. She moves to tap on the window but sees we’re upset and hesitates. She gives me a newspaper and pats my hand.
“Poor memsahibs. Ap teekay hoga” (You will be okay).
The pity in her liquid brown eyes is an extraordinary communication of kindness from a child who has nothing to a woman who has everything.
India is the best of humanity.”
India is such a great paradox and great confusion that finding a comprehensive definition for this land is a hard task. But after a long time, sarah macdonald showed me an apt definition for it. The phrase I was searching for for a long time was this: organized chaos!
“India’s organized chaos has exuberance and optimism, a pride and a strong celebration of life. I truly love it. There’s no place like this home.”
As sarah was moving from place to place, I was wondering what she would say about kerala. And what she had to say is the same as anyone who arrives from north India would say. My guess turned out to be right:
“I fly from Mumbai and as we land in Kerala I feel I’ve left India far behind. In the north, Mother Earth chokes in clouds of dust; she’s decrepit and worn down by centuries of invasion, plundering, squandering, depletion and desertification. Kerala, in comparison, is a young fecund mother of abundance. Big wide wet rivers snake through acres of fat coconut palms with electric green leaves. Pineapples, mangoes and coconuts are sold under the shade of flame flowers and frangipani. Above is the first blue sky I’ve seen for months. The Keralan people are beautiful, with big round bodies, wide smiles and dark skin. The women wear jasmine flowers in their hair, muumuu dresses and bright saris, and the men, all hail the men! The southern hunks are either ignoring me or smiling to my face. I smile back, safe that their looks aren’t sleazy.”
Sarah traveled far and wide in India. She saw everything that is India. despite being an atheist, she chatted with sages, priests and Sufis. she interviewed the greatest of bollywood stars. She attended courses in austerity and spirituality. She learned to adapt to the numerous whims and idiosyncrasies of this land. Her western attitude got transformed in a way as to view her life’s hardships in this land of organized chaos as lightly as a bolywood melodrama.
As she flies back with tears to her homeland with her boyfriend, now husband, who is transferred back again to Australia, this is what she has to say:
“I still cling to optimism for a secular religious nation that gives equal rights to all. I have faith in this country of many cultures, many languages, and many ways to God. I belive its greatest gift—its diversity and acceptance of difference—will not be lost.”
“When I remember India, I think of its ability to find beauty in small things—the tattoo of circles on a camel’s rump, a bright silk sari in a dark slum, a peacock feather in a plastic jar, a delicate earring glinting by a worn face and a lotus painted on a truck. I miss the sheer exuberance of a billion individuals and their pantomime of festivals.”
“I’ve learned much from the land of many gods and many ways to worship. From Buddhism the power to begin to manage my mind, from Jainism the desire to make peace in all aspects of life, while Islam has taught me to desire goodness and let go of that which cannot be controlled. I thank Judaism for teaching me the power of transcendence in rituals and the Sufis for affirming my ability to find answers within and reconnecting me to the power of music. Here’s to the Parsis for teaching me that nature must be touched lightly, and the Sikhs for the importance of spiritual strength. I thank the gurus for trying to pierce my ego armor and my girlfriends for making me laugh. And most of all, I thank Hinduism for showing me that there are millions of paths to the divine.
Yet, I have brought back something even more important than sacred knowledge. A baby is growing inside me. A baby conceived during our last weekend in the country. This child will forever remind me of the land I lived in and what it took and what it gave. And this baby, made in India, will always remind me that India, to some extend, made me.”
Thank you sarah!
Courtesy: ernakulam public library