Special to Times of Oman
India is a paradox. This heady mix of penury and indulgence, filth and grandeur, malice and munificence, minimalism and decadence is overwhelming for eyes that care to see and minds that yearn to relate.
It often begins with the immigration officials. "Hello, Good afternoon", I said trying to romance the stone at the premium counter.
The officer took my papers without any response. With power to prevent me from entering my own country, he had to rub it in! Sizing me up with a piercing look over his spectacles he said, "Boarding pass"?
Surprised, I inadvertently murmured, 'Why? Oh, he is checking if I snitched into the priority counter!' A smile in a corner of my lips betrayed my thoughts. By the time I realised my blunder it was late. He kept turning the pages of my passport, leisurely reading various visas, and hopelessly trying to decipher every alphabet in my Omani visa.
He inspected my Oman resident card, swiped my passport at least four times, and shuttled his angry set of eyes between me and my photograph over ten times. Time stood still. Having established who the boss was, he let me in. Welcome to India, I thought.
My Indian telephone somehow did not work. I asked the driver if he can take me to the operator's nearest store; not a fair request since the contracted service was strictly for a drop at the hotel. He readily agreed. We took a significant detour and shuttled between shopping complexes to locate the store. Having promised to return in fifteen minutes, I took an hour. When I apologised, he gave me a lesson in humility, "Don't worry sir. Your job is done, that is enough. You will be uncomfortable without a phone. Shall we move?"
Same India — contrasting flavours!
The hotel's coffee shop was brimming; all enjoying a buffet. Sight of a resurgent India that I did not grow up in!
Then, a reality check! I saw a couple with a baby on a pram. They brought along two maids. One was feeding the baby. The other sat on the floor by the wall, watching the rich and privileged devour the extravagance. One of them got impatient and started walking around. The 'malkin' saw, gathered tit-bits of food off their plates in a side plate and gave to the maids. The maids sat on the floor with the plate and shared the largesse!
I was sick. I had seen Indian slums, and Indian opulence; but never ever on the same canvas!
Later in the evening, I met with two remarkable entrepreneurs. After successfully setting up a high-tech business they started taking their focus away from moneymaking to social work.
Barely in the mid- forties, they adopted villages for developing infrastructure and creating employment. Not interested in converting their millions to multi-millions, they believe true satisfaction lies in giving, not taking. A refreshing example of definitive philanthropy in young corporate India!
For every bad Indian experience, there are invariably many incredibly beautiful ones. Having discussed native socio-political issues with citizens from many countries, I can say that the Indians are the champions in self-trashing! There are skeletons in every cupboard. It is a matter of choice what one wishes to talk about and portray.
Let's make a start; shall we?
The author is a freelance writer based in Muscat. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely his and not of Times of Oman.