Monday, January 14, 2008

Maimon Schwarzschild

I've been in India over the holidays.  It's another universe in many ways - fascinating, disturbing, hopeful, and too much for anyone, especially a short-term visitor, really to grasp.

I had been in Bombay ten years ago.  Now I was in Delhi, Agra, and Rajastan.  A more prosperous India this time: partly because India is more prosperous, partly because Delhi (and Rajastan) were probably always somewhat more bourgeois than Bombay.  But freer markets are surely working their magic in India.  (No magic: just economic common sense, notwithstanding the 20th century's contrary fantasies.)  Yet more prosperity also undoubtedly means more of a gap between people moving up and people who aren't.  There are hundreds of millions - that's hundreds of millions - in both categories in India.  India somehow seems to contain all sorts of tensions: among castes, languages, races, regions, religions.  None of it is easy, and none of it feels the least bit easy when you are there.  But India has a decent chance to manage the beginnings of a freer and better economy too.

My reading while in India included City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi by the English writer William Dalrymple; and India's Unending Jouney by the long-time BBC correspondent Mark Tully.  Both Dalrymple and Tully have some English public-school nostalgia for an older, poorer, more traditional India.  But they both know the country well, and convey it pungently and even sensuously.  If you want to feel you've almost visited India - without crossing 13 1/2 time zones from California - give them a look.

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Maimon Schwarzschild