However angry I am at the accusation of having written Hindutva, Sex & Adventures, whereas I never hid under a pseudonym to say what I think, I cannot but feel that Mark Tully – or whoever has written this book – has raised some very pertinent issues. In fact I am aghast at most of these reviewers – all of them Hindu journalists – who bash the Hindutva part of it. Dilip Bobb, for instance, rubbished the book in a few words, without even taking care to debate the validity of the points which are raised. Is it because Hindutva is abhorrent to Mr Bobb’s Christian identity?
In fact, I even agree with some portions of the book. The description of the Indian journalist/heroin of the book below, for example, seems to me to apply to most of the Indian journalists of the feminine kind.
… Andrew had heard about yoga before coming to India and felt no inclination towards it, as it was so different from his Anglican practice. But, as he would say later, you cannot live in India long, without taking some interest in yoga. There was a mammoth yoga conference in Rishikesh, where many yogis, gurus and teachers were to take part and Andrew decided to cover it, not only because it was there that the Beatles had gone to study yoga in Maharishi Yogi’s ashram, but also because it is a holy place for most Hindus….
… The next morning he went to the yoga conference where security was tight at as many famous saints were there, such as the shankaracharya of Kanchi, Ma Amrita Anandamai, B.K Iyengar, who more than anybody had helped to spread yoga in the West and swami Bhakta, an upcoming young guru, clean shaven, with flowing orange robes, who taught yoga and a revitalized form of pranayama and with whom Andrew had fixed an interview the next day.
Andrew, standing under an awning near the entrance, noticed her immediately. She was impatiently flashing a press card at one of the security guards and animatedly arguing with him. She was not only pretty, but her anger also exuded a kind of intensity that was appealing to him. He liked girls with personalities and had discovered, of late, that pretty girls are often shallow and self-conscious and that desire dies quickly when beauty is just an empty shell. She was wearing a white shirt and black pants, her black hair was tied behind her head, nothing flashy, but it suited well her personality. She must have felt the weight of his stare and she turned her head and their eyes briefly met. God, she also has pretty eyes, thought Andrew.
Andrew would not give up so easily, he followed her and as she was sitting down in the empty last but one row, he slipped into the chair next to her. She gave him a cool look, she had always been mistrustful of strangers:
-Thanks for having helped me, she nevertheless said and then turned her head away.
But he would not give-up
– Hi, my name is Andrew Luyt and I am a British radio journalist, he said, extending his hand.
She hesitated and then shook it, noticing with a slight surprise that he kept it in his, longer than was decent to do.
– My name is Imla What are your doing here, she asked ?
– I am learning all about yoga
– – Oh, she answered, there is a lot of bull here. It’s all about marketing and brainwashing people.
Andrew was surprised: she looked so Indian, in spite of her western attire.
– Well, he replied, I am an Anglican and some of my clergy think that yoga is very un-Christian, but how can you dislike something that was born in your country and that has taken the world by storm ? Every gymnastic discipline, every aerobic has some yogic ancestry !
But she was not convinced:
– What we need in India now are good roads, honest politicians and lots of high tech, not godmen which are two dime a dozen in every nook of this country !
Andrew heard for the first time the word ‘godman’, used derogatively by the Indian media to call Hindu gurus and which he would encounter again and again. He asked:
– Then, why are you here ?
– Oh, she replied, my newspaper has sent me to write a piece on Swami Bhakta for the Sunday magazine, because he is becoming very big in India, though I do not care much for him. But I have not even managed to catch his secretary so far.
Now I have her he thought:
– Well I have an appointment with him tomorrow morning. Would you like to join me ? I will give you a little bit of time at the end.
For the first time, she seemed interested in him:
– Yes, of course, she said, quick as only a journalist can be. Can you give me a few tips ?
– Sure, he smiled, if you let me buy you dinner at the pizzeria.
The pizzeria was then the only decent western restaurant in Rishikesh, run by a fat Italian, who talked a lot and baked fairly decent pizzas in his makeshift tandooori oven. She met him at seven o’clock. She had put on a salwar kameez and looked even more beautiful, slim, demure and pretty. They sat facing each other in the tiny restaurant overlooking the Ganges. She was distant and eyed him suspiciously, yet he could feel that she was curious about him.
He started asking her questions. She was born in Delhi but worked in Mumbai for the largest midday paper. Her father was an officer in the army, her mother a teacher and she was still living with them.
She was so Indian, yet in many ways, she was more westernized than him. She did not care about yoga and spirituality. Her political views were pretty straightforward:
– I think the Congress represents the best chance for our country where there are so many minorities, so many religions and ethnicities, she said defiantly to Andrew (who then, could not agree more with her). Seeing Andrew silent, she continued:
– You westerners have a romantic idea of India. But it’s all about half of our population not having access to proper sanitation, drinking water, or even one meal a day. This is why, Nehruvian socialism is also the right choice for us, as we need to uplift the destitute, the untouchables, which a brahmanic society has kept down for centuries.
But what astounded Andrew even more, was her culture. She had never read Kalidasa, whom Andrew had jus discovered in a bookshop in Khan market. His poetry, genius and sensuality shined even in the bad translation from the Sanskrit and Andrew intuitively felt that he was as good as Homer, as Shakespeare even. When he told her, she laughed :
– Kalidasa, who ?
But she knew Tennyson’s poem ‘All things will die’, of which she recited the last stanza in a singsong voice, which sounded so out of place in this tiny restaurant serving Italian food in one of the holiest cities of India :
– And the blue wave beat the shore;
“For even and morn
Ye will never see
All things were born.
Ye will come never more,
For all things must die.”
He felt touched somehow: there was spirituality in this poetry, which was so close to his own atavism and culture.
She also knew the latest bestsellers in the US: Mario Puzzo, Ken Follett, Danielle Steele, Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham, Dick Francis, half of whom Andrew had never read.
– But what about you, she asked, you are a typical journalist, prying information and not giving away anything ?
He told her freely about himself, his being born in India, his difficult schooling, his radio days and coming back here, which felt like home, in spite of the wide difference in cultures. He told her about his first features and his recent trip to Kashmir. He planned to cover the entire subcontinent and was excited by it. Yes, she may be right about the Congress and Nehru, but he came from a journalist culture where one had to report everything to give the radio listener a chance to make his or her own opinion.
She asked him a few questions in Hindi, to which he answered pretty fluently with his British accent, having worked hard at his Hindi in Delhi. She looked at him with interest now. He was not that handsome, but he had a puppy dog air that sometimes endeared him to women. She also found that as he talked, she completely forgot his gruff face and got caught by the melodious power of his voice, which had a near sexual energy in it. He was a charmer too and knew how to weave stories about his encounters with funny maharajas or his solitary ride on the Dal lake, which enthralled her. At some point, however, she got a little bit aggressive :
– Don’t think Kashmir is all about sentimental boat rides. We Hindus have a lot to answer there… We have exploited Kashmiris for centuries and the army today is killing innocent men in fake encounters and Indian soldiers regularly rape kashmiri women …
Andrew, who had always hated pushy female journalists, did not answer. He had noticed that in India the most aggressive journalists, those who were often the most bitingly nasty in their reporting, were women. Was it because they had to compete in a man’s world, he thought, or was it – as he had also found out through personal experience – because Indian women have a strong masculine streak in them ? India, he would say later, appears to be ruled by men. But if you look carefully in all marriages, from the CEO to the farmer, it is often the woman who takes all important decisions.
Suddenly he disliked her. He found her too precocious, too made-up in her conversation, too westernized for his own taste, and with so little roots in that Indian-ness which he was looking for all over India. He thought her ideas were clichéd and he resented her I-told-you-so answers to his questions. At some point he nearly asked for the bill to signify that the meeting was over. Then he looked at her again: she was so lovely. And he repeated it aloud, in the midst of a conversation that was going nowhere and as she was getting more and more remote and cold.
– – You are so beautiful…
Normally she would have either slapped the guy or just taken her bag and walked out. But it was so unexpected, it was said with such conviction and simplicity, that she did not know what to say. She always had a tart and ready-made reply for such frontal and indecent statements, but this time she was speechless. And when the compliment really started sinking in, she realized that it pleased her. It was not just a man trying to make her happy, it was something she had been yearning for so long: a recognition that not only she was beautiful, but also that beneath her beauty there was a stuff that was worth discovering – and no man had ever tried before to touch that inner stuff of her. It seemed to her for a moment that Andrew was referring to both her beauties: the known and the invisible
She hesitated for a second and then said, as spontaneously and effortlessly as Andrew had thrown his compliment:
– – Thank you.
Let’s swim in the Ganges early tomorrow morning, he said, I have been told by a colleague that there is a small beach upstream, near the Laxman jhulla, where we can even sunbathe. After that we will go to interview swami Bhakta as it is on the same bank. Again she hesitated for a moment and then agreed. They parted in front of the restaurant with a formal handshake….