Tag Archives: BBC

HOW FOREIGN JOURNALISTS VIEW INDIA. The excessive media coverage of the #Nirbhaya rape or the so-called vandalizing of Delhi churches

(which never happened, see: http://www.firstpost.com/india/crying-wolf-narrative-of-delhi-church-attacks-flies-in-the-face-of-facts-2101105.html.), by the western press, raises the question of the fairness of western journalists posted in India.

In my experience, foreign journalists (and photographers) are generally interested in three kinds of India :

  1. a) The macabre and the negative : rapes of course,such as the horrific #Nirbhaya one and the documentary #IndiasDaughter, which wilfully made it look as if every second woman is raped in India, which is totally untrue. There are many more rapes, say in the UK, where it was found that in the town of Rotherdam, 1400 young girls, many of them under the age of sixteen, were sexually exploited by men, mostly Pakistanis, with the police turning blind eye for politically correct reasons :(http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerscruton/2014/08/30/why-did-british-police-ignore-pakistani-gangs-raping-rotherham-children-political-correctness/) ; the widows of Benares, the caste system as practised in Bihar, Mother Teresa’s place for the dying in Kolkata, kidneys’ traffic in Tamil Nadu, the slums of Mumbai, bride burning, etc. These subjects have their own truth and there does exist in India horrible rapes, terrible slums, unacceptable exploitation of caste, dying people left unattended, or bride burning. But by harping only on these topics, the foreign press always presents a very negative image of India. Foreign writers have also tended to exploit that vein: Dominique Lapierre in his “City of Joy”, which still is a world-wide best-seller and has been made into many films, has done incalculable damage to India, as it takes a little part of India – the Calcutta slums – and gives the impression to the western reader, who generally is totally ignorant of the realities of India, that it constitutes the whole.

b) The folklore and the superfluous : maharajas, of whom Westerners are avid, although they are totally irrelevant to modern India; the palaces of Rajasthan, cherished by the such as Vogue magazine, who regularly sends there photographers and lanky models, who have no idea of India; festivals :Pushkar, the camel fair, Kumba-melas, where photographers love to click on sadhus with cell phones, dance performances in Khajurao… all these have their own beauties, but they represent only a small part of this great and vast country.

c) The politically correct. There must be at least three hundred foreign corespondents posted in Delhi, which should vouch for a variety of opinion. But if you give them a subject to write about – any subject – say Ayodhya, the #RSS, fanatic Hindus, secularism, or Sonia Gandhi, you will get two hundred and ninety eight articles which will say more or less the same thing, even if it is with different styles, different illustrations and various degrees of professionalism (this is not to say that there are no sincere western journalists who write serious stories which do homage to India’s greatness and immense culture; but they are usually the exception). And at the end, the result is more or less the same : a downgrading of India, a constant harping on “Hindu fundamentalism”, on the “fanatical khaki-clad RSS members” or “the persecution of Christians in India”, as recently seen in the vandalizing of Delhi churches, which had nothing to do with Hindu ‘militants’. But the damage is done –– and no Media, including Indian ones cared to rectify it. It is also conveniently forgetting to mention that Christians have found refuge in this country for 2000 years and have often taken advantage of this great Hindu tolerance, witness the crucifying of heretic Hindus in Goa by the Portuguese, or the huge conversion drive today by Pentacostists or Adventists, who have targeted India as a “pagan country to be brought to the true Word” (please check their Internet sites: htpp//www.bethany.com)

These three kinds of reporting about India have been going on for sixty years and very few Indians have dared – or bothered – to complain. But the interesting question is WHY ? Why this always harping on the negative, the folklore, or the politically correct ? Why this uniformity of views and un-originality in the selection of subjects, in a country which is so ancient, whose civilisation is so diverse, so profound, so fascinating, that there are thousands of extraordinary topics, which could be exploited ?

It seems to me there are two important factors, which are at play in every foreign correspondent. Firstly, a foreign correspondent before even being posted in Delhi, has already fixed ideas about India : prejudices, clichés, negative “à-prioris” etc. This is not to say that it is wilfully done, but it is just something which we pick-up unconsciously from the concepts on India floating in the West : Tintin’s stereotyped India – the good maharajas and the bad fakirs; Kipling’s jungle child ready to embrace the good of the Christian civilisation; or else it is the poverty, the dirtiness and the squalor of India which is always over-emphasised in the West and which scares many of us, used to a clean disinfected (and soulless) world.

More subtly even, we western journalists are influenced by what is said about India in the “serious” books of distinguished Indologists, who have got it all wrong : the supposed invasion of India by the Aryans (which, say more and more archaeologists and linguists, never happened); the great achievements of Moghol culture (absolutely untrue: Aurangzeb banned music from his court and even his Muslim musicians protested); the fanaticism of Hindu social and political movements (which were born in the early twenties after nearly thirteen centuries of horrendous persecutions by Muslim invaders and shameless European colonisation); the importance of being “secular” in Modern India and how Nehru was its great father (forgetting to say that secularism has been hijacked by the Congress for its own selfish purpose), etc.… These “wise” historians have unfortunately a very strong hold on the image of India abroad and they give all the wrong ideas to foreign newspapers editors, who in turn expect a certain (Hindu fundamentalism) angle from the stories of their correspondents.

The second factor is simple: India is a vast and complicated country, often contradictory, full of paradoxes, with many castes, religions, ethnic groups, political parties…It is thus extremely baffling to the mind of the foreign correspondent freshly arrived from the United States, for example, where everything is black and white, good or bad (as seen by the denying of Mr Modi’s visa for years). Thus, naturally, the foreign correspondent will turn for advice and information to his counterpart : the Indian journalist, who is frequently witty, brilliant and well informed. And here lies the crux of the matter, because Indian journalists are often the worst enemies of their own country – they are more secular than the secular, more anti Indian than its worst adversaries and often play in the hands of India’s foes (for instance the magazine Frontline should rightly be called the “Voice of China”, as it often echoes the views of the Chinese communist party, which is profoundly inimical to India, or the newspaper the Hindu should be renamed the Anti-Hindu, as it has a profoundly Marxist outlook; so does #NDTV (by the way, as Prannoy Roy is married to the sister of Brindra Karat, leader of the communist party in India). Another important factor which enhances the uniformity of views amongst foreign correspondents, is that New Delhi has become a very superficial and arrogant city, geographically cut-off from the rest of India (does Delhi have any idea of what is happening in the South ?); and there, the foreign correspondents always hear the same stories, whether in the Embassy cocktails, or at journalists’ parties.

It would be nice to say that even though Indian journalism looks at its own country in a very negative manner, it is something which is self generated and that its opinions are formed independently. But unfortunately, this debasing self-criticism, this eternal inferiority complex, this constantly looking at India through a western prism (take the magazine India Today, for instance, who under the misguided rule of @ShekharGupta, vice-president of India Today, does issues on India as a ‘depressed’ country, when any fool who has lived in India for more than a few years, can tell you that there is some much joy here, even in villages) ) This inferiority complex was born at the beginning of this century, when the “moderates” of the Congress Party (which, nobody should forget, was founded by an Englishman, A.O. Hume – strange today that it is another foreigner, however deserving she may be, who president of the #Congress party, tried to stifle the voices of the real nationalists : Sri Aurobindo, Tilak, or Bepin Chandra Pal, who already then, advocated the booting out of the English coloniser – if necessary by force. Thus when the first real cultural, social and political movements, which had at heart the defence of India’s true heritage started taking shape, such as the much decried Hindu Mahashaba, which attempted to counterbalance the Muslim League’s influence, or the even more maligned Rama Rajya Parishad, initiated by Swamy Karpatri, they were ridiculed by the Congress (read: the British pulling the strings of the Congress), who utilised to the hilt its English speaking press to present these Hindu parties as barbaric, fanatical, ridiculous and amplified the problems of untouchability, castes, or cow worshipping, to belittle these movements, which after all, were only trying to preserve India’s cultural and spiritual heritage.

We have then come a full circle: we thought that the western press was negative about India, out of a personal bias, but we have found that it is influenced by the Indian press; we thought that the Indian press was negative about its own country, because of some dark, sceptical, self destructive streak in itself, but we found out that it was a tendency generated by the Congress, which in turn was manipulated by its British. All along the snake was biting its own tail !

Fine ! But where do we start : is it the western press which must first change its views of India and thus influence the Indian media ? Or is it the Indian press which must be more lenient towards its own country and thus influence the western medias ?

Fortunately, since Mr Narendra Modi came to power, times have changed, there is a new mood of nationalism amongst Indians that is reflected more at the moment in the social Media, FB and Twitter, but has not reached yet the mainstream press, which remains critical of Hindus and their movements. This nationalism may have come with some excesses, but it is a sign of times to come and #IndiaToday should take notice of it, for no nation can move forward without some kind of nationalism and pride of itself.

We have got to change the image of India amongst industrialised nations, if only because India needs a lot of foreign investment. Who in the West wants to do business with a country with a backward image and associated with rapes and slums? The Western press is not playing its true role of information. But that should not be a problem – look at China : less than thirty years ago it was considered in the West as the “Red Devil”, a feudal country, totally closed to the world. But then in 1971 Nixon went there and suddenly it became acceptable to do business in China; and today it even possesses in the West an image of a fast, forward, modern nation (although THE CHINESE killed a million Tibetans, gave Pakistan its nuclear technology and still claim part of Indian territory). Many of us are trying to change India’s image abroad, but it’s extremely difficult. I for one, have written so many articles and books, telling France that it needs to look towards India s an economic AND GEOPOLITICAL alternative to China, as India is democratic, western friendly and juridically safe. But French Indianists such as Christophe Jaffrelot who still rules the roost in France when it comes to India write long articles in Le Monde newspaper, speaking about Hindu fundamentalism and saying that India is a ‘soft’ power which never have China’s reach. And the French, including the French embassy in India, would rather listen to #JaffrelotC -not to Mr Gautier.

Thus, unless the Nehruvian legacy of bureaucracy and centralisation is discarded, unless India starts looking at herself differently, unless its people have a little more pride in being Indian, there is very little we can do.

For there is nothing wrong with a bit of nationalism, which any nation needs to have a minimum amount of self-respect. We French are proud of our Revolution, which changed the face of the world for ever; we are proud of Christianity, which gave us an island of sanity and learning during the dark and cruel Middle Ages; we are proud of our philosophers, such as Descartes, who taught us to look at things with a logical and clear eye. And India herself has nothing to be ashamed off: hers is a great civilisation infinitely older than any civilisation in the West; and not only was it great but its inner genius has survived the genocide of Muslim invasions, a stifling colonisation by the British, and even Marxism, which incarnated itself in the minds of India’s intellectual elite and tried to kill the Hindu genius of the land of Bharat.

Isn’t it then time to fulfil the prophecy of Sri Aurobindo, who wrote 100 years ago : “India of the ages is not dead nor has She spoken Her last creative word; She lives and has still something to do for Herself and the human peoples. And that which She must seek now to awake, is not an anglicised oriental people, docile pupil of the West and doomed to repeat the cycle of the Occident’s success and failure, but still the ancient immemorial Shakti recovering Her deepest self, lifting Her head higher towards the supreme source of light and strength and turning to discover the complete meaning and vaster form of Her Dharma.

Then will we, foreign journalists, look at you differently…

François Gautier

ABOUT #BBC, #IINDIASDAUGHTER & #FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS

I have had the privilege to live for more than 40 years in India.
To my knowledge, only two foreign journalists have stayed so long in this country: Mark Tully, who as you know was for long the South Asia BBC correspondent and myself.
It has long been my opinion that India is A very difficult country to grasp for a foreign correspondent, as it is so different from the West, full of contradictions, paradoxes, baffling parameters, etc. Going from Delhi to Madras, for instance, is like flying from Paris to Athens, because there is absolutely no comparison between the two, as if you have passed from one continent to another. Thus, for a Westerner, say from Europe, where all the countries share more or less the same religion (Christianity), more or less the same ethnic origins (Caucasian), more or less the same food habits (meat) and more or less the same dress code (ties and dresses), India can be a very enigmatic country.
Disinformation about India by the intellectual media .

Yet, not only do we find that Western correspondents are generally posted only for three, maximum five years in India – too short a time to really start getting the ABC of the subcontinent; but also, that most of them have – before even reaching India – very strong and biased ideas, prejudices, misconceptions, on the country they are supposed to report about in an impartial and fair manner. The film #IndiasDaughter will only add to the misconceptions.
Forget the fact that by the time they leave India, these foreign correspondents have even been more reinforced in their prejudices: the Hindu “fundamentalists”, the “persecuted” minorities of India, the “Human Rights” abuses performed in Kashmir by the Indian Army, plus the usual folkloric the stories about India: the “dashing” maharajas (who are absolutely irrelevant to modern India), the “atrocities” on Indian women, as portrayed in a warped and skillful manner by #Lesleeudwin, who has a Pakistani father (see my previous post: no country in the world as India has given such an important place to its women), or the “horrible” sati and bride burning (an old British trick to show Hindus in a bad light).

I was lucky. First I came to India when I was very young, with hardly any prejudices, because I had never really thought about India; I was also immensely fortunate to have spent my first eight formative years in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram of Pondichery, where I met the Mother, a formidable Presence and read at length Sri Aurobindo, India’s modern Avatar, Revolutionary, (the first Congress leader to have advocated India’s Independence, if necessary by force), immense Poet, Philosopher and Yogi (yet totally ignored by today’s Indian youth); I was also extremely lucky that when I started journalism in the early 80s, I did freelancing assignments in rural areas, particularly in the South: Kerala’s extraordinary Kalaripayat, the ancestor of all great Asian martial arts; the beautiful Ayyappa pilgrimage, also in the jungles of Kerala; the Ayanar sculptures in the villages of Tamil Nadu.

And this led to my most important discovery, which endured to this day: namely that the genius of India was (and still is) in its villages – and not in the cities — where an arrogant intelligentsia and a more and more westernized youth, have less and less idea about their roots and culture.
Even so, it took me ten years to feel that I was beginning to understand India and to discard the ideas I had somehow picked-up along the way: that the Congress was the best party to lead India out of communalism; that secularism was the best option for the country, given its incredible ethnic and religious diversity; or that the RSS, the VHP and other Hindu groups were “violent” and dangerous. On a more positive note, it also took me ten years to understand what a wonderful culture and civilization Hindu India had been — and still is in some way: how Hinduism never tried to use the might of its armies, as Islam and Christianity did, to convert other nations; how Hindus always recognized the divinity of other religions and never shied from also worshipping in Buddhist temples, Christian churches, or Muslim mosques; how India, since time immemorial, has been the land of refuge for all persecuted minorities of the world: the Jews, the Parsis, the Syrian Christians, or today’s Tibetans.

It also took me ten years to see, that far from being the fundamentalists described by the British and today’s Indian Marxists, Hindus have been at the receiving end of persecution for 1,600 years: first wave upon wave of Muslim invasions, which tried, in the most ruthless and horrifying manner, to wipe-off Hinduism from the face of the earth; then the more insidious European colonisation – but no less harmful – witness the Portuguese who crucified countless Brahmins in Goa, or the British under whose “enlightened” rule 30-million Indians died of famine. And it is not finished: today’s Hindus are still killed in Kashmir, in Bangladesh (see Taslima Nasreen’s book Lajja), Pakistan or Afghanistan.

It also took me a long time to understand that Indians -Hindus sorry – are sometimes their worst enemies: Indian journalists have often taken-up like parrots the slogans coined by the British to divide India and belittle its civilisation; Nehru blindly adopted most of the set-up left behind by the English, without bothering to borrow from India’s ancient genius and, as a result, India’s constitutional, judicial or educational system is totally non-Indian and only produces western clones.
This is why today, instead of trying to counterbalance the very untrue and negative image that the film #IndiasDaughter is spreading around the world, #NDTV & other Indian Medias are only stoking the fire and adding to the damage.
Cry O my Beloved India. Look at what Thy children are doing to Thou
Francois Gautier

THE Hindutva, Sex and Adventures (continuing) CONTROVERSY

The controversy over who wrote Hindutva, Sex and Adventures(Roly Books, New Delhi): Mark Tully, or myself, continues unabated. Critics keep on implying I wrote the book – and Mark Tully did not. Yet, as I have already said, I am a much more ardent – and militant – defender of Hindus than Mark Tully ever was and will ever be. The brand of Hindutva proposed in Hindutva, Sex and Adventures reads rather mild to me. In reality, I think that not only Dharma, the Truth that is behind Hinduism, is the very foundation of Indian civilization, but that if it dies, as it is attacked today from all sides: by Christian conversions, islamization, marxism, westernization & minorytism, it would be a catastrophe for the whole world.

If you read between the lines of most of Mark Tully’s books, you will see that he says – albeit in a diluted manner – that: a) secularism is a colonial left over; b) Hinduism constitutes the genius and the base of Indian civilisation. There is no doubt that Sir Tully is a well liked personality. But Mark was never too bold in his moral stands: see how he is now saying that Hindutva, Sex and Adventures is affecting his reputation. Why should he be ashamed of being a defender of the Hindus? I am not. In fact, I find his establishing a dialogue in the book between Imla, the Indian journalist, who is a diehard secularist (as most Indian journalists are) and Andrew, who gradually realizes that Hindus are a very wonderful – but persecuted people, is a brilliant ploy. It is a pity that every single critic has demolished the Hindutva part of the book, without even bothering to analyse the very important points Tully raises on Kashmir, Ayodhya, Sonia Gandhi, or Islamic terrorism.

Mark Tully may also have wanted to atone for his coverage of South Asia. I remember when we were both reporting on the Valley of Kashmir in the early nineties, that he would always highlight human right abuses on Muslims by the army, but hardly ever spoke about the 400.000 Kashmiri Hindus who were chased out of their ancestral homeland by threats, violence, rapes, torture and murder – and today have become refugees in their own countries. Mark Tully is known for his ‘fair’ reporting, but actually, he and the BBC coined phrases and set standards in reporting on South Asia, which still stand today and harm India’s image. Many of us know that since the mid-eighties Pakistan encouraged, financed, trained and armed Kashmiri separatism. But Mark always made it a point to say: “India accuses Pakistan to foster separatism in Kashmir”; or :”elections are being held in Indian- held Kashmir”; or “Kashmir militants ” have attacked an army post, instead of “terrorists”. All the other foreign journalists, yesterday and today, (except myself and maybe Tiziano Terzani) have followed the BBC’s benchmarks.

 This near colonial attitude towards India has even influenced today’s politicians in the West. For instance, Obama’s present foreign policy of thinking he can fight terror by making a frontline state of the very country which fosters 3/4th of the terror attacks in the world, and of putting the screws on India so that it negotiates with Pakistan, even at the cost of compromising on its sovereignty in Kashmir, is a direct offshoot of the BBC’s reporting in South Asia for 25 years. We also can read between the lines and know that Mr Obama is pressuring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to give-up India’s military nuclear programme, leaving her at the mercy of not only Pakistan’s , but also China’s formidable nuclear arsenal.

The irony is that the Indian Government seems to be enamoured of Mark Tully. But if you observe carefully, he was a strong detractor of Indira Gandhi, particularly on Blue Star and during the anti-Sikh riots. Though he praised Rajiv Gandhi in his beginnings, he became a critic of his style of functioning in the later years, specially after the IPKF fiasco. And he has been saying “that the moribund and leaderless Congress party has lashed onto Sonia Gandhi, who is Italian by birth and Roman Catholic by baptism”. (‘Nehru Dynasty’ for the BBC).

The below extract of Hindutva, Sex and Adventures seems to reinforce that statement.

EXTRACT “HINDUTVA SEX AND ADVENTURES”: SONIA GANDHI

 – I am coming to Delhi to cover Sonia Gandhi’s election as President of the Congress party, Imla said. They met at the Taj Mansingh for a cup of tea before walking to 1 Akbar Road, the Congress headquarters. Andrew could see that she was getting more and more snappy and she was actually looking for subjects about which she could disagree with him, sometimes violently, for she definitely possessed a very bad temper.

 They had such a fight about Sonia Gandhi. Andrew had found Sonia Gandhi quite likable when she was just Rajiv Gandhi’s (the pilot) spouse, a loving wife, who had adopted the Indian way of life; a good daughter in law: Indira Gandhi died on her lap on the way to the hospital, after being shot by her Sikh bodyguards; and more than everything, a good mother, who doted on her children and tried all her life to protect them. Andrew suspected she had kept her Italian passport, even after taking the Indian nationality (India does not allow you to hold two passports), but he had met quite a few foreigners in Delhi who also retained their origin passports after having obtained the Indian one. He had toyed himself for some time with the idea of taking the Indian nationality, now that he spoke Hindi quite fluently, but it was too difficult to travel with an Indian passport. He did not mind also her remaining a Christian: after all, he was still one himself. Indeed, one of his Italian journalists friends had prayed with her, along with Rajiv Gandhi, at a mass in Calicut with the bishop officiating – that was her private business. But after her husband was blown to pieces by the LTTE, he observed a drastic change in her: she did not seem to trust anybody anymore, became aloof and suspicious. He watched with dismay how the Congress leaders, some of them men and women of substance, whom he knew personally, applied pressure on her to enter politics for years. He had learnt also, through some well placed friends, that gradually, via the Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi foundations, she started controlling huge amounts of money. He knew also that in India money means political power, as a party needs hundreds of crores of rupees to win a general election. Thus, he thought that in her fortress of Janpath, surrounded twenty-four hours by security, she gradually lost touch with the reality of India.

Andrew, who had met her a few times after Rajiv’s death, thus took discreetly his distances with her, though in typical British fair play, he never made any comments publicly.

 When they reached the Congress headquarters amidst unprecedented security, which Andrew thought was unwarranted, considering there had never been any threats on Sonia Gandhi’s life, there must have been at least a hundred other foreign correspondents awaiting the crowning of Mrs Gandhi. As usual, Sonia made them wait (once when Andrew was covering Sonia’s campaigning in Hospet, Karnataka, she was late by eight hours). She lived literally next door in Janpath, but she finally arrived in a caravan of vehicles, with dozens of security guards running around her car, as if she was the American president. When she got out, most Congressmen bowed down in front of her, while some even touched her feet. Andrew was shocked: he felt that it was debasing for Indians, people of talent and culture to scrape down in front of someone who in the West would be an average person. But most of his colleagues did not seem to find anything wrong in it. As for Imla, she was smiling. Sonia’s election as Congress President was a foregone conclusion, nobody really opposing her. It’s like the crowning of an empress, thought Andrew.

When they were walking back, he had an argument with Imla:

– It would be impossible for a non-Christian, non-English, non-White Hindu woman, to become the supreme ruler behind the scenes in England, he said. Don’t you find this a little humiliating?

– Not at all. It’s because you don’t understand us, she retorted, we accept the others, not like you Britishers.

He tried to remain cool:

 – But this goes to extremes, Imla: there are a billion Indians, many talented; can’t you find one of your own to lead this country ?

 This time she was getting angry:

 – She is one of our own, ok? She has an Indian passport, she wears a sari, she speaks Hindi and she has India at heart. Not like some of your Hindutva fanatics, she threw at him.

 – You know I am not Hindutva, he replied, hurt

 – Oh yes, you are… Your sympathy goes to them now. That’s why you hate Sonia Gandhi.

– But I don’t hate her my dear, I just think that she wields too much power, being just an elected MP like hundreds of others…

But Imla had already stormed away and hailed a rickshaw to go back to her aunt….

HINDUTVA, SEX AND ADVENTURES 2

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.
fg
… 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
Thro’ eternity.
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….

HINDUTVA, SEX AND ADVENTURES

I have been wrongly accused to have written the novel “Hindutva, Sex & Adventures (Roly Books, 2010).  But in my 25 years of journalism, books and conferences, I never hid behind a pseudonym to say what I think and to defend Hindus. There are four other foreign correspondents who could have very well written this book; Mark Tully, John Eliott, Bernard Imhasly and David Housego. Of all these, Mark Tully is the only one who time and again indicated he had ‘soft’ sympathies for Hindutva.

However angry I am at being falsely accused, I do think that Mark Tully, who is a decent guy, or whoever wrote this book, has raised very pertinent issues, by having a dialogue between the hero Andrew Luyt, who slowly sees that Hinduism is the basic structure of India – and Imla, his Indian journalist girlfriend,  who like most Indian journos, is a diehard secularist. Thus I cannot resist posting a few extracts of the books:
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…Like most western journalists, and in spite of being born here, Andrew came to India with a fair amount of goodwill and an aspiration to do justice to this huge and diverse subcontinent. But, also like most correspondents, he also landed armed with a number of prejudices, picked-up here and there during his strict protestant education: poverty, castes, gods and goddesses, fakirs, elephants, sacred cows and maharajas…


On the second day, he was invited by a British colleague to a party. He had heard that Delhi parties were famous for being boozy and late. It was in East Nizamudin, a place he would come to love and where he would live. But this time he got lost, not having grasped yet the maddening illogic patterns of street numbers in India. It was in the apartment of another foreign correspondent, a Frenchman, known for his love of women and stupendous capacity for drinking and it was full of journalists, both Indian and Western. The apartment was wide and beautifully furnished with teak antic pieces, there was a lot of alcohol, quite a few stunning women- mostly Indian – the foreign ones did not look like much to Andrew – and one could hardly hear oneself talking. Andrew, still a little shy, in spite of his booming voice, stuck himself in a corner and just observed. The western journalists wore all white cotton trousers, white open shirts, and had a seriousness about them that stuck Andrew. The Indian journalists had a glass of whisky in one hand, a cigarette – or sometimes a pipe – in the other, and loudly talked of politics to the western journalists who listened to them enthralled.

For the first time Andrew heard words, which later would become part of his vocabulary:
– Gosh, said, a chap from the London Telegraph, whom Andrew had briefly met once, these Hindu fundamentalists will bring curse to this country; see how they are claiming that most the mosques in India, including the Babri Masjid, are built on destroyed temples…
– Yeah, replied another chap, whom Andrew had never met, in a German accented-English, we journalists, have to do our bit for India’s persecuted minorities, you know, the Christians who are attacked in tribal ideas, or the Muslims who do not get the same education as Hindus and are nowhere to be found in the top layers of Indian society.
– Right you are, continued the Telegraph chap. I am actually compiling a report of Human Rights abuses in India. We need to preserve Secularism, which I believe we British bequeathed to this country, he concluded, rather pompously, thought Andrew…

All these new words, plus the smoke, noise, and movement, left him slightly stunned after the quietness of British parties. Dinner was served at 11 pm, which struck him as rather late. He ate quickly, mumbled a goodbye to his host and went back by rickshaw to the Claridges, again baffled by what he was encountering in India

He started hunting for a place in Delhi, which was easier said than done. Even in those times, foreign diplomats, who were ready to pay anything for a house in posh areas of Delhi, had helped to make rental prices skyrocket to ridiculous heights: 75.000 Rs for a big flat in Golf Links, or one lakh for a house in Jorbagh. The owners were usually rich Punjabis, who asked for 50% of the money to be paid in black in foreign accounts and demanded one – sometimes two – years in advance. One day Andrew went to see a flat in Sujan Singh Park, near the Ambassador hotel, where lived the famous writer and journalist Kushwant Singh. The owner was a fat Sikh who had rings on every finger. Flat was nice, but when Andrew requested to see the servants’ quarters, he was shown a dump of a room without any windows and when he asked about the bathroom, the fat Sikh replied
– they don’t need bathrooms, they can use the public toilets in Khan Market !
Andrew, in spite of his British self-control, nearly slapped the guy and left without a word. He would discover much later that rich North Indians often paid and treated very badly their servants and whenever he saw in papers that a servant had murdered his or her masters and fled with their money, he remembered the servants’ quarters in Sujan Singh Park. Finally he settled for a run down flat in East Nizamudin,  overlooking the shrine of the Muslim Sufi saint, Nizamud-din Chishti, a district which then was not yet as popular as it would become with intellectuals and journalists. He remodelled it, hunted Delhi’s antic markets for old colonial furniture and made it in a haven of peace. Ultimately, he would become known as the ‘Knight of East Nizamuddin’…
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