Browsing the fiction aisle in the Bangalore airport bookstore, a young teenage girl comes up and asks, half-shy, half-looking at me, if I’ve found anything good.
We start talking about books and India and the brilliant analysis of modern India I just finished reading, In Spite of the Gods (she has read it too) and she thinks India has too many problems and Australia can’t possibly have any.
She’s intelligent, pretty and articulate; beautiful spoken English with a posh Delhi my dad’s in the army kind of accent. She wear jeans, a hoodie and sneakers. No sign of a sari. Her name is Rashinka and she’s impatient for a Western-style future, for something more than this, for lack of a better term, provincial life.
Her mum comes up and starts talking to me about yoga (I’ve been in Mysore) and her kundalini awakening, but her daughter brushes her aside; irritated with this talk too grounded in the past, too superstitious, too much connected with an old India she wants nothing to do with.
I feel the winds of change blow through the whitewashed, glass-encased and spotless corridors of the swish Bangalore airport, rustling the crisp white pages of a hundred books on success, business, wealth and self-improvement.
India is a restless place.
This is especially the case in the middle classes; recently, but not completely, freed from caste rules and desperate to find their promised upward mobility. Especially in the south; wealthier than the north, better organized and earliest colonized, where you’ll find higher literacy, lower unemployment, less corruption and more tourism.
Even more especially in Bangalore; a magnet for foreign and Indian investment, textile industrial central and still riding the wave of the 1990s IT boom by providing cheap and effective outsourcing for the developed world’s IT needs. If you’ve ever called your phone company and wound up at an Indian call center, it was probably in Bangalore.
The shiny new airport stands as a beacon of the future in a barren landscape, rectangle after brown rectangle of arid crop-wasted fields waiting forlornly for monsoon. I watch them stretch into the distance as my plane rises into the thick smog hovering heavy over the city.
Barren because of massive deforestation that means topsoil, toxic chemical-heavy, leaves with the monsoon. Barren because the march of progress means more people, more food, more quickly, in a land that has sustained millions for so many years.
But for how many more?
How to create change in a democracy with 1.3 billion voters? I have no idea. But I think, in a few years, Rashinka and her friends just might. They’re young, intelligent, naive and idealistic enough to believe they can create change.
Someone once tried to tell me that idealism doesn’t work in India; that for example, corruption is so entrenched that working with it is the only way to get anything done. Perhaps they hadn’t heard of a certain Mohandas K Gandhi.
If I’ve learnt anything over the past four wonderful months in this crazy country, it’s that idealism is actually the only thing that works in India. Why else would thousands of people come from all over the world to stand on their heads at the Jois Shala? Why else would 50 million people come to camp for weeks at a particular time to a particular meeting of two particular rivers to bathe on particularly special days? Why else would an unassuming Buddhist monk decide to start an orphanage and school for the destitute children of the remote Tawang region?
If not for ideals, then for what?
I’m fairly sure it’s not pragmatism that governs decision making in this incredibly maddening, endlessly confusing and immensely beautiful country.
Just don’t ask me which one.
Sent from space…
Bess Prescott is a reformed corporate insolvency lawyer and itinerant yoga teacher on a twelve month adventure to see the world (usually upside down from a headstand), get uncomfortable, meet cool people, walk edges with them, go skinny dipping, be afraid (and do it anyway) and learn a bit more about this yoga thing. You can email her at [email protected] and find her on Instagram at @bessprescott.
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Assistant Ed: Christa Angelo/Ed: Bryonie Wise