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India Talk

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by Sangharakshita

... was glad to go from place to place - but I was glad to be now in this place and now in that place. But the actual getting from one place to another in India was sometimes a very painful experience. Apart from that one might say, speaking of India generally, there's such a lot of noise. I didn't enjoy the noise of India. If there are any of you who haven't been out there and think of India as a quiet, peaceful, yogic, retreat-like place, with sages in meditation all over the place, you've got a rude awakening coming to you if ever you go to India! India is very noisy. Life in India is noisy. People are noisy, especially in the big cities, especially places like Bombay, even Pune, even Aurangabad, but Bombay especially perhaps, very very noisy. Whenever I come back from Bombay - I felt it very much this time - when I returned to London everything is so quiet, [Laughter] everything is so peaceful! I came straight from Heathrow through London, beautiful quiet peaceful London, right through the middle of it - so peaceful, so quiet compared with Bombay - straight to Bethnal Green, straight to Sukhavati, and as I came through Bethnal Green it was so peaceful.

It was just as though all the people of Bethnal Green were on retreat [Laughter] in comparison with Bombay. There seemed to be hardly a sound, and people just walking so quietly and peacefully in the streets. No one shouting, no one quarreling, no one fighting, no dogs barking etc., etc. But another thing that I found quite unpleasant apart from the noise was the dust. India seemed full of dust. Maharashtra seemed full of dust, the villages were full of dust, the roads were full of dust, the cities were full of dust, especially the cities, and the cities weren't just full of dust, they were polluted. Pollution has got very very much worse in India, certainly in the big cities since I was there years and years ago. In Bombay now it's quite terrible. In the evening especially there's like an almost a sort of pea soup of pollution sort of hanging over Bombay. I had the experience of going down from one part of Bombay to another by car for an evening engagement, for a meeting, for a lecture, and the trip only lasted half an hour, but in the course of the trip I was exposed to so much pollution that I at once got a sore throat, at once. I arrived at the meeting with a quite severe sore throat and I kept getting sore throats much of the time that I was in India; certainly whenever I went to Bombay I could look forward to getting a sore throat because the pollution was so bad. There's a reason for that. It's very largely due in Bombay to the increase in the number of taxis and the increase of the number of scooters. I'll just a bit about scooters shortly. [Laughter] But the result is that there's so much pollution and I mentioned this in a lecture. In the course of one of my lectures in Bombay I spoke about pollution and how much worse things were, because maybe I thought Bombay people aren't noticing that things are getting worse and worse, and I mentioned it particularly because there was an old friend of mine in the audience, in fact he was up on the platform, who was a former mayor of Bombay, so I thought well maybe he's got a bit of influence still, maybe he will do something about this. So I said, `I'm sorry to say that your Bombay is really polluted now. You'd better do something about it fast.' I think it was even worse than Athens and that's saying quite a lot. So I certainly didn't enjoy this part of my trip - the noise, the confusion, the dust, the pollution - I didn't enjoy all that, and especially I've especially horrific memories of some of the railway towns that I visited in the course of my trip.

There's nothing like them in England, even up North. Well perhaps I shouldn't even mention the North [Laughter] in this connection. Railway cities in India, or railway towns are really absolutely awful. I've really no words to describe them. They are horrible sort of hovel like settlements that have sprung up around great big railway junctions, and these junctions are really very very big because there's a quite vast railway system in India, and all over the place there are these big junctions. Trains by the dozen sort of puffing through them every half hour, or every ten minutes, and there's a pall of smoke, a pall of pollution hanging over the whole city or the whole town rather. And since the town - well I don't know whether it's city or town - population can be anything up to half a million, there's just around the railway station which is the sort of satanic centre of the whole complex there's just huddle upon huddle of hovels of various kinds with maybe sometimes more modern buildings in between, but everything is so dirty, so confused, so horrible. There are ash heaps everywhere. There's dirt everywhere, poverty everywhere, and of course sometimes we had meetings, public meetings, right in the middle of such places - in the cross-roads in fact - they seemed to be favourite place, right next to the stations. An open space in the middle of the cross- road they'd just sort of stop the traffic coming and there'd be clouds of dust still unsettled and they'd put up the stage there and people would gather - three, four, five thousand people, and yes there one would have to give one's talk with the trains puff-puffing and toot-tooting in the background, what to speak of other noises and disturbances, and sometimes one has to raise one's voice against all this, and try to be heard, despite the microphone and loudspeaker system.

So this sort of aspect of India and this aspect of my trip I must confess I didn't enjoy at all. But still these were only minutes, these were half hours. Only the odd day. In fact sometimes even here the experience was very mixed. I remember one of these railway towns in particular - which one was it? It was Manard(?) That was especially horrific! But there were compensations because Nagabodhi happened to be with me and we had a little discussion about the contribution of pollution to the visual arts, because we were staying in some hotel - it was what they call a hotel in India, but you wouldn't call it a hotel here. We'd call it a doss-house, a doss-house - and this was right next to the station, right next to the station, so when you got up in the morning there was a layer of grime all over the place. Anyway we cleared out from this doss-house, through this pall of pollution, but there were some really beautiful atmospheric effect in the evening time, and there were some mountains in the distance, and sunset was absolutely magical. There was a brilliant pink sky with these very sinister sort of inky blue mountains seen through this sort of iridescent pall, this haze of pollution, and it looked really beautiful just for half an hour. But it was such a mixed experience. It was painful and it was pleasant at the same time. It was disastrous and it was delightful. It was diabolical and it was heavenly! All at the same time which is a bit confusing, not to say disorientating.

But there were quite often experiences which were unmitigatedly pleasant, and for me these occurred especially in the countryside, when we were driving through, especially in central Maharashtra, from one town to another, from one village to another. The countryside was very very pleasant. There's been a lot of irrigation work done in that area. A lot of these areas are much greener than they were before. People are growing much more in the way of crops, and especially I couldn't help noticing that wherever we went the sugar cane crops, the fields upon fields of sugar cane. So in a way I felt a little bit at home because in Norfolk too lots of sugar cane - no,no, not sugar cane - sugar beet is grown. And I noticed that in Maharashtra they had exactly the same sort of factories - sugar factories - as we have in Norfolk. It seemed extraordinary. Exactly the same materials they are built of - sort of aluminium; they're the same size, the same proportions, same design, just as though you'd taken one from Norfolk and just put it down in Maharashtra or vice-versa. So this made me feel a little bit of home, though usually I don't like factories.

But it was very pleasant driving through the countryside. Much of Maharashtra is very flat, it's very dry, it's very barren but here and there you get cultivation, you get green fields, you get orchards, you get all sorts of what we would regard as exotic fruits, like bananas and chikkus and pomegranates and so, and oranges, though not at that time of the year. So I enjoyed this very much - Northern Maharashtra with the little villages, some of them of course quite squalid but picturesque nonetheless, and you see people working and you see cows, you see horses and goats; lots of little children, lots and lots of them and people working in the fields, little temples, and I really enjoyed all that. And sometimes these very low mountains with very interesting shapes in the distance, so I found this very delightful. It was a very delightful time of year.

I also in one or two places did a bit of sightseeing. I think about two days that I was able to devote to sightseeing, or part of which I was able to devote to sightseeing. And for some reason or other - it might have been something to do with the area in which I found myself on those sightseeing days - I decided to see something of Muslim architectural remains. There are quite a few Muslim, mainly Moghul remains in Maharashtra State itself, especially around Aurangabad where I spent a week, and also around Ahmedabad where I spent - Ahmedabad being in Gujerat - another week. And I especially was interested in the tombs of some of some of the famous Sufi teachers - I'd never seen any of these before so I decided to go along and see some of them - and it was really quite interesting because usually in India ...

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