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|RIGHT IN THE
|Discovery of India |
|By Sheila Kumar
|Sometimes you can travel to places and
return, without really having seen anything |
My friend Mona had just returned from a trip to the fabled temples of
Khajuraho. “Darling, it was unbelievable,” she purred. “A slice of history among
the date palms.” |
That gave me pause. “But Mona,” I said, “I believe
there aren’t any date palms around there now?”
“Yes, that’s true,” she
concurred. “Just vast hilly tracts and dried shrub jungle.” Then she brightened.
“But I had date palm syrup poured over my buckwheat pancake at a Swiss bakery.”
After which she forgot all about
the splendours of the temples and went into culinary drive instead. She told me
all about the delicious bechamel sauce available at one Dutch eatery, how the
spaghetti carbonara made by the Italian chef of Khajuraho’s most famous
Continental restaurant was out of this world, and how she had found a secret
stash of Australian beer down an alley.
“Yes, Mona, but what about the
temples?” I asked.
“The temples were ah... divine, darling,” she cooed.
“We went for this son-et-lumiere one evening and the stars shone so bright in
the sky, I thought I was up in the Alps.” Her voice dropped into confidential
mode. “I was the only Indian there, at the show, y’know. I had to tell them all
about Amitabh Bachchan because he was the voice of the show. And then a gorgeous
French guy told me all about what Jean Paul Belmondo was doing these days. A
real cultural exchange it was, sweetie.”
By now I was almost driven to
desperation. Was I to know nothing about the temples? “I heard the sculptures
are a bit er... erotic?” I asked, hoping to get her back onto the main track by
this devious route.
“Yes but not in the least vulgar, sweetheart,” she
said, waving a graceful hand in the air. “I was with this party of Germans who
were so thrilled to discover that the ancient Indian civilisation was so
evolved. They were even more thrilled when I helped them find a German
translation of the Kama Sutra in one of the bookstores.”
Now Mona got
onto the topic of Khajuraho’s bookstores. She told me about finding a Japanese
translation of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient; what good it was going to
do her, I didn’t know because Mona does not speak a word of Japanese. She told
me the Germans had presented a copy of the English translation of Adolf Hitler’s
Mein Kampf, to her. She told me she’d seen copies of God of Small Things in
Eritrean, Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Spanish and Harry Potter in Russian.
“It seems the Chandela kings had built the temples way back in 1050 AD,”
I cunningly asked her. There was no fazing Mona, though. “Is that so,” she asked
me in wonderment, as if it had been me who had been to Khajuraho instead of her.
“Oh, I must tell you about this Lithuanian I met who, if he’d not left to study
software engineering in Milwaukee, would have become King of Lithuania one day.”
One thing was now clear to me. “There were obviously more foreigners
than Indians there, right Mona?” I asked weakly.
“Yes, darling,” she
replied ingeniously. “But that’s how you can discover India best isn’t it...
through Western eyes?”
As questions go, that one had no answer.