This week I have been in Delhi, Kolkata and Kochi in India. All have been fascinating. Delhi is loud and bustling with tens of millions of people going about their business. Kolkata is full of tiny side streets and old buildings from when it was India’s capital, most of which are now quite run down. Kochi is quiet, very beautiful, and full of tourists. One thing they all have in common is a feeling that sometimes they are tolerating me, rather than welcoming me.
When I first came to India, some twenty years ago, I was treated as a king. Some of that was because I was usually being entertained by companies who wanted me to give them work. Some of it was because of a cultural hangover from the days of the British Empire. Some of it was because of the wealth gap between me and most Indians. It felt awkward and embarrassing to me, and I made every effort to change the relationships I had with my colleagues from “parent – small child” to “adult – adult”.
Since then, India has developed massively. It is no longer a third world country. Many more (but still a minority) of the population have money. They are likely at some point to overtake China in terms of overall wealth. It is a world power in a way that Britain no longer is. I massively admire the country and the Indian people.
But as it has grown more powerful, some of the politics has become more nationalistic, and divisive. This has included a revisiting of the history of the British Raj, and how India became an independent republic. Peaceful leaders such as Ghandi are no longer revered as much as violent revolutionaries such as Netaji Bose. I am not saying that is wrong, nor in any way to justify one country ruling another. But I do feel sometimes that as a tourist the way I am treated has moved from “parent – small child” to “parent – angry teenager”. What I want is to be treated as an equal, by people who have a different culture, religion, and history to me – people that I want to get to know.
Perhaps I am being naive. I live in Scotland where sometimes the anger I have heard against the English is worse than anything I have heard in India. And most of my interactions with normal Indians this week have been mutually respectful and rewarding.
Perhaps I am just secretly missing being treated as a king.