How little I know about the country I grew up in. The past year travelling around Europe has been a bit of an eyeopener. Even the poorest European countries seem to have basic infrastructure which is so woefully missing in India. I always used to think my lifestyle was normal and would cringe at the label of “third world” being applied to my country. But now I realize how privileged my life has been and how much of a struggle it is for so many millions living on the same sub-continent. How different their lives are and how little we can relate to each other.
The past couple of weeks have been bumpy. Riding in the suburbs to work along miserable roads, I cannot help but wonder where all my past taxes went. Supposedly in transfers to poorer states, from which millions emigrate to the metros which crumble as their infrastructure cannot support the pressure on them. A large part of my taxes have leaked out of the budget through corruption. Which leads me to wonder – would a majority of Indians have been better off if they weren’t under one sovereign state? Wouldn’t the need to compete with neighbouring states have made them demand better accountability from their policy makers? Wouldn’t industry have been more competitive? Perhaps not, given that the independence of India from colonial rule hinged on a united front and evolution from then on for many of the smaller states may not have been feasible without the support of a central government. But it is obvious that the system of governance and transfers, has not been efficient so far. And whether the independence of states would even offer a solution. It is of course a controversial topic and when I broach it with people, they react with anger.
I always wanted to be paid to travel and though that is not the whole of my job, it is a large part of it. I am lucky enough to travel to countries that used to be part of empires, or have been hotly fought over in the past. Some seats of power in days gone by still look proud in all their crumbling beauty. And even though it is not always possible to stay an extra few days to walk around, I would still say yes to travel. Even if it means less than 24 hours in a city, and a hectic day with meetings (one toilet break in 7 hours, just one!), a mad rush to the airport, half a sandwich for lunch, and the biggest meals in two days all consumed in flight. Still yes. Who would say no to the chance to sit facing the Danube, with a glass of Tokaji, looking at the dark blue sky and the bridges and the castle? Or the beautiful, beautiful buildings, the street plaques. It’s all worth it. No matter how tired you are.
I’m back home and my bags are packed for my next big trip tomorrow evening. Fourth country in a month. Of late, I have one permanently packed suitcase. I don’t know why I never thought of that earlier. For longer trips, I realise that effective packing is all about doing your laundry and shopping in stages over time. Then you just need to toss everything into the suitcase at the last possible minute.
I want to end this ridiculous sleepily written ramble with the following: for shorter flights I’ve tilted my obsessive aisle seat strategy to a window seat preference. I’ve been enjoying looking at the passing topography and especially at cities in the night. Passed over some lovely cities on the Continent today. When the flight was descending towards London, the clouds parted (always, always clouds in London, precious. Tricksy cloudses!), and the city shimmered with a silver light and for one brief moment I saw my beloved Thames, and iconic landmarks – St Paul’s, the Eye, Tower Bridge – and I fell in love with this crazy city all over again.