THIS IS THE FIRST ENTRY OF A BLOG THAT I WROTE IN HYDERABAD BETWEEN JULY AND DECEMBER 2011.
One of the happiest times of my life.
Now published in Critical Quarterly vols 54.3 and 54.4.
“Old men ought to be explorers” ( T.S. Eliot. Little Gidding.)
I sit in the Gordon Ramsey Plane Food restaurant at Terminal 5 savagely drinking. I do not know how I have got myself into this ridiculous situation. I am just about to take a sabbatical. I have a beautiful house in one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. I have all creature comforts (particularly a cellarful of excellent wine) and I could be spending five months doing exactly what I want as Flavia pillages Waitrose.
Instead of which I am going to India for five months. All my friends with experience of India ( Marker, Kureishi , Majundar) say I will not be able to stand the heat and ALL my friends say I will die of amoebic dysentery. My brother’s goodbye is: ” Well, I don’t expect I’ll see you again”.
I’m going to a city I don’t know, a campus I don’t know, to accomodation I don’t know. and the first thing I’m going to have to do is find a house fit for Flavia when she arrives in six weeks time. This is what comes of reading poetry. I blame T.S. Eliot. The more I blame, the more I drink and when I do stagger drunkenly off to the plane, I almost miss it. Actually it doesn’t look as though I’ll have to wait 10 hours to arrive in Hyderabad – on an initial survey, and aiming off for drunkenness,I am the only European on the plane.
Hyderabad airport is the new India – you could be in the States there is so much glass and gleaming steel – there’s nothing Third World about this . It’s 5 am and I all ready to throw a grumpy old man fit if the welcoming party is not there and functioning. But it is. My bags are grabbed from my hand by an incredibly efficient looking driver and the other hand is grasped by a middle aged Indian who with deep emotion says what a pleasure it is to see me in Hyderabad. I’m just beginning to think that Indians really do go over the top emotionally when a dissolve replaces the middle aged face with that a very young and shy man. I’m back thirty years in Glasgow and Strathclyde and I remember a diffident and charming Indian graduate who I tried hard to disabuse of his respect for authority. It is the very man, now Registrar of the English and Foreign Language University – the middle aged features reassemble – and now it is me who is about to go over the top emotionally. There is also another young academic Sujith and with incredible speed we’re all in a people carrier heading into Hyderabad. The airport may be in the first world but within half a mile the pi-dogs, the rubbish and the hyper manic traffic all provide that unforgettable third world feel which, in my experience is common to at least three continents (Brazil, Egypt,Sri Lanka).
Our first stop for tea is the Head of the Department of Cultural Studies, Satya and his extraordinarily jolly wife. The registrar reminisces about his time in Glasgow. He says that the first time we met I told him that he didn’t have to call me sir “as I haven’t been knighted”. I can’t imagine myself saying that nor my even less likely reply when Rao asked what the words “dress compulsory” meant on my farewell party invitation: “Don’t worry that only applies to the girls”. He tells these stories over and over again. I understand much better now what(to give myself credit I vaguely understood then) that Rao’s journey from India to Glasgow spanned millenia. For Rao is a tribal and indeed from a tribe that the British bureaucratically classified as inherently criminal. He was the first from his tribe to go to university and then to take a doctorate- indeed to leave India. They really are pleased to see me here.
The day whizzes by and now I must decide where to eat dinner. My host and former student Mhadav Prasad (Pittsburgh in the early nineties) has taken me to a bank of restaurants at lunchtime. Satish, who is in charge of my building, says he will drive me there on his motor-bike. I haven’t the guts to say that I’m too scared to travel pillion,and clearly asking for a crash helmet would be an incomprehensible request in a country where Health and Safety have no meaning,so I jump aboard. Half way there I remember the Sioux war cry at Little Big Horn “it’s a good day to die” ( the psychoanalytic chain is fairly easy to reconstruct) and I feel an enormous physical jolt of joy.
In the restaurant I decide that I will try to eat with my hands. It is unbelievably difficult – almost nothing reaches the mouth. Shamefacedly and glancing round to check that no-one is looking I pick up a spoon and fork.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity