You come to India almost every year. Do you see huge changes from the time you first visited in 1976?
These observations would be in the nature of subjective impressions. First of all, I came here first for traditional Anglo-Saxon reasons. I wanted to see where my granny was born in Meerut, I wanted to see steam locomotives. I had very little knowledge of Indian society or Indian history. I mean I had read Jan Morris and Pax Britannica – but I guess I was quite interested in imperialism more than anything else.
India seemed quite remote, a previous Britain in a charming way, if you like. It was so different, yet quite familiar — the Ambassador cars, the steam engines, red post boxes, English spoken in an Anglicised rather than Americanised way, newspapers that had these things called middles and leaders…It was in an engaging kind of time warp. It was a much more socialistic-looking place — family planning slogans, exhortations from Nehru and Gandhi to do this or that. Apart from Britannia biscuits and Amul’s Utterly Butterly, it wasn’t a consumerist society, it was more austere.
Now it’s a more modern society — in its upper reaches anyway — than Britain is. One doesn’t come here any more to look for quaint things. The world is present here as quickly as, if not more quickly than, in Britain. But as far as the bigger things go — are there fewer or more poor people here — I don’t know. But certainly, money is what you notice here. But in terms of social disparity, things seem as bad as they were, if not worse.
Rest of the interview is not really great, though!
Tags: Ian Jack