I've been thinking a lot about India lately, what with recently finishing The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga and seeing Slumdog Millionaire over the weekend. Both of which were excellent, by the way.
In The White Tiger, Balram, the narrator, claws his way to success out of a poor rural village in India, aided by nothing but his charm and wits. He's not always the most admirable character--he murders his boss, for starters--but his spirit is irresistible. Both White Tiger and Slumdog show the decency in a world of acute corruption.
I read an interview with Vikas Swarup, the author of the novel on which Slumdog was based. One quote struck me as to the heart of why I'm in love with All Things Indian:
Wall Street Journal: Terrible things happen to these characters, but they never whine about it. Why?
Swarup: That's the spirit of India. People move on with their lives. Even the slums aren't places of hopelessness and despair. People are forced to live their lives there because of their temporary circumstances. But that is how they see it, as temporary. Constantly they are trying to get out of the slums. Nobody sits around and moans and groans.
His quote transported me to a cross country train trip I took from Delhi to Bihar, where I was to spend several weeks volunteering in a dirt poor village (literally--my hut was made of mud and I had a emaciated cow as a sometimes-roommate.) At station stops, chai-wallahs would pass tea or bananas through the windows for rupees and street children would board to sell whatever they possessed. Often men with what I assume was leprosy, as they were missing legs, would scoot themselves on board to sweep the floors for whatever change they could scrounge. It was depressing, for sure, and the distinct memory has stayed with me all this time. But I've always admired the tenacity--the sheer will to survive--of the people working the trains.