I love India. I know this incredible country isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s dirty, chaotic and backward; it got stupid rules，for example, foreigners often have to queue for hours at tourist office of a train station in order to get a train ticket; and it is not a particular safe place for women.
However, in its chaos, there’s certain order and great vibrancy. India has long history, rich culture and world class literature. And you often meet some fabulous characters.
I am staying with Prem Jha, the father of a wonderful writer friend, at his lovely house in central Delhi where he lives with his servants. Prem is a renowned Indian public intellectual and thinker who served as the editor-in-chief of Hindustan and as an advisor to an Indian PM. He knows so much about so many issues. There’s never a dull moment with him. And he has the charm of the older generation of educated Indian men rarely seen among the young.
Another of my favorite Indian is Anuj, the owner of Bahri and Son bookstore. See below my blog posted three years ago about how we met. His shop has become my favorite hang-out in Delhi where I always share some laughs with this larger than life character and where his friends from all over the world pop in and out.
Last night, at the outstanding Indian restaurant inside Hotel Broadway in the old part of Delhi, I was telling my friend Joe, the US embassy’s spokesperson about the story of Anuj, I suddenly spotted a man with wild curly hair looking like the writer Mayank. And it was him! I love pumping into people here – it makes me feel part of the community!
Tonight I am going to attend to a wedding with Prem. It’s hard not to love India!
Anuj – a book seller in Delhi
There’s something special about the first days in a new city. Like first love. Your senses are highlighted, you mind alive in anticipation and your heart soaring. I just enjoyed my first two days here, full of interesting little twists and turns.
I met Anuj, the owner of Bahri and Son Bookstore in Khan Market on my second night in Delhi. When I reached the bookstore, I noticed the sign ‘closed’ on the door, though the light was still on. Just as I was about to leave, two people arrived, one Indian man in his early 30’s with wild curly hair and a middle-aged western woman. The man went inside and started to talk to the owner. He obviously knew the owner. I thought: why couldn’t I follow his suit? Inside the store, I found the owner, a man in his fifties with a handle bar moustache, sit on a high counter, doing his paper work. It seems to me he is the easy-going type and someone feels totally comfortable with himself and his position in the world. I told him that I was looking for a book about prostitution in Mumbai called The Beautiful Thing. The book owner chuckled: “how uncanny is this? You came to look for a book about prostitution in Mumbai and right in front you is the man who has just published a book on prostitution in Delhi.” The young man, named Mayank handed me a copy of his book, entitled Nobody Can Love You More: life in delhi’s red light district. We swapped name cards and chatted. When the owner heard I was a writer from China, he climbed down to join us. Holding my name card, he exclaimed: “I know you. I sold your books before!” Then he asked: “Have you got an agent?” I told him that the agency represented my last book didn’t exist any more. He clapped and said, with child like delight: “Now, we need to talk. May be I can serve you as your agent?” I know there are few literary agents in India and some book owners function as agents. But I told him that I wasn’t sure that I needed an India agent to present me. Still he asked: “How about lunch tomorrow? On me.” I said I had lunch plan already. “Then the day after tomorrow?” I agreed happily, especially the young writer was also going to join us.
After the pair left, the owner, named Anuj, and I started to chat. It turned out that we have a few Indian writers as mutual friends/acquaintances. I love contemporary Indian literature, much better and richer than the Chinese. I guess the Indians have their own rich literary heritage and easy access to English language/education and there’s no censorship, not the same way as China anyway. Then he invited me to join him and his family for dinner. Why not, even though I had already had my dinner. That’s another thing I love about the Indians: they are often so warm, hospital and spontaneous. So I went to his house to meet his Canada-born Indian wife and their three lovely grown children. He took us to his favorite restaurant – a road side Chinese/thai restaurant where we enjoyed a hearty meal and even heartier laughs.
Oh, the joy of travel!
pix: with Prem at Lodi Garden this morning
writer, journalist, social commentator and public speaker