The other day I was in Nehru Place, Delhi, one of the largest computer markets in the world. I wanted to get a printer cartridge refilled. People jostled against one another in the crowded squares lined on every side with shops selling computers, accessories and other related goods. The genuine goods competed with the counterfeit in attracting buyers. Bargains were driven in like heartless hammer blows until the counterfeit items made mostly in China – before India got a Prime Minister who would popularise a new slogan “Make in India” – found their actual prices.
Suddenly a mellifluous chanting of Hare Rama, Hare Krishna rose above the hum of bargains and deals. The chanting was accompanied by some musical instruments too. While my HP cartridge was being injected with counterfeit ink, my eyes roved in the direction of the Hare Rama, Hare Krishna. A band of foreigners attired in Indian style was chanting the mantra in apparent spiritual ecstasy. They had attracted a circle of onlookers. One of their companions was trying to sell copies of the Gita to people who were listening to him apparently out of curiosity and not with any intention of buying the book. An Indian woman was going around trying to sell some CDs which no one was buying.
What were Rama and Krishna doing in a computer market? I wondered. I recollected soon that I was in a market where the genuine and the counterfeit coexisted snugly. I live in a country which merges contradictions and paradoxes into convenient syntheses of twilights.
Is it that twilight which enchants these foreigners to India? I wondered. Most of us Indians would love to live in countries from where these tourists come. Most of us would love the luxuries they could afford, their science and technology which make life much more comfortable and convenient, reason reigning over superstition, sparsely populated cities, absence of filth on the streets... Why do these people leave all that? What do they hanker after?
Is it that the absolute certainties of their science and rationalism fail to satisfy their souls? Human souls love uncertainties. Human souls long to believe than know for certain. Long to stand in uncertainties. Long to delve into the darkness of the unconscious.
India is a country of those twilights. We merge all contradictions seamlessly into practical approaches. We can wear the three-piece western suit and lecture about the superiority of the ancient Indian civilisation. We can import the latest technology from the West while at the same time boast about the plastic surgery carried out by God Ganesha or the space technology of Ravana. We can let coexist the moral police who are outraged by some youngsters kissing in a restaurant and the mafias that run the sleaziest businesses, both enjoying the support of our political leaders. We chant Vedic mantras reiterating the sanctity of our godly rivers while raw sewage and industrial waste are all directed into those rivers.
The twilights are endless and infinite in our country. They make life strangely enchanting. There is nothing fascinating about the absolute certainties of science. A formula like E = mc2 is too vivid a highway to be enchanting. The dimly lit alleys and subways of myths and cults hold the charms of magic.