What about India baffles you the most?
I have followed India carefully, and have been there a number of times. It is an exciting country in many ways with its rich culture. But what is really striking to me about India, much more than most other countries I have been to, is the indifference of privileged sectors to the misery of others. You walk through Delhi and cannot miss it, but people just don’t seem to see it. Everyone is talking about ‘Shining India’ and yet people are starving. I had an interesting experience with this once. I was in a car in Delhi and with me was (activist) Aruna Roy, and we were driving towards a demonstration. And I noticed that she wasn’t looking outside the window of the car. I asked her why. She said, “If you live in India, you just can’t look outside the window. Because if you do, you’d rather commit suicide. It’s too horrible. So you just don’t look.” So people don’t look, they put themselves in a bubble and then don’t see it. And those words are from somebody who has devoted her life to the lives of the poor, and you can see why she said that — the misery and the oppression are so striking, much worse than in any country I have ever seen. And it is so dramatic. There is a lot of talk about how India is slated to be a major power, and I can’t believe it, with all its internal problems; China too for that matter, but less so.
When my wife and I went to India a couple of years ago, my friend Iqbal Ahmed had told me that I would discover that the press in Pakistan is much more open and free than the press in India. I did not believe him first but when I looked into it, he explained, “The English language press in Pakistan is for you and your friends, and the government just lets them say whatever they want, because there are so few of them to cater to, just a couple of hundred thousand people.”