10 Mar 2010

Israel, India, and tea for my daughter

An intriguing PS to my Biden blog.

I mentioned the 22 Palestinian homes in the line of the Israeli bulldozers’ blades in East Jerusalem. Even I could not have predicted that as the wheels of Joe Biden’s vice presidential craft hit the Israeli runway tarmac, Israel would announce a vast planned “illegal” development in East Jerusalem of 1,600 new homes.

Strangely, one of the elements we discussed at a high level India/UK conference I attended in Oxfordshire two weeks ago was the intriguing and largely discrete military alliance between India and Israel.

It was a conference that dwelt extensively upon the thrusting Indian economy – growing at 8.5 per cent with robust prospects for the future. We talked about her high-tech industries, her call centres, and her plans for major infra-structural development.

Yesterday, my youngest daughter emails me from Darjeeling.

She recounts the filthy hotel she had been staying in over her birthday in Varanasi. The strange smells, the street poverty, and the burial traditions by fire and water on the polluted banks of the Ganges.

Then she describes her timetabled 16-hour train journey – third class sleeper up to Darjeeling. By the time she reaches the railhead in the valley far below her hilly destination, the train is five hours late. The night is pitch dark and there are none of the jeeps about that normally ferry the traveller up to Darjeeling.

She and her friend take the risk of one of the battered old taxis in the station forecourt.

At 2.00am in the morning on a remote stretch of winding road one of the tyres gives way. The driver changes it in the middle of the road. Fifteen minutes later a second tyre gives up the ghost. No more spares.

To my horror, these two blondes stand, at 2.30am, on the dark roadside and start hitching. A five ton truck laden with sand hails into view. It stops, they scramble in. The driver and his mate prove to be the sweetest most caring individuals.

By 4.00am they have stopped at a tea stall and are buying the girls, tea and delicious pastries.

At 5.00am the sand truck draws up at the very doors of the hostel in which the travellers are to stay.

Their 28-hour journey from Varanasi was a far cry from my cushy conference table and 8.5 per cent Indian growth discussions. But my daughter’s journey had deepened her respect for the milk, even the tea, of human kindness – if not for Indian infrastructure.

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