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"What India Means To Me"
Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill
(US Ambassador to India)
A Luncheon Speech
July 29, 2003
New Delhi, India
Learning about the seven cities. Presenting my credentials
to President Narayanan in the Rashtrapati Bhawan, hearing my name read out
by an official with the deepest voice on the planet. I so wished that my
mother, Roma from South Dakota, may her soul rest in peace, could have been
there to see her boy, Bobby Dean, on that splendid occasion. I was
astonished to find myself there. She would not have been surprised.
Visiting Humayun's tomb with US Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill who
commented that when it was erected, those living on my continent had built
no structure higher than twenty feet. So you see, we Americans fell behind
you Indians very early on in the architectural sweepstakes. It seems
doubtful that we will ever catch up.
Back to traveling in India. Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal - the heat, the
dust, and the glacial source of the Ganga. Like so much of India, alpha and
omega provide conflicting context. The vale of Kashmir, yearning to be again
a normal place. Dal Lake, which Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith once told
me, was as close to heaven as one could get on this earth. Ladakh's high
plateau with the Buddhist prayer flags flapping in the mountain wind.
Sugar in strong tea, a taste that I acquired in India only in the last two
months. I will now treasure that for the rest of my life. Someday, I am
going to drive from Manali to Leh, listening to jazz all the way. Want to
come along? Has this possibility never entered your mind? Not yet. Think
I recall speaking to jawans on the Siachen. Those men from all over India
give new meaning to the word tough. Listening enraptured to a male singer
accompanied by a harmonium in the Golden Temple. Gyrating frenetically in a
borrowed red turban with a professional local dance group outside on a lawn
on a balmy evening in Chandigarh. My Ambassadorial reputation may have
survived my hip-hop performance, but barely.
However, here is a real curiosity. After my extremely energetic and, I
thought, dazzling audition that night, I received no offer to join that
dance team. I can only conclude that they could not find my address in
India. I could be wrong, but my guess is that they are still trying to
locate the mysterious long legged whirling dervish of that evening. As I
speak with you today, perhaps they will see me on television and be in
touch. Have no doubt. I am always ready to dance, fast or slow. It liberates
me. How about you?
As you can hear, I could go on along these lines for several months. But
don't you worry. I have arranged meals and bedding for all assembled here so
that you will be comfortable as I continue my extended tour. As has been
said, the world is divided into two parts - those who have seen the Taj
Mahal, and those who have not. I am proud to be in the first, still too
exclusive group. The Shatabdi Express transported me there and back in great
comfort. A wonderful train.
All of Rajasthan entrances me. The noble Rajput legacy. Jaipur. Udaipur.
Jodhpur. And perhaps my favorite, the medieval walled city of Jaisalmer,
land of the Bhatti princes, born of the moon. Parapets into the sky. On some
nights, there must be stars nowhere else above the planet because they all
seem to be over Jaisalmer. I am surprised some city in northern Europe has
not sued Jaisalmer for stealing all the stars. Be sure and take your
sunglasses along when you go there -- to deal with the starry nights.
Standing in Jaisalmer, close your eyes for a moment and see the camel
caravans coming through this desert town a thousand years ago, which I now
realize by India's civilizational standards is only yesterday - a fellow on
the street might have said to me, "yes, they came through Jaisalmer,
just a little while ago."
The Jain Dilwara Temples at Mount Abu. Exquisite wonders of the world. As
has been so often the case during my stay in India, I had only two hours to
look. I needed more than two lifetimes there and elsewhere in this uncommon
Let me go on following the map and the train tracks. Inspired by the
endurance and courage of the Gujaratis as they recover from the earthquake.
Pulsating Mumbai. Speaking with its effervescent business community is for
me like breathing pure oxygen. I cannot get enough of it.
Sitting around in a small circle on wooden chairs, trading opinions with a
half a dozen distinguished Mumbai painters for an hour about abstract
expressionism in New York in the 1940's and 50's (Pollock, Kline and the
rest). What a special treat. Exploring the Ajanta and Ellora caves and their
wall paintings of people who felt all of the emotions that we currently
carry around with us, including especially the elements of abiding love.
Andhra Pradesh with its path-breaking e-governance, and food hotter than
hot. Don't let anybody tell you differently; those Andhra peppers are
without doubt weapons of mass destruction.
Ancient Christianity in Kerala; world class IT in Bangalore; the game park
near Mysore where I first heard of the Columbia tragedy and stayed up all
night writing my poem for Kalpana; the blend of Hindu and Islamic
architecture in Chennai; the elephant carvings at Mamallapuram; the
exquisite culture of Kolkata; the flowers and forests of Sikkim and the
border at Nathula with no shortness of breath; the Northeast, Kaziranga and
What a country this is. And I have hardly experienced any of it. In these
places, my omnipresent security detail from the Indian police - my gunmen as
a good friend called them -- who accompanied me everywhere in India, who
kept me safe, and who were ready to give their lives to protect me.
Oh, this India that I have come to know ever so slightly.