I write this letter to you in the hope that one day you shall grow up to know and love India, this vast country we call home. Of the many interesting ways to do this, I suggest we look at the land through a traveller’s, rather than a tourist’s eyes. What is the difference, you may ask. A tourist just gets to see what is prescribed on their tour, with little opportunity or time to experience the “real” India. But your great-grandparents and grandparents were travellers. Their work enabled them to not only tour large parts of the country, but also to meet people and discover it in unique ways.
My mother (Jennifer Kendal) would tell me that the one thing that fascinated her the most was that every 25 km (and with Shakespeareana they travelled a great deal by road and rail), everything would change — the culture, the landscape, the language, the food and architecture, the places of worship, even the way men tied their dhotis and the women their saris, or the way they wore their jewellery. The bullock carts and the bulls, too, would look different. They would have different adornments on their horns to show their distinct species. This rich variety fascinated her. So it is with this rich bank of stories that I grew up — the adventures and travails of a gypsy family!
But what I long to give you is the greatest gift I received from my parents: our time at our second home in Goa. This was in 1970, long before Goa became the soulless tourist destination it is now. I was three. We would spend at least three months every year for the next 13 years here. It was called the Love House, because of the white heart painted on the roof by former “hippie” residents.
It was a fishing village then. We pulled our water from a well and the local pigs helped clean our sewage. Every night, my mother would read in bed with a torch, because the power supply was weak. Our home was rudimentary, but warm and happy. What made it happiest was the way the villagers embraced us into their fold. It was not easy; they took a long while to accept us. They were proud people, who lived in a tight-knit community. They reminded me of characters from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s books. I grew to befriend the children, to learn Konkani, to accompany them to school, to learn their games, to eat their food, to steal cashew nuts from the neighbour’s tree, to sing their Christmas carols and so much more. We celebrated our joys and mourned our miseries together and forged deep friendships that still last.
What hurts me is that you and my friends’ children will never experience this magical world, because it no longer exists. You will not know the thrill of hearing the whistle that meant a big catch had been spotted off the shore. Within seconds, fishermen would run to the beach to push the community fishing boat into the sea. An hour later, the net would be hauled up onto the beach and we would help scoop up the fish with tiny nets. The fishermen quenched their thirst with Feni shots and we all sang Hai mala dumsa together. Today, all the schools of fish have been poached by trawlers, who broke every rule in the book, fishing close to the shore and robbing the fishermen of their livelihood.
I hope you will grow up to realise that every beautiful story has its share of horrors.
I am not being sentimental and romantic. I am heartbroken at the pace at which “development” attacked the basic fibre of this village and uprooted the values it lived by.
As you grow up, I hope you find the values that bind its people together, and allow them to celebrate this difference and embrace each other’s ways. This is what is unique and wonderful about this country. I hope you can find enough examples of it across this vast land.
Love, light, peace,
Sanjna Kapoor is co-founder and director, Junoon, a theatre and arts outreach programme. Her son Hamir is 12 years old.