I read all of it, and then I knew how much I could miss India. I am not missing it all that greatly now, so lets leave it at that.
The ex-ambassador to India paints his thoughts as he leaves India. To his credit , I could find no factual errors, or stereotypes 😉
A Luncheon Speech Sponsored By The Federation of Indian Chambers of
Commerce and Industry
Taj Mahal Hotel
New Delhi, India
Throughout my two years in New Delhi, the Federation of Indian Chambers of
Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has been vital to the promotion of US-India
relations. I especially salute FICCI’s support in the establishment of the
Indo-US Parliamentary Forum. This important body allows lawmakers from the
world’s two largest democracies to exchange views on a wide range of
issues facing our countries.
I would like to thank all of you from FICCI for your extraordinary efforts
and for inviting me here today.
Ten days ago, I gave my final policy speech as US Ambassador to India.
Today, I shall share with you personal thoughts about how this country has
shaped me during these past two years. Unlike Siddhartha, my meditations
while preparing this address have not produced total Enlightenment.
Unfortunately, Brahma and Saraswati, because of my own limitations, will
not adequately inspire my remarks on this occasion with regard to my
spiritual and intellectual advancement. I clearly need to spend more time
at Brahma’s temple in Pushkar.
And, despite my continuing contemplations, I am not always able to follow
Krishna’s wise words, “Be thou of even mind.” He might have added,
including at your Round Tables at Roosevelt House.
Notwithstanding my many inadequacies and the persistence of Maya, the
ever-present veil of illusion, please permit me to proceed since India is
the great storyteller, and because I am soon leaving this amazing country.
Shortly after my arrival, I took the train from New Delhi to Mumbai to see
and feel the land and people of India. You must understand that I love to
ride the rails. Paul Theroux, the glorious American writer who was my
friend in the Peace Corps in Africa more than thirty years ago, describes
train travel like this, “the train soothed and comforted me and stimulated
my imagination. It …provided access to my past by activating my memory.
I had made a discovery: I would gladly go anywhere on a train.” That’s
So let’s quickly take the train around India, pausing in Delhi before we
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
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 comiing 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
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
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
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 the Brahmaputra.
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.
The form and function of Indian architecture with its creation,
assimilation and adaptation. Magnificent Mughal miniatures. Like you, I
wish I owned two dozen of the originals. Or one.
India’s innumerable and distinctive dances, beginning with the classical.
The Vedas and the Upanishads. They mean so much more when I read them
here: “It is the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind, the speech of
speech, the breath of breath, and the eye of the eye. When freed (from the
senses) the wise, on departing from this world, become immortal.”
Indian family values, which I admire as essential first principles, and
see in action many times every day in this country. The living symbolic
power in this ancient civilization, the abiding aura, of — the tree. Of
the circle. Of the triangle.
Arranged marriages. The fourteen hundred years of Islam in India. Friday
prayers. The Indian novel in English. Who is writing better fiction today
than these folks? Mesmerizing Hindustani music whose origins are deeply
spiritual and therefore of particular meaning and comfort to me.
The mighty Himalayas. They humble even Blackwill, at least when he is in
sight of them and it isn’t a cloudy day. Can we move them to the Potomac
to give me more balance and perspective? I would not be the only one in
Washington who would be grateful.
Fabulous cuisines. India is unquestionably the only country in the world
where this Kansas lad raised on beefsteaks could happily be a vegetarian.
But please don’t tell my relatives back on the mid-West farms.
Holi. Kashmiri carpets. Weavers everywhere capturing India’s enveloping
colors. The Bengal tigers in the wild at Ranthambhore. How could they be
more in command? I could use their skills in my new responsibilities back
home, and have sent them an email with a job offer. Haven’t yet heard back
from those big cats yet, but I remain hopeful.
The Monsoon that rains life into India. Surely this happens by God’s
grace. The singular smell and sound as the drops strike the parched earth.
Like so much of India for me, absolutely unforgettable.
And more than any of this, the remembrances of the character of the people
of India, which I will take back to America with me – of countless
individuals over these two years who have taught me, counseled me, guided
me, and protected me – who were generous to me beyond imagination. I could
not repay their kindnesses to Wera and me no matter how many times I was
Before I close these, my final Ambassadorial remarks in India, I want to
deal briefly with another subject.
Many in this country have remarked upon my strong views against terrorism.
In these feelings, to a considerable extent I draw on the white hot
anti-terrorist convictions of my President, George W. Bush — and on the
September 11 attacks on the American homeland. But on this subject, like
so many others, India has left its dominant and enduring imprint on me.
While I was preparing for my Senate confirmation hearing in early 2001 in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, I started to read regularly the Indian press. It
was then that for the first time I encountered the devastating fact of
terrorism against India. Sitting in my office at Harvard, I began to keep
a daily count of those killed here by terrorists. Three on Monday. Seven
on Tuesday. Fourteen on Wednesday. Five on Thursday. Two on Friday. Day
after day. Week after week. Month after month.
India’s death toll from terrorism mounted as the snow fell and melted in
Cambridge, and that New England winter turned to spring. And I became more
and more angry. Innocent human beings murdered as a systemic instrument of
twisted political purpose. Terror against India that rose and fell with
the seasons, year after year after year.
By the time that I left the United States for India in the summer of 2001,
this very personal death count that I was keeping had reached hundreds.
And, for me, these were not abstract and antiseptic numbers in a newspaper
story. Each death, I forced myself to remember, was a single person — an
individual man, woman, child — with family, loved ones, friends. They
each have a name. Just like us, they each had a life to lead. These are
our mothers, our fathers, our brothers, our sisters, our babies, and our
friends. Each had laughs to laugh. Tears to shed. Loves to love. Meals to
eat. Accomplishments to record. Setbacks to overcome. Places to go. Things
to do. Prayers to offer. All snuffed out by the killing hand of terror. On
September 11 in America. Nearly every day in India.
No respectable religion could excuse these merciless acts. No moral
framework could sanction these abominations. No political cause could
justify these murders of innocents. And yet, they go on.
But, my friends, these terrorist outrages against my country and against
yours will not continue indefinitely. We know this from the Ramayana, and
many other holy books. Good does triumph over evil, although it sometimes
takes more time than we would like.
We will win the war on terrorism, and the United States and India will win it together – because we represent good, and terrorists are evil
incarnate. God will make it so.
In this context, let me conclude with a word about India’s religious
beliefs. Someone once said, “the most sublime purpose of religion is to
teach how to know God.” India has been working on that challenge from a
variety of perspectives for several millennia. It has been my immense
privilege during these two years to experience, and to profit from, hese
profound wellsprings of Indian spirituality.
I will return to India. How could it be otherwise?
Thank you, my friends, for listening to these, my personal musings.
And, thank you India for every single thing that I have discovered here.
Mother India has changed my life — forever.