‘Can you name one single Brahmin who treated anyone outside their own caste with even a shred of respect or dignity?’ his grandfather would ask. ‘Have any of them ever done anything to benefit the lower castes? No, exactly! But the British did, all the time. They acted on behalf of everyone and never discriminated against us untouchables.’
………British rule changed the power dynamics within the villages for the first time. They did not understand the caste system, at least not in the way the Brahmins wanted them to. The British hired untouchables to work in the post office, the civil service and on the railways. And anyone who wanted to could attend Victoria Vernacular School.
‘No, the British have nothing to be ashamed of,’ was Grandpa’s opinion.
Grandpa used to tell PK how much he liked the British.
‘They keep their promises; they are good people. Unlike the Brahmins, they shake hands with us. They don’t mind touching us,’ he said. ‘Stay away from Brahmins,’ he continued …….
PK was careful to let them know he was untouchable…….. ‘We don’t care about stuff like that!’ said one of the lion tamers.
‘We’re Muslims, we understand you. They treat us as if we’re untouchables too,’ said a juggler.
Afghanistan feels both modern and ancient at the same time. The roads are neat and straight, something he had never seen in India before………He sees almost only men out on the streets, and the women who do venture out are hidden underneath a thick layer of material………..the people of rural Afghanistan are extremely hospitable……..They invite him in for tea and food, and often offer him a bed to sleep in. Of course they can provide shelter for the night. He is welcomed without reservation. He does not even have to draw in exchange for something to eat.
In Iran the hospitality continues. He sleeps less and less outside and after leaving the Caspian Sea, he is almost never alone or hungry. He receives water, dried fish, apples, oranges and dates along the way. He sleeps every night in a bed without having to pay a single rial. His ticket to the bountiful Promised Land is the fact that he is Indian.
‘Oh, India,’ they say. ‘A very good country.’……..
Until his recent death, the Indian President was a Muslim by the name of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. Iranian newspapers devoted pages to his obituary, the Muslim who reached the top in a Hindu country.
People repeat the same speech he has heard so many times since he crossed the border. So generous of the Hindus to make a Muslim president, they say. PK does not see it in terms of generosity. In truth, it was a way to appease the country’s minorities, a clever gesture that involved no real sacrifice. The office of president was largely meaningless; the Prime Minister was really the one in charge.
But the Iranians are impressed nonetheless. Muslims in PK’s country have the same rights as everyone else, they say. And yes, it is true, on paper at least.
…….everything about Iran is rich and orderly; the change was noticeable as soon as he crossed the border. The Afghan border guards were dressed in dirty, worn uniforms, their border stations dilapidated. On the Iranian side, everything is new and clean, the people are better dressed and look healthier, the cars are modern, roadside stops are equipped with luxurious sofas and vending machines delivering cold, clean water for free.
The Turkish people love to laugh. He receives invitations to their homes, where he draws in return for shelter and something to eat.
Sylvia tells PK about Europe …….She wants him to develop thick skin, to be prepared, not to be so naïve.
‘People aren’t as friendly here, not like in Asia. Europeans are individualists and think only of themselves, she says, adding that kind, gullible people get into trouble in Europe.’
‘Watch out, Europeans are racists. You can get beaten at any moment just because you have dark skin……..’
In Europe, rules not feelings prevail, he learns from these friends. Europeans are less humane than the rest of the world – is that what they mean? He struggles to comprehend it. …..
‘PK,’ they say,‘………In Europe, empathy is dying out. Fear is what drives people, not love.’
Boras is a world away from the cities he has cycled through………..He likes the silence: it gives him a sense of peace. But sometimes it is too much of a good thing, and he shudders. Everyone on the bus, for example, looks away. When he ventures a few words to his fellow passengers they answer politely, cordially even. But no one initiates contact. They sit shoulder to shoulder, and yet each is encased in his own refrigerator, always cold.
………..Sweden is emotionally cool and physically comfortable at the same time …………But he will get used to it.
Sweden is a strange country. People go round thanking each other for nothing. Not to mention the constant meaningless phrases, like ‘What nice weather we’re having.’ Why bother saying it? All you have to do is look up at the sky to see for yourself if the weather is good or not.
People think their love will never last. He will find it too hard to adapt. The darkness, the cold, the growing racism, even the way the Swedes socialize, it will all break him sooner or later, they say……….But PK never longs to return to India. ‘Mentally, I have escaped India entirely,’ he writes……..
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