I was wrong.
I was happy when we left for the mountains. We spent two weeks travelling from Srinagar to Leh, roving through the Indian Himalayas from one end of India’s northernmost state to the other. As we moved further away from Pakistan towards Tibet, we saw the landscape around us shift gradually from Muslim Kashmir into Tibetan Buddhist Ladakh.
Later, when I interned at AFP’s bureau in New Delhi for a month and read the dispatches we put out on the wire, I felt as though the India I had experienced had been distilled completely into ideas. Our stories were about political deadlock, poverty and corruption scandals. The biggest story of the month was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s sudden announcement that India would now be easing in major foreign retailers. In a matter of weeks, I had to go from being a tourist to a journalist. The timelessness of deserts, mountains and faces was now replaced by up-to-date news.
But won’t it be good for India? I wanted to ask him. It will create more jobs. Many of your more rural counterparts won’t have to come to the city to languish homelessly in its streets and pull rickshaws. More money will be spread out. It may improve your supply chains. Haven’t you had enough of your closed and provincial economy?
I found the disillusionment of going to India both humbling and liberating. The India I experienced was potent, proud, but unhappy. It had not turned out to be the stuff I had prepared myself for, but it had become all the more compelling for it. I look forward to going back.