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Nostalgia: India, the land of snake charmers and holy cows
Like all my other classmates in the British school, I grew up on Rudyard Kipling's India. For us, ours was a fabled land of 'Jungle Book', turbaned Maharajas, snake charmers, rope tricks and holy cows, who didn't understand the traffic rules.
On other hand, there were these 'civilised' Englishmen, who ruled an empire on which the sun never set! The school started with all of us and the teachers singing 'God save the king', while the big framed photo of King George VI in his regal attire benignly smiled down on us.

Being spread all over the entire globe, the English were familiar with many cultures, languages, religions, superstitions, etc. Germans however had only a fraction of the British global reach. While Indians on the streets of England were a familiar sight, it was not so in Germany.

When I as a young engineer arrived in 1959, to work with a German MNC, I first realised what sort of image a typical German had about us. While they had many leading Indologists like Max Mueller among them, others were blank.

Firstly, they never understood why we were always asking for tap water to drink. Why didn't we ask for beer, wine or even mineral water? Particularly, if they saw a Sikh gentleman, thanks to his turban they immediately thought he was a Maharaja and rich. So when he asked for tap water, the waitresses contemptuously mumbled amongst themselves, 'Here only horses drink water. He must be a miserly Maharaja, not to ask for beer or wine!'

Just a few days after our arrival, in a restaurant an elderly couple walked over to our table and invited us for home for dinner. We tucked some small gifts from Cottage Industries for them. Searching our way, we arrived at their doorsteps thirsting for water. The old gentleman took us down to the cellar. Walked us along the wines of different vintage/origin and beers of different labels, while we were requesting for 'Wasser, Wasser'!

He thought we couldn't appreciate either his hospitality or his vintage wines. Obviously he was perplexed and then I countered in broken German, 'For taste we can take vintage wines or beer, but our thirst is only quenched with tap water, in spite of how much beer we have had'. That embarrassing impasse out of the way, he walked us up to the drawing room.

Soon both showed their copy of 'Jungle Book' in German and said how much they wanted to visit India, to see jungle boys like Mowgli. Animatedly, they described their fascination with rope tricks, snake charmers. Why is the cow holy? Why do they block the traffic?

Women in saris were rarely to be seen. They were fascinated, that a 6-yard rectangular cloth without a stitch looked so alluring. Even today that fascination for the sari and now for 'Punjabi' remains. It is not so uncommon to see German ladies in 'Punjabi', particularly the India-returned. But highlight of curiosity and puzzlement they had for 'that red dot on the forehead'. Did they have that red dot as a superstition or was it for cosmetic reasons?

Even a passerby would stop and politely accost our ladies and ask them, the mystery of the red dot. Once we were dining at a restaurant and a lady walked over to our table to Vasatha, who was sporting her red bindi. 'Is this for superstition or is it for cosmetic reason'? Vasantha who knew German well snapped back, 'This is neither superstition nor cosmetic. It is a traffic light. 'Red means Stop. I am married'. We burst into laughter, but the poor lady did not know, what hit her!

I was at a language school in a village up in Alpine Bavaria. The village folk and the inn keepers were told that even if they understood English or French, they should speak only in German. Each one of us had to stay as paying guests with a local family. This way we picked up the language and German way of life amazingly fast. At the inn I saw a poster which was hugely popular with the Germans - 'Maharaja of Ichnapur'.

Excited, I invited my hosts and others to watch this film about India, much to my regret. The film showed a despotic turbaned king's treasury of fabulous diamonds, harem girls, snake charmers, rope tricks, holy cows etc. The commoners were shown half naked. Worst was how he used to torture his detractors in the palace dudgeons. I was embarrassed and didn't know how to face my hosts and other Germans. When the lights went on, a local youngster pointed to me, and bawled 'there goes another torturer'!

Two of us had learnt Yoga from childhood and used to practice it regularly, even in Germany. Jointly four of us owned a second hand Volkswagen Beatle, and drove through all over Germany and Europe. Never stayed at hotels, for it was either Youth Hostels or we camped by the wayside. In between long drives we would stop by a pasture and stretch and refresh before driving on. Often we would do stretch our tired limbs by doing some asanas, by the wayside .Those who drove by were wonderstruck.

Why were these chaps contorting their body, in impossible ways? They must be nuts to be standing on their heads. No wonder the East is so mysterious! (Please see accompanying photo). Then I was not so fluent, to be able to explain. All I could say was 'Good health, good health' and they continued to wonder. What a quantum leap, that today even United Nations also celebrates 'International Yoga Day', and numerous clones like Aerobic Yoga, Chaudhary's Yoga have sprung up all over the world. India's soft power!!!

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