India is about one-third the size of the United States, yet it has one-fifth of the world’s population—over a billion people. How in the world are so many able to live in this geographical space?
Here is the answer of a French character, Didier, in a wonderful autobiographical novel, Shantaram, that I am reading, by Gregory David Roberts, the best thing I’ve ever read about a Westerner coming to India.
Here, Roberts has befriended an Indian city guide in Mumbai, and the guide, Prabaker, has invited Roberts to come with him to his village. What follows here is quoted from the book:
Didier raised his eyebrows in theatrical surprise.
‘For how long?’
‘I don’t know. A couple of months, I think. Maybe more.’
‘Ah, then it is so,” he concluded. ‘Your little friend is beginning to love you.’
‘I think that’s putting it a bit strong,” I objected, frowning.
‘No, no, you do not understand. You must be careful, here, with the real affection of those you meet. This is not like any other place. This is India. Everyone who comes here falls in love—most of us fall in love many times over. And the Indians, they love most of all. Your little friend may be beginning to love you. There is nothing strange in this. I say it from a long experience of this country, and especially of this city. It happens often, and easily, for the Indians. That is how they manage to live together, a billion of them, in reasonable peace. They are not perfect, of course. They know how to fight and lie and cheat each other, and all the things that all of us do. But more than any other people in the world, the Indians know how to love one another.’
He paused to light a cigarette, and then waved it like a little flagpole until the waiter noticed him and nodded to his request for another glass of vodka.
‘India is about six times the size of France,’ he went on, as the glass of alcohol and a bowl of curried snacks arrived at our table. ‘But it has almost twenty times the population. Twenty times! Believe me, if there were a billion Frenchmen living in such a crowded space, there would be rivers of blood. Rivers of blood! And as everyone knows, we French are the most civilized people in Europe. Indeed, in the whole world. No, no, without love, India would be impossible.’