New Delhi, 10
US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill who completed a two year tenure in New Delhi last month, became a true friend of the Indian people and forged a direct link between this country and President Bush.
He was not always praised but could not be underrated for advocating the interests of Indo–US friendship. His Saturday lunches in Roosevelt House (American Chancery) were derided as Durbars staged by a present day ‘Yankee Moghul’, but they certainly seem to have imparted to him a unique insight into Indian history, culture, people and their ethos.
We reproduce below, a text of his last public speech, not because it shows his understanding and appreciation of things Indian, but as a pointer to most of us Indians who either overlook their own attainments or belittle the endeavours we are making to move into the 21st century.
India Means To Me"
Luncheon Speech Sponsored By
Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry
Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, India
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 Parliament 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.
would like to thank all of you from FICCI for your extraordinary
efforts and for inviting me here today.
days ago, I gave my final policy speech as US Ambassador to India.
Today, I shall share with you personal thoughts abut how this
country has shaped me during these past two years. Unlike Siddartha,
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.
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.
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
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 also me.
let’s quickly take the train around India, pausing in Delhi before
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 and 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
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.
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 mountain wind. 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 about it.
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.
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?
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
of Rajasthan entrances me. The noble Rajput legacy, Jaipur, Udaipur,
Jodhpur. And perhaps my favourite, 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.
in Jaisalmer, close your eyes for a moment and see the camel
caravans coming 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”.
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 uncommon land.
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.
around in a small circle on wooden chairs, trading opinions with a
half of dozen distinguished Mumbai painters for an hour about
abstract expressionism in New York in the 1940’s and 50’s
(Pollack, 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 abiding love.
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.
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.
a country this is. And I have hardly experienced any of it.
these places, my omnipresent security details 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.
this India that I have come to know ever so slightly.
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.
innumerable and distinctive dances, beginning with the classical.
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 the speech, the breath of the breath, and the eye of the eye.
When freed (from the senses) the wise, on departing from this world,
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 reincarnated.
I close thee, my final Ambassadorial remarks in India, I want to
deal briefly with another subject.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 take more time than we would like.
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.
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, these profound wellsprings of Indian
will return to India, How could it be otherwise?
you, my friends, for listening to these, my personal musings.
thank you India for every single thing that I have discovered here.
Mother India has changed my life –– forever.