Finally saw this movie last night.  It is as fabulous as everyone says – filled with pathos, humor, beauty, color, and the myriad sights of India that both awake and deaden one’s sympathies. 

Based on the book Q&A by Vikas Swarup [Scribner’s 2005], it tells the story of an Indian street urchin who defies the world around him and wins the jackpot on the Indian version of  “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, each question prompting a flashback into his street life to explain how he knows the answer.  No more of the plot here – just go see this movie. I insist ~  and then read A Fine Balance.

I had the great fortune to go to India last January – ostensibly on a birding tour of northern India [the fabulous Rockjumper Birding Tours, with Erik Forsyth as our guide], but I went for the sites, the culture, a desire to see something of this huge land that confuses the average westerner.  And also of course to see a Bengal tiger – whose numbers are depleted every day and may no longer be by the end of this decade.  I came home with such an array of emotions, I still have trouble explaining it all – most people ask how could I stand the filth, the crowds, the poverty – and all I could say was that somehow it all fades into the background when faced with such color, such beauty.  I wrote to a group of friends when I returned to try to sum it all up in a short email – I append this here as it best explains India to me, and so will share it with you –

Hello Wild Women! 

…Not enough words to describe India…we saw what we went for:  TIGERS and the TAJ MAHAL.  Mark Twain said that the world can be divided by those who have seen the Taj Mahal and those who have not – I would say the same about the tigers and am happy to have seen both!  a lovely 60th birthday gift to myself, and great to share it all with Sara.  I have a total of 771 pictures – will try to scale that down for a quick show; unfortunately, I should have had a better camera to get better shots of the tigers, … one of the other people with us got incredible shots, so we are hoping he will send them to us to add to our own mediocre ones – but i have to say that no picture can convey this being so close to one of nature’s most beautiful creatures – there really are no words for this experience (we saw two tigers very close and on one day we were atop elephants to see them, an adventure in itself!)


 The trip was fabulous:  India is, as expected, quite disgustingly dirty, with trash EVERYWHERE, men peeing right on the streets in town and country, cows rule the world and are EVERYWHERE along with all their poops, the “bathrooms” are the most revolting I have ever seen (and I have seen a few choice ones in my travels!), dust and dirt are EVERYWHERE and it covers every square inch of body and clothing (I think I will never have clean ears again!), graffiti and advertising posters are EVERYWHERE and show such a disparity between Bollywood and real life that I don’t know people cope; and while the roads were so much better than expected, the driving and horn-blowing is such an unbelievable spectacle, that all one could do was not get too concerned and look away and trust the driver to win at every game of “chicken” that took place between rickshaw, walkers, children, bikers, motorcycles, other cars and the most amazingly decorated TRUCKS, all this on streets wide enough for only one vehicle and more roundabouts than in all of Britain! – yikes! it was an adventure! – and an overnight train ride that would make your skin crawl!  And I could go on and on, but there is no explaining this land of beauty and garbage!…. know this all sounds terrible, and just wanted to get the bad parts out of the way!… 


The people were wonderfully friendly…every child we passed by waved and smiled and ran after us to see and in some cases just touch us!; the markets were completely bizarre bazaars of STUFF and prices always negotiable and the haggling part quite fun, though we did very little shopping; we always felt safe (though there have been a few awful molestations in India the past month and the government is worried about their tourism industry).  One needs to try to understand the cultural differences, especially about women, and while I have read a fair amount about the religion and the caste system, I would need a lifetime of study to really get all of it. [I do know that we are the luckiest people on earth to be living in the good old USA (despite Bush and his cohorts…the joy is that we can vote him out and move forward…)]

The land is lovely, despite the winter blahs and lack of water, we saw plain fields and yellow-filled agricultural fields of mustard plants, and craggy hills and forest, and moved from city to country and saw such variety, I am still reeling with a mass of colors and activity swirling around in my head.  The FOOD was absolutely fabulous, and wonder Bobbi why you were starving when you were there?? – we had the most amazing meals each day, along with many chocolate bars and fruit supplied by our Indian guide on an almost hourly basis, tons of bottled water (and thankfully we never got sick…), and a very expensive and nearly disgusting wine (though Sara sticks to beer when traveling)…

And did I forget to mention the BIRDS!!…the other reason to be there after the tigers! Sara can tell you more about this part of the trip – you all know I am not a birder, but it was quite joyful to trek around and try to locate the next illusive bird and we saw about 246 new species for those keeping life lists – what WAS clear to me is that birds of India are so like the people – full of color and personality, and it was a blast “spying” on them for hours every day!


 Lots of stories to tell and lots of laughs with our guides and the couple who were on the tour.  Sara did a great job setting this all up and there were only a very few unavoidable snafus, but no luggage lost or any other catastrophes.  The guide from South Africa (Erik Forsyth, who was also on the trip to Tunisia) was fabulous, and also a movie buff, so he kept us quite entertained the whole time; our Indian guide was a wise and gentle soul who showed us his country with such grace that it will always stay with me (and made the garbage part so much more bearable and almost forgettable!)… and despite being with Sara we did NOT run into any famous people, I am sorry to report!

So enough now – we are home safe and sound and the better for a great adventure!  I have never been sure that this gift from my father of wanderlust has been a blessing or a curse, but I do feel truly blessed to have been able to experience India in all its glory…and hope that Sara and I can convey some of that to you all when next we all gather….

 Love to all,

Deb, who thinks it is 2AM rather than 4PM but is otherwise quite adjusted to the change….




About the movie: [and with hopes that it wins tonight!]

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.  See this Reading Group Guide