Bollywood holds a major key to India’s cultural identity, reinforced by over a billion devoted masala fans within and outside the country, including in neighboring Pakistan. Bollywood not only captures the social fabric of India; through its archetypal stories of valor and romance, it becomes the visual incubation and celebration of hope.
Our journey took us past endless fields of flowering yellow along the northern banks of the Ganges. When we pulled into towns, we asked for directions, from children balancing loads three times their size on their heads, from crouching women tending baskets of cauliflower and eggplant by the roadside, from men in the stores that stared open-faced onto the street, framing a tailor at his sewing machine or a man pumping air into bicycle tires. We sought the guidance of random people on the route, turning to them as to a massive human compass. And they obliged. They pointed us along bumpy roads bracketed by tiny pastel altars made to worship the sun, until one man finally indicated a rocky path. "That way," he said.
At the center of Dhanbad City, in the Jharia region of northeastern India, amid a handful of concrete buildings, stands the enormous bronze statue of a coal miner. He is shirtless, muscular, and handsome. He strides doggedly forward, a mining helmet on his head, a pickax slung over his shoulder. The message is clear: Coal is my life.
I spent a day with V. S. Naipaul in the fall of 1980. He was teaching undergraduates that semester at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and he’d agreed to be interviewed for a projected special issue of Salmagundi magazine. My companions on this visit were the novelist Bharati Mukherjee and my wife Peg Boyers. From the first, in our preliminary phone conversations, Naipaul had expressed objections about my friend Bharati. “Why bring an Indian with you?” he asked.
Fernandes stole a look at the scene below. Bodies lay scattered on the station floor, slicked in blood. The gunmen scanned and swiveled. They shot from the hip, in steady bursts. On any other day, Fernandes would have taken them for college boys on their way home. These were no students, though. The ease with which they wielded their weapons amid the panic betrayed a professional’s mien.