The numbers daunt the most diligent demographer: India’s more than one billion, three hundred million people—a fifth of the world’s population—belong to 2,000 or more ethnic groups, speak 22 major languages (and upwards of 1500 other languages, not to mention almost innumerable dialects). They belong to all the world’s major religions (Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism, with substantial numbers of Jains, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, and uncountable sects).
And yet, as any lover of India will attest, India’s people, in all their amazing variety, are a major—perhaps the greatest—reason the country inspires such fervent admiration. In a recent article aptly titled “You Cannot Die of Boredom in India,” author Ruskin Bond wrote that “The India I love does not make the headlines, but I find it wherever I go—in field or forest, town or village, mountain or desert—and in the hearts and minds of people who have given me love and affection for the better part of my lifetime.”
India is a complex nation, in no way immune from the strifes of the modern world, yet we Indiaphiles have the feeling, as the great historian Will Durant wrote in “The Case for India,” that it can “teach us the tolerance and gentleness of mature mind, understanding spirit and a unifying, pacifying love for all human beings.”
That may seem woozily utopian, but here are two things Micato knows for concrete sure. First, Indians—whether you’re talking with a cabbie, a tea-shop wallah, a bustling entrepreneur, one of our sparky Travel Directors, or a seat mate on a plane—are wonderful, warm conversationalists, curious, witty, engaged. And second, the chances are good they speak English. From our visitor’s standpoint, that’s one of the most valuable of Britain’s colonial legacies; despite its polychromatic diversity and all those languages, India is a country English speakers can feel, linguistically at least, nicely at home.