In the mid-'80s, I found myself in Bombay (as we called it then), doing 1,500 words of 'colour' on the metropolis in the monsoon, discovering, in the soggy process, that there were 19 people in the city's phone book called Sodawaterwallah. I'd arrived by air at dawn, and as the light came up, I watched from my Ambassador taxi as large numbers of the local population performed their morning act of defecation on the pot-holed tarmac of the gateway to India.
Other things I discovered included proper mangoes and curry, petty corruption, the real meaning of queuing, the unique Indian railway and internal airline systems, a laudable green frugality born of being poor, and a rich array of sights, smells and colours that will remain half-buried in my consciousness for good.
The New India is all high-tech and Infosys, Bollywood taking over Hollywood. The country is now the 12th-largest economy in the world. Last year, it sent up the Chandrayaan 1 moon probe. And Tata, one of India's most successful companies, owns Jaguar Land Rover, which is exactly as it should be. No self-respecting Indian appreciates their land being viewed as a picturesque, post-Raj backwater, as seen in a Cox & Kings brochure. The world's largest democracy and second most populous country desperately wants to be in the game, in order, one hopes, to improve the lot of its hundreds of millions of rural and urban poor. And these people can actually vote, albeit in a flawed system - which is more than can be said for the people of India's rival, China. I wish it had been me out there writing our piece. It's time I went back.
One thing I rarely enjoy going back to are Britain's trains (India's steam engines were a lot more fun) - unbelievably expensive, a nightmare at weekends due to engineering works and, if they are of the suburban commuting sort, packed like cattle trucks. The boss of Network Rail, Iain Coucher, is accustomed to being given a hard time by everyone, from customers to politicians. It's time he put his side of the story - as he does in this month's MT Interview.
Finally, we have a short piece about a wonderful website. During its brief life, the internet has brought us terabytes of schlock - a tidal wave of fetid porn, banal social networking and the worthless opinions of bulletin-board idiots. Stumbling across Arts & Letters Daily, as I did a couple of years ago, was a joy; www.aldaily.com is a simple aggregator of superb bits and pieces, with the Senecan motto, Veritas odit moras (Truth hates delay). So what are you waiting for?