Truth be told, I wasn’t overly excited about spending the month of June in America. Rathi and I had decided long ago to seek out new, ‘exciting’ countries and continents (apart from the many parts of India we are yet to visit). Numerous trips here had dulled the desire to revisit. It seemed very far away (don’t even get me started about the superpower politics!). That’s why we would gently stave off invitations from US-based relatives and friends—Kabir and Krishna are too small, you see. After a decade, however, even that excuse began to pall. So, here we were in New York with a long list of child-friendly must-dos.
Over three weeks, and many 14-hour days, I think we did it all—my bank balance would agree! From the Bronx zoo (a revelation) to a Broadway musical (excellent); far too many museums to mention individually (but all superb, without exception, even corny ones like Ripley’s); the New York Library and Central Park; many movies, barbeques, pizza slices and hot dogs later, my sons are convinced they have spied the Promised Land. When the family departed to greener pastures (Disney!), I had the city to myself for five glorious days. Consider a typical day: lunch at an Ethiopian dive; fortified by coffee, I walk 40 blocks to check out Lincoln Center, and then some more to grab dessert at Cafe Lalo (made famous by cheesy rom-com You’ve Got Mail). I wind down in Central Park. Once on the East Side, I check into a bar to watch an exciting US-Ghana football match (which began at a civilised 6 pm). The sole Mr Ghana at the bar seemed oblivious to the “USA, USA” chants that filled the packed room. “They got lucky,” he muttered to me under his breath.
Smart Cities at Work
At a time when India is talking about hundreds of new smart cities and bullet trains, it’s instructive to see how NY has used public architecture to make innovative spaces for its denizens. In particular, there are two newish attractions, legacies of former mayor Michael Bloomberg. The Highline on Lower West Side has brilliantly converted a discarded elevated railway line into a walkway-cum-recreation center on stilts. Though a friend dubbed it an “elevated kyari”, it’s actually clean and provides lovely views of a city at work. Then, there’s Governors Island—a ferry ride away from the southern tip of Manhattan—that used to be a high-security residence for visitors to the UN. Now, the 170-acre island is choc-a-bloc with festivals, music shows and beer. Just don’t forget to catch the last ferry home.
The Page One meeting
True to form, America didn’t seem too bothered that India had a new Great Leader. Apart from an editorial or two, the iconic New York Times was more concerned about Narendra Modi’s dress sense. Thanks to an invitation from Lydia Polgreen (NYT’s deputy international editor who was in India a few years ago), I attended the paper’s 4 pm meeting to decide the next day’s Page One line-up. First I was taken on a guided tour of the beautifully designed NYT headquarters. The meeting began on time. Apart from the dozen editors and bureau heads (new executive editor Dean Baquet was away, recovering from surgery), there must have been an equal number of observers, all of whom were introduced. Unlike most Indian papers, the international section got to list its stories first (three of the five stories on next day’s page one had international datelines). Pictures were reviewed and the Washington bureau pitched in over speaker phone. It was all over in a business-like 20 minutes. The next day’s paper was sealed.
After the day’s rigours, we’d wind our way back to our home in NY, Brooklyn. I can’t begin to tell you how charming this part of New York is, walking down Smith Street, with its clusters of bars and eateries or watching a movie or two at the quaint little Cobble Hill Cinema on Court Street. We had some excellent meals. Our host Tunku insists Lucali, on Henry St, serves up the best thin-crust pizza in NY, “not overridden with mozzarella and tomato in the gaudy modern manner”. I couldn’t agree more.
When in America, catch a baseball game. That’s what I did with my boys one evening when we saw the Mets vs the Milwaukee Brewers at Citi Field stadium. It was good, clean family entertainment—the food was excellent, and there were many fillers (T-shirts being shot into the crowd, musicians, candid cameras and so on) to keep the audience happy. Even the K-boys admitted it was “way cooler” than IPL’s cheergirls and dhing-chak music.
Two places I didn’t visit
The Freedom Center, the 9/11 memorial that most Americans I spoke to were reluctant to visit; and the Empire State Building. Get the pattern?
Sunit Arora is associate managing editor, Outlook; E-mail your diarist: sunit [AT] outlookindia [DOT] com
What is this, a tourist guide (New York Diary, Aug 11)?
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
what is this, tourist guide or what?
A visit to Wall Street would have completed the idyll.
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