You are here:   Columns >  The Outsider's Diary > Delhi's Delights
Delhi's Delights
January/February 2014

The Taj Mahal

"Could I have a beer with that?" I ask. "No — it is not possible," the waiter apologises. I am not legless in London, but dining in Delhi. It is election time in India and the usual debates, posters and other paraphernalia of democracy abound. Nevertheless I have stumbled on one process Britain does not share. As it is the evening before polling this is a "dry day". Tomorrow beer will be available only after 5pm. The day of the count will also be a dry day. The newspapers report on illicit hauls of alcohol caught in transit between provinces and on young people "making their own arrangements".

I content myself with water. It is a small and rather touching inconvenience which adds a suitable solemnity, not to say sobriety, to the business of democracy. 


Invited to speak in New Delhi, I have leapt at the chance to visit India for the first time. I am guided round the Taj Mahal by a smart young local man. He is interested in politics but worried about innumerable aspects of his country. Like everyone else, it is corruption that is at the top of his mind, although there are some signs of improvement. A cabinet minister recently went to jail for the offence. A year after the horrific Delhi bus gang rape, sexual harassment also remains a dominant issue. Again, a prominent public figure has just been convicted for such a crime. But in a society in which "love marriages" remain both rare and also suspect, societal problems remain which are not going away swiftly.

To some Indians the huge task ahead of them seems to lead to despair. "In India  everyone does just what they like," one says to me. "For instance, in UK if someone defecates in the street they are in trouble. Here nothing happens." "Broadly speaking," I say by way of agreement. 


The motorway from Delhi to Jaipur is crammed with buses, vans, motorbikes and cars, but also camels, cows, elephants and monkeys. Two men overtake on a motorbike. Filling the space between them is a goat. Schoolchildren in immaculate uniform appear almost miraculously.

While not everyone progresses the same way down the same side of the motorway, there are no crashes. Everyone seems to find their way around each other, the horn a constant reminder you are there. I ask someone about this. "Never any accidents on busy roads," he says. "Only on empty roads there are accidents." Which seems to be true. 


While visiting the glories of India's past and admiring much about its improving present it is of course impossible not to notice the poverty: it is horrific, worse than any other I have seen. The old idea of "how lucky we are" is probably slightly patronising, but remains true. To put it another way, the Brits who complain that their human rights are being abused because they aren't allowed a taxpayer-funded spare bedroom or because they have to use their savings to buy their child an Xbox for Christmas ought to see India.

View Full Article
February 4th, 2014
3:02 PM
I was with Murray until he mentioned India needing more Christianity. That just comes off as patronizing. They need more secular thinking that rejects dangerous religious practices. There are many radical Christians in India that are doing more harm than good by preaching against condoms and homosexuality. The secular Indians feel very marginalized by society as it goes down the gutter of Islamism, caste systems, and Christian Missionaries.

December 29th, 2013
5:12 AM
I've been a fan of yours for years. Your discourse on islam and Islamism is absolutely spot on and much needed in the vacuous PC climate we live in. I'm Indian and found this article to be unnecessarily simplistic, colonial and patronising. You seem to give only 1 side - poverty, arranged marriages etc but not the others - ancient culture,quality cuisine/lifestyle,family values,spiritualism, strong inherent morality overall etc. That said we need more of you, after Christopher Hitchens's tragic passing.

Sarat Kumar
December 21st, 2013
7:12 PM
Is that all? I'm disappointed. I thought you would write something much more interesting.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.