The Indian Burden

The Ayalon Highway Cuts Menachem Begin Road

We were driving on Menachem Begin Road, down a swank stretch of it, and for the second time this trip David told me the street is particularly full of rich people. He pointed to a block of tall buildings that seemed white in the lights of the evening. I cannot affirm that was their color, my memory fails me. But I remember the edge of the block had a high green embankment with drip-irrigation tubes running over it, on fresh-planted lawns. We were stalled before the place by Thursday-evening traffic—the start of the Israeli weekend.

"The smallest apartment here, Shashi," David detailed dimensions and the breakdown of room types, "costs five million dollars. Dollars, Shashi!"

I made exclamatory noises. "Wow," I think I said. Then we fell silent, and the traffic started to stir a bit. The slow movement wasn't troubling us. The weather had been dry all week, the June temperatures moderate, and business meetings had ended with great promise. We'd just had dinner in the cool of the beachfront.

"Why, Shashi, in a big country like India you have so many people begging on the streets? I have seen women carrying babies…"

"I don't know, David. I'm not comfortable talking about it."

"Of course, of course. But you know what Shashi? What I love most about India? What I love about India is, whether a person is rich or poor, everybody is happy. They are smiling and laughing and…"

After I'd been silent two-three minutes, he shifted the topic to the neutral world of business. David is a good sales agent. He sounds sweet when he's talking commerce.