He has a limp and an honest smile. He reaches out to children with love and engages with men and women with natural warmth and affection. His home is congenial Britain, but he is just as comfortable in a grimy mosquito-ridden guesthouse in Harappa, on the commoner's coach of an Indian train, in filthy Indian lanes and bylanes — his fatigue shows in India's heat and the dust, but his smile and his love of this place and its past never fade. He accepts without hesitation cake and coffee sold on our trains, and drinks, with no fear, tea served in clay-cups. He takes his meals from the street vendor.
"Delicious!" he exclaims, over a South Indian meal at the modest home of his hosts in Tamil Nadu, squatting on the floor among them.
It seems Wood carries the light traveller's single change of clothes, no more. To perhaps soothe his sweating neck, he wears a lot a blue-linen stole. In sum, this man is an adorable host of his BBC program, and a guest very welcome in India, brimming with respect and curiosity toward her people. He doesn't pull back from pinching when he refers to the olden-day misdeeds of his countrymen on Indian soil, but he takes the occasional opportunity to submit a good or two that came out of British time on the subcontinent.
So, watching his 360-minute Story of India on DVD over four days was a pleasure and a learning experience.
So much so, I bought his book as well. It read like an expanded version of the screenplay for the documentary, very well written, of course, but I put it away after I'd gone a few pages. The book proved too much a panegyric on India, and at each exultation of Wood for India, I squirmed. My own love for my country is cased in a crust of anger, and my hopes for it lie smothered under terrible angst. India was great in the past, she is poised for a resurgence — I'm as sure as Wood or any other. But I need to reconcile every day to the present, to my life in this squalid, festering, incorrigible place. I am committed to working in it, but I cannot help my daily exasperation with it.
So I've pulled John Keay from my shelf instead, his 600-page tome, India: A History. I'll come back to Wood's book another time, maybe.
Image from Amazon India.