An Australian radio correspondent’s cheekily observant chronicle of a few full-throttle years living and traveling in India.
Macdonald’s first brush with the subcontinent was not altogether promising; on the plane home, she gave “smog-swirled New Delhi the finger.” But a palm reader at the airport prophesized that she would return, and that she does, 11 years later, to be with her New Delhi–based news-correspondent boyfriend. India is still Wonderland: “In this other universe everyone seems mad and everything is upside down, back to front and infuriatingly bizarre.” Sacred cows huddle at busy intersections, “where they seem to chat away like the bulls of Gary Larson cartoons,” and “everyone seems to drive with one finger on the horn and another shoved high up a nostril.” It's sensory-overload time, yet the exuberance and energy tugs at Macdonald, beveling her tartness and getting her involved with the people. The mother of a friend welcomes her with “a hug and a gift of toe rings. . . . I love her immediately.” Jains, Parsis, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs all conduct her through their life ways. (“The communal kitchen is the Sikh faith's ‘up yours’ to the Hindu notion of caste.”) The author offers a smattering of theological discourse, but she’s more given to anecdotes about the oddments that mark her time, from the mystery of why her breasts grow to a wished-for larger size after a holy embrace to encounters with India’s real gods: movie stars. At times Macdonald lives like someone out of a Jane Austen novel, at others it seems that Grace Slick has sublet her brainspace, but India convinces her that “I kind of like being confused, wrestling with contradictions, and not having to wrap up issues in a minute.”
Not long on instruction, though Macdonald gets the other half of the travel-literature equation: vast entertainment.