Murray Laurence’s Subcontinental Drift begins with wide-eyed observations on his first journeys in India as a callow backpacker in the 1970s, enthralled and baffled by the incomprehensibility of the country and its people. Forty years later, in the twenty-first century, he is still trying to make sense of the sub-continent’s diverse histories and cultures, but in a more pensive and introspective mood. Primarily a compilation of his writings over the years while drifting through India, the book also carries accounts of travels in China and Southeast Asia, including comic asides about trying to do business in the initial flush of globalization.
Although he had read up on Indian politics and history, nothing had prepared him for India, so to speak. What preparation could there be, he wonders, ‘for the surpassing weirdness of a place where stark naked men with skewers through their cheeks and coals glowing in their grimy matted hair came and joined us at a street stall, and nobody thought anything of it? Or, keeping to the theme, a place where the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, could attend a serious meeting with half a dozen completely naked Jain worthies?’
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