Perhaps the most legendary historic figure is Alexander (the Great). His name itself has come to symbolize glory and majesty, and is spoken with reverence in India. He had been instructed by his mentor, Aristotle, “If you reach India, bring back 2 of its most exotic treasures; Jain monks.” It is no wonder that both Aristotle and Alexander have been immortalized.
The Roman Empire
The Romans sailed the seven seas to reach India’s Malabar Coast. They didn’t come for gold. They brought shiploads of gold coins to pay for Malabari Black Pepper in its weight in gold. That’s where all that Roman gold coinage in the vaults of Keralan temples comes from.
Vasco da Gama
Photo by Anthony Preston
Vasco da Gama was the first European to discover the sea route to India, also covering both the Atlantic and Indian oceans for the first time. An interesting and lesser known reason why he was able to complete this journey by avoiding mutiny was due to his expertise as a prison torturer earlier and the presence of ten of his crew being convicted killers, whose death sentences had been put on hold by the Portuguese King, just for this trip. Today, to honor his travels, Goa has a city named after him.
Saint Teresa greatly increased India’s honor by spending her life here. Lovingly known all around the world as Mother Teresa, she was an epitome of a missionary. She was not focused on converting others to her faith. Her only interest in life was to serve the destitute and dying in Kolkata. I remember watching a TV interview of hers. She was being amply praised for her selfless, noble life. She responded, “I’m very selfish. I only want to find Jesus. He had said I will come back. You will find me among the poorest of the poor.” That day I realized why she was canonized into a saint.
Born in Kasauli, Punjab and holding an Indian passport, Ruskin Bond is India’s most celebrated children’s books writer. Awarded the Padma Shri in 1992 and the Padma Bhushan in 2014, he now even has a Litrature Festival held in Mussoorie named in his honor.
The Dalai Lama
Photo by VOA
Of the many foreigners living in India today, His Holiness The Dalai Lama is probably the most prominent. There are not many people alive who have had not one, but several movies made about events in their lives. The Dalai Lama fled his homeland Tibet, to come to India in 1959, escaping from a threat to his life from the advancing Chinese troops, which included later premier Deng Xiaoping. India even fought a war and suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese for offering sanctuary to His Holiness. Still India never flinches at offering him protection from his tormentors.
In New Delhi, you will find all the international consular staff posted to India. You will also find a lot of foreign correspondents. In fact New Delhi, being thepolitical capital of India, has a thriving expatriate community. Among them you will find William Dalrymple and Francis Wacziarg.
An accomplished author, William Dalrymple is the co-founder of the Jaipur Literature Festival; the largest free Literature Festival in the world. He recently commented during his presence at the Chandigadh Literature Festival, “India has been good to me.”
It took Francis Wacziarg 25 years to get naturalized and an Indian passport. He started off in India with an import & export business between his native France and India. He is famous as the co-owner of the splendid Neemrana Resort, located off the New Delhi – Jaipur highway. The fort is also one of the most popular destination for people looking to go for a quick weekend getaway from Delhi.
As you can see, many a foreigner has been charmed by this mysterious and magical land. Of course, the names mentioned above are just a few among the multitude. You too can explore this mystical country and maybe add your name to our list of those who came, were conquered by its romance and never left.
About the Author
Rohit’s most memorable meeting was with a British woman near Jaipur. When he told her that there were four highest holy places of worship in India, she replied, “You mean the seats of the four Shankaracharyas of India.” Rohit knew then and there that India would never leave her heart, no matter where she went in the world.