| St Ives
Adapting and only slightly exaggerating Rabindranath Tagore, it could be said that one sees India everywhere in Cornwall but finds Indians nowhere. As yet. The royal duchy lashed by the Atlantic Ocean and lapped by the English Channel is spared the chatter of London's Brick Lane and the gaudiness of Manchester's Curry Mile.
As my diplomat-turned-farmer host and his son-in-law release each lamb after forcing a deworming syringe down its throat and a jab under the collar (some strugglingly suffer a pedicure), it rushes to its mother for a quick reassuring suck. It's not milk the little creature needs so much as maternal comfort after the trauma of Charles Sanderson's treatment. One lamb goes to the wrong sheep and gets the angry rejection of a butt in the head. The analogy is misleading for no foster mother could be more accommodating than a Britain that is changing rapidly as it adapts to newcomers who are strangers to everything British.
The disconnect between the British Indian past (into which Cornwall offers glimpses) and present-day British Indians, who are still conspicuous here by their absence, is total. Southall would stare uncomprehendingly at Porthcurno, the Cornish telegraph station perched on a cliff from where Britain's first underwater cable snaked its way to Bombay in 1870. Southall's cousins in Kensington, Mayfair and Belgravia, differentiated only by wealth, might glance fleetingly at the British India Submarine Telegraph Company's '10 share certificates. But there's no future in yellowing documents displayed amidst a mass of archaic equipment in tunnels hewn into granite.
The company worried about the challenge from Marconi, who spanned the Atlantic without bothering with expensive cables. Growing up in Calcutta, we knew of course that Marconi had pulled off a gigantic con on our own Jagdish Chandra Bose. Similarly, Cornwall knows that the hero of the steam engine was not Stephenson but Richard Trevithick, whose statue commands a crossroads in Camborne where we accompanied Joyce Sanderson, as devout now as half a century ago, to Sunday service. Trevithick's name gives him away for 'By Tre, Pol and Pen, you shall know the Cornishmen' as school history taught us. Trevelyan was once a familiar name in India, last heard of as Resident in Gangtok, responsible for relations with Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim.
Sikkim crops up in a signpost in the Lost Gardens of Heligan, seat of the Tremayne family for more than 400 years, but in a section of the estate that has not been restored. Rhododendrons blaze elsewhere, while tea from Darjeeling in the 116-hectare Tregothnan estate with its great house, botanical gardens and south-facing slopes of good acidic soil, recalls a lost chapter in the Sikkimese saga. Last year saw the first plucking. Tregothnan tea costs '55 a pound but, presumably, Britain's only tea garden (Kew's experimental patch doesn't count) will reject the vulgar invention of sachets in its proposed international tea centre. 'Tea is instant wisdom ' just add water' says the literature, prompting questions about the effects of Britain's daily 120 million cups.
India is recalled by two thick soft carpets on the walls of Reskeaje Farm, where three dogs nudge and nuzzle the Sandersons in a sprawling house whose outlying buildings, beyond lama, texel, ouessant and poultry, go back to the 13th century. Not your conventional Kashmir or Mirzapur rugs but specially woven from abstract designs by Kurt Jackson, a Cornish artist with a ring in his left nostril, many of whose works are displayed in Truro. A label on the reverse of each car- pet proclaims 'An Indian Cottage Industry Products (sic). Country of Origin: India. 100 per cent Pure Wool. Hand tufted. Dry Clean only.' And then a sop to the conscience of the Western world, 'NO CHILD LABOUR USED.'
Whispers of Pocahontas notwithstanding, no one is quite sure of the provenance of the village called Indian Queens. An inn of that name disappeared long ago. The Gilbert Obelisk, keeping lonely guard near Bodmin, honours an Indian army general. I spotted an ebony elephant with ivory mahout and howdah among the bric-a-brac of Lanhydrock, an imposing Victorian manor, billed as Cornwall's finest, that goes back to the Irish St Hydroc. Surprisingly though, Cornish houses, from Pengersick Castle's ruined tower rearing up like a rotten tooth to the St Aubyn home, part Benedictine priory and part embattled castle, boast few relics of a connection that, according to Bagehot, no English family escaped.
Culture is the new link. The St Ives September festival includes kathakali, khayal and thumri. Piri Sarkhel, Purnima Choudhuri, Ulhas Kashalkar, Virain Jasani and Hanif Khan are mentioned. Art to art. A screen depicting Kali, faded but still awesome, flaps in an artist's window in Penzance. This 'remarkable pagan landscape which lies between St Ives, Penzance and Land's End', where the Tate gallery overlooks St Ives bay, inspired Virginia Woolf. 'I, the sculptor, am the landscape,' declared Barbara Hepworth whose house is her shrine.
Outwardly, Cornwall has changed surprisingly little in the 37 years since I brought my mother here. But the idyll of sun, sand and sea has begun to throb to a different rhythm. The 18th century folk tale, The Duchess of Cornwall's Progress, would now signify Camilla, whose husband makes a cool '14 million annually from the royal duchy. With Jacob Rothschild on his board, Prince Charles, who owns a huge chunk of Cornwall's 20 counties, intends to maximize profits. Even the Jackson carpets at Reskeaje Farm, like overpriced but pretty Penzance pottery, speak of commerce-backed creativity. After levying a high enough entrance fee, site managers have the effrontery to ask for donations. Mock jousts earn money by pandering to hoi-polloi. Even the seagulls are rapacious, snatching the lamb and mint Cornish pasty out of my wife's mouth.
Mebyon Kernow, the Sons of Cornwall who sought independence in the late Sixties, seem to have fallen silent. Staying then in the magnificently castellated and crenellated Tregenna Castle Hotel near St Ives, we were struck by a woman in furs at the next table spurning German wine. Her's was an upper class version of the yob's football chant, 'Two world wars and one World Cup!' Tregenna Castle still commands its acres rolling down to the sea but self-catering cottages and Japanese-style wooden lodges dot the grounds with leisure complexes and wedding venues.
The age of mass entertainment, indeed of the masses, is also evident at Land's End, England's westernmost toe which I remember as a coagulation of bleak windswept rocks jutting like a gnarled toe into the foaming Atlantic. Our coach driver lived in a cottage somewhere there and blew his horn repeatedly and switched his headlights on and off as we passed. It was his daily signal to his spastic son watching from the cottage window. Now, a busy tourist complex squats on the rocks. The offspring it has spawned ' an ice cream parlour and gift shop ' monopolizes a smaller promontory nearby.
We saw no Indians at Land's End, Penzance or Marazion, 14th century landfall for the island castle of St Michael's Mount. Certainly not as the sun set in a glorious red over the lighthouse far out at sea beyond Godrevy Head and again the next day from the sheer cliffs of Hell's Mouth. But an Indian delivery man nodded as we walked past in Camborne and a seafront caf' in St Ives, specializing in cream teas and pasties, tempted customers with 'A taste of India' for '3.95. 'Why not try our new Spicey (sic) Balti Pukka Pie,' the menu coaxed. Did they have an Indian chef' Might the caf's name, Kingfisher, indicate a Bangalore connection' No, nothing like that. The pies came from outside.
But surely not for long. Business is bound to boom as led by its royal duke, Cornwall dances to the trill of the cash register. With 20,000 Poles already there, can others be far behind' To use Cavafy's metaphor, the barbarian is at the gate...in this case Brunel's magnificent bridge across the Tamar river.