For some, India meant only Bombay. Now they skip Bombay, go to Delhi, Bangalore, Calcutta, but not Bombay. Recent examples are the British royal couple, who have skipped Bombay, and Nelson Mandela, who, like Princess Diana, visited Calcutta, but not Bombay. Even the South African cricket team did not come to Bombay.In earlier years, there were people who only visited Bombay. Pope Paul flew direct to Bombay, and, after three days, flew back to Rome. It was his first visit to the East, his first visit outside Europe.He came for the Eucharistic Congress, and when the decision was taken that he was coming to Bombay, he made the announcement: "We shall be visiting these mighty gates of the East." He arrived by a chartered Air-India flight and returned by a chartered Alitalia flight. And he brought his entire college of cardinals with him, pinkfaced men in red cassocks. There was also a large party of Italian journalists on board, all no doubt accredited to the Vatican. From the London Observer, Patrick O' Donovan had come to cover the event. He was the world's most acknowledged correspondent on Catholic affairs.
The Pope, on landing, immediately got on his knees and kissed the tarmac. Thus he set a pattern for other Popes to follow when they visited foreign lands.
Then he looked at the crowds and joined hands in greeting. Indians loved that; they thought he had specially learnt namaste to greet the crowds without realising that even Catholics pray with joined hands.The crowds were unbelievable. The entire airport was filled with crowds and the roads leading into the city. It was the largest crowd a visitor had had, larger than what Queen Elizabeth had when she visited Bombay a few years earlier. And they were not just Catholics; they belonged to all religions and communities. The following day, when the Pope visited J.J. Hospital, Mohammedali Road was filled with Muslims, all turned out to pay their respects to a holy man.Then the Indian government made its own gesture to the Pope. A last minute decision was taken for Dr. Radhakrishnan, who was then the vice-president of India, to fly to Bombay and welcome the Pope.
On the eve of his departure, the Pope met the press. He stood on a stage in a small hall, we below him. Then he spread his two hands and moved them in a sort of rhythm (I could have sworn I could see sparks flying from them) and blessed us all. It was the only time I have been blessed by a Godman.