I have never been to Australia and my knowledge of it is limited to set images. Like of every Indian schoolboy, my first image was that of cricket and Don Bradman, and some 75 years later, after Hassett and Lindwall and Miller, and beyond Neil Harvey and Richie Benaud to the present nonworthies, it is more or less the same image.
The other steady images have been those of kangaroos and boomerangs and the vast Australian outback.
And the Australian people, I have my own picture of them. Women with thick legs and freckles, a little over sun-tanned, and men with bare chests and beer bellies, all of them talking in an accent that is more difficult to follow than that of the London Cockneys. And I picture them all lying on beaches, riding surf, except when they are sitting on the mound, watching cricket, or when they are working at those isolated sheep stations.
It is amazing how much you can visualise about a country without ever having been there, though most of it I suppose would be wrong. If I was not an Indian, born here, and I had never visited the country, I would have still visualised it, though I do not quite know how and in what form and content.
So I see Australia as a whole continent, empty, but keeping the Asians out, though not the Japanese and the Chinese. When Hong Kong reaches its deadline as a crown colony, those who leave it and cannot get to Canada will go to Australia.
I can see it is a country worth staying in. all the advantages of a modern in. all the advantages of a modern Western society and yet in the Southern Hemisphere. A country of good living, lamb, the best of meat, dairy products, mild beers, non-interfering, out of the main current of international politics.
A country that has based its reputation not in music or arts or great literature (Australian newspapers must be among the least newsy in the world), not in politics and solving the world's problems, but in sports, all disciplines of it, from Rod Laver to Dawn Fraser, and now hockey.
And the other images of Australia, the famous cricket grounds, Kerry Packer and Channel Nine, and the cities of Australia, most of them clustered together in one corner of the landmass. Sydney, with its once famous bridge and now its equally famous opera house, and Adelaide like an English country town, and Melbourne.
And why Australia, suddenly, today? It may be because the Indian Prime Minister is there, though more probably because the Australian cricketers are here in Bombay.