The High Commissioner of Malta in India, H.E. Reuben Gauci, speaks about his understated arrival in the country during the pandemic and takes us on a journey through its lesser-known marvels, in a tête-à-tête. By Sush Clays
1. What was your first impression of India?
I arrived on September 13, 2020. My first impressions of India were made from inside the house because I was in quarantine. We arrived at night, from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport to our residence, and our first two weeks were spent glimpsing at India from the rooftop, hearing the voices of various street sellers peddling their wares as they passed by our house.
2. What is the most interesting family holiday experience you have had in this short span of time?
I was previously posted in the Palestinian territories, and every Christmas Eve, I would attend the Bethlehem midnight mass. Since this is my first time in India, I wanted a Christmas with a difference, but with a touch of religion. So, we visited the grave of St. Mother Teresa at the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, we drove to Dumka in Jharkhand to visit the Jesuit monastery of the Maltese community. There I have an 85-year-old relative whom I had never met before. Meeting him for the first time on Boxing Day was a great experience. They speak Maltese and the local language, Santhali, so it was very unique, and the mass was held in Maltese. My wife, Olga, is a great fan of Indian culture, so we have also been to the Ganga Temple in Haridwar.
3. India offers a lavish cultural experience. Which form of art, music, or architecture has truly touched you?
I definitely like the idea of colours—the Pink City of Jaipur, the Blue City of Jodhpur. I love the Water Palace (Jal Mahal) in Jaipur, and the Palace of the Winds (Hawa Mahal), where it feels like the wind is touching your soul.
4. Luxury travel is a given for distinguished travellers such as yourself. Which is one destination in India that stands out for you?
We’ve stayed in all the luxury hotels, like the Taj Hotel & Convention Centre in Agra and The Oberoi, so far. But the most unique was staying in a monastery with the priests in Dumka.
5. Is there a special piece of furniture or art that you have bought for your new home in India?
In Jaipur, we bought a wall hanging shaped like the sun, and two carved and painted wooden statuettes of Rajasthani men. Interestingly, from Haridwar, we brought back a little copper pot filled with water from the Ganges.
6. Do you find any similarities between your home country of Malta and India?
We’re both former British colonies, so we drive on the same side of the road! We see British influence in both our cultures, the education system, and government structure. Our daughter, Alisa, even goes to the British School in Delhi. In fact, during the British Raj, ships from England used to travel through the Gibraltar and then through Malta before they reached India through the Suez Canal. So, we were actually on the passage to India, which is, incidentally, one of my favourite films (A Passage to India, 1984). And Roshan Seth, an actor in the film, is now my neighbour in Delhi.
7. Tell us about an interesting culinary experience in India.
It was the fragrance of Indian food that welcomed us. On our first flight here, we decided to order Indian food, and as the food was being heated, it felt like the very smell of India greeting us even before we landed. I remember this so vividly.
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