The girl opposite us was intelligent, interesting and intense.
A member of the India Forestry Service, Meera had joined our table in the busy restaurant, and was expounding over some very decent South Indian cuisine on the many ways in which it was becoming increasingly difficult to lead a simple, spiritual life in modern India.
“Did you know,” she asked, looking intently at me, “that there are now over a hundred million people living in India?”
Blink. No, I…didn’t know that.
“I think…” I replied gingerly, “I think it’s actually a bit over a billion.”
“Yes,” she replied without pausing, “that’s what I said. A billion is a hundred million.”
Now hang on, I thought. Hang on just one second. I know I’ve heard it used that way in the past, but I’m pretty sure there are more than a hundred million people living in India.
“No,” I began slowly, “I’m pretty sure a billion is a thousand million in this case.”
I was frantically trying to get my mental arithmetic to give me some – any sort of evidence for this sort of brutal assertion; on her home turf, no less.
“The U.K. has about sixty million, and I’m sure you have more than twice as many people as us. Twenty times as many, more like.”
Meera’s turn to blink, as her country’s population jumped in size by an order of magnitude right before her. I didn’t know what to say to ease this sort of realisation, so I went with, “I think it used to be a hundred million in America, but now everyone uses it to mean a thousand million.”
I knew I had no real reason to feel guilty. But when has that ever stopped the white man?