Almost 48 years ago, I returned to cold, rainy London after three months traveling overland to and through India, through an exhilarating, exhausting, crazy kaleidoscope of gracious ancient history jostling with greedy modern development, ostentatious luxury bursting from chaotic slums, and grassroots villages where there was no grass, only dust.

For a hitherto small-town, small-minded Yorkshireman, it was overwhelming to sit for meals on mats on the floor of a dusty field in Bihar along with thousands of other people, and to have boiled rice served out of buckets onto banana leaf plates along with slops of runny yellow dal, which I was expected to eat with my right hand. Luckily, I had reserve supplies of Mars bars.

Above all, I cherished the boundless hospitality and endless energy and initiative of so many Indians. I came back to London energized, enthused. What a country, what people, still with mixed feelings for their former colonial masters, who had brought them the joys and curses of the English lingua franca, a united India — until they cut it into three bits as their leaving present — and a modern government, which they tied up with endless red tape. What if Britain could make its Commonwealth a real living leading thing, dedicated to the economic development of billions of people all round the world?