India, unlike anything my eyes have seen
Taking off to India
Met a very nice woman on the flight. Her name is Naha and she is a medical student studying an hour north of London. She is on her way home for the holidays and as she spoke of her city, Mumbai, she spoke with a smile.
While nothing is earth shattering about that it made me think that we have all of these preconceived notions about worldly places. Whether it is that Mumbai is all slums, Rio de Janeiro is full of drug lords, Sydney consists of Aussie’s ripping beers, New York is packed full of arrogant businessmen who walk too fast and act too cool or Los Angeles having A-listers and hopeful A-listers hanging in every coffee shop in Hollywood– we peg so many cities into a hole and sometimes those assumptions can be intimidating.
The reality is that all cities have a different feel to them, a different vibe, a different heartbeat but each of those cities are welcoming and if we feel intimidated or nervous that is okay, but that is also our own fault.
About 3 hours from landing in Mumbai, India and when I arrive through customs and into the chaotic streets, it will be around 1:00 AM local time. I have no accommodation, no friends to call, no cell phone to ring my parents back home…and I love it.
I have my instinct, my mind, and my soul. And as we touch down and I venture into another culture I also only have one choice – to trust the language of the world and listen to my heart.
Ganeshpuri and the countryside
Went into country today and it was pretty interesting to watch how an entire village worships one man all over the place. Had hot springs in the middle of the forest…very cool…people have nothing but so different than those I’ve seen before who have nothing – they didn’t beg or ask for anything. Rather, they just kept on living, kept on believing.
Maybe our ‘poverty’ is someone else’s ‘first class?’
Often we hear the word “poverty” and quickly begin to feel remorseful, feel bad for those less fortunate than us and use the cliché – “it really puts things in perspective.”
Well, there are not too many things that annoy me more than those thoughts and these quotes from a Mumbai local prove that “poverty” is not always viewed the same by all.
In fact, maybe our “poverty” is someone else’s “first class?”
“He is from the upper class and does not understand these people. From his point of view they may seem miserable, but in fact they are quite happy people. They may only eat once a day, but they don’t really want more.”
“It is easy for any man to recognize and glorify the riches of the world…. But only a poor man can know the riches of poverty. Only a poor man can know the riches of suffering.”
Do yourself a favor and keep track of how much money you spend in a week…and then ask yourself what you really needed.
No One to Blame
After passing out at 7 PM we woke the next morning to a push-up and sit-up routine interjected with Dad’s infamous sun salutations.
Followed by a simple ride up into the King’s palace by an enormous elephant, yes they currently have a King in this city! (Kings back in the day had 12 wives and 90 girlfriends – all living in the same palace!) Talk about options! Whoa!
Afterwards, I attempted my musical skills learned in Mr. Reynolds elementary music class while playing the flute as snakes rose from a basket…while rocking a sweet turban.
Afterwards, I met two local twenty-something guys at a jewelry shop. (Driver made us stop!)
But it was amazing as once they realized that we were not going to purchase anything, as we had gotten taken to the cleaners the day earlier by the rug and sheet guys! (Dad was an easy target, but it was hilarious and every traveler has that moment)
Regardless, we each ended up talking to a young man and while my Dad was giving his guy a class on finance and opportunity in that field of work, I learned about arranged marriages and the true reason for poverty in India.
Rajeev was his name and he educated me on traditional practices that lead to poverty in India. Not earth shattering but still upsetting, as the male basically gets drunk, sleeps with the local girl who is typically poor, gets her pregnant and 9 months later a baby is born.
Then, the scene that I am now accustomed to and my father shocked by occurs.
The mother works during the day begging with her child in her arms as she walks through traffic tapping on the windows of tourists cars. Once her child can walk, they both beg on their own during the day and count their earnings at night.
The father? Oh, he’s drinking back in his shack awaiting their earnings.
The government is also not much help as their unemployment check is peanuts. For instance, unemployment in the USA it is around $500.00 per month. In India, it is approximately $20.00 per month. Thus, a high percentage of poverty-stricken individuals and children are seen working to support their families instead of learning to support themselves.
Once again, even clearer than before, the only thing I do not like about this country hits me square between the eyes as I watch a child, about 4 years old, carry another child – their sibling who is about 1 year old around town. Neither child is as tall or heavy as they should be and both are severely malnourished, but as my friend Rajeev tells me in his jewelry ship, “it is normal and it is ok in this culture,”
The wild part is that as much as I want to blame someone – I can’t. Not the father who takes no responsibility, not the government, not social services (as they are corrupt)…rather, this is India.
India, Unlike anything my eyes have seen
What my eyes saw today was more powerful than coup in Fiji, terrorists in Bali, Rio de Janeiro crime & hate in Middle East combined – yet normal in India.
It was also truly different.
But it wasn’t the culture shock, haggling, stray dogs, homeless or crime…it was the amount of people living in poverty and the normalcy regarding that.
Got to go into Dharavi – largest slum in Mumbai, or the formerly known city of Bombay, and couldn’t believe it.
I’ve been in slums (Rio) that are poor, but the conditions here were wild. The smell was unlike anything I’ve smelled. In fact, as I type and imagine where I was, the smell only comes back stronger. I watched the women work and children play and the way they handled it was incredible. Particularly the children as they smiled, played cricket and more, as their surroundings were just a part of their day.
But what tore me apart was that those same kids who were smiling and playing cricket were not in school, not learning arithmetic, not learning what a noun was. While I am the first to stand up and say there are many ways to learn and they do not all occur in a classroom, but these kids were not being given the opportunity for a different future.
No one was inspiring them, no one was guiding them, and thus – no one would lead them out of the slum of Dharavi.
You see, I can handle seeing an older person, even a young adult who is homeless, who may have made poor decisions along the way that they must now be responsible for, but I cannot accept watching a 6-year old girl carry her 2-year old brother around a slum as both of them are half of their projected body weight and wearing torn apart and dirty clothes.
Why? Because those kids never even had the chance to dream and therefore, never even had the chance to make a poor decision.
The children here had no chance. The young mothers who bore them at age 13 had no chance. The various blind youth walking around begging for change had no chance.
As you think of Slumdog Millionaire, know that Hollywood did not mess this depiction up. In fact, they were spot on.
As I became more comfortable in the slum of Dharavi I realized that what impacted me most wasn’t just the kids working for relatively nothing, as that occurs in other nations and other cities, but it was the blank stares, the blind stares, the stares that know nothing else.
It was the first time I’ve ever felt helpless.
You want to do so much, offer education, conversation, even a blanket. Yet the population in India is one that is so large that you wonder what kind of dent you could make. I mean how many times can you give a dollar, but then again, how many times can you turn down a newborn crying in a 6 year olds arms?
It wasn’t an “I’m so fortunate moment” because we should all feel that regardless, but it was a “what are we going to do” moment and “how do we do it?”
As we drove around Mumbai, learned about Ghandi and his approach and met locals the normalcy reminded me one fundamental concept…this is not a vacation, this is an exploration and the moments here are not “heavy” but very much “reality” in India.