I think a lot about what to include, and what not to include, in my blog.
I want to show the beauty in India and the people here, but I don’t want to romanticize the the problems they endure. I don’t want to add to the exotification of the East, but I don’t want to lie about differences present around the world.
I don’t want my experience in India to be taken as the only experience to be had here, but rather, as one of many: never should a single view be taken as absolute.
“Please. Do me this one, great favor, Jones. If you ever hear anyone, when you are back home- if you, if we, get back to our respective homes- if you ever hear anyone speak of the East,” and here his voice plummeted a register, and the tone was full and sad, “hold your judgement. If you are told ‘they are all this’ or ‘they do this’ or ‘their opinions are these,’ withhold your judgement until all the facts are upon you. Because that land they call ‘India’ goes by a thousand names and is populated by millions, and if you think you have sound two men the same among that multitude, then you are mistaken. It is merely a trick of the moonlight.”
-White Teeth, Zadie Smith
I know that in many ways, I fail to do this. And I know that even when I succeed, that people will selectively intake only pieces of what I share: the pieces that reinforce their existing beliefs.
In the end, I decided this was important to share, a showcase of the everythingness of India:
Kids on the train platform today.
We file off of the vehicle that drove us to the train station and wait on the street while porters, with wrapped cloth around their head, come and grab our bags.
Immediately, we are surrounded by several generations of women, begging.
This is not unusual; we don’t blend into a crowd well, and often we are approached on the street with fleeting encounters. Some members of our group choose to give, some choose to nod and abstain. It feels gray: no clear right, no clear wrong.
Today was different. We had to wait for the train for almost an hour, and the women and the girls stayed by our side, following us into the station. They tapped our bags, and hung onto our arms. They brought their hands to their mouth, asking for food.
I feel so sad. Dusty clothes laying over dusty skin laying over bones and little else.
A member of our group, out of their genuine heart, gave a small girl our bag of snacks. The small girl bolted away. I wasn’t sure why. Then, I saw the adult women that had been begging with her suddenly lunge towards her to take the food away for themselves.
I remember Meena explaining this to me, on a rickshaw ride back to our hotel in Udaipur last week. Often, children are encouraged to beg by their parents. They may be part of an organized scheme where they don’t get to keep most of what they receive: most of the their money goes to a pimp-of-sorts.
When I was little, I thought my Dad cruel for not giving money to beggars with children. I didn’t understand why he got so tense, so angry, when we passed such street corners with cardboard signs and strollers. Now, I understand.
Now, I feel angry. Every child in India has the right to a free public education. These kids should be in school.
In the station, Margaret, an archaeologist with our group, buys biscuits for the small girls in the hope that the girls, not whoever they return to, receives the calories. They wrap the treats in their scarves, and continue to tap on Margaret. They ask for more. They walk around to everyone in the group. Touching, pleading, staring. An hour passes this way.
I don’t know what to do. My locket, with a picture of my 10 year old sister, Evelyn, seems to burn a hole in my chest.
I know that these families situation must be dire, for a parent to ask this of their child. I know the people of India suffered because of colonialism. I know tribal people are continually pushed off their land. I know poverty and inequality is deep rooted and systematic; the solution lies in long term changes at the societal level, it does not lie in scattered giving.
But, people need to eat today. Right now, people need help, and we have the resources to do so.
Yet, we don’t know where the giving goes. We don’t know who or what we are supporting. If the girls do well today, will another be pulled out of school to help tomorrow?
I think we all feel paralyzed.
As we board, the girls stare at us through the gates, continuing to beg till the train door is shut. I give Margaret a hug, our eyes slightly wet.
Kids on the train today.
Today, I was happy to discover that my seat on the train was on the birdie suspended just below the ceiling. Tucked away from the activity of the train, I like these unexpected moments of alone time.
Writing in my journal, I look up to see an eager pair of eyes watching me. A young girl, dressed in yellow, has climbed up to a seat across the aisle from mine. Her parents are sitting quietly below.
She waves. I wave. She smiles. I smile.
She babbles to me in Hindi and I follow the fluctuations in her tone to throw in a nod and an “Accha (good)” where seems appropriate.
At some point she realizes I cannot understand and our conversation almost reaches an end. Desperate for it to continue, I remember my Grandpa’s tricks; I poke my nose, and stick my tongue out. I pull on my left ear, and my tongue moves left. I pull on my right ear, and my tongue moves right.
She pulls her necklace out and places the jewel on her nose, pouting. I cross my eyes. We play peek a boo with the train’s woolen red curtain.
I look down at my journal. Now when I look up, two pairs of eyes are watching me. She introduces her little brother. They have the same face, are dressed in the same yellow.
I want to show her the picture of Evelyn in my locket. Instead, we join hands across the aisle and form a bridge for Marc, a geographer in our group, to pass while he walks up and down the aisle. We bop the men selling treats gently on the head as they march up and down the aisle. We point at objects around the train, saying their color in Hindi, then in English. We compare the size of our feet.
Too soon, the train approaches their family’s stop. They climb down and look back up to wave goodbye. Their parents scoop them up into loving arms, “Bye, Didi.” Translated: “Bye, big sister.”
I lay down, and turn over my shoulder to face the wall, my eyes soon wet.