I’ll need to write a few hours each day in Mexico but I’m only going on the grid to post my daily Instagram. Easily one of my favorite places I’ve seen is India. If it weren’t so far away, and me with very little vacation time plus that giant tuition bill, I would return every year. We spent a good deal of our trip off the grid and I appreciated for the first time the beauty of off grid travel. This was published on my travel blog in November 2012
I didn’t write much while I was in India. It’s bad enough I stop paying attention to what I’m seeing because of the camera but it’s even worse if I’m trying to write it all down, too. I’m glad I didn’t chronicle the trip every day. This is an entry from the very scant and free form travel diary I kept and would add to sporadically.
November 4, 2012
We’ve been in India for ten days and our emotions have ranged from incredulous to a joy that is impossible to articulate. I’m happy to say, most of the time my emotions have been more on the joy side of the spectrum. But I have never felt a shred of angry or impatience despite the moments of chaos we have witnessed and been swirled up and into. My impatience is solely with people who don’t love this place. I don’t understand them. Now that I’m here and my trip is half over: I simply don’t get the nail-biting angst a trip in India provokes for some people. How could you not love this chaotic, crowded, colorful place? The people who don’t love India are now referred to as “The Others”.
“The Others” complain that India smells bad, they have told me how it was necessary to keep a scarf snugly near their mouths and noses to avoid gagging on the smell of New Delhi. One traveler described it as “spice scented with an undernote of poo”. Even Old Delhi didn’t smell all that bad. It smelled more like wood smoke with an undernote of gasoline, a hint of spice and every once in a while a wafting hint of poo. I didn’t smell anything gag-worthy but once and it was fleeting and not even in Delhi. But it was epic and even the beggars near the Agra Fort were holding their noses.
India dirty? Unfortunately, yes. It’s a developing country in some spots; the third world in others and the first world in many places. India, as the rest of the world is plagued by trash and refuse. The Indian government has multiple green initiatives and I’m told the situation is getting better. The squalor wasn’t anything I haven’t witnessed in Mexico or Cambodia or even Washington DC. Frankly, some of the squalor echoes San Francisco. Much of Delhi reminded me of New York City circa 1977 before Giuliani cleaned it up. (If you don’t believe New York City was once a trashed out mess, just watch any film shot in New York during the 70’s and early 80’s) The living conditions are hard to take as you walk through the alleys of Old Delhi. Even Haus Khaz, which is considered middle class, has pockets of slum. But some of the places The Others would refer to as slums simply reflect a different kind of living. Where I live, our buildings aren’t usually stained and hopelessly marked by air thick with soot, wood smoke and car exhaust. And if they are, they are cleaned. Everything looks gritty in even the most posh parts of South New Delhi because of the particulate matter trapped by the never-ending air inversion. Does this make it a “bad” place and a “dirty” place? I don’t think so; it’s simply a different way of living.
What about all those poor people; beggar children living in the streets and railway stations? Are the living conditions many of the Indians suffer hard to take? Absolutely. I witnessed people who are stunningly poor, materially and physically deprived in ways I can’t imagine. Human beings are worked like animals as they push over laden crudely made hand carts through the gullies and into the street outside the spice markets. But they are lucky, as other’s carry God knows how much weight on their backs. Poor people sleep wherever they find a place to wrap their bodies in rags. This is no different from any city in the United States. The biggest difference: Most of the beggars—aside from the kids working the intersections–would ask once for a handout but they would only ask once and with a smile and a shake of the head they would move away without asking again. These beggars were not drunk or persistent. The most difficult thing I saw were the mutilated beggars: limbs missing, legs once broken and then set in such a way they were forever useless and they were made this way by other’s for the sake of financial gain in the deeply disturbing practice of kidnapping and mutilation schemes.
If there were unbearable scenes, how could I love such a place, The Others will ask. We can’t forget the caste system is thousands of years old and India the democracy is only 60 years old. India the emerging economic superpower with a growing middle class is only ten years old. This middle class is very concerned about the poor. They aren’t concerned because it makes India “look bad” they are concerned for their fellow humans. They want to do away with the caste system. Some are hopeful this will happen over time; others think it will never come to pass because the upper classes and the politicians stand to “lose too much” if there is a leveling out between the very rich and the very poor.
India is struggling with these issues and trying to create a country that is more first world than third. I admire this. I admire how important education is across the country. I love the rich diversity of people who live in the capital city. This diversity and drive to create a stable economy drowns out the constant hum of horns, helps shield my eyes from the deprivation, and leads me to smell only the jasmine.