Challenges of Writing on India

Mumbia, Bandra East

Writing is risky business, it means I might not come across the way I'd like, it's a risk to share these contradictory observations and feelings.  I've almost deleted everything I've written so far on India, It's tremendously challenging to write to you about this place.  I can't imagine you haven't already heard this story before. A middle class white girl from the U.S. saying "there's so much poverty, it's sad, it's holy, it's overwhelming, hauntingly beautiful and genuinely spiritual".   It's all those things, I came expecting them.  In this piece I'm going to contradict myself with observations that are borderline complaints of a privileged person as well as observations of a compassionate human.  I'm both, and a living, breathing, writing, contradiction.  I'm not sure I've ever been so nervous to share a post on this blog, but I'm a writer, this is what I do.  Take this writing as my offering to you and know that it's flawed and slanted and the best that I could do.   

Flowers and bicycles in India

My lungs feel heavy, I imagine a smoker's lungs might feel like this, but I haven't been smoking.  My nose is working overtime filtering the smog filled Mumbai air.  I wash my face before preparing dinner and I'm alarmed to see how much dirt comes off my face and lands on my wash cloth.  I'm standing in my sister's kitchen chopping vegetables, two peppers, and suspect looking broccoli while I worry if the air here is taking years off my hopes of being a centurion.  Theses are the first solid vegetables I've had since I arrived in India and not for lack of want, fresh vegetables are hard to find and I'm grateful my sister was able to procure them in the market.  While chopping, I reflect that most people who live here for their whole lives probably won't have the privilege of living to 100.  


The cars, taxi's, rickshaw's, motor bikes, and cyclist's flow through the streets the way water flows through a river.  Water flows through anyway it can, over, under around slipping through any crack or open space.  There seem to be few traffic laws if any.  Sitting in the back of an uber feeling claustrophobic watching the cars pass with only an inch between us I wonder how there aren't more car accidents.  Earlier in the day our uber did tap the backend of another car.  I held my breath as the man in front got out and confronted our driver.  They exchanged words and our driver got back in, nothing becoming of it.  Later I watch a man throw a plastic bottle out of the car window in front of us, litter is everywhere.  A petite old women in a colorful sari, no more than 4 and a half feet tall with grayish black hair and wrinkled skin comes up to the passenger side door in front of me and presses her hands and face against the window begging.  My new friend in the seat in front of me turns her face.  I keep looking until we drive forward and the old women seems to float behind us as we move forward.   


The past few days have been nonstop visiting Ann's Colleague's home and celebrating the Ganapati festival in traditional style.  I'm relieved to be inside 6 floors above the city with it's constant honking and beeping while writing to you.  I've always loved the Rumi quote "You're not a drop in the ocean, you're the entire ocean in a single drop".  It's always made me feel the enormity of the ocean was digestible and consoled me when I felt too small in comparison.  India feels like the ocean to me, but I feel the complete opposite of Rumi's quote.  I do feel like a single drop, like a small piece of sand on a beach a million miles long.  Here I feel the enormity of poverty, filth and pollution like a tsunami barreling against me.  Standing intimately close to fellow suffering humans and not being able to do anything is alarming.  These aren't people on TV or someone I'm reading about from the comfort of my own home they are living breathing people standing next to me often reaching out a hand for help.  It's hard not to feel too small to help, too small to make a difference.  


Talking with Ann today in the Chor Bazar a waist high tall white and brown spotted goat walked between us even though there was little room to pass.  A cute little boy walked over and stood in front of his goat and tugged on it's ear beckoning it to follow, then seemingly out of nowhere the boy popped the goat a slap in the face.  As startled as if the boy had inexplicably popped me in the face I felt stunned and yelled at the boy to "be Nice" as sternly as I could before I uncomfortably walked away with a new open wound in my heart.  


As we walk through crowds, there are groups of children waiting for us white foreigners and they run over with small boney hands stretched out, cupped and ready for rupees.  You can't give them coins though, these children are often being pimped out, basically trafficked, used.  If you give them money they have to go give it to the man that's putting them up to it.  Ann is tender hearted and gives a girl with short chin length black hair some of her coveted fruit snacks that I brought her all the way from the U.S. but that doesn't stop the begging.  The girl follows next to Ann and Kory almost an entire block before finally dropping off.   

These are memories of India I'll never forget and have a difficult time reconciling.

Photography has been a challenge for me here.  I've never been too shy about snapping photos but to say it's different here is an understatement.  I'm not comfortable taking pictures of strangers without permission it feels rude and my sister has even warned me more than once about being careful of taking pictures of strangers.  It's almost impossible to take a photo without someone entering the frame.  But like writing, I'm a photographer, it's part of who I am and what I do and how I make sense of things.  Over the past year I've taken thousands of pictures and written reflections about experiences from all over the world but here I'm not comfortable doing either but I do it anyway.