I was on the phone with my mom and I realized that when I sit down to add to this blog only the ridiculous stories of mine come to mind and then I don’t share the subtleties of India with you… and the small things are what make this country what it is.
So, a few small things that I have found that make India India…
Indian Vogue costs 100Rs. (about 2$) which isn’t that much right? Well… for the elite few in Mumbai and Delhi it is probably nothing… but where I am living that is more than I will spend on one meal… a monthly income for the average person in this village is about 4,000Rs. (about $80) and remember that most of the people in this country live in great poverty in shanties… 100 Rs is a lot....
Looking through Indian Vogue while in Dharamkot is hilarious. I would guess that maybe 0.5% of the population in the USA can afford the $27,000 Balenciaga cocktail dress that is advertised in Vogue… but could you imagine if the average American didn’t even make $27,000 in a lifetime? Isn’t that just absurd? The last issue of Indian Vogue I read had an article about the ridiculously competitive and stressful application process one must go through to get their kids into the best private preschools in the big cities… I spend most of my day surrounded by kids who are not in school and by people who are illiterate because they never went to school.
It is actually even funnier to read American magazines while here… my friend gave me an old copy of American Elle and on the cover it said something like “how to get thin, be happy, and make money in 2 weeks!” I forget that I am from a world where everything must be accomplished quickly. Pay attention to what advertisements are thrown in your face… how stupid of us to believe that we can change our body’s metabolism, figure out what “happiness” is and accomplish it, and make money in two weeks? I would not say that Indians are happier than Americans… that would be silly, but I can say that the more relaxed state of mind that a lot of these mountain people have just makes life easier. Fewer disappointments. There have definitely been times in my life when I thought “If you lose 10 pounds you will be happy. Period. Full stop.” How stupid is that? I could continue to mock myself but let’s think about why I thought that… I was raised in a society that flat out said, the more money you have and the thinner you are the happier you will be… What I am starting to realize is that that happiness that the promoters of slim-ness and riches promise me is not that happiness that I want. Also, how is it that I was trained to believe that “happiness” was something that could be achieved/attained/secured in 10 days with the advice from a magazine? I don’t think I ever actually believed in any of that crap- to be honest, I don’t actually read magazines… I just look at the pictures… but anyways- I think it is unhealthy to grow up surrounded by that mentality. I don’t think that the answer is to move to a remote village on the other side of the world but there must be an “opt out” button that Americans can press to get away from that mind clutter and garbage.
There is a boy who lives in Mcleod Ganj who cannot be over the age of 14 and is forced to drag himself around town because from his waist down his body is completely deformed. So, his lame body lies on top of a flattened cardboard box and he uses his forearms to drag himself around. Every pull he has to stop to grab his tin money basket. I am assuming that he has polio… polio…a disease that comes to mind when I think of the great depression… 1920s! Its 2009 and people in this country are suffering and dying form things that we got vaccinated against within the first week after we were born. How is that possible? Remember Shigella? Well… Shigella doesn’t kill people… it’s the dehydration from Shigella that kills most infants in this country. When I went to the clinic in Delhi I paid $4 for each liter of hydration liquid. I am 21 years old, 5”5 and probably weigh as much as 4-5 infants? If I needed about 20$ worth of hydration liquids to make me walk out of the clinic alive… how much do you think a little baby would need? Isn’t there a moral responsibility shared by all of us to fix this? It seems stupid actually… it just doesn’t make sense to me. It is like saying “Thousands of children die every day in Mongolia from paper cuts.” Hmm… something isn’t right. I know that Paul Farmer has done and continues to do A LOT for such causes and I admire him greatly for it and I am also slightly embarrassed for not doing anything myself to help the issue.
So I came to India thinking that there is a chance that I would get an amoeba or worm or something from the food… but did you know that you can get hepatitis from the water here? There is literally shit in the water… Shit. In. The. Water. If it weren’t so serious I would have to laugh.
If a salesman doesn’t have change he will say “come back tomorrow” or “here, take 10 pieces of gum to make up the difference” or “next time you pay less.” If one of the customers doesn’t have change or enough money the salesman will say “don’t worry take it and come back tomorrow to pay me.” The amount of trust that goes into what I would call quotidian transactions is inspiring. Even in a country that is spoiled by so much corruption, I see more confidence and faith between people here than I have seen anywhere else in the world.
Women do not have easy lives here. Full stop. I have had many Indian women tell me that “being a woman in India is hard.” Spousal abuse here is horrifically common and while I am sure there are a lot of women’s rights movements or organizations around India, there is no outlet for the women in these remote parts of the country. Some of the stories just make me want to scream, I took a cooking class with this beautiful girl, Ritya, and she was telling me that her nephew has been crying for days and that her sister is scared because they are leaving soon. I looked at her with this confused look on my face because first of all, have you taken the baby to the doctor? Why do you think he is crying? Why does your sister have to leave now? Where is she going? Can’t she just wait till the baby was ok?
Ritya said that they took him to the hospital but the doctor doesn’t know what is going on, they are all scared because the baby is still under 1 year old and a lot of children die within their first year, and her sister has to go back to her mother-in-law’s house because as a married woman you move in with your husband’s family and she is scared because she knows that her mother-in-law will blame her for the baby’s sickness and she doesn’t know what the mother-in-law will do. What what what what what what what?? I forget how lucky I am to have been raised in a country that has at least had women’s rights on the menu for the past 40-50 years… there are so many feminist groups in the US that say that we have so much farther to go, and yes, I think it will be a LONG time before women and men are completely equal but my god, we have gone so far! I don’t want to settle but I am definitely impressed with where women stand in the West.
Travel time in India makes me laugh. All one needs to travel in India is money, some sort of stomach medicine, and PATIENCE. My flight from JFK to Delhi was 14 hours… now I am 14 hours away from Delhi by car. It will take me as long to get home as it does to get to the closest legitimate city or airport. I am planning my trip to Leh, Ladakh and I can either drive there from here which would take three days OR I can drive 14 hours to Delhi and hop on a 1 hour flight to Leh. WHAT? I actually don’t understand how that works.. I haven’t done much traveling in India at all but the few trips that I did do felt like epic journeys.. now, look a map… I live in Dharamsala, went to Amritsar for the weekend and then went to Varanasi for a week.. WHAT? I am used to driving to Pittsburgh in 6 hours or to LA in less than a week! India makes me laugh.
Also, he tickets for the first class on the train are ALWAYS sold out… how is that possible? There are trains running all day around this entire massive country… so how can the tickets be sold out? Oh, I forgot that there are over one BILLION people living in this country… that is insane! India is a world.
Also.. patience.. there is one ATM in Mcleod Ganj… one!!… you need money? Have fun!… go wait on line and hope that you get money before the machine breaks. You need the post office? You will have to walk by it every day for a week before you catch it when it is open. You hop into a rickshaw and PAY the driver to take you to YOUR destination? That’s nice… you will probably have to stop with him to pick up his laundry, stop and talk to a friend on the street, and maybe pick up some potatoes for dinner…. All of this becomes quite funny over time… I just have to laugh… one just has to laugh.
So… I’m sitting here laughing as I wait for a chai I ordered an hour ago ;)