||Mar. 6-8, 1999 Delhi,
India is . . .
Our driver is fighting his way, slowly inch by inch, through the hideously
congested traffic circle (of which we're stuck, smack dab in the middle). I look up in a
daze and begin to watch the huge green billboard above us change from 984,738,976, to
984,738,977, then to 984,738,978. For about every second that clicks by, on average one
life in India has ended and two others have begun. This official population counter
billboard is accurately symbolic of India's story.. India is nearly one billion people
crowded and still growing fast. Compared with the U.S., that's more than 3.5 times the
number of people crammed into an area about one third the size. Simple translation:
people, people, people everywhere.
the masses of people that make India so fascinating and engaging, yet so hectic and
exhausting, all at the same time. Each day, the riding of this emotional roller-coaster
leaves me completely and utterly exhausted. It's funny, but only passively watching the
people busily bobbing about their daily business makes me want to cry, then seconds later
laugh, and moments after that simply shake my head in amazement. Sitting at the steps of
one of the country's many awe-inspiring temples forces me to quietly reflect; as much as
navigating the busy streets and sidewalks makes me want to scream. At any given time, the
constant barrage of sights, sounds, and smells is on the verge of sending me into a
screaming hysteria, if, if only I could catch my breath for long enough to do so.
With so many people and so little of
everything to go around, folks have to do whatever they can just to get by. Theirs is a
life of few 'lucky breaks. India has a huge number of very poor, a small but growing
number of very rich, and on the surface, it seems an even smaller number of middle class.
In this chaotic land of 'anything goes', I try my best to keep in
mind that nothing should surprise me about this place, yet many of the things we see do
just that. Children gathering cow dung to sell for cooking fuel. Fifteen people piled on a
tipping rickshaw built to carry only four. Farmers marking their cows by painting their
horns rainbows of bright colors. The fenceless zoo of elephants, cows, camels, monkeys,
peacocks, goats, dogs, pigs, and donkeys roaming freely through all the rural and city
streets. The list goes on.
Yet despite all the turmoil and calamity, we find the Indians to be
some of the friendliest, most curious, and easy-going people we've met. One of the first
things we notice here is that everywhere we go, around each corner that we turn, we are
constantly and incessantly stared at. Once I understood that staring is in no way taboo in
the Indian culture, and that what our upbringing might have us mistake as threatening
behavior, is actually simply an innocent display of an incredible curiosity, our travels
became more relaxed and much more fun. Our answer to their curiosity about peoples lives
(ours) in lands (the U.S.) that they'll probably never know, is always a smile and a
friendly "hello". Nearly without fail, this turns a 'cuts through your soul'
stare with a 'fighting the world' grimace, into welcoming grin.
It's only minutes before we have a handful
of boys and men surrounding us. Our plan was to have some quite time in the shade on the
grass of Dehli's central park to plan our attack on the city's sights. Instead, we are
being attacked from all directions with a barrage of questions about just about
everything. "What your job?" "How much your watch?" "How big your
family?" Aside from pure curiosity, they each had ulterior motives behind their
friendly conversation. The shoe shine boys want a few rupees to snaz up my boots, the soda
pop hustlers are searching for a few coins in exchange for a drink, three of the others
are just enjoying the rare opportunity to gawk at a woman with white skin, and two of our
new 'pals' are trying their best to talk us into letting them clean the wax out of our
ears. Yep, that's right, I really can't believe it either, but they each have a little
book full of testimonials and a little kit full of tools to prove they are true ear
It's sheer calamity for the first few minutes, but after the dust
settles, my shoes are still dirty, the soda boy is calling me 'chicken man' and laughing
at what obviously is an inside joke, one of the ear cleaning men just defended Laura's
honor and chased away the three gawkers (after one of them got brave and brushed the two
inches of exposed skin at her ankle under auspices of shooing away a fly), and the other
ear cleaning man is busy at work probing into one of Laura's ears with a ten inch metal
rod wrapped with a dab of cotton on one end. This place is absolutely nuts I think to
myself - it gives newcomers a real 'earful' one way or the other.