The other day, at the end of my yoga class, our instructor was talking about how the “luxuries” of life tend to make us dull, slow, and asleep at the wheel… To awaken, we often need to feel some deprivation, unmet needs, an absence of ease, or simply the edge of the unexpected.
Why does India hold such powerful sway over people? Why do some foreigners come to this country, with all its squalor…garbage, poverty, strangeness, dust, and find beauty? How can anyone, by Western standards, claim to “love India?” On a personal level, why do we find India both completely, frustratingly exasperating and intoxicatingly wonderful?
I think it is directly related to this concept of being AWAKE, of being present, attuned, attentive to the very moment. It is difficult to be complacent here. Everything, the horrific and the lovely, can be seen. Nothing is hidden. As a friend has said, the highs are higher here and the lows are much lower!
I awake to sound and smell; the pungent taste of the air. We drive and are constantly shifted. I stand still on a swirling street and purposely notice others posed in stillness. A visit to the shops finds empty shelves, or twelve of everything I do not need to buy. A bus has driven off the edge of the earth and 35 people are dead. The T.V. blares out ads for bubble gum and noodles and washing machines, while the woman down the road beats her clothing on a rock. An elephant is accidentally electrocuted by power lines slung too low in a jungle village. My driver who makes the equivalent of $200 per month and has just recovered from some personal and financial losses takes out a loan for a $500 television. There is money here…a lot or a little depending upon your position in society, your karma, your luck… There is passion here…for family, duty, intelligence, God, freedom and at the same time, a lack of freedom. There is brutal hardship here. Corruption here. Laughter here. Some people cannot imagine how India functions, how anyone can claim that India is the world’s next “superpower….” I’ve heard it said by more than one person upset by the seeming disconnection and lack of outrage at the absence of infrastructure that “Indians don’t care about their own country.” I am sometimes as puzzled as anyone…not understanding…exasperated or even angry but I have to say that my experience has shown me that the opposite is true. The problems are immense and some may be insurmountable but it seems there are plenty of people willing to try climbing that mountain, anyway.
The other day, we were invited to spend the day with some Indian homeschoolers. We drove out of Bangalore to an organic farm owned by one of the families. We hiked, the kids swam in a rocky pool in the river, played games, we shared a meal, we laughed and talked of education…what it is, what it means here, what it needs to be for all children.
For several months I’ve been involved with the Bangalore Birth Network, an eclectic group of women working to improve birth experiences and outcomes here in Bangalore. One of our active members has started a mother-to-mother group…the second meeting was standing room only.
One of my closest friends…coordinates an English program for several local government schools. She has many volunteers helping.
Our housekeeper tells me about a young woman with several children that lives near her. The family is very poor and the husband has a drinking problem, so our housekeeper brings her extra food. There have been many instances in which I have seen or been told about similar acts of charity by people who have little extra themselves. Poverty is inhuman but it doesn’t automatically strip away human values.
Numerous charitable organization and non-profit NGO’s exist with large goals such as the eradication of poverty and caste, and the economic uplift of women in India. Some work on a more local level…feeding and educating street children, housing the mentally ill, creating small businesses for local village women.
I won’t be the first or last person to note that people everywhere pretty much have the same needs…to love and be loved, to be respected, to not go hungry, to have adequate shelter, and to raise their children with the hope of a better life. In India, the difference is not in the needs, desires, hopes and fears but in the vast numbers and the vast visibility of who has and has not and what is and is not.
We’ve met artists, activists, adventurers, business people, parents, beggars, children, shopkeepers, domestic workers, farmers, gurus and expats from everywhere. People are poor, rich, hardworking, desperate, angry, enthralled, blessed, weak, strong, hungry, happy…and the world continues to spin on that.
in Bangalore, India