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January 20, 2004 - Another update from Delhi, India
It’s been over three months since I last wrote. I have no new adventures to report, only thoughts, observations, and frustrations.
When I decided to go back to India, it was to write a children’s book set in a jugghie (a hut/slum community) and it’s that book that is my first thought when I wake up and my last when I go to sleep. And I spend a good portion of most days thinking about it.
I clip stories from newspapers, I read books that deal with education and corruption (two conditions that impact heavily on the poor), with Indian history and religions. I read about women in India, about the still existing caste system, no longer constitutional but very much here.
And I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking to the real kids in the jhuggie who are helping me (I like them for who they are, not just for their contribution to my research. I truly enjoy their company). But I have written very little. All you aspiring writers out there……“not writing” happens to everyone who has ever tried to make a living as a writer. And it’s no fun.
I am intentionally staying in this narrow world………I know there are many different Indias, but this is the one I am writing about (or “not writing” about) and trying to focus on.
To be fair, even in my limited life, I have met some wonderful Indian men and women. I’m particularly interested in women. Over Thanksgiving I went for a long weekend to a nice hotel in the foothills of the Himalayas and there were five women there (middle- and upper-middle class) enjoying a women’s weekend. (They were all married.) They were an abstract artist who has had exhibitions all over the world, a feature writer for Outlook magazine, a landscape architect, a woman who works with the handicapped, and a social worker. All of them accomplished in their own right.
I have met strong and successful women who are librarians, teachers, administrators, office staff.
There are five women who are chief ministers of their states, and a significant number of women in parliament.
There are also many women who work as volunteers in organizations that are helping orphanages, hospitals, women in villages, people in jhuggies.
But India is a study in contrasts. Village women who are electing women to be chief ministers are also beating their daughters-in-law because they cooked a bad dinner. In many areas, girls are not being educated because it is a waste of money, they are abused and even beaten or murdered by their in-laws (for dowry reasons or because they are not meeting the standards of the husband’s mother and sisters and other family members). In many groups, girls are being married off as young as possible just to get them out of the house. And on a minor level, in many homes girls are not given as much food as boys.
Violence against women is a daily item in the papers. Suicide is also not unusual.
Nor are abortions of female fetuses in areas where the technology exists to find out the sex. (It is illegal for doctors to tell the sex of a baby, but after a few weeks in India you know that a little money can get you just about anything.) In places where the technology does not exist, girl babies are sometimes neglected or killed soon after birth.
Girls are a liability and everyone knows that girl babies are being killed. The statistics, such as they are, tell us that there are not enough women for men to marry. In some areas women are only 44% of the population.
I find the contrasts of this country confusing and frustrating, though I like just about every Indian I have met and talked to (that means they speak English……I gave up on learning Hindi). I do not like the corruption, the police (Carol once watched while a policeman beat up one of her boys, for absolutely no reason, and the study hall incident was infuriating.), the traffic in Delhi, the vast gap between the servers and the served, the rich and the poor…………….. and the complacency that the people at all levels seem to feel about the social conditions. When I start to get judgmental, I usually know that it is time to leave a country. But lately I’m feeling as though I want to start a revolution. Where is Ghandi when we need him?
My own living conditions have been quite wonderful. When I first arrived, I rented a room for a month (I mentioned that in an earlier entry) in a nice neighborhood where I had a bathroom and a kitchen and a patio….and good friends across the street. I went from there to the campus of the American Embassy School for two weeks (they knew I was working with the jugghie kids across the street) and they generously gave me a room with a bed and a desk that was not being used. (The staff and the administration of the school have been great. They also let me use the high school library where they have wireless technology that I can use with my new computer.)
One day I called a friend to say hello and she told me that her husband, an embassy employee, had to go to the US for surgery and she wanted to join him. They weren’t sure what arrangements they could make for their 13-year-old daughter who is a student at AES. I volunteered to move in and become a surrogate mom for a month and a half. It worked well for all of us. I had a cook and a maid and a dhobi (man who washed and ironed). Actually, for me, too much cook and maid and dhobi; I gave them a lot of time off, just for the privacy. Anna-Ruth, the 13-year-old and I did fine and we had a friend, Bo (a woman photographer from North Carolina who e-mailed me after she read the book), who moved in as well (invited by Anna-Ruth’s mom after she met her). We were a strange little family, but a happy one.
When I put Anna-Ruth on a plane so she could spend the school holidays with her family, I closed up the house and moved into Lori and Todd Anderson’s apartment on the AES campus, which was empty during Christmas vacation. While I was at Lori’s I happened to call Rebecca, a friend from last year, to talk about a project we had discussed that involved getting jobs for jhuggie boys. “Where will you be next week,” she asked, needing to get back to me. I didn’t know. “Come stay in our guest house,” she offered. And that’s were I am right now. I was welcomed by two men carrying big vases of fresh flowers. The room is giant with a kitchen, a bathroom, two desks, two couches, and a phone where I can go online.
Once again, my belief in the kindness and generosity of people is reinforced. I wish I could feel the same about governments and bureaucracies. The juxtaposition of my world and the world of India’s poor just screams out ……….IT’S NOT FAIR. Yet the poor themselves are not screaming. They accept the injustices…..some because they believe it is their destiny, karma. They are paying now for things they did in previous lives. Some because they do not have the voice or the energy or the leadership . There is no Mahatma Ghandi on the scene. He would be horrified if he could see the poverty that still exists all these years later.