So it’s been a week back in the states and I’ve had a lot of time to collect my thoughts. When people ask me how my trip was, it’s impossible to summarize everything I’ve felt over the past three weeks in five minutes. And it seems to be the standard in the states that people don’t have time to sit, and listen, and CONVERSE, so I haven’t really gone into great detail about my trip with all too many people. My family, my girlfriend, one of my buddies, one kid from work who could relate. Everyone else, all I can say is that it was AWESOME.
No, it wasn’t a life-changing experience. No, it wasn’t a spiritual journey. It was just ‘different.’ I saw so many things in India that I ‘knew,’ that I had some idea about, but in India everything was right in front of my face, but was looked at in different light and had different definitions than we have in the states. Poverty was everywhere in the form of families making a curbside their home. But is poverty a horrid and desperate situation that is begging for MY help? I can’t answer that. The girls who worked at Nizzamuddin can probably answer that better than I can, but all I can say is that poverty in India means something different than it does here. Community is a strong social construct for a lot of people in India. Is that beautiful? Or is it a bitch to deal with everyone all up in yo’ bidnazz? I can’t answer that either. But a neighbor and a friend in India means something different than one here. I barely know my neighbors in my ranch-style home in the burbs. In India, it’s more likely that your neighbors whos cement and brick shelters and butted up against yours are pretty damn close to being part of your family. Personal space is not much of an issue in India. Houses are small and butted up right against each other. But my house in the burbs has a fence, a yard, a front door, and a curbs, clearly defining my space. An average house in India has very blurred lines. When I drive, I stay in my lane, and signal (I’m supposed to anyway) before I enter another lane, or someone else’s space. In India, you put your car wherever there’s room. If you’re passing someone, you honk your horn or flash your beams so they know you’re there, but that’s a courtesy, cause you don’t slow down.
Things in India are just different, and that’s all they are. They’re not weird, they’re not crazy, they’re not chaotic. They’re just different. The artist in me had such a hard time coming to this conclusion and accepting this idea. To me, art at a very basically level is creating order out of chaos. My experiences growing up in America have defined ‘chaos’ for me to mean very basic things. My first week in India showed me everything I understood as chaos as being the basic norm there. After my first week, I started asking if everything I saw, on the roads, on the signs, through the people interactions, was really chaos. After a while I started peeling off the lens that my upbringing put in front of my eyes and seeing order in everyday life India simply for what it was. Just different. People do follow rules when they drive. When I’m shopping at a store, I’m supposed to just go up to the guys at the counter and start talking. There are no expectations of waiting in line for your turn. That’s just the way it is.
My last day and Karm Marg was cool. The seperation I was about to partake was probably much more for me than it was for the kids. I’m not going to have a very big impact on their lives. They’re still going to be waking up tomorrow morning, eating out of the same plates, interacting with the same kids and masterji’s, practicing the same skills, having the same movie nights on Saturday nights. But I’m going home. Hopefully Aarti will have recollections of strumming my guitar while I change the chords when she’s older, and maybe she’ll develop and interest in music. Hopefully Anish will practice some of the dance moves I showed him and style tips I gave him and incorporate them into one of his future dance pieces. But who knows? I know I can only hope to have that much of an impact on their lives. I’m just another passerby. I can’t expect to change their lives, because I won’t.
The last day there, Veena had us talk to the kids about what our lifestyles in America looks like. Each of us generally work for own money, work for our own lifestyles, and that’s an idea that Veena’s is trying to get the older kids at that Marg to understand. So our 2-sum hour talk I think was somewhat beneficial. After the younger kids came back from school we sat and helped them with their English homework, I helped two kids with their Hindi homework (whoooaa-whooooaaaa, slow down big fella), then we just left. When the kids said ‘bhaiya, kal milenge’ (see you tomorrow) I had to respond ‘phir milenge’ (see you later), cause I wasn’t going to see them tomorrow. Most of the kids knew it was our last day, but it didn’t seem to bother them. From their perspective, they probably wouldn’t have minded us staying, but they knew we weren’t going to be there forever. Rumpi and some of the other kids gave us thank you cards written on English, that was so sweet.
So know that I’m back in the states, I’m seeing more and more how much we take for granted in the states, and I’m trying to make a conscious effort to reduce, reuse, and recycle, like the motto in the motherland goes, to help me see everyday how much we do take for granted. Like running water. We stayed the night at Karm Marg for two nights while we were in India, and our first night there, Bablu and Anish, two of the older kids, were joking about how they were going to make us feel like we were staying at a five-star hotel. So Wendy, the soccer mom in our group, was saying how she wanted a facial, a massage, a manicure and pedicure, a face mask. And one of the kids replied, ‘running watter! We give you running water!’ and he was dead serious. Talk about different ideas of luxury… Some of the kids at the Marg can do all their laundry and take a bath is two buckets of water, cause any more water would mean more trips to the well, and less water to do more important things with, like cook. Our washing machines and showers just pour gallon after gallon of water to serve the same purpose. The sanitary system, too. In the states we have little garbage baskets that we can throw waste in, and magically on every Tuesday it disappears into never-never land. In India, you have to deal with the waste you create, cause if you don’t it ends up on the curb in front of your house indefinitely, or until the local cows, pigs, and dogs chew through it. So because of the luxury of garbage men we have in the states, we use way more plastic than we really need too, and we throw everything away. So I’ve been trying to be more conscious about when I use plastic bags. I keep a little jutt bag in my backpack know, and whenever I would use a plastic bag I’m just using that. And I’m trying to create azs little waste as possible. I try to use as little water in the shower and sink as possible, turning the faucet off when I lather up, and keeping the pressure as low as I can, so as to use a LITTLE less water.
By the sheer fact that I live in the US and my taxes pay for the things they do, some would say that I’m privileged. I’m not totally sure that’s the case. ‘Privilege’ is relative to your perspective, and what your society values as necessity and opportunity. And these two things are defined differently in the states than in India, so a comparison is not adequate. Just because I have running water, a sanitary system, and electricity doesn’t mean I’m more privileged than people in India. Saying so would mean that the US and India judge necessity and opportunity by the same standards, which we don’t. Both India and US have a need for water. But in the states, if my water get’s turned off, my options for getting water is very limited. I can’t grab a bucket and go to a well to fill it up and bring it home, even if I wanted to. My local society wasn’t built to do that. It was built to provide running water for most households. So the need for water in both environments get fulfilled, but in different ways, and neither way is better than the other.
In my opinion, trying to determine which culture is ‘better’ is the basic problem with anyone experiencing a different culture. I know it was mine. And perhaps that’s one of the basic issues behind ‘culture shock.’ And that’s the problem I have in communicating my experience in India with others. When I tell them what I’ve seen, the instinctual response is ‘wow.’ Like ‘man, I didn’t realize we have it so much better off that they do in India.’ No, no, no! That’s not my point! India is not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different, and that’s all it is. India is beautiful in so many ways that the US is not, and likewise, the US is beautiful in a lot of ways India is not. It’s just different.