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Posts Tagged ‘Pahar Ganj’

Poverty

In India on May 20, 2009 at 9:33 am

You can’t really write about India without writing about the poverty.  I haven’t written anything so far, not because I don’t see it, but because I’m trying to process it all.

In the Paharganj in Delhi where I first stayed, it’s so visible it’s painful.  I call a lot of the kids ‘spiders’ because of the way they move around on their misshapen limbs, or what’s left of them.  Everywhere you go there little kids accost you with hands outstretched asking for food.  “Please madam, one rupee”.  In Varanasi there were many as well but I don’t think I noticed them as much, possibly because when I was out I was usually in a rickshaw or down on the ghats.  Barely any in Darjeeling, except for one man I noticed on more than one occasion.  He was probably somewhere in his forties, bent and crooked legs, missing his left arm.  He was fairly quiet as far as the begging goes, but I noticed him especially because of his turqoise eyes, the exact same colour as Lake Louise in the Rockies.  I must have passed him two times up on the ridge towards the zoo and back, but the last day I was shoveling some Dairy Milk into my mouth when I passed him again with his hand outstretched.  It felt absolutely cruel to walk by someone in need while I have more than he could ever want, so I walked back and gave him the rest of my chocolate to be rewarded with the most beautiful smile.  You wish you could do more, but what?

Down here in Kolkata it’s bad once again.  Yesterday I passed a boy who might have had polio, his legs twisted out at weird angles behind him while he scooted past on his arms.  Another young woman lying in the gutter dragging her useless legs behind her.  Then in the evening I saw a man who had no legs below his knees.  We passed him on the way to the book store as he shuffled along on his arms, trying to keep his scarf from falling down and getting in his way.  Later on we passed him again, sitting with his back to a bank building, and when he saw me he reached out both hands pleading for money or food while his stumps wagged in the air.  That one was the worst, and again, what can you do?

Then there are the ones that make me chuckle for the sheer weirdness of it all.  Just around the corner from the hotel there is a woman who I don’t think can walk at all.  She’s missing most of the teeth on the right side of her mouth and the ones on the left are huge and fit poorly in her mouth.  She reminds me of those mechanical witches at halloween or santas at Christmas, the ones that stand there and wave back and forth.  She’s the same, she lies on her left side and with her right hand joins her fingers lightly together at the tips and bring them towards her mouth and then back about 6 inches before doing it all over again, again and again in rhythm.  The one time I didn’t see her doing that was when it looked like her hand had stalled in front of her mouth while her left hand tapped her begging dish, almost like her system had shorted out.

It’s hard to see this and I understand why people don’t want to know about it.  At least in Vancouver most of the worst of the worse is contained in the East Side so if you don’t want to see it you just avoid the neighbourhood.  But here it’s everywhere and it doesn’t take long to start blocking it out in one way or another.  Once in awhile it breaks through again and you’re overcome with a feeling of total hopelessness.  A bunch of us were discussing it one night, we can’t fix what the country’s government won’t fix.  I guess the best you can do is behave responsibly in your own country and try to right the wrongs there.  It’s frustrating and it’s sad.  How on earth could you ever repair something like this?

Welcome to Delhi

In India on May 8, 2009 at 11:58 am

For the first time in 8 months I am finally warm.  I exited the airport around 11pm last night into 35 degree weather, not too hot, just right.  The flight was uneventful although all the airport employees were wearing masks, strange to see after only watching it on the news.  The hotel sent me a pickup and I wasn’t too sure I was going to get there after I jumped in the back seat and the front seat immediately fell off into my lap.  But 5 minutes later everything was fixed and the taxi stopped stalling.

Everyone says India is overwhelming and takes a few days to get used to the craziness of it all, but last night the roads were pretty empty and the neighbourhood I’m staying in (Pahar Ganj) was quiet when we arrived.  Apparently cows are banned from most of the city but I guess they didn’t get the news here as there seems to be one cow for every two tourists.  The traffic is the same as the Middle East which means you go when there’s a gap in the vehicles and hustle before you get pegged.  It’s loud and dirty and it takes a bit of steel to not feel rotten for ignoring every person who wants to talk to you or not handing money to every street kid who sticks his hand in your face.  So far I’ve had two tag-alongs, one guy who was quite nice but disappeared after a cop pulled him aside, and the other was a young girl whose face was badly scarred from burns.

I’m exhausted after two days of traveling to get here and maybe 6 hours sleep through all of it.  Spent a few hours walking around after finishing my first order of business which was to fix my glasses which I sat on on the plane and broke.  Within 20 minutes I’d found a shop and got new frames, can you do that at home?  May leave for Varanasi tomorrow if I can pull myself together and brave the train station.  I saw enough of Delhi last time and don’t need to do more.  Why does 40 degrees feel ok?

First view from my hotel room in the Pahar Ganj. Delhi