Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Two Indias

Greetings from India!

There has been so much that has been happening in the last few days that I haven’t had time to process it all. I feel like I could write a new blog post about every three hours at this point. I’ve had a lot of new experiences and I’ve also been given a lot of new information. I keep starting a post and then I change my mind and write about something else—this is my fourth attempt at this post today. I could write about Visthar (where I’m living), the inaugural, the food, or my first bus ride among other things. But I want to share something more meaningful, so I’ll share my experience of the two Indias.

Today we took our first trip into Bangalore, which is a city of 8 million—small by Indian standards. We took a bus into the city (which is another post in itself) and then we walked to a mid-scale slum called Lingarajaburam. A lot of what I saw were things I expected—stray dogs, small children running around, the occasional cow, garbage lining the gutters, clothes hanging out to dry. But I wasn’t expecting such warm and welcoming hospitality. We just walked into this neighborhood and people invited us into their homes and told their stories with nothing in return.

Our first stop was a store selling milk and curd. Asha spoke to the woman who was working there and then Asha would translate the woman’s responses for us. This woman and her husband worked at the milk and curd store. She worked in the store and her husband delivered bags of milk by bicycle. They didn’t own the store, but had worked out a deal with the owner so that they could live as well as work there. The store was essentially one small room with a doorway with a curtain on the back wall. The woman allowed us to come into her home. We took off our shoes and walked through the door. To the right was a very tiny kitchen—it was like a hallway. There was no fridge, dishwasher, oven, or sink—only a hot surface grill type thing. Then there was a bedroom with a full bed and a TV. Off this room was a bathroom with an Indian style toilet—no running water. Then there was another small room, which was fairly empty and seemed not to be utilized. As we were debriefing after this experience, someone mentioned how small this couple’s world is—they live and work at the same place and their only mode of transportation is bicycle.

Next we visited with a Muslim couple who made their money selling candy and snacks from a small cart. Similarly to the other couple, he and his wife lived near their cart. The husband also was in charge of doing the call to prayer at the mosque, which is also in the neighborhood. He mentioned that he and his wife averaged about 100 rupees per day. After we visited with him, he gave us dried mango and an Indian sweet from his cart free of charge. Roshen and Asha insisted quite forcefully that we pay for it, but the couple refused. We talked about this later in our debriefing session. Why did we get free snacks? How did this make us feel? David introduced to us the concept “athithi” which denotes guests as being representatives of God. This is not a religious concept, but an Indian cultural concept. At least for me, it’s hard to accept these gifts (not accepting would be highly disrespectful) because I have the ability to pay for it—I don’t need free stuff. I had 6300 rupees locked away in my room and everything that I’ll purchase with that will be nonessential. My food and housing costs are covered. It was a strange experience.

Part two of the alternate tour showcased a different India than the one Lingarajaburam portrayed. We took a coach bus to downtown Bangalore and went to Garuda Mall. This is where we were to eat lunch. One of our tasks was to eat breakfast and lunch on 40 rupees as 75% of India lives on 40 rupees per day. As I walked around the food court I quickly realized that I could not afford anything with my remaining 20 rupees. The mall had high end stores like Swarovski Diamond and a store called Western Gourmet that sold things like Nutella, flavored water, and Oreos this store also pumped Top 40 songs through it’s loudspeakers. After seeing the slums, this mall left me with a pit in my stomach for many reasons—the Western music, the high prices, the advertisements featuring either white or very light skinned Indians. Here’s the kicker: Garuda Mall is so popular that a second one will soon be built, they just have to demolish a slum first.

This alternate tour left my head spinning—these two Indias are so different, yet they are very much interconnected. The trip into Bangalore was also what many of us described as a sensory overload—new sights, new sounds, new smells—it’s kind of dizzying.

Until next time…


  1. Wow, you are living "Behind the Beautiful Forevers"! It seemed so far away and now you are right in the midst of it! Enjoy the posts so much. Write when you can, or at least journal enough so that you can remember all of this! Love you lots!

  2. Great observations, Emma. I'm sure you'll be changed by this experience. You'll have to publish your own book of memories :)