One of the hardest things to grasp about India is the unusual juxtaposition of seemingly contradictory things. It takes you off-guard, and made me wonder about how it’s all possible.
jux·ta·po·si·tion [juhk-stuh-puh-zish-uhn] nounan act or instance of placing close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast; the state of being close together or side by side.
On my last day in India, we roll up to the last slum we want to visit. There’s trash everywhere, and goats are all around the trash looking for scraps to eat. We start to walk into the slum and we see the usual slum houses made of tarps, rubber tires, tree branches, used rice bags, and old advertising boards. We see the jimmied-up wires tapping into the power lines. We go down walkways that are so narrow that we big Americans have to turn sideways to get through. We look up and right next to this slum is a newly constructed 6-story gleaming white building – apparently a new office for a growing IT management company. It’s not even 30 feet away - the contrast is so stark. India may be one of a handful of countries that has people making $1 a day as well as people making $1 a second.
Cows are indeed sacred in India. It is illegal to kill a cow, and more practically, cows have the right of way on the street. So, here we are driving down the street with cars and buses and motorcycles zipping and honking along. And there are cows – whole herds of them – walking along the side of the street. Some of them walk in the middle of the street – somehow they know they own the place. Even in the cities, you see cows side by side with shops, banks, and restaurants (see picture>). It’s really weird for us Americans to think of an animal (especially the cow) as sacred. Then again, maybe some people would come to America and think we believe dogs are sacred? Where else in the world do we pick up our animal’s poop??
We grew to really appreciate the majesty of the traditional Indian dress that women wear – those vibrantly colorful, beautifully flowing dresses called saris. So, it became all the more odd for us to see so many women walking around in these beautiful dresses in the dirt and mud, often times with bare feet. All these cars whizzing by, kicking up dirt and exhaust. It’d be like us seeing women in America wearing evening gowns and high heels doing farm work. And somehow they keep them clean – getting to a river or well every day after work to wash the previous day’s sari. The contrast between the bland, boring brown of the land and the bright colors of the dress, rugs, and decor only made the colors shine that much more.
In the slums, there’s no running water. Conditions are brutal. During monsoon season, entire slums can be washed away. Yet, some of the poor in these slums have cell phones. I did a double-take the first time I saw their jimmied-up makeshift power outlets with cell phone chargers plugged in. The plans are dirt-cheap – often times free for incoming calls and approximately 1 cent per hour for outgoing airtime. So if dad has to walk 5 miles to potentially find work (for $2 a day) – maybe even a multi-day or multi-week project, cell phones are a great thing to have. Here’s a picture–> of a “middle-class” outdoor home’s power outlet.
We also noticed that a lot of Indians, even those in the slums, have really white and straight teeth. You see some of them in the morning with toothbrushes in their mouth, brushing away. But maybe the secret is that curry is a natural teeth whitener. They may not have bathed for a while. They may be bare-footed. But when you get them to laugh, you see the brightest, whitest smile.
Related Posts on Our First Trip to India
- We’re Going to India This Week!
- Day 1 | Good Timing
- Day 5 | Sunday Morning Run
- 5 Things Hard to Grasp About India
- Partnering with Mission India
- 7 Weird Things I’m Thankful For