By Monika Terfloth – Part 10 of 10 of the Mother in-law in Nepal and India series.
One last time to write, one last chapter before I head for home. The thought of home is more appealing as that day draws nearer and we are rich with memories. We have managed a traditional thanksgiving dinner here in Tlell and Rex’s flat with a two burner hotplate and a toaster oven with the cooking squeezed between the scheduled power outages.
So, some thoughts before I go. Scattered bits that have been returning to mind over and again.
Despite the hectic traffic in Delhi, we were impressed with the lack of air pollution. Most of the busses and tuk-tuks (3-wheeled taxis) have converted to compressed natural gas for fuel. “CNG”is proudly painted on the sides of the vehicles that have been converted. The street gutters, however are clogged with garbage. Litter is simply thrown to the ground, and we are encouraged to do the same. “This is India” says Savron. Though everyone is impeccably groomed, they seem to ignore the ground and the fact that they must constantly step around squashed this or that, avoid a pee puddle, walk over mounds of gathered litter that never seem to be picked up, or to have those same bits blown back onto a freshly swept doorways. The organic waste is quickly consumed by the street animals, especially the pitiful dogs. What the dogs don’t eat, breaks down eventually, but what is inevitably left are heaps of plastic; bags, bottles, flip flops, wrappers, etc. Some homeless collect and bundle the better quality plastic and I presumed got a pittance for it somewhere. However, after Randy and I wandered into a destitute side street just off one of the bazaar areas of Delhi, it was apparent that some plastic is actually gathered for shelter.
On this side-street, beneath the raised patio of a small shopping area, larger pieces of plastic were used as walls and floors and blankets. It seemed a hundred people were gathered under the 4ft. high concrete patio, attempting to cook, sleep, tend to children, etc. Dogs wandered in and out, children cried, smudge fires burned. Everything seemed to be colored a muddy brownish-grey; the ground, the ragged clothing, the skin even. A hundred pairs of eyes stood out from the muddy backdrop as we passed. If I believed in hell, this would have been a small glimpse of it. These were some of the desperately poor. We had encountered many beggars on the streets and from a distance had seen many shanty-towns on the outskirts of villages, often as we drove by with Savron, protected from a more intimate look.
In any town or city,the streets and the side streets especially, are lined with tiny shops, some no bigger than the doorway itself, selling packets of mints, shampoo and chewing tobacco. Many are topped with worn hand-painted signs advertising such things as the Hanky Franky Restaurant, Cake Bank, Fanta Box, Hospital, Lux Cozi Panties, and Age-defying Shampoo (Randy bought some of that, we’re sharing!). The vendors often live inside the tiny shops, having a simple bed of rope woven between wooden side rails. This bed is pulled out onto the street during the day and often aged men are resting there. Life truly happens on the street. If one has a chair and a pair of scissors, a barbershop appears on the sidewalk, a bicycle powers a sharpening stone, a few tools becomes a mechanic shop, a leather repair, or a tailor, a bicycle and a piece of rope becomes a delivery vehicle. At times it seemed rather like a surreal movie.
We were up in the early hours of the morning for the flight back to Kathmandu from Delhi. Savron drove us through a quiet and darkened city. We saw, in the now idle tuk- tuks and pushcarts, each vendor still fully clothed and asleep on or inside the cart. Long brown arms and legs were slung, dangling over the side of the small carts, not blanket or pillow in sight. Everyone presumably trying to get a few moments rest off the ground after a full day’s work hustling for a few rupees. As we travelled along, homeless dark figures slept in virtually every doorway.
One last haunting image that I am certain will never leave me is the one of ‘the desert girl’. Our driver, guides and guide books had cautioned against giving to beggars. Sometimes we ignored their warnings and sometimes we heeded them. After a particularly bizarre afternoon (that’s another story) we hired a camel-cart and driver for an evening ride to the desert on the outskirts of Pushkar. It was blissfully quiet with a light breeze and the sand so golden it was near orange. Tony the camel padded softly through the sand bringing up a puff of dust as he planted each large foot. A small pond came into view at the base of a arc of large sand dunes. The driver stopped nearby and we hopped off the cart. Then on the breeze came faint strains of music…Frere Jacques?? Here??
Over the sand dune, in black silhouette against the golden evening sun, came a boy playing a small stringed instrument. Today, having been hounded by aggressive vendors and followed at length and having been bamboozled by an inept guide, we were feeling a rather jaded. Surely the camel driver had taken us here deliberately. Perhaps not. “Things are not always as they appear” Randy said again, as he said nearly every day. Then following the boy and his music came a group of smaller children, barefoot and dressed in tattered rags, all running toward us calling “rupee”, “chapati”. The camel driver urged us back onto the cart and shortly Tony the camel was loping through the desert sand. The children continued to call out, with the older boy running along and reaching the side of the cart first. I handed him the coins from my pocket then I heard Randy urging “give it to the girl, give it to the girl”. The smallest children had been left far behind, but keeping pace at the back of the cart was a small girl I had not seen. She clutched a baby on her hip as she ran. She was perhaps four years old. She ran steadily after the cart, breathlessly saying “please mam, please mam” as I struggled for my wallet. Her eyes riveted on mine as she continued to run begging for a few rupees. Finally we were able to pass a note to her and once in her hand she stopped running immediately, completely out of breath. As we continued to looking backward toward the sun, we could see her tiny dark silhouette becoming smaller against the golden sand as Tony drew us steadily further away. In my dreams I am emptying my wallet, the bills fluttering toward her against the backdrop of the Rajasthani desert.
There is so much more to tell, but I will save some of the stories for the times when we will see you in person. In a few short days we will be home, and we look forward to seeing everyone again.