Category Archives: India

There is a girl in India

There is a young girl. She is about 12 years old though the age that sits behind her eyes is years beyond.  A minute in this girl’s life could probably equal a week in someone else’s.

She has no shoes, at least she didn’t when I met her and she lives in the North West streets of Delhi. I don’t remember her name, though I am sure I asked and in her soft voice she told me. But, I no longer remember. She is slender and should grow to be tall.  She wears a traditional sari but it is faded and dirty; an emblem of national identity within a social culture that was against her the minute she was born. A girl with no value.

She holds her hand out and stares right at me, wanting me to see her face. “Madam, please” stretching her arm further. I shake my head no, and walk on trying not to show my shock when I look at her face. In a split second I am grappling with my own sense of morality, negotiating between my five selves, the ones all battling against each other as to whether I reach into my bag and give 10 rupees. It’s not even 25cents in my own currency.

Her face is scarred. Burnt. Scrunched like an old piece of paper, stretching the skin around her eyes and lips so that they are exaggerated shapes of what they once were. She is not burnt anywhere else and it takes me a second to understand.  She has been doused with acid.

Now she has value.

She is a beggar child. Holding the hand of another small child they walk the streets asking for money from western tourists, to the chagrin of the local shopkeepers.

I keep walking and she doesn’t persist. I could have given her 10 rupees and I am appalled at my decision to keep walking, but I am fatigued by it all. Earlier in the day I had bought cupcakes for two young girls and an old lady who basically sat at my table to beg. The young girls ran off with the cupcakes and left the old lady, on her hands and knees, grabbing my shins begging for something. I’d already given money to three other children and bottles of water to some kids who saw mine and wanted to drink from it. The conversation of various, educated, local friends who told me about all the scams and racketeering going on was always in the background of my mind.

The poverty in Delhi is extreme and pervading but money won’t help it. Not alone anyway. I realize that there is no reasoning for who I say no to and who I say yes to. I am constantly on the precipice of feeling helpless and helpful.

Later in the day I follow my path back toward the train station. She is there again; the girl with the acid burnt face. “Madam, please” as she holds out her hand. I slow down ‘I can give her 10 rupees right now but they keep telling me to give food instead. The money just goes to whoever is pimping her’ the conversation bellows in my head.

“Madam, just some rice, please. One bag of rice”

I can buy her some rice. “Yes, c’mon” I say and we walk toward the store.

“Thank you madam.” She looks at me with kindness and something else. I don’t know if it’s gratitude or fatigue or indifference to the enormity of life.

“You have very beautiful eyes Madam” she says in a voice that has no hint of disdain or condescension.  I turn to my right, where she is walking alongside of me and stare right into her eyes, right past her disfigured, acid scarred face. I want to hold her gaze, I want to reach in and hold that little girl and say sorry for the cruelty that this life has bestowed on her. I want to tell her how beautiful she is, how sweet that soft complimentary voice is. I look at her and want to save her from it all. Strangely, I feel melodramatic and naïve. My sympathy and well laid out ‘western’ intentions are well meaning but trite. I know it is not as simple as that. Instead, I say thank you.

We talk about mundane things on the short two minute walk to the store and when we approach the counter of the store I think the shopkeeper looks at her with kindness and me with gratitude but I can’t tell. He stares at both of us.

I buy a bag of rice and she asks for a bag of lentils also. I buy the lentils and she asks for milk, I refuse. Why did I refuse to buy the milk? I can’t say. The pull to protect myself against being taken advantage of, perhaps. This thing called pride, being made a fool of. I could afford the extra 25cents for milk. The negotiation in my mind about how to save the world vs my naiveté rings loud. She doesn’t ask again. I should have bought the milk.

I should have bought the milk.

She says thank you and ‘have a nice evening, madam’ in her kind voice and we go our separate ways except, she hasn’t left me. She walks beside me all the time now. Days later when my coffee wasn’t hot enough and I wanted to talk about the injustice of it. She says thank you. When all the many beds I am sleeping in on my travels don’t always live up to my expectation. She’s there. Complimenting my eyes. When I start to stress about money, or the fear of things not working out. She’s there. The girl with the acid scarred face and kind eyes, begging for food in the dirty streets of Delhi. She’s is next to me, kindly telling me I have nice eyes and to have a nice evening. Reminding me that I have more than I need. That more than I could imagine is working out for me. I can buy rice when I need. Lentils when I feel like it. Milk if I desire.

There is a girl in India. She is about 12. Her face is scarred; poured over with acid so that she is more valuable and will bring in more money as begs on the streets of Delhi. She says thank you, and offers compliments. A good day for her is still worse than any bad day you or I could have.

The secret life; Mandala’s in the sand

I’d gone for a long walk on the beach, as I had done every morning since arriving in India, turning the cogs around money and relationship.  “How can I grow my business?” “How can I feel more financially secure?” “Am I creating a business that people want?” “Am I offering something of value?”  “Should I end this dalliance with him?’ “This isn’t a relationship” “It’s a relationship” “Is this really what I want, or have I created another distraction to something more fulfilling and intimate?” “What should I do?” “Where should I go next?” I sat at a little beach restaurant and ordered a juice.  My mind blending and macerating… Continue Reading

The secret life; Platform goodbyes

I was at the helm of the cramming mass of people boarding the train from Kannur and their stubborn insistence to move forward, no matter who was in their way, knocked me about and into the body of one of my work hosts.  We were standing on the platform, about to part ways but the crowd was effective in making our goodbye as quick as possible.  We would have hugged goodbye regardless; a gesture as foreign to Indian people as the head bobble is to westerners, but now we were forced into an awkward and unprepared embrace.  It didn’t matter, we had become comfortable enough to understand the situation and… Continue Reading

Time, India, and the way we move

I’m in Goa, India again.  It’s early morning (before 9am), the sun is wide awake and I’ve come back from  a long walk down the beach.  Early mornings here pull the biggest crowd of spiritual seekers, roaming dogs and running bulls (seriously).  Apart from the few exercise junkies, it mostly feels like the air is held afloat in contemplation and prayer in the mornings, mine included, as those who walk and meditate and headstand and chant and breath deep, sling our questions and attachments and bare asses (not mine ) into the quieter space that morning provides. There are times when I’m certain the message gets heard. And other times… Continue Reading

A friendship in 4 frames

I board a late night train from Bangalore to Kannur, Kerala. A young woman is sitting on the sleeper bed, underneath mine, feeding her baby. I say hello and inquire about her child.  She tells me he us 6 months old and doesn’t have a name. They will name him when he is 8 months old.  Her husband and 3 year old son would be boarding the train in a few moments. I hoist my luggage to the top bunk. Her family arrives and I look down, pleased at the company I will share a 15hr train ride with, and take a photo. FRAME 1. I settle into my bunk… Continue Reading

Images inspired by David Whyte

Besides the 500 conversations I have with myself on a daily hourly basis, I often have some kind of looped content streaming in the background  Sometimes it’s a song (“a jitterbug”), other times it’s a quote and occasionally it’s a poem.  For the past few days it’s been David Whyte’s poem “Everything is waiting for you”.  But, while this prose has been going over and over in my head it’s sort of been inspiration for the things I look at, and take pictures of.  I see something here in India and one of the lines comes up and then I take a picture.  Or, I’ve seen a picture I already have, or… Continue Reading