You have not heard from me for a while due to my intense traveling and work schedule. Since I last wrote a blog, I must have been to more than 12 countries and probably a couple of times, sometimes up to three times in the same ones. I have so much to tell you when I think of all the wonders I have the privilege to see, I have so much to share with you when I think of all the great encounters I get to experience, but this time around, I will let someone else do it for me: I am lending my space to my sister!
When I first step foot in India (last November) I could not believe this country; a vibrant buzz that challenges all your senses at once and that makes you feel so alive. I knew right there and then that this country would have a place of choice in my blog to talk about what is rightfully promoted as “Incredible India”. But then, my sister Claire and her husband Eddy went on a trip to India few months after me. She wrote to me a couple of emails relating her trip and I was touched by her writing, it truly came from the bottom of her heart and described so well the daily life of these wonderful people. So I decided to lend my seat for a moment to my sister Claire, for her to tell you about this fascinating country that is India and not because I have no time to write, but because she did it very well and deserved the stage.
Amongst many others, here’s the email that she wrote at the end of their journey.
Delhi, February 2011
Here we are in this large, modern and spotless Delhi airport, which only opened 8 months ago. Yet, here we are in the business lounge of this impeccably clean airport looking at some of the filthiest carpets we have ever seen in any lounge anywhere. In a nutshell, this is India, a land of endless contrasts. A fitting end to a fascinating voyage.
Delhi was visually a surprise today. Although it contains almost (short of a couple of million) as many inhabitants as Mumbai, it is not condensed like nor as crazy on the roads as Mumbai. Here in Delhi, the roads are in pretty good condition and the city is quite green with trees everywhere and many parks. The fact that it spreads out on all side offers some relief to the centre of the city where the circulation flows fairly well in a semi-organized fashion. However, the road flowing into and out of Delhi is often the subject of huge traffic jams since there is only one main “highway”. Apparently, Delhi has reduced its pollution by 30% in the last decade by converting a large portion of their vehicles to natural gas, quite an impressive result. We were also told that 60% of the population own their own home. It is, of course, the capital city and every step forward begins here.
However, we have also seen the conditions in which the other 40% live in, some in slums spread out in every directions but for the first time since the beginning of our journey, we have seen total hopelessness, people face down on sidewalks, in parks or anywhere they can find a spot. Homelessness is prevalent here and it does get so cold at night in the winter. To think that one can be so unimaginably impoverished that even living in a slum isn’t an option. There are no words.
Children beat drums and do acrobatic dances on street corners all day long hoping that drivers stopped at a red light will be giving them a few rupees. If they are lucky, they will bring back a little bit of money to their family, but they are unlikely to see the benefit for their efforts when they go back to their parents since many exploit their own children as a course of everyday life. Exploitation of children is everywhere and seems well tolerated. A local guide mentioned the sadness of the red light districts in India where children are traded for sex and treated like animals. I can’t even go there in my mind. Not so long ago, these children were kept in cages until the government told the exploiters that they could no longer do that, but this is where any help to these children stopped. Children are exploited at many different levels in many countries on this planet, but the sheer size of the population and the extreme poverty in India contribute to perpetuating these devastating conditions.
As if it was not enough, Delhi is also particularly dangerous for women. Rape is rampant in the city and we were told that no female should set out after dark, tourist or not. Worst however, is that most rapes are never reported because of the stigma attached to it and the insensitivity toward the victims. The family would disown the injured woman as she would be considered to have shamed the family. Most perpetrators never get caught as police does not take these cases seriously and on a rare occasion, when they do find out who did it, he/they will only receive a slap on the wrist. This is what this capital city lacks the most: respect towards women, children…humanity. Again, quite in contrast with Mumbai where men and women enjoy both a certain safety and equality in everyday life, where even poor families seem happy, protecting and caring for each other. Not that Mumbai is perfect, it is in fact a crazy mess, but its inhabitants seem kinder, gentler than in the capital city.
Delhi is more organized but it does not have the kindness of heart that we have come to know in India. We did learn that the majority of illegal immigrants in India are from Bangladesh and it appears that it is impossible for India to control it as they just blend in with the Indian population without particularities.
At the end of this journey, we can say that we are coming home changed in many ways. Grateful for our lives because, of course, our perspective has been one of travellers peeking into India under the very best conditions at the very best time of year, but our hearts have been filled with the kindness and gentleness of the Hindu people. Yet, as we step away back into our lives, our hearts break for the ones who continue to live day in and day out in incomprehensible conditions and for the hopelessness perpetuated by those who have lost their way. It is not clear, to me at least, that India can become this great nation it aspires to be while leaving behind such a large number of its population. India’s willingness to try to implement change is essential but the challenges are great in the face of some of its long-standing traditions and antiquated beliefs.As for us, if we had to make the choice between returning to any of the beautiful countries we have visited in Asia or coming back to India, it would be India in a heartbeat because this beautiful little girl dressed in red in the photo on the left, who has to work most of the day at the market in Udaipur to help her family sell dates, exploded into a beautiful smile and sparkling eyes when I looked into her eyes and gently smiled at her. To my amazement, she extended her hand to me and handed me a date wanting nothing in return.
This is the true essence of India.
P.S: If you wish to get a glimpse of the 20 years of growth in India, see this CNN youtube video
Thank you sis for this great review of India and I do share the same thoughts on how India has a way of throwing a spell at you and make you want to go back to her no matter what.
For now, I am taking back my seat, ready to write the next blog!