Sunday, July 20, 2008

journal entry: june 2, 2008

Last night was fun, exciting, depressing, and extremely overwhelming.  Nothing could have prepared me for the poverty and desperation of such a significant portion of the population.  A group of us went out for Fair Flower's birthday to this chic hookah lounge in South Delhi.  We pilled into three cabs and embarked on our journey.  Upon exiting the car, the sharp contrast between the haves and the have-nots finally hit me full on in the face.  I had been noticing it while wandering the city, but had not processed it simply due to sensory overload.  As we walked and laughed towards the bar, I couldn't stop watching people and wondering how they perceived us.  I saw in alleyways people hunkering down on dirty blankets and mats for the night, people cooking, begging, digging through trash, diseased, wretched.  The I saw the event that has haunted me since (even today as I type this from the comfort of my luxurious apartment in the US).  On a dirty, grimy sidewalk a naked, seemingly abandoned child.  An infant.  Unmoving, unattended, completely disposable.  My faith in humanity seemed to deflate entirely as I thought about the possibility of the child being dead on the margins of our society.  On the margins of our carefree, affluent pack.  Two small boys buzzed around us as we walked groping for food, water, or money.  I later was bothered by my treatment of these boys, and our hell-bent manner of going to the bar.  Our luscious playground among the impoverished.  During our bar fun-time, I internally battled with my feelings about our place here in Delhi.  What was our purpose in this setting?  Were we perpetuating the predicament of the people whose lives had so deeply disturbed me?  

We left the bar around 1:00am.  The square was completely deserted.  As we approached the main entrance, people started shuffling towards us.  Like night of the living dead.  People drunk, perhaps not, moaning, aimless, separate.  As we got closer to the cabs the number of displaced people and beggars increased.  They slowly approached our loud drunken group.  Begging in Hindi/English for anything.  We were the living amongst the dead and dying.  The forgotten and unaccounted for.  The invisible people of society.  I had a renewed sense of urgency to get to the cabs.  I felt like we were putting ourselves in a potentially bad situation.  Yet, I'm glad.  Now I know.  Now I've seen.  Realized.  Processed.  The men in our group herded the women towards the taxis.  Also occupying a new role as protector, to the extent they had never been expected to fill before.  

As I sat in the cab, I gazed out the window and noticed things I hadn't before.  The streets were strangely empty.  All along the sidewalks and under overhangs and tarps people slept in piles, on cots, on mats, under trees.  A tent city without tents.  Homelessness isn't a problem here.  It's a way of life.  A subculture.  A class within the social order.  I thought about the baby.  I thought about the displaced peoples.  I thought about the silent city and its secrets I had somehow stumbled across.  Intruded upon the ugly side of reality.  I was the wind.  Mystically observing.  Absorbing Delhi's secrets.  Immediately upon getting back to the hostel, I called Jdawg and told him about everything I'd seen and thought about that night.  I finally understood what he had been trying to tell me before I left.  How could I have understood?  It made sense now.  He urged me not to dwell on these things and try to enjoy the trip.  There would be plenty of time for reflection when I got home.  

I went up to my room and discussed everything with several people.  We discussed what the possible mechanisms had caused what I saw, compared our perceptions of similar events, and talked about the social structure as we had seen it so far.  Exploitation and comodification of people as things, as resources rather than human beings, as capital.  Cheap and replaceable.  How do we fit into all of this?  What do we see ourselves getting and giving from these experiences and interactions?  How do we explain the things we've seen and experienced already?  It's only been two days!  What lies ahead?  How does our presence reinforce the institutions and systems causing the poverty and disposability?  How will I utilize these experiences and apply them to my life?  I wonder how my role within the activist community will change when I return.  It will change.  How can't it?  I'm already changing...  I can't go back to who I was and how I was living.  There is no turning back now.*  

Strangely enough, I didn't cry.  I couldn't cry.

*These are still things I'm trying to answer, even after being home for 5 days.  These things will not completely be answered anywhere in the journal from India.  These are ongoing questions.

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