Returning to India after three years away, not a lot has changed. Whilst on my last visit to the country I did not visit the East, I did not find it to be significantly different from the West.
Stepping off the plane, the smell is consistent with Delhi; a blend of over a billion sweaty, curried bodies, warming and perspiring in the humidity mother nature has cooked up. Leaving the plane to the cooled terminal, the air con is one of the few modern facilities in Kolkata International Airport. The luggage carousel winges like the sound of an old mans joint’s, the walls of the building are cracked and peeling, pleading for some TLC. Both confirm to the tourists who have come to experience proper third world poverty that they are in the right place.
Outside the building the smell quickly re asserts itself as it had a few moments earlier, burning my foreign nostrils. The beggars are the same as they are in Delhi too, dangerously unhealthy, shamelessly desperate and angelically humble with their thin, dirty outstretched hands, ‘vater, money.’ Poverty leaves no time for sleep. At 8am the streets are alive with scores of beggars. Orphaned children work together as a co op: their bleeding eyes etching (very clearly) poverty into the naked eye for eternity.
Stretching further from the dated airport, inwards to downtown Kolkata, the cow, the holy animal of the mostly Hindu land continues to dominate as it does in the rest of the country. It still stops traffic as it has done for centuries: a signal of its status as a God. It’s intriguing: less than a kilometre away a beautiful young child (that in Australia would be learning to conquer her times tables) begs for her life while this cow (which in Australia would be served medium rare for a hefty price in a fine restaurant) walks full bellied, ignorant to the extreme hardship of the child. A God walks blind, ignoring the sufferance of its people.
Yet, like Accra, these people smile with nothing in their pockets. The men who clean the busy highway, leading me to the security of my hotel do not stare at the bus full of foreigners with jealousy. They do not swear under their breath or lament over a life they will never have. When they do not know any better, why would they? Am I luckier to live with my Western wealth and education or are they, with their third world simplicity, their dirty, raggy clothes and shameless poverty? They still smile you know.
India has corruption to a disgusting level, it has poverty that can make a grown man cry. Full bellied cows laugh while starving children walk barefoot and bleeding, lacking love and life yet the country has this outlook that developed countries don’t have, making it incredible and dignified in its own right.
India: when I visited last, you humbled me: again you do. Last time you taught me to appreciate what I had. This time as I write in an air conditioned five star hotel room, safely away from the despair of the child and the full cow I am reminded of what I take for granted and what these people, walking in those green sub tropical pastured fields, following their Gods, do not have.
It is night time. My lamp gives me light and my Egyptian threaded quilt gives me warmth and comfort. Somewhere along that road, under the many bridges of Kolkata, schools of child beggars dream for what I have and I lay ready to sleep with ease.