The past two nights I have had horrible dreams with the underlying theme of lying, cheating and dishonest people. The strange thing is that in both dreams I am on my “Indian adventure”, but in my own home town. My current travel partners from India are with me, and I am teaching them how to avoid being taken advantage of. However sometimes, as in my most recent dream, I am still the one who loses to the thieves if it is my own fault for making the opportunity too easy. As I lay in bed the second night, awake with unreleased scream of my dream still fresh in my head, I began to understand what the drama of my dreams was telling me. I’ll explain it for you in a new Indian-English phrase that I have recently learned: same same, but different.
Essentially what these dreams have been reminding me is that although I am shocked by the filth and the poverty and the apparent dishonesty of the people here in India, it is really just the same thing which exists in other places, only here I am more susceptible to it and it seems to be magnified by a million.
India is the seventh largest country in the world with the second highest population. There are at least 40 cities alone with over one million people. It is no wonder why I am feeling overwhelmed. I have just spent the past two years living in tiny Costa Rica, a country smaller than Lake Michigan, with only around 4 million people in total. I am now facing cities with double this amount of people on a daily basis.
There is good as well as evil everywhere. A wise friend once told me that India will show me whichever face I want to see. If I focus on the aspects which disgust me, then I will only see more of these, and if I focus on the beauties all around then these will become more prevalent. This is really true with anything in life. When it comes to India, I am trying. In a city where I am accosted by swindling beggars over and over I am having trouble with this. I wish there was less of a communication barrier because I would so love to talk to these people and ask a simple question: why? I guess it’s a way of life, and it is their way of making money to survive, but I think that many people on the streets here are taught to put their hand out before they are taught to put their hands to work.
As I watch women with babies in their arms run up to strangers and wave an empty bottle in their face, I realize that it’s not only happening to me. The people of the street approach unsuspecting Indians as well as visitors from other countries. The sad thing about the example with the mother, baby, and empty bottle, is that if you didn’t know any better, you would gladly want to buy this woman and her poor baby milk. But nothing is as it appears here. As soon as you walk away this woman won’t give the milk to the baby she is showing you – she will instead exchange the milk for money. The baby in her arms most likely isn’t even hers as the kids are passed around like accessories here.
I once witnessed one woman approach our group asking for money, and as she was turned down by half of us, she punched the child in the face to produce a more sad looking child as she rounded over to the second half of the group, where she again began to smile sadly and touch her hand to her mouth in the motion of “please help feed me and my struggling child”. At this point I had seen the truth and I knew it was a facade.
However I can’t let these instances tarnish my perception of this amazing country. When you travel, you see things that shock you, but that’s the point of travel- to broaden your horizons, to challenge your what you see as “normal”, and to learn how other people live their lives without judgement.
As I moved away from the chaotic city life and on to a “small city” of 100,000 people, I found myself again enjoying India. I have been told that India will cause you to bend until you snap, but once it happens, you will snap into place. I think I’m on my way there..but until then…I am beyond thankful for the charming blue accented city of Bundi and a little reprieve from the congestion and chaos of the past few days.