Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One morning in Delhi


One morning in Delhi, April, Dai and I walked in the direction of the metro station a few miles from our hotel where we would later meet most of the group.  We were walking on the gravel just off the paving of a fairly busy two lane light commercial road.   Just ahead of me and only a few meters to the left, a toddler in a short mustard-colored sweater, a boy not more than eighteen-months-old was squatting on the gravel pooping.  (I thought about using the word “defecating” but it seemed to erase the feeling of affection for this child that I wanted to convey); he looked to me like a brown version of our son, Ben at that age, and I was flooded with identification, a memory of the feel of baby skin and the joy of a beloved body doing its maintenance work.   

Farther to the left was a blue camping tarp held up by six or eight irregular poles, tree branches a couple inches in diameter and about five feet tall.   Next to the plastic-rooved but wall-less room was a small woman in a very beautiful turquoise sari, who appeared to be whisking something in a large metal bowl.  There was a man behind her who was calling to the toddler.  I felt like a voyeur and averted my eyes, but then caught the bed under the tarp.  A pile of familiar looking comforters was folded back, revealing white sheets; this bed could have been my own; I experienced that cold-morning-in-Hamilton pull of the warm bed. 

The cost of my hotel room could have fed this family for weeks, I thought.  What right did I have to be here with my significant carbon footprint, my ignorance of the language, my invasion of a family’s privacy first thing in the morning?  These thoughts did not erase the sense memory of that child’s skin, the pull of the bed, the brilliance of the turquoise sari.

I am not a na├»ve person, and I am well aware of my unearned privilege.  I am sixty years old, I have worked in shelters and taught in poor rural and urban areas of the US, lived in a village in Montenegro, and traveled in Central America and Palestine.   But this memory of the family on the gravel in Delhi has not left me for more than a few hours since we returned from India.  I can’t say what I am doing with it, only that I continue to experience the silent encounter as a gift, even as I make no new sense of  the cruel contrast of our circumstances.    

Barbara

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic article. I felt like I was there. Thank you reminding me of all that I have.

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