för nostalgi

lördag 24 december 2016

Something about India

Honking, constantly. With every little turn, brake, increase in speed or overtake, there is a honk. Cars, buses, rickshas and motorbikes together produce what sounds like an almost rehearsed noise. It is never quiet. 

We reach our car with air-condition and somewhat soundproof windows where we can hide and simply spectate the beautiful chaos going on outside. It might be crazy, tiring and lot to take in for four swedes on a christmas holiday, but it is beautiful. It is only in India where the people, traffic and atmosphere is all over the place and in complete control at the same time. Because where we stumble around, twitch at every honk and jump with every vehicle passing by, the locals just follow like a choreographed dance. Never one step wrong. 

I am watching the spectacle out on the street through the car window when there is a knock. A woman, carrying her baby, is tapping on the front door and holds out her hand. The baby is only a couple of months, maybe younger. My brother who is in the front seat, my mom who is in the far back and myself in the middle, all try to look away. It is like a reflex when traveling through places like these; do not give in to all of the people on the streets asking you for money. 

Only a few seconds go by before our driver, Sono, starts digging through his pockets, reaches a colourful bill of rupees, rolls down the window and hands it to the woman. She gives him a thankful nod, he nods back, and she walks away. Pure embarrassment fills the air in the car and my brother looks back at my mom and I. The money Sono gave away was probably worth more to him than it would have been to us. Sono, who lives across the street from our hotel, who sleeps in the car while we are going on trips, with a wife who is studying to become a nurse. 

There is something about India and the people who live here. It is hard to directly pinpoint what it is; it is a secret bond or a connection between them. I felt it two years ago during the few days we spent in Mumbai, and now it is here again.  

Of all the places I have been to, I have never felt more like an outsider, spectator, simply an observer of the people here and the lives they live. In Mumbai it was the contrasts that confused me; how we got stuck somewhere between the ridiculous wealth and the heartbreaking poverty. I could not grasp how some people could have so much when some had so little, how someone lived in a fifty stories high skyscraper when their neighbour live in a cardboard-box. 

Here, in Kerala, it is different. We are in the southern part of India and reading skills are around 90%, child mortality is the lowest in the country and the life standards are in general better. There are naturally still different ways of living, but the gaps are not as noticeable. No, the greatest gap is between us and them. 

The people are proud. Not in an unfriendly way, quite the opposite. They smile when our eyes meet, a smile that quietly tells us that they know something that we do not. They share something we can not be a part of. It is similar to the pride the people of the slums in Mumbai told us about; pride of their community and what worked for and built together. Pride that ties the over a billion people who live in India together, pride that protects them and again creates the clear division between us and them.

However, what I remember most from walking through the slums of Mumbai is the happiness. The kids playing in the mud outside of their very small houses, the parents smiling and talking next to them. The same way the kids are playing on the streets outside of our hotel, with their mothers cooking and their fathers coming to play with them. Simple, pure happiness. I think that is the most important thing I will take with me from this christmas; they do not need much to be happy. We should not need much to be happy.

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