I have started this post so many times. It never gets past a few sentences in my head – it has never tasted paper. It might not be easy to read and it certainly will not be easy to write. So, please, bear with me.
So much of this blog has been focused on figuring out the “so what” of our Indian experience. Why were we sent there. What were we meant to learn. And why am I still writing about it over a year later.
One of my friends told me recently that she was trying to decipher what she was meant to learn from my stories. This might not just be about me? Holy life experience, Bat Man. No pressure. 😎
Well this post is meant to be a transition. Back to where I am now. And a jump start to where I am meant to be.
Won’t this be fun? Sure. Seatbelts on, please.
But the story that has been left unwritten is this one. How India, like oxygen, has seeped deep into my pores and will not leave. About what haunts me still and about exploring what I have not changed about myself since leaving Delhi. And how I am not proud of some of that.
These are the stories that I have been unable to share. I am not sure if this will be a single post or a mini series of stories. It will be interesting for me to see how it unfolds and I hope for you too.
Here is the first memory that I cannot erase.
I was with one of my absolute most favorite people in India. A generous, caring, loving friend who got me through some long, tough days.
We were going shopping in Janpath. Her driver was driving. There was a lot of traffic.
Our car was stopped at a traffic light and there was a woman begging. My friend’s driver had told us before not to give to beggars.
I personally found comfort in that. Here is someone in India who knows India telling us not to buy into the begging. My driver said the same thing. We had been given permission to ignore the suffering on the street. Permission that was granted not by a wealthy merchant dismissing the struggles of the lower caste, but granted by a working man who had his own struggles. Who knew that life in India is not ever easy. Who knew how much we had to offer and encouraged us to say no.
Yeah. and Thank You.
Then the woman knocked on the window. There was no way to guess her age or her story. She looked tired and worn down. She was dusty and dirty. Her eyes were empty. Her teeth were stained. Her clothes were tattered. Honestly, I would not have dusted my furniture with what she was wearing. Her hair had not seen water in weeks. And probably neither had her lips or her belly. It was over 100 degrees outside – and no, it was not a dry heat. It was a hot heat. Melting hot with sticky on the side.
She wanted money. And we had money. She knew it.
What to do now?
After some discussion, my friend cracked her window and handed the woman a single coin. Just this time, we thought.
Her hands must have felt the coolness of the air conditioning and the real potential for generosity and she threw the coin back. It wasn’t enough. She wanted more.
My friend and I could not believe what was happening.
Her driver smiled with that “I told you so” look.
His slightly raised stature as a driver gave him permission to distance himself from sympathy as well. And now, looking back, I wonder if he really felt that way or if he thought we simply expected him to feel that way. I am not sure. Maybe a little bit of both.
The woman would not remove her hand from the crack in the window. She tapped the fingers on her other hand against her thumb and cupped them to her mouth. I didn’t understand her words but her actions were clear. She was having none of our selfishness. None of it.
She wanted more.
My friend and I both shook our heads “no” and were absolutely baffled at how she could be so ungrateful. Out of sheer nervousness, we even giggled. That must have lit a fire in her desperateness. We really, truly were not laughing at her. We just did not know what to do. What to say. How to move forward.
My friend’s driver told my friend to roll up the window the rest of the way. She tried to but the woman would not remove her hand. She even gripped the side of the glass. Leaving smudges along the edge. Smudges that my friend’s driver would later simply wipe away – as if it never happened. As if we could forget. As if the woman did not exist. As if the woman didn’t really need our help. As if so many things.
But that woman would not go away. She wanted more from these nicely dressed ladies in their air conditioned car.
The driver said something….the woman responded. And finally…thankfully… the light turned green.
Yet her hand remained. The car started rolling and the woman started walking. Gripping tighter. Until ultimately she had to let go…she had to give up.
I know all that comes with this story. That helping that one person would not have changed the world. It would not have even changed her world. Now matter what we gave her in that moment, she would have remained dirty and tattered on the side of that road begging for help as a daily ritual.
In the moments after, I am sure I even argued that the woman had two good hands and two good legs and she should be working.
I struggle now with what it was about that moment that hardened me rather than softened me. What did I need the money in my wallet for? Why didn’t I
accept insist that she needed it more and that whatever was waiting for me at Janpath could wait and wait and wait and I would never miss not having it.
How did I laugh – even out of sheer nervousness – in the face of all that was in front of me? Really, how?
It is a mystery that haunts me still and the story yet to come is even worse.