There's so much I have to say about what I saw in India, but I've been having trouble listing things out because I'm so overwhelmed by all the things I've seen and felt there. It's like this huge furball that's stuck in my throat, I need to hack it up, hack it up. I'm just going to start talking without worrying about the science and art of communication because I really need to get all of it out of my system, or I'll never be able to move on.
I recently returned from spending almost a year-and-a-half in New Delhi, where I interned for a year at NDTV and then volunteered at an NGO called The Youth Parliament Foundation. I had been living as a paying guest in a double room in a 4-storey residential building in 'posh' Greater Kailash 1, and I shall only remember my lodgings for the exposure I received there to menstrual blood, mud, vomit, garbage, hair clumps, human and animal urine and shit. The particular colony I lived in - one of the best I'm told - was known for the stray dogs that, at night, liked to look down upon you from where they'd perch on top of the expensive foreign cars that crammed its lanes. Toyotas, Hondas, even the occassional BMW. Some that looked too big to even turn those congested corners. Some rickshaw pullers refused to go into the colony because of the dogs. One McDonald's delivery man (McD's delivers in India) had been bitten once. The trees of the colony were very overgrown and depressing, the buildings were long and smashed into one another, almost falling over each other, not quite unlike the people in this overcrowded country. Nouveau riche Hemkunt colony, home to a number of judges and doctors, was a strange place.
For almost a year-and-a-half, I shared my room with rats, lizards, spiders, ants (on my bed with me), mosquitoes, and flies. The mosquito bite scars on my feet have only now faded away after half a year. People would keep forgetting to flush, and sometimes they'd flush so hard that they'd knock the knob right off, which would keep the flush running and empty out the water tank, leaving none for the rest of us girls, a real nightmare if you're having your period or if it's summer or if you have food poisoning, or all three. Nowhere in India does the water run 24/7. The water usually comes in for a couple of hours in the early morning or evening, which is when people fill their buckets or tanks and use this supply economically. Someone kept breaking the toilet seats so the landlord eventually stopped replacing them. That made things very difficult during the near-freezing winters because porcelain gets very cold very fast. The building was not heated for the spirit-breaking winters or cooled for the morale-shattering summers, all we had was a rickety ceiling fan and a cooler that was propped up through our only window. Because that window had to be kept open for the cooler to send air through, rats would make their way into our room from the outside. We could see them dropping in from the window to the ground, like miniature commandos on a secret mission. We could even hear them squeaking in the dark at night.
I was hungry and thirsty in Delhi most of the time. The shared refrigerator in the common area was forever leaking water that would stagnate into a small pool at my door. I never really bought anything to eat that needed to be refrigerated because someone was always stealing food from the fridge. Delhi water often mixes up with sewage, so no one really drinks from the tap. It has to be filtered first, and even then it tastes strange and...salty? I can't really remember the number of times my stomach would be gnawing at itself, bile ready to flow out of my eyes because tears were an effort, and there was nothing to eat. I would be thirsty, very thirsty, and would have run out of drinking water. I really hit rock-bottom my last 4 months there. I probably averaged a half bottle of water and 1 meal a day everyday. I ran out of money and worse, tanked out on faith. My time in Delhi was a time of extreme highs and lows, and like the work-hard, party-hard way of life, it burns you out really fast.
I tried very hard to see India for its grand history and its economy, all the things non-resident Indians are emotionally blackmailed into tearing up over patriotic sings about, but all it really reminded me of was what I've read of London during the industrial revolution. Filth, pettiness, an onslaught of stimuli. Oliver Twist on steriods. It's hard to focus on anything else, really, when you realise in horror that the only difference between you and the snot-faced child on the street who lives (and will most probably die) like an animal is not your intelligence, your professional dedication, your sex appeal, your god, but just chance. That given the same circumstances, you, with the American accent and the light brown skin and clever sense of humour, are not only not special but in fact always just one step away from joining that shrunken mummy on the street. Yes, your precious dignity will be taken from you, you will trade it for food, for medicine, for clothing. India is slumdog millionaire, not Bollywood. India is starvation, premature aging, unfairness, and death, a lot of death, a lot of different kinds of death. India is about crushing innovative thinking, India is about punishing excellence, India is about learning to expect less, less, less, until you learn to be grateful for the 'paid' in 'underpaid'.