Tuesday, August 29, 2006

My penultimate day in India

I haven't posted a great deal since I got to India (partly because of the lack of quality internet connections.) I've also been in go-go-go mode, which hasn't left much time for sight seeing. Tomorrow, my last day here, I have vowed to try and do a little bit of playing tourist. I haven't been taking many photos either, since sitting in the back of cars only affords so many photo-ops.

As most of you know this is my second visit to India. I was here in April 2005. For that reason, many of the images that made my jaw drop last time seem almost second nature to me now. I have spent a total of 6 weeks in India, which isn't a lot compared to some of the one-year journeys some travelers undertake here, but it's enough to get used to the cows and the beggars on the roads.

Ok, scratch that. You never really get used to the beggars.
At least, I haven't. When you're sitting in your air-conditioned car stopped at an intersection, quite often you'll hear a tap at the window. If you turn and look down, you're likely to see a child of no more than 4 or 5, barefoot, in rags, staring up at you and repeating some strange words with his or her hand out. Or an old man with his fingers eaten away by leprosy will appear beside your open-air auto rickshaw and jab his mutilated limb at you. Or you'll see a young boy, with his legs snapped and bent behind his back so his feet reach over his head like antennae, wheeling through traffic on a makeshift skateboard.

What do you do? Roll down the window and toss them some rupees? I did that a few times on my last visit. Then others see you handing out money, and rush over. It starts to feel like you could give away all of the money in your wallet, empty your bank accounts, sell your car and mortgage your house a thousand times over and barely make a ripple. It would only encourage more criminals to maim children to increase their haul.

My answer is Indian charities. On my last visit the airline I flew handed out envelopes earmarked for a children’s' charity. I haven't found a charity yet, but will before I leave. So instead I do what the most Indians do when accosted. I look straightforward, put on my Bombay blinders, and wait until the beggars go away. It still feels horrible.

I was in a car last week when I remarked about a stray dog to my host. He told me a story he'd heard, about the residents of a building who found one of the regular strays lying in the road, its front legs crushed by a car. They wrapped it in a blanket and took it to the vet. The group chipped in to have the dogs front legs amputated, and outfitted the animal with a harness and wheel so it could still get around. In the end people felt so sorry for the dog they overfed it, until it was too fat to roll anywhere. Minutes later, at an intersection, we sat stone faced as a young girl, holding a baby, begged for money at the window.

I briefly met a woman yesterday who has devoted herself to helping Delhi's stray dogs. She estimated there are as many stray dogs in India as there are people in Canada. She spends half her income to hire a man who, each day, travels Delhi to feed and care for 150 strays. She also told me there are too many people in India. Something must be done about it. But what, she asked sighing. India is a free country. You can't impose a one-child policy like China has. I was interrupted before I could ask her what she thinks can be done about the begging children.

Anyway, enough deep thoughts for one day. You can all put down the sharp objects now.

I bought a carpet today. On my way back from a meeting, I had the driver drop me off at one of the cottage industry shops, which are government owned stores that sell authentic products. They cost more, but there's no haggling. It's 4x6', and while they wrapped it up tight, I have no idea how I'll pack all this stuff up. I'll worry about that tomorrow night.

Oh, it turns out I was wrong about that Ganesh festival. It only started on Sunday and it's not celebrated much in Delhi. But while in Mumbai before I left I saw dozens of frenzied processions carrying brightly painted clay elephant God statues. Neat sight.

Ok, time for food. There aren't a lot of restaurants that I feel safe going into around my hotel. I gauge a restaurant here by the number of Indians sitting at the table, and all the joints here are empty. So I guess it's time for a bit of Mickey-D's. Should I have the McVeggie burger, the McAloo Tikki, or the Veg McCurry Pan?

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