Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Olivers Indo-English dictionary

Ok well I am in Delhi now. I arrived a few day ago and yeterday I took the train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Apart from being alone at the greatest monument to love ever built all I really want to say about the Taj is it is better to see it from a distance. I saw it from the fort, stunning. I saw it from the other side of the river where I sat for an hour, stunning. I saw it from the usual tourist photo perspective, stunning. I saw it up close full of all the cracks and damage that any man made item inevitably gets over time and the magic was lost a little. From a distance it is perfect!

Now for my new fangled dictionary which this post is really about:

Not being able to look into a small child's eyes when I tell him to go away, that I have no money for him. Reverting to ignoring him completely as he paws at my hand and clothes pointing at the food stand near by.

Riding a motorcycle that, if sold, would easily feed this child for life or could pay for an education. Spending enough money in one year, on a completely selfish thing, to seriously improve the lives of a small community which has nothing. There is no such thing as Karma in this world. Not one ounce of it because if there was I wouldn't be able to go on this trip and this child would know where his next meal is coming from.

Anger and self loathing:
Anger at parents who purposefully cripple their children so they will be able to beg for life. Anger at a world that would let this happen, anger that it is completely impotent and can't change a thing.
Self loathing because some of that anger was felt towards a kid who through his persistence dragged me kicking and screaming out of my blissful ignorance.

On the train ride to Agra I saw something I haven't seen before. At first the city of Delhi flashed by as all cities do. The sky scrapers followed by the odd historic monument, the inner city, the parkland, the suburbs and then it changed. Instead of fields there were slums. Miles and miles of slums lining the railway lines. House with bamboo supports and plastic roofs. When nature called children just stopped where they were and squatted in the middle of the road and when they finished they just carried on walking. They had no clothes on to worry about dirtying.

40% of India's population lives below the poverty line. Thats over 500,000,000 people. I knew about it but have never seen it before. Never thought how bad it really is.

Now to something different. I got conned the day before going to Agra. Or it feels like I did. Someone offered to help me with something, he helped and in the end it cost me about 1500Rs ($30). It was by someone who I would consider rich by Indian standards. It annoyed me because I fell for it but I don't mind because it taught me a valuable lesson. Then in Agra I met a rickshaw driver who offered to take me around the sites. I agreed and he took me on the grand tour. He kept on trying to get me to go into shops so he could earn commission and it was beginning to annoy me. When it came to paying I asked how much and he said "as you please" and he also said that previous english travelers had paid him $50 (which is a blatant lie) So I checked the LP and an AC taxi costs about 650 for 8 hours, a motor rickshaw about 400 for 8 hours so I offered, for the cycle rickshaw, 250 ($5) for about 5 hours. He looked really upset and said 1000Rs and we went back and forth like this to 400Rs which he agreed on.

It reminds me now of a quote from the Kite Runner (good book, read it) to paraphrase: There are two types of extortion. The first type is used to buy a rich man a new yacht. The second type is used to feed a poor mans family.

So what am I to do? I knew the rickshaw driver was ripping me off but I was arguing over a dollar or two and he was arguing over the money which would feed his family for a day or two. If I go round handing out rupees to every kid who begs (40 or 50 a day) and I don't argue when people overcharge me then I am going to go over budget and probably make the problem worse for the next travelers through. If I do argue with the taxi driver and I ignore the kids I am going to find it hard to sleep at night.

It's a really messed up world and it is making me emotional. I don't like emotions, being a cold hearted bastard is easier and is far less work.


Anonymous said...

There are things a mother knows about her son and stories she can tell. Coldhearted is something you will never be Ollie. Caring about other people is part of your nature and always has been. I share your anger at the cruelty and inequality. All I can say is that begging on that scale has its own economic rules and you can sometimes do more harm than good when you give people more than the economy demands. You tread a very fine line when you want to make a difference and it's hard not to get carried away by the inevitable comparisons of your life to theirs. There's a saying and I think it might by Indonesian but I'm not sure. It says "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he feeds himself for life." It might sound like a homily and it won't help the hungry children you are seeing now but it's something you might remember if you are ever in a position to make that choice. In the meantime I know you will do what you know to be right and you will sleep at night. Just because you can't change the whole world doesn't mean you can't make small differences. Don't beat yourslef up. Love you loads. God bless XXX

Biker BD said...

I'm expecting more article from you. But in this days you are not writing at all why ?