Sunday, 19 February 2017

India is Really Hard

This morning in Allahabad was hard. We took a rickshaw the 6 km to the fort, however as it is currently in use it is not actually something you can look around. After some confusion we drive to an area called Sangam, which is the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. It is a very holy place to Hindus, and they come here to wash away their sins in the holy water. Michael explains that every twelve years there is the Khumb Mela and the place is filled with 100 million people, camped in fields and bathing in the rivers in shifts over many days. I am naively thinking that today will be a peaceful experience and that there will only be a handful of people here. I am wrong. It is vast and dusty and there are thousands of people here. Firstly there are the pilgrims, arriving in their clean cars or rickshaws like us, dressed in their beautiful immaculate clothes, visiting the temple, taking a boat to wash in the river, and feed the seagulls flying overhead. But then there are the people that live and work here. The rowers and boat owner, taking people out on to the rivers, the stall holders selling food and souvenirs and jewellery and huge empty bottles so you can take home your own holy water, or the hawkers that follow you around carrying things that you don't want or need but they just won't take no for an answer. The monks with their long grey beards and long dirty robes, asking us for money but we don't really now why, there are the drivers milling about waiting for their passengers to return, and then there are the beggars, the women sitting to the side of the roads waiting to be blessed with food and money, there are the blind and crippled with hands open waiting to receive, and then there are the children who just follow you and tap your arms and sides relentlessly. And it's these children who broke my heart this morning. We both seem to have a group of seven or eight children surrounding us at all times, dirty hair, dirty clothes, bare feet with a stainless steel bowl held out to make their requirements known. This is how they spend their days from when they can walk till they are about five, and it is just so hard to comprehend that this is all they know. They surround us and follow us and we don't really understand how this is a thing. Are they abandoned and alone? Are their parents nearby? Have they been sent out to beg for the family, or are they employed by someone who is profiting from their cuteness and vulnerability. I think about the children I know who are under five and all that they have and all of the opportunities they are given and that they have a warm bed to sleep in every night and food in their bellies. These children have nothing. And they will probably grow up to have more children who will also have nothing.

Seeing all these children and babies begging really got to me, we have seen them every day since we arrived, they seem to be on every street in every city, but today the sheer number of them was overwhelming. I felt rude and uncaring as I couldn't do anything for them. They wouldn't be interested in talking or playing, they have been taught to have one agenda and that is all that are allowed to have. and I feel guilty and helpless and then more guilty for being upset as what right do I have to shed a tear for them as I will soon go back to my comfortable life and forget they exist like everyone else.

India is full of absurdities, and as soon as we had got back to the city we visited a huge British cathedral, quiet and peaceful sitting in the middle of a large traffic circle.     Only 6km away from the Sangam but it seems like a million miles.

After Michael spent some time arranging our onward travel for tomorrow we ventured out again to the city park a short walk away. Through the old city and under the railway bridge. Dodging cow shit and cows and dogs and busses and scooters as usual, repeatedly declining rides from rickshaws and occasionally replying to the people who greet us. A quick stop for some chaat, an unidentified pastry crumbled into a bowl and covered in all manner of sauces and spices. Not bad, not my favourite, but happy to try something new again, this one seems to be a Kerala style.

The park is busy, but spacious and provides a nice buffer from the dirt and noise of the streets. Yet more selfie requests and we make our way over to the big Victoria monument and the far side. We stop and sit on a wall and it's here that we stay for the next 90 minutes, many a selfie and a long conversation with a young local student with whom history and politics are covered and there is a crowd of 20 to 30 listening at any one time. Yet another spontaneously wonderful exchange.