Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Selfish or selflessly altruistic: Mumbai thoughts

In the always forward looking Mumbai, I too am moving forward.  At maximum speed and without bargaining moving forward is a constant.  While on the move “keep to the left” is the same general expression as familiar in the U.S. of “keeping to the right” in the direction of travel.  Keeping left to walk, to drive, to cleanse oneself, to going around a traffic circle and to queuing up.  Luckily eating is done with the right hand only and as a 'righty' I am constantly overfed here.

In India something’s are kind of optional… and when I say ‘something’s’ I mean everything.  There is a minute semblance of law and order here but I along with over one billion Indians am hard-pressed to acknowledge it.  I litter constantly as it is supporting someone’s recycling business, I smoke everywhere because it is filters my air for 5 minutes, and I have even started in street level commerce by charging 5 Rupees per photograph with me.  Here in India one must exploit what they have to increase odds of success.  I wake up each day knowing how fortunate I am to be born, where I was born and lucky for what I have. 

The Babylonian Talmud says, “Sixty pains reach the teeth of one who hears his fellow eating and he has not yet eaten.”  So, while we stagger around on a Saturday night/ Sunday morning in Sth Mumbai after a night out on the town the reality sets in that some may be going to their beds,  fans and WiFi while others are spending their nights under the stars or at least one star (as the air is quite thick with smog- getting only the breeze from passing trains).  As I leave a box of pastries next to  a bidi smoking bookseller who sleeps next to his stock piles of texts, I wonder if I gave the pastries to him because he was hungry or if I just wanted a second free hand to hold on to the other two people I was sandwiched on a motorcycle with.  Whether selfish or selflessly altruistic, I feel and know that even the smallest actions always have a reaction whether or not it is equal and opposite I cannot know. Everybody’s working for the weekend and then next thing you know it s the week ahead already.  And, then the hard work must begin again.

When I am giving free food or pens I fell decent.  But, when giving my time, effort, and sweat I feel amazed.  The politeness and cuteness of teaching children during the week in Kalwa Slum is as unceasing as the fulfillment I get in empowering these young learners as well as the wonderful women who cook for the schools the children attend daily.  I am constantly reminded that India is dangerous both inherently and spur of the moment, maybe it is because of the belief in reincarnation or maybe its just too many people to worry about every basic safety detail.  Nonetheless, with this struggle on top of everything and in the spirit of “keeping to the left” I will finish with a quote by a political and educational revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, “Many will call me an adventurer - and that I am, only one of a different sort: one of those who risks his skin to prove his platitudes. Let the world change you and you can change the world.”

Josh is a GPM-JDC Spring 2013 fellow

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