Friday 28 February 2014

Morning Musings: February 25, 2014, Mumbai

One of the things that my friends in US comment about India is the obvious disparity existing side by side. You see an upscale skyscraper and a slum right next door. It feels as though you can never escape the poverty.


Then, there is the moral dilemma of what the rich must do for the poor, who live right next door. Why do we let this side-by-side contrast exist? Have we become blasé to the scenery that surrounds us, when we walk past it every day? I was confronted with this question within myself when I went on a walk in Mumbai where I walked past tiny homes as well as huge apartment buildings side by side. I observed the people coming in and out of the small homes kludged together with corrugated metal sheets. A lady walking out of a toilet, a teenager hanging over the flimsy balcony chatting with an aunt downstairs, kids walking out to go to school with parents in tow – if I took away the condition of the housing or the clothing that one was wearing, they could have been in any neighborhood. None of them were sitting around moping to be living in these conditions – they were all working, moving about their lives making the most of it. Sometimes I wonder what keeps a person living in a small house spare the rich that spend more on the petrol in one day than the poor person’s entire monthly salary.

As I walked by these homes and the large apartment buildings, I could not help but feel a sense of beauty in this obvious disharmony. Why should only those who can afford it inhabit a wonderful place by the sea? There is some poetic justice in sharing the view with those less privileged as well. Since you live next to each other, the one in the small home might not feel the urge to torch the sprawling buildings next door, merely out of neighborly grace.

I found another option that could make up for the disparity in a lady I met on my walk. I noticed a group of children gathered around her with their notebooks. I stopped by and asked her if she was running a school here. She is Mira of Navjyot foundation. She said that she comes there every morning 7:30 to 8:30 am to help local kids with their homework and other questions. She said that the NGO does not need money but they need people to donate time to join her every morning.

As I walked away from her and her volunteers being surrounded by kids, I was left with a sense of hope knowing that the neighbors care.

I feel that the obvious disparity that exists could depress me, but the efforts to bridge the divide certainly left me with a deep sense of hope.

Get Involved with the Navjyot Foundation: Contact Mira Mamnani 
[ Phone: +91 9004390819, +91 9819421398, +91 2226409348; Address: 52, New Silver Home, 15 New Kantwadi Road, Bandra (W), Mumbai 400050 ]

Sunday 23 February 2014

The Road Not Taken Part 2

Just a few days ago, I was in Jaipur and saw a road less traveled by and wondered if it was safe for women to take the path. I lamented on the fact that we even have to think twice about it. And I found my answer this morning. I went on a long walk with my neighbor Bharti. She is part of a team that just completed doing a 100K walk and I wanted to check on my own ability to walk. Bharti and I took off at 5: 30 am and walked for about 3 hours through the villages that surround our gated community. She had a GPS device and was trying to map out a route. Along the way, we got off track and kept walking anyway. We walked through small communities as well as empty fields. And we DID come across two roads that diverged in the woods.  And we took one of the roads and did not even worry about our safety, as we had each other.

So, I felt as though I found the answer for my own fear. The way to take the road less traveled is a matter of taking others into your confidence and being there for each other, instead of doing everything by ourselves. May be in our sharing, we become stronger individually, as well as a community. I thoroughly enjoyed my long walk and will continue dreaming of the 100K walk next year.
Bharti and me

Friday 21 February 2014

The Road Not Taken

There are about half a dozen poems that shaped my life. The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost is one of them. I find the image of a lane leading to an unknown destination, especially a lane that looks quiet, empty, devoid of any human presence, truly desirable of exploration. When I travel, I walk through different neighborhoods, taking in the sights and sounds of that village, town, or city - be it in India or anywhere else around the world. I love the quiet time and the feeling of not knowing what to expect. I love to walk by homes of all sizes and shapes, and watch people go about their lives. A glimpse of someone brushing their teeth, or another reading a newspaper, or someone bargaining with the vegetable vendor, or even the stillness of a silent home -- all of these give me a unique insight into the lives of those who inhabit this Earth along with me. The purpose of these walks is largely to stay fit, just so that I can keep up with my energetic and curious 10 year old, but the icing on the cake is the opportunity to observe how others go about their lives, and perhaps the occasional conversation, or a new friend I may pick up along the way.

I was in Jaipur last week and as usual, I stepped out of the Le Méridien hotel to go for a walk. I turned right on the main toad and walked along the main highway with trucks and cars whizzing past me. After walking for a while, I saw a group of women turn onto a lane off the main highway. They had this purposeful, quick gait and were chatting enthusiastically as they walked. I decided to follow them, walking a few yards behind them. One of the women turned to me and asked me to join them. She wanted to know why I was walking alone; she said that I should always have a walking partner and that I should not be by myself for my own safety. This woman explained to me that all of them were farmers and that they were all going to their fields. She added ", Maybe doing the walk will help you reduce some weight!" I loved her honesty, her simplicity, and a sense of chiding me to do the needful to get into shape! I took a photograph of that lady in red and turned around to get back to my hotel.

The lady in red

As I continued to walk, her comment about needing someone to walk with stayed with me. Has it become so dangerous that a woman has to think twice about taking a morning walk alone? Maybe we all need to think of going in groups, of having someone with us. It is not the immediate solution that worries me. The next day on my walk in a different direction from the hotel, I saw a lane that was quiet, like the road not taken. Somewhere in the back of my mind, what the woman said rang out and for a moment, I hesitated to take that road. I forced myself to take the road because I did not want to succumb to that fear. I felt that it is this constantly cautious state of mind we are asking women to adopt could be preventing them from developing their full potential in the long term.  But how can I guarantee my own safety in the short term?  I am “allowed” to take whatever chances I want to take with my life, but what right do I have to give that guarantee to someone else?

What if our young women cannot take the road less traveled for fear of their basic safety? Taking that road has “made all the difference” to me. Will the young girls of today be denied of that difference? That would be a truly tragic day. For now, I keep taking that road and support anyone else who wants to do the same. 


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