India, An Entity Unto Itself

May 29, 2009
By Shreya Kuntawala BRONZE, Tallahassee, Florida
Shreya Kuntawala BRONZE, Tallahassee, Florida
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Stepping off of the plane was an experience unto itself. The whiff of an unfriendly smell welcomed our Boeing 777 airplane onto a deserted runway at the Mumbai airport at around ten o’clock at night. We had finally arrived. The herds of people seemed to come at us from every direction as we attempted to unload our overhead baggage and we then met that very same crowd again when we attempted to board the shuttle bus to the terminal. It took us a total of four tries and twenty minutes before we finally made it onto the last bus despite my family’s front row spot from the very beginning. I quickly learned that in India there was no such thing as a straight line but rather more of a charge and stampede method that we would soon have to adjust to at baggage claim. At the sight of our luggage we had a sigh of relief that everything had made it with us on our journey, and in one piece to say the least. After we had completed all of the routinely security measures we found ourselves gazing out at hundreds of people as they glued their eyes onto us, the NRI’s, (non-resident Indians) as they were barricaded along the pathway as we exited onto the streets. I would have never guessed that an airport would be a hang out spot for so many people but I suppose when you have such a large population and such little space every bit of land must be covered. It was a fascinating first sight into what we were going to experience over the next few weeks. We quickly found the porter’s from the hotel and were off to the Leela Kempinski for a good night’s rest before the hectic traveling journey would begin the following day.
Or so I thought. Little did I know that “hectic” would become an understatement that very night as we were driven a whole ten minutes away from the airport. All my ears could hear were the horns, some musical, some just plain, but all were loud as I quickly came to learn that that was there only form of signaling despite having perfectly working indicators. At the time I could not comprehend anything, I was in awe as to what I was seeing around me. What seemed to be the three man- made traffic lanes had seven different rows of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and infamous rickshaws jutting out from every crevice including the sidewalk as they managed to weave their way through despite the traffic. Not to mention the occasional cow in the middle of the road and the random residents running across as they would watch us, the oncoming car speed towards them. I had never seen such order in my life. At one point I think I just shut my eyes and took a deep breath, I did not know what to expect on this trip and I knew I would not be ready for even a third of what I was getting myself into but I was excited and it was the anticipation that drove me to wake up the following morning.
The service was absolutely impeccable. We were spoiled from the very minute we arrived and that continued with every destination that we visited. The courteous nature of the workers and their desire to constantly please us certainly gave us a warm welcome into the country. Breakfast was amazing; I was completely baffled by the array of items displayed throughout the restaurant, everything looked food appetizing to my grumbling stomach that was eating itself at this point. I ate everything. Twice. Just sitting around in the hotel itself was relaxing and we soon learned that it would become our peaceful sanctuary at the end of the day after all of the hustle and bustle out on the town wherever we would be. We packed up our things that morning and met with our driver, it was finally time to hit the road, literally. Driving through Mumbai during the daytime is a totally different experience, mostly because you can actually see the bus coming at you as opposed to at night when it has no lights and just kind of hits you out of nowhere. The traffic was pretty congested but it seemed as though our driver was an expert at fitting our SUV into any narrow gulley he could maneuver through. I finally saw my first working traffic light in India and to my surprise people were actually somewhat obeying it, with the occasional goat in the middle and random food vendors crossing the streets with their kiosks in hand, it was not all that bad. It was a relief to finally stop and have a break from the bumpy ride which definitely made me wish that I hadn’t devoured every donut possible off of the breakfast tray. However I never would have thought that I would second guess stopping at a red light but this time I really wish we hadn’t because the minute we came to a jolting stop there was a woman at our window, tapping away. Covered in dirt, wearing the traditional Indian sari with an infant in hand, just tapping away, and it makes you crumble inside. She was chanting away and as she spoke our driver advised us to turn away, but how? How do you expect to live with yourself once you have seen someone sleeping on the bare concrete sidewalk or inside the fly infested construction site you just passed? We couldn’t bear to drive off knowing that we didn’t in some way help her, so my dad rolled down his window and handed her some rupees, she said nothing and walked off. In doing so about four other children and women approached the car, one even began to clean the car in hopes of getting paid, but the light turned green and he ran after us for a short while before turning to another car.
It was my family’s first of many encounters with the impoverished beggars that gave us the biggest reality check that life could ever offer. On the first day there, to physically see and be in the midst of everything and then have the chance to recollect and compare the two very different worlds within your mind surely gave you something to think about. It was that reality that was plastered in all four of our minds as we traveled from place to place and sadly it would become one of the cohesive strings throughout our trip. We were only into our journey for merely two hours and yet we had managed to see two completely different sides of India, the side that everyone sees on all of the hit Bollywood films, the life of luxury and utter bliss. And then the opposing poverty-stricken, malnourished, simply heart wrenching side that was seen just about everywhere you turned. And to think, it was only the beginning…

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