Monday, June 18, 2012

Struggling with Modernity

We missed the rain today, but it's all right. We had an entertaining series of misadventures to make up for it.

Our guide figure in Bombay explained his reasoning for everything he does -- from the time that he lived in Dharavi (Asia's largest slum, which happens to be on the edge of the Island that Bombay is built on) to his choice of dress (as you have seen in previous photos, specifically those from our visits to the caves) to what he eats every day. It is all political. And Awesomely radical. I loved it. He tries to live as the change that he wants to see not only in India, but in the world. 

And he told us many stories about the city, and talked about this theory that has really stuck with me all day. Modernity. At what cost? We look to it like it is a beacon of hope, but with each shift we make towards the future, what are the costs? Yes, each step in "progress" solves a few problems, but next ones emerge. Who pays for our choices and our comforts?

I was thinking about this while we walked to the Crawford market today. As usual, there were people sleeping on the side walk next to the street. All within a hair of the cars flying down the streets (we also learned at lunch today that the legal age to drive in 18 here, but it's fairly easy to get a license without ever taking a class... so people learn on the go... it explains a lot). But that is life here, and that is how they continue living.

I was also thinking about it while I was enjoying the benefits of an exchange rate that favors US dollars and much lower living costs of living in India compared to Boston or New York. I was thrilled that my lunch cost me $2.50 and was delicious. So cheap! We all said. And then we walked outside of the college gates and saw the woman who was crippled by polio and now sits on a little wooden board with wheels moving around by the street with her arm outstretched. Or the children. Or the man with a very clearly broken foot who hobbled over, standing 4 feet away from me while I waited for a friend to come back with her umbrella and watched me through dead eyes. At what cost could I afford these options? I could just as easily walk home or take a cab (for the equivalent of 50 cents) and I had choices. I know I will never have to sleep on the sidewalk while cars rush by me and people step over me en route to their next meeting. 

But, do we ever completely let it sink in? I've learned through the years that our minds protect us. They prevent us from fully feeling the effects of things we cannot comprehend. And for me, this was a moment of that struggle. Seeing something and not understanding because I cant process information as it stands in front of me. The UK built an empire while it sucked the resources out of this country. In the same way Spain sucked resources out of Mexico. It built mills and wealth and museums and palaces and a dominant culture of "acceptable" cultural practices that shifted so many peoples. And here I was standing on a sidewalk in a world struggling to make sense of who it was, who it is, and what it has lost along the way. 

We walked into Crawford Market which is housed in a massive colonial building. It is wholesale everything. Nuts, shampoo, pants, etc. EVERYTHING. And all of it has English labels. For me, dirt cheap, for so many people everywhere, not an option.

What is the cost of our choices? Our ability to make choices? What are we still taking away... without realizing it?

Can we ever fully comprehend it?

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