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  • Writer's pictureSandy Snyder

It's Chaotic, But Fascinating

Rural Home Street Dentist

Milkman Animals Inside, People on Top

We drove back to New Delhi after nine weeks of traveling in local buses, trains of many types, cars and vans, and after staying in OK (2-3*) lodging where showers were an adventure and at least once we were awakened by a rat walking on Tom's arm. We ate street food, drank chai from unglazed cups, and learned quickly that it’s better to just eat a vegetarian diet. (This is not unique to India – many places in Asia are unfamiliar with the need for constant refrigeration of meat.) We only drank bottled water and made sure the bottles had not been recycled – we also used it for brushing our teeth and putting in our contact lenses. We never got sick.

In New Delhi, Tom had made reservations at the five-star Taj Mahal hotel. Security was very tight, as it was mere months after the Mumbai terrorist attack. But the luxury was welcome. Our bathroom had both a shower and a large tub, and after spending weeks scrubbing my feet with a brush, I spent about 20 minutes washing every part of my body. (Twenty minutes is a LONG shower for me.) When I emerged, Tom – who’d already taken his usual brief shower -- said, “What shall we do this afternoon?” I replied, “Now I’m going to take a bath.”

So what did we learn?

In 2008, we visited China, a totalitarian state, and in 2009 we visited India, the world’s largest democracy. Both have populations of about 1.3 billion people. Their histories, cultures and forms of government could not be more different. We talked about which place we’d rather live – it took each of us about five seconds to say, “India”.

Everything about China is under control. Your life is not your own – it belongs to the state. The government builds huge cities with vacant factories, highways and apartment buildings, then transfers millions of people to them as part of national plans. On the other hand, Indians live in a state of barely controlled chaos. Virtually nothing is maintained. Roads are potholed, showers never work, litter is piled higher than your head. The caste system cripples life..

Life is HARD. We citizens of the US have no understanding of real poverty. The most rundown singlewide trailer in east Tennessee where I live would be a palace for many Indians. Infant mortality in the US was 5.7 deaths per 1000 children born in 2018, while in India it was 29.7 per 1000 births in 2018. BUT! In 2009, India’s infant mortality rate had been 47.3 – a huge improvement! Many millions (perhaps near 75 million, according to the Borgen Project) have no shelter or no access to decent housing. Women, particularly Dalit (formerly called “untouchables”) women, are subject to physical and sexual violence daily.

Yet, in spite of the eternal dirt, people are clean. (I’d ride a crowded bus in Indian any day before I’d ride one in Europe!) Though I dislike the current Janata Party government’s policies, I appreciate the fact that the world’s largest democracy works. We were welcomed everywhere, Tom’s blue eyes were the politely examined by adults and children, I was frequently addressed as “Auntie” by young men.

Would we go back? In a heartbeat.

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