I spend the rest of the day on the balcony, staring down on the streets of Khaligat. A nursing dog hobbles away from her whimpering litter on three legs to scavenge for food. One of her back legs has recently been torn off at the knee joint like a chicken bone. Raw flesh dangles and flaps as she hobbles through the streets. Sinew and rot. She is whipped or kicked every time she ventures too close to a street food vendor.
Paula is sitting on the patio when I return from dinner and I admit my reluctance to travel with her group. I share with her my critique of India, whispering because I don’t want to seem like the jaded westerner who has come to India and only found horror instead of the spiritual illumination so many have claimed to discover. She admits to feeling much the same way. I have never felt more relieved.
Seek an intuitive understanding of God and feel your way to the truth the way we might feel walking through our elementary school as adults and realizing we remember where the special places were, and still are.
He then goes on to delight over the warm spirit of the Indian people as a whole. His example is in seeing an old man fall down on a crowded train platform and spilling a handful of change. The crowd around him all participated in gathering his change and helped him back up. Again, a valid argument but what of the brutal sex-trade, gang rapes, and living conditions of the poor I ask? Can’t be perfect he says.
Careful though; don’t use the knowledge only as means of rhetoric or self-aggrandizement. Innocent intention in all things. Theory of reflective fallacy sounds spot on for my dissecting mind. What I critique the most is usually linked to that I wish to change about myself. Easier to point outwards.
The huts typically have a visible wooden skeleton on the inside, pilfered bamboo perhaps, and are covered by impromptu roofing materials: Tarps, cloths, corrugated plastic, cardboard. The open entrances reveal mundane events inside; cooking, sweeping, sleeping. I’m not sure what I expected to see but it certainly wasn’t evidence of our similarity. Everything in the slums is soot black: Clothes, people, homes.
I need to find a different rhythm in this place. The mornings are full of promise. The nights are lonely and I drown my emotions in alcohol. In the morning, at Mother House, there are two candles burning in the courtyard, stuck to the concrete in a large pool of wax. I stare at the flames and think about my wavering life. Zombies pray in low, trance-like unison above me in the church.
The Asian man also has scars all over his shaved head which I inquire about. Those are from fighting, I am told. With whom is he fighting? There are places where certain men, nasty men with fat pockets, lure beggars with the promise of food.
In mid flight, the bird begins to flap it’s wings vigorously, plumb’s itself, and docks on the sidewalk like a cartoon character –scooting a few steps upon landing. My goodness! All those chickens are actually alive. They are simply resigned to their fate so they hang lifelessly en route to slaughter. With it’s legs still bound, the retailed chicken is no match for the murderous old woman.
A man slides by on the concrete floor dragging his leg; foot freshly amputated. I am summoned by one of the Sisters and follow her out the front door. Lying in the back seat of a taxi, on a sheet of heavy construction plastic, is a freshly delivered convalescent. His head hangs morbidly limp off the edge of the seat like a wilted flower. He looks like a coal miner from all the filth covering his person.
A man repeatedly gains my attention, points up to a window on the ceiling, and speaks words I cannot understand. I think he is telling me he wants to die so he can go to heaven. I tell him I question his logic, hoping he can’t understand me. Not sure if his level of suffering ends with death. I realize my philosophical bantering doesn’t hold any ground against his pain. Volunteers engage in childlike conversation with the dying and mollify through body language.
A young man has his motorcycle disassembled on the side of the road and men stand around bidding on parts loudly. Women wash clothes in the stream of busted hydrants; sometimes it seems the water just bubbles right up through the concrete of the sidewalk. Homeless sleep anywhere and everywhere. Men squat in circles; engaged in heavy discussion.
Packs of dogs walk in the middle of the road aimlessly. A few fires burn near the sidewalks; piles of garbage pluming out black smoke. A body or two stand near the flames and stare into the hollow searching for answers. It seems every person, and every dog, looks straight into my eyes as my taxi squeaks by on rusted springs. I try to hide my shock but can’t close my mouth. I cant believe such a place exists on this planet.