It's hard to be lonely here in this city of five million people, all living on top of each other, taking up every piece of building and sidewalk to sleep, eat, and live on. Life revolves around family, making strangers intimate with one another. Strangers are called Auntie, Uncle, Babu (son), Dada (dad).
No one is a stranger in Kolkata.
We crowd onto the bus every day, rubbing shoulders and backs against one another, sweating together. The women hand their children to the closest people on the bus to make sure they are safe before they climb on themselves. They throw their purses to anyone who catches it and will have that person hold it until they get off the bus. They laugh and giggle as the bus drives away while they are still boarding, knocking into others who are standing, holding onto the rail. Those people smile as well. Indians have developed a culture of tolerance, even amusement, to deal with the crowds. They don't deal with crowds anymore, they grow within them as family.
In her book Foreign to Familiar, Sarah Lanier says "the population of the entire world can roughly be divided into two parts. The two groups represented are 'hot-climate' (relationship-based) cultures and 'cold-climate' (task-oriented) cultures." The
United States, Canada,
England, and most of Europe can be described as cold-climate, places that
focus more on business and getting things accomplished than they do on
is on the other side, making sure relationships are secure before going into
any business deal, which is why you may sit and drink chai and have a long chat
with the shop keeper before you buy a sari from him. It's about
relationships in India,
especially in Kolkata, Delhi
and the other major cities where becoming friendly and familiar is a necessity
because of the size of the population.
I can count my time left in Kolkata in days now: 24 days. I can't believe I've been here for five months.
Everyday, I step over sidewalk sleepers; I play with my homeless friend Asmirah, Maria, Raju, Ricky and Bicky; I walk past dozens of people begging for money, dying on the sidewalks, or just sitting in a drug-alcohol induced haze; I watch old wrinkled women, bent over, carrying heavy loads of clothes on their heads; I see men and women bathing themselves and brushing their teeth in the street at the water fountain. This is my day. This has been my life for five months.
I will arrive in
the day before we gorge ourselves at a Thanksgiving feast, two days before America's
largest display of greed and selfishness on Black Friday, and a month before
western style Christmas where it's more about buying than worshiping our Lord
I can't lie and say I'm excited about coming back, especially the time I'm coming back. I'm grateful that I'll miss out on all the political ridiculousness that divides people and makes everyone, even fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, choose sides. I will be grateful to see my loved ones again and be able to cuddle with my dog. But I can already imagine myself refusing to leave the house when I get back because I just don't think I'll be able to handle it all. From poverty to excess. Lord, give me the grace.
I pray to not get sucked under the wave of consumerism and materialism that defines the western world,
America in particular. I'm already
so inclined toward consumerism that I'm afraid I'll give in without a second
thought, that the acceptance of materialism surrounding me in America will
overwhelm my compassion for the poor and I will buy a purse instead of giving
the money to clothe someone. It's a heart problem. I pray to hold fast to love
and justice and to remember, remember, remember the poor, the unloved, the
unwanted. God help me.
*All photos except the first one are from my friend Theresa