April 18, 2000
I have traveled far in the last few weeks. My last stop in India was the city of joy, Calcutta – a very intense yet though provoking and meaningful experience. Many of you may wonder why the hell anyone would want to go to such a depressing and impoverished place, and that’s a valid thought, yet Calcutta is special. I felt a strong calling to visit and spent 10 days which was enough for me!
Yes, there is a tremendous amount of poverty in Calcutta and it is sad and depressing at times. There is poverty all over India and as all of you know, there is poverty in the developed world. In Calcutta, it’s different because entire families live on the street. Thousands of children grow up knowing nothing but sleeping on sidewalks. The prospects of their lives getting any better is slim to none – poverty is their karma, their plight in life.
By witnessing the people and their living conditions, I learned about myself. It is very emotional and experiencing intense emotions encourages introspection and reflection. There were a couple of days when I would go out of my room only 2 or 3 times to eat meals because I was so overwhelmed by the atmosphere. I was staying in the tourist shopping district and most of the shoppers are Indians who travel into the city. The atmosphere was a chaotic mixture of determined shoppers and poor people trying to survive the day.
It all hits at night, when people give up on trying to get a few rupees, and they settle in for the night to sleep outside. Entire families mark their territory and set up “house” and people like me walk by and observe. I went to a nice three star restaurant and outside there were at least 50 people living on the street. It feels odd to spend enough money on one nice meal and a glass of wine knowing it could have fed everyone living outside a decent dinner. Perspective!
A very sad fact for the uneducated in India is that widows are cast upon the street with their children. If they lose their husband, they are on their own. I don’t understand this cultural oddity but there are so many single mothers trying to feed their babies in Calcutta and Bombay. It begs the question: what can I do to help? Which is a depressing thought because if I threw all my resources at the problem, it wouldn’t scratch the surface. Being an American, it’s hard to accept the fact that the problem can’t be solved. With reflection, I thought about the act of giving and what it means. What can I give that is meaningful? How can I give in such a way that the people can maintain their dignity?
I shared my money with quite a few people; I bought dinner for the most adorable little boys; I bought milk for mothers and their babies. And no matter how much I gave, it was never enough. I buy milk for 5 mothers and 4 more are lined up – it’s a bottomless pit! Yet, the inability to solve a problem can numb us to even acknowledging the fact that many human beings living on this earth are poor and sick and have no hope of improving their circumstances. I do not have any answers to life’s complex problems but I do feel honored to have shared the act of giving and receiving with a few people in Calcutta. As time goes on, I am sure that wisdom will be realized!
Flying out of Calcutta and India, I knew I would return. I didn’t even see the Taj Mahal! But when I landed in the ultra modern city of Hong Kong, I was one happy woman!! I have spent 10 days in Hong Kong loving every minute of it! I saw 10 movies and ate great food and just chilled out. Today, I leave for Tokyo, I will travel by train from Tokyo to Fukuoka where I will take a jet ferry to South Korea. I will travel to Seoul and then will take the ferry to China and will go on to Beijing and then travel to south west China and back to Hong Kong. Doing a big loop! Hope everyone is well…my thoughts are with you…