Road Trip into the Indian Chasm

Also on: http://news.entecity.com/road-trip-into-the-indian-chasm-by-aarti-panikkar/
A trip which spanned across 10 days, 9 states, 5000 odd kms, variety of terrains, and various sights of human plight; that pretty much sums up the cross country trip of a lifetime. 5 of us in a Renault Duster from Chennai to Delhi and all the way back!
Everyone called us crazy, out-of-our-minds.. but a trip that started out as a cheaper and more adventurous option than flying out from ‘GST Road’ in Chennai and landing in ‘IGI Airport Road’ in Delhi, turned out to be quite an experience.. Though to all our critiques we retorted in jest that we wanted to touch the soul of India, that is in fact what ensued. With a broken GPS, which kept taking us through all the outdated routes the urban clan of India seems to have long-forgotten, we ended up visiting village after village in the remotest parts of India. And by village I do not mean the quaint picturesque ones that happen upon u while driving across Europe. These were the kind of places that our Mammootty (Courtesy: Mal movie ‘The King’) and ‘Mohanlal’ (Courtesy: Our PM’s US visit speech) Karamchand Gandhi asked us to go in search of, to know India.
We started from Chennai, drove till New Delhi and back via 2 different routes covering the states TN, AP, Telengana, MP, UP, Delhi, Hariyana and Rajastan, and were fortunate to have witnessed quite few ‘remarkable’ sights on the way – run-down buses in an about-to-collapse condition bearing proudly on its forehead “Super Luxury Bus”; a car with the sticker “Govt. Doctor” almost as if he was worried people wouldn’t believe he is actually a certified doctor; 2 guys in a bike speeding past with a cow sandwiched between them, like they were kidnapping it and fleeing from the scene of crime – scenes people capture and give the caption ‘It happens only in India’
Every few hours we were crossing 100s of kms, while flanked by barren land and visuals that would move even a barren heart. We kept seeing ‘truckloads’ of villagers – men and women going to work I suppose, all bunched up like matchsticks inside a box, too suffocated to move or even breathe properly. There were little kids and even grown-ups who did not have even a tiny closed-off space in or near their house, because why else would they do all their business by the side of the highways, along with the cattle?! Women were seen walking barefoot in the scorching heat, balancing several pots of water on their heads with finesse that would envy a professional acrobat.
Driving through a hillock in one of the villages, we stumbled upon few monkey dancers, who at first glance seemed like our ‘Pulikali’ artistes from Kerala, but turned out to be some lads masquerading as Lord Ram’s Vanara Sena. They were on their way back from a show and were delighted to see us stopping and asking to take their pics. We danced with them and at the end of it they asked if this would come on TV. We had no words hearing this ignorant or rather this innocent question of theirs.
While in Agra me and my cousin were at this busy market where people were hogging on street food. We were waiting in line and saw 3 ragamuffin kids – a boy and 2 gals loitering around begging. All the shopkeepers and parents of children, who could afford to buy them the snacks, kept shooing them like they were some scavenger crows flocking to grab their plates of food. For almost a minute I just kept staring at both these sets of children, pensively pondering at how drastically contrasting their lives are, for reasons which are none other than accidental birth. Then my sister snapped me back to reality saying ‘do u want us to buy them food’. The children took the food with no emotion whatsoever; life’s hardships at such a tender age have maybe made them impassive to everything. Not just their hands, their hearts also seemed calloused. They are young, but have aged.
Driving to Delhi we happened to stop by Madhura, Lord Krishna’s kingdom. The filth and dirt of the town was no less in comparison to the other towns and villages we passed by so far. And there we saw guides who were willing to give us a 3-hour tour of the place for a meagre sum of Rs.50! Shows how poverty-stricken the place is. 2 questions circled my thoughts.
  1. If Lord Krishna’s own townsmen are in such a sad predicament, how was he expected to take care of the rest of the world who keeps beseeching his blessings??
  2. Our Guruvayoor is so well-kept, a stark contrast to Madhura and Gokul temples owing to the gulf money that keeps pouring into our state. Isn’t this proof that it is infact man who made gods and not the other way round?!
Several faces kept gnawing at the back of my mind, not letting me completely enjoy the trip. The shabby looking beggar woman kissing her infant who was equally dirty, all covered in dust, and smiling looking into its face; that was the visage of a contented mother feeling how beautiful her child is. The tiny sales man of may be 7 years of age who stopped by my window in Delhi traffic. I gave him 20 bucks without taking the cloth he was trying to sell and I was greeted by this “Tank u Didi” with the most grateful smile I had ever received. The haggard old beggar with long hairlocks who was sitting by the roadside pile of garbage segregating and devouring to his heart’s content some food leftovers that was mixed up with other waste. And that was the most heart-breaking of all the scenes I had to see through the entirety of the trip.
I was thinking of these millions of people all living in such hardships that we have never experienced of, or even seen before in front of our eyes. Reminded me of these chickens in a poultry farm we saw on the way. Thousands of chickens just stuffed into cages stacked one over the other, the whole milieu filled with filth, stinking and suffocating, and those creatures are born into it, are raised there, live their whole life there and end up dying too, there itself.
My trip to North India was an eye-opener, a reality check, an absolutely shocking one, one where I felt someone did an ice-bucket challenge over my head and shook me up, and made me see things I never knew existed, things I was so unaware of. There are thousands of villages in such pathetic state, in dire poverty and I wonder what the MPs of these constituencies are thinking?!?
And it made me question many things about this great nation, especially how public money is spent here. A country having a population of over 1.2 billion has around 400 million people who live with less than $1.2 under a day and doesn’t consider it superfluous to spend $1.2 billion (Rs.7350 Cr) every year for its space research.
The government seemed very jubilant to announce the upcoming spending of a staggering Rs.80000 Cr planned for submarines and surveillance aircrafts. Of course defence is one of our prime priorities, but still why so much for terror and so little for hunger, I worry.
A smug-faced head honcho of ours during his US visit was spotted with Mark Zuckerburg, discussing about the digital expansion in the country and how more than 100 Cr people in the country do not have access to the internet. And I wonder if he or any of his predecessors ever actually put serious thought about 1.5 Cr odd children (1.83 Cr to be precise)  in the same country who never get to know what internet is, because they don’t live past their 5th birthday due to the poverty-stricken conditions that they are born into.
We have 17% of the world’s population and 20% of the world’s poorest of poor living here. And it is a pity why those bearing the onus is not bothered to utilize half the energy they have for doing all the above, to implement a veritable public food distribution system when more than 25 Cr people do not have enough food to eat?!
Food for thought. Is there actually a point in making it to the top of the chart of nations with state-of-the-art space research or technological know-how, when we are also on the top of the rank chart of poverty?! Everyone is gung-ho about the fact that we accomplished Chandrayan and Mangalyaan. But think about it, are we in a position to celebrate spending so much money on technology that we don’t need right away, when everyday there is a fellow citizen dying?! All this is for what? To show the world that we are also in the running to be a super power? Or are these a facade to keep the rest of the Indian social strata in dark about the appalling poverty that India actually deals with. Why else would we have a video going viral of a bearded guy screaming “India is innovating”. When nearly one fourth of its population can’t read or write, one tenth lacks access to clean water, one twelfth are homeless, and half of its population defecates in the open, do we really think India is innovating? I feel given the current state of affairs, with the ravages of population and how conveniently oblivious the governments and political leaders seem to act of the predicament, “India is doomed”.
When India wakes up and realises that being able to spend Rs.450 Cr on a Mars Mission still does not make India a less poorer nation, that these billions spent on tech is still not going to fill the empty stomachs of the poor or fade out the cries of little ones here, India would really be innovating. India will rise.
Note: All statistical data are validated.
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