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Driving Home in India

By Becka


            Maybe it’s silly to be afraid as the rickshaw driver turns down a side street, but I can’t squelch the feeling.  To the left a group of children stand naked in the street, plastic bags over their hands, and play with something that might be mud or clay on a wooden table.  Whatever the substance is, they’re covered in it from head to toe, except their hands.  The driver pulls to a stop and we sit and wait.  He returns and ushers us down a street, the fear that had begun to die away comes back, stronger than ever.  I can’t help thinking what are we doing?  Outside of a doorway stands a woman with grey hair, he speaks with her quickly and grinning widely, brings us through the door-way into a small, two-roomed house, if you can call it that.

            There are two lawn-chairs in the larger room, in front of a television, which, aside from the lights and DVDIndia player, is the only modern device in the house.  He motions for us to sit, and we do, albeit hesitantly.  A woman, his wife we later find out, enters wearing a red sari, followed closely behind by a little boy in a blue tank-top and shorts.  “My youngest son,” he tells us, “not old enough for school.”  Barely looking at us, the boy runs to the corner of the room and stands on his head.  The driver shows us pictures of his wedding, a previous election, and then some that were taken by a previous group of SAS students from one of the voyages of ’96.  Meanwhile the boy has been climbing onto furniture, trying to acquire a lighter from the top of a cabinet.  We offer him a chocolate coin, which he takes to the corner to peal off the wrapper.  His father tells us he’s the youngest of eight, and there’s an unspoken wonder between my companion and I how eleven people can fit in this small room as we take photos with his son and his wife.  The children from the street peek in the door and the little boy ushers them away as his parents joke with him that they’ll send him back to America with us.  As we go to leave we give him the rest of the coins, and he takes them with a smile. 

In the background his father changes the channel on the TV set for his wife to some other movie, subtitled in Hindi and I wonder if anthropologist Sara Dickey is right when she says that “. . . cinema both plays on these fantasies [of an easier life] and verifies the inner worth and righteous character of the lower classes” in India (16). 

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