Friend and Foe
One unexpected aspect of Niswarth that is not advertised is the amount of time we spend in a bus. Although this may sound boring, I can assure you that it is similar to riding a rollercoaster through an action movie. To give some background to my claim I need to first give some context to the streets of Mumbai. The roads are twisty and unpredictable, most intersections lack signal lights, speed limits are virtually nonexistent, and all of the other vehicles on the road seem to be driven by stunt doubles. Our driver is no exception; there have been countless occasions where we have literally blown past auto rickshaws at full speed with only an inch of clearance or, have gone from 30 mph to a complete stop in what seems like 5 feet. Needless to say, whenever I enter our miniature bus my blood pressure rises and my hands shake.
Despite our adrenaline filled journeys, our group has had many memorable experiences while riding on the bus. During our three hour road trip from the ESI to Kalol we had a lot of time to bond and laugh. The countryside of India is both beautiful and unique. We passed through many small farming communities, which operated very differently compared to the cities we have been staying in. From the window I was able to notice the long stretches of lush green farming land, speckled with grazing water buffalo and cows. On more than one occasion I saw children playing in public water wells, and women dressed in brightly colored traditional clothing with baskets on their head. Through the journey on the bus I noticed the contrast between city and country life. Unlike the dark and colorless streets of Ahmedabad, the country was free and filled with wildlife and agriculture.
Although the bus can be a great tool for visiting many areas of India in a short amount of time, it also has its inevitable drawbacks. Ironically, one of the most noticeable faults of the bus is its speed and closed windows. While swerving through the streets of Mumbai I had my first glimpse of Dharavi, Mumbai’s densest slum. From the comfort of the bus I was not able to slow down and find the details of the visible shell of the community. Instead I received only a blurred representation, which left me unsatisfied. Moreover, inside the bus we are completely isolated from the unique smells of India. While walking on the streets one of the most important senses I use is smell. Wafting through in the air is the aroma of: spice, food, perfume, humanity, and sewerage all combined into one distinct odor. In the bus we are completely blind to this sense. There is no way to tell if we are passing by a coffee shop or a bakery, a spice stand or a tobacco vender, and a river or an open sewerage system. In the bus our sense of smell is limited, and our vision is blurred. Although we have passed by many important Indian landmarks, I wish that I had the opportunity to walk by them slowly and absorb all the aspects that they have to offer. Jayesh says “when we walk we notice the small small things”. I wish I was able to walk everywhere we have gone, and have the opportunity to notice the “small small things”.