Taken for Granted

India is a world of contrast. Driving through the streets of Mumbai, through the chaotic traffic that has no rules, at one moment, we pass slums, some of the largest in Asia and stray dogs taking shelter from the heat in the shade; the next moment, we drive past a hotel that costs $400 a night. Contrast struck me last night as we ate dinner at the Sofitel, undoubtedly one of the nicest hotels in Bandra Kurla Complex and perhaps in Mumbai as well. The Sofitel is a place for millionaires and kings. Twenty foot chandeliers dangled from the ceilings, reflecting light on the marble floors. The restaurant was more of a museum with food on display than a buffet. “Take anything and everything you want,” the waiters said; and we did.

It was food heaven: a banquet of choices lay out before us like a library of food. A chocolate fountain, which we all delighted and squealed over, poured rich, dark chocolate over its tiers in creamy waterfalls. I ate without a second thought, dizzy with a gluttonous greed to eat everything, even after my stomach was fit to burst.

This was Paradise, yet suffering was right outside the gate.

Looking back, I feel the guilt of my actions. I dove into this wealth of food, stuffing myself, never remembering the simple meals we had seen some of the children in the slums schools eating or the women making in the huts of their homes.

One moment I remember at the Sofitel exhibits contrast: upon entering the restaurant, I caught a glimpse of a little girl in a clean, floral dress playing on the stairs. She smiled as she played on the stairs, peeking out at the people through the bars of the stairs.

But their smiles were different from those of the children we met in Ahmedabad or even the children we saw who banged on our bus, begging for money.

The children in the village had eyes that had seen the world. Though their smiles shone brightly, their faces were like beautiful kaleidoscopes of memories, emotions, and maturity. They understood hardship; they understand the meaning of struggle and pain, and it reflected in the pupils of their large, brown, Indian eyes; their faces held the scars of growing up too fast.

The little girl on the stairs was like every other happy child I have seen in the States: smiling, naïve, sweet, and innocent. They are still young; their childhood is still stretched out before them with a lack of worry and pain. They look like children whose future holds potential and a plethora of possibility.

India has presented contrast to me not just in the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty in buildings, but also in the children we have met and seen on this trip. I’ve become hyper-aware of contrast now, comparing India to other parts of India and India to home. It reminds us, or reminds me rather, that life is not a fair game and our lives are decided through an ovarian lottery. It also reminds us to love our lives, live our lives, love our family, our friends, our food, and our homes because we often take these for granted.