Free Write, June 20th
Dear Mr. Mundra,
Why was I chosen to go on this trip?
I wonder, did you see something in me...? Did you have some sort of bigger purpose...? This is not a rhetorical question. I sincerely want to know.
Because all I can think about now is the woman from the slum today. The woman with the red sari and green kurta, the woman with the long black hair and gold hoop earrings, that woman. The dirt sweeper, the trash collector, the one kneeling on the side of the dirt rode with her back bent over and her chin tucked between her knees.
We are on our way to the Rudra Center, a small artisanal community for women within one of the largest slums in Ahmedabad, India. There's dirt in my nostrils and everywhere else on my body, and wherever there isn't dirt there's sticky sweat clinging to my skin. The last in line, I'm lagging behind the group. I can't stop staring at the vivid blue and green walls of the dilapidated huts, the bottles on the floor, the bricks on the tin roofs, the women and children peeking out from their private spaces. As much as I try to absorb everything, there is too much to look at, too much to possibly take in at once, too much. So, seeking some sort of comfort, I look down at my feet.
Which brings me back to the woman. The first thing I notice is how physically close she is to me. I could have almost stepped on her, had I not been looking. She is so old and so small and so fragile. The second thing I notice, interestingly enough, is that she has two different color eyes: one jet black, the other bottle green, just like my eyes.
I take a step back in surprise. She stops picking up trash, looks up at me, probably just as startled. She does not look mad or scared, just curious. I wonder if she notices that one of her eyes is just like mine.
I wish I spoke Hindi. Because I would have said so many things to her. Sorry for almost stepping on you. You're beautiful. I like your sari. I'm sorry you have to pick up trash in this deadly heat. What is it like living in a slum? What do you have for breakfast? Do you have a husband who loves you? Do you ever think of living somewhere else? Could you? How did you get stuck picking up the trash on the street? What are the last thoughts that run through your head before you fall into a peaceful sleep?.... Is your sleep peaceful? Oh, and what's your name?
But I don't speak Hindi and she probably doesn't speak English and I'm probably in her way and I should probably catch up to the group. So I swallow my questions and wipe my brow and shuffle off hastily.
And now it's hours later and I'm still thinking about that woman, and what she represents, and the fact that I will never see her again. Would I even recognize her if I saw her again? Would she recognize me?
I could have easily been born in Ahmedabad, could have easily lived in this slum. I could have grown up with green and blue huts and dusty roads and stray dogs and impossibly photogenic kids running around playing tag. I could have been the woman with two different color eyes picking up trash on the busy side of the road.
So why me, Mr. Mundra? Why did you choose me to go on Niswarth?
I thought I would know as soon as I got here, would get some sort of answer, but now I am only left with an endless supply of questions, multiplying exponentially like bacteria, and it's driving my head crazy.
Why did I get the better end of the deal? Running water, electricity, food, money, education, a family who cares about me, a dad who will let me travel half way around the world, a mum who will still tuck me in at night, a little brother who will cook me breakfast when I'm sad, an older brother who will try (and fail) to explain music theory to me, a clean bed to have a peaceful sleep...
I don't deserve anything more than the woman. But the truth is that I was delt a better card, and there's no way around it. While she gets to pick up trash and worry about her family and friends and health and probably a million other things that I am not even slightly aware of, I get to go on trips around the world with my prep school and write on a $500 dollar ipad in an air-conditioned room and sleep in a warm bed at night.
I'm going to be honest, Mr. Mundra. I do not fully know why I am here.
What I do know is this: I am in the process of finding out.
I am in the process of discovering, of transitioning, of observing, of questioning my pre-made assumptions. Even if you could, Mr. Mundra, I would not want you to answer my questions. I want to find them on my own.
So, to the woman in the slum with the two different color eyes, I'm sorry for almost stepping on you. I really didn't mean to. I hope, in some very strange and coincidental way, that we will meet again. You have taught me so much.