I can still see her dry, dusty, cocoa colored skin. Her skeletal arm reaching out to me, her small begging hands. A little faded dress, long uncombed dark hair and big brown eyes that echoed the urgency in her voice.
Please miss please, she pleaded. I don’t remember if she actually asked for money, but it was clear what she wanted.
Nadine took my arm, pulling me along. “Just keep walking”, she said.
We had stopped to get money from an ATM on the way back to our hotel in Kolkata.
Despite her neglect, the little girl was pretty. She was maybe six or seven years old. Later I would think how sometimes it’s dangerous to be pretty.
She kept pace with us running along side me as we walked as fast as we could.
“You see that man”, Nadine said to me. “She’ll never see any money, he’ll take it all. If we give her money, they’ll never stop using kids this way.”
I understood what Nadine was telling me, but at that moment all I wanted to do was give the little girl some money. I wanted to pick her up and take her home with me.
When I think of her now, I imagine doing just that. I scoop her up off the dirty sidewalk. She’s light in my arms her bones thin like a birds. As I run with her pressed tightly against me, I feel my feet lift from the ground and in moments we’re flying above the buildings, floating in the clear blue sky to someplace safe.
When I think of her now, I stop myself from imagining what happened to her when she went back to the man without any money.
India haunts me. It lives under my skin and behind my eyes.
I never wish I didn’t go, but sometimes I wish I didn’t have to keep feeling some of the emotions it brings up in me. A part of me would like to go back to experience it again. Maybe, I think, I’d be more prepared for it this time. But a part of me wants to run from it and leave it all behind.
I heard from Soma at House of Hearts yesterday. We communicate by messaging on facebook. I’m leaning to keep my messages short. Soma speaks and writes English well, (other wise we wouldn’t be able to communicate at all) but the language barrier is still sometimes difficult. And the physical distance makes it impossible to connect to each other in a way I’m used to when working with someone.
But we keep trying. I’ll have a new batch of potholders in September.
Selling the potholders that the women at House of Hearts make is one of the many good parts of the trip. The reason I went to India in the first place. I try to hold that in my mind and feel it in my body when I think of the little girl with the dry, skinny arms running along side of me.
It won’t make a difference for that little girl. And me buying and selling potholders from House of Hearts isn’t going to change the world. But the idea of women making their own money and having control over their own lives may make a difference for the women who work for Soma. And who knows what can eventually happen, years from now, if that idea is successful and continues to grow.
10 thoughts on “India Haunts Me”
Love this post it brought back memories of my own first trip to India in the mid ’70s how beautiful and colorful it was and how ugly and drab at the same time. I was in my early 20’s I really didn’t understand what real poverty was until that trip, being surrounded by children begging in the streets from the moment I stepped out of my hotel. Those memories remained etched in my mind I carried the faces of those children with me for years, more than 20 years later my second trip to India I was more prepared for the trip, there was still the beauty of the land and its people and there was still the overwhelming poverty and hope for a better tomorrow. Good for you to be able to do business with House of Hearts which as you said may not change the world but will in fact make a difference in someones life.
You went back Deb, I think that’s a good thing to do if possible. Thanks for your insight.
There is a terrible tension in my heart bewtween the deep suffering which I have witnessed and the joy and healing which I have also witnessed. It is an awful gift which some of us are carry, as we live with the reality that all we can do is let go and do good! You speak to my heart Maria.
Beautifully written Susan.
Flying off the ground with the little girl in your arms sounds like a poem or artwork…
I have my House of Hearts potholder in my kitchen; left the tag on to distinguish it from my other artful potholders; some with MW on them. I sent one H of H potholder to my sister in Pa. She appreciated it all the more when I told her about your traveling to India, Maria, and teaching the women your artwork.
Thanks Mary. I suppose it could become a piece of art. I hadn’t thought of it. It might be healing too.
The first time I went to India I was ten years old. My father had briefed me on arriving in SE Asia that you should tell beggars to go away. In Cambodia it was “Allez! Allez!” It seemed a strange way for one child to interact with another. In India I was told those children were taught to beg and I should pay no attention. I too have a child that haunts me. She was so tiny and looked so desperate. I don’t know what happened to her when she failed to bring money back to whoever was using her. All I can see is her tear stained face as I gazed through the rear window of our taxi. I shall never forget it.
I got chills reading your words Carolyn. Thank you for writing and sharing your experience. It makes me feel less alone.
The folks who run the little store near us are from Nepal. I know it’s not India but I love their stories. Now the woman there has brought back soft woolen shawls, long light sweater tops, hats and a few more items to sell in her shop. I spent time with her feeling and admiring her clothing. I told her about you and your India project. I’m going to bring in my India pot holder to show her.(and hopefully make a purchase) Ron especially loved this blog 🙂
That sounds like a lovely relationship between you and the store owners Cindy.