Gloom (of Sorts) in Ahmedabad




India making me terribly sad just at this moment.

It is not just the poverty and crowding –yes, it is the poverty and crowding, but it is also the prosperity (of sorts) and the crowding.

We cross busy streets a couple of times today. Each time feels almost a miracle.

In the headlong rush of vehicles – little cars, motorbikes motorbikes motorbikes, auto rickshaws auto rickshaws–one has to hold one’s breath and dash. (There are not truly streetlights.)

The older India (of thirty years ago) certainly had many problems. But the newer India seems somehow almost harder, at least for the poor, with a congestion of people augmented by a congestion of motors –

Yes, I know. Who am I, from the wasteful West, from the land of the car, to complain?

We have plenty of miles of strip, uncrossable roadways in the U.S., car car car car car car. Unliveable, unbearable, shoulder spaces.

Of course, here there are people actively living in the shoulder spaces, curled up at careful angles asleep, or sitting squatting awake. Those are the very poor. But there are also those that just seem to come out for air, a bit of coolness, and sit on a parkbench, with traffic traffic traffic whizzing by.

It feels barely liveable in the heat of the day with traffic honking from every direction. But people obviously get inured to it. It feels like it would even be quite difficult for those in the midst of the traffic, but those on motorbikes look inperturbable, plowing headlong–well not headlong – they are dodging around each other nonstop–ahead. Men frequently wear headscarves to cover their mouths, while women wear scarfs to cover virtually all their skin – mouth nose eyes forehead hair. Many women even wear long beige-pink gloves over their arms, and toe socks with their sandals. Auto rickshaw drivers seem to frequently drive barefoot, their chappels – sandals–to one side of the gas pedal or clutch.

One must take care on the wider sidewalks – they are not, it turns out, actual sidewalks (though there’s little other space to walk) but further lanes for cars and motorbikes.. I think the idea is that they can drive there if they want to stop at a store or building along the way, but many of the motorbikes seem like they just want to slip by the throng. (And honk at you.)

In short, older more peaceful ways of life seem swept away as the new jams in, honking all the way. “Outside” becomes a onslaught.

And it can’t help but make one sad, worried. That the new prosperity does not seem to conceive of breathable air or space or quiet as any kind of natural right (or even goal), and those who are left behind by the rush seem to be left increasingly far behind.

I don’t know that we are particularly better about this in the West. We also trade liveability–quality air, space, quiet – for stuff. Lots and lots and lots of it.

But if the rest of the world follows us, or worse, follows us in terms of a desire for private stuff while also accepting far lower standards for public air, water, quiet, space, the world seems to be in for a very difficult time.

(The good news, the reason i am truly much more cheerful since starting this post, is that we also have been involved with the most wonderful generous caring, Earth-and-human-sensitve people. . Not only at SEWA, but with another charity that focuses on children at risk, called the Swapath Trust. )

(And even people not associated with a charity – even people on motorbikes – have been tremendously kind. After we asked a fruit vendor where we might buy vegetables, we were followed – and then led – by an old man on a very slow putting motorbike, who sent by the fruit merchant, took us on the circuitous route to the veggies. The vegetable merchant–but not the old guy who led us there–is seen below.)


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5 Comments on “Gloom (of Sorts) in Ahmedabad”

  1. hedgewitch Says:

    We have been blessed here with a (once robust but now dwindling) middle class, with (almost) infinite resources and almost infinite room, which is probably the only difference–that, and starting a bit later in the over-population sweepstakes. But people here have fought hard for things like urban spaces, national parks, union wages–against sheer planet-ripping greed—and the fight seems to be slipping out of us. It sounds a lot like Mexico City when I was there years ago–the pall of pollution almost unbreathable, the poor lining the narrow passageways owning nothing but a rag to sit on and a hat to hope a coin will fall in. Thanks for posting k, and glad to know some better vibes are happening, too.

  2. brian miller Says:

    the sweeping away for hte older more peaceful life for the congestion is the saddest thing for me…i wonder how long it will be before that trend takes many of the places…..i am glad for the good news toward the end there…

  3. janehewey Says:

    thank you for sharing. keep on your toes, and cover your nose.

  4. claudia Says:

    makes me sad to hear this as well…india is developing so fast and probably also overwhelmed to handle the growth… reminds me a bit of china. i know that in china now they really start investing in environmental protection as they have realized that they have to if they want some sort of life quality back..that last part made me smile.. so cool

  5. The more I see and hear from rational, thinking people, the more I believe that people are just people and more or less the same the world over, the good, the bad, the ugly.
    Another fab post k. Thanks for sharing.

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