Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Jitesh was a man I met at the New Modern Lodge in Gangtok, Sikkim, India. A native Indian, we got to talking and he begun to tell me about his past year of traveling, his adventures, his stories. After working for Cisco in Bangalore for a while, he grew tired of IT and wanted to see India. He spent some time working for various NGO's, trying on different hats, and decided it was time to see the mountains, the rivers, the plains, and the deserts that occupy his country. And so he
traveled. Whether it was coincidence or not that we met, he imparted on me a very vivid, and dark experience. I shall re-tell it now from his perspective.
While traveling in the North of India, I had spent some time in the conflict zone of Kashmir. Ladakh and Jammu were quite safe, but for Kashmir, the Indian army heavily occupied the entire area. It was full of rules and curfews, and you can do this but not this, and you can't do
that, but this you can, etc. There is a large lake up where I was, called Dal lake. Hundreds of house boats occupied the lake, and as I had been staying with villagers in other states, I also stayed on one of these house boats.
One day, a bunch of people gathered in a boat, hurrying for a shore that was closest to the main road. Men and women paddling hard, people with concerned looks, dark eyes. As they passed closer to my boat, in hearing and in sight, there was a woman in the middle of the boat holding a
small baby. She was crying. Other people also seemed transfixed on this sickly looking baby. The men paddled harder, sweat dripping over brows and mustaches, blinding eyes; salt and urgency was the taste on their tongues. It became obvious that the baby was sick, and what they were
rushing for was the road to the hospital. So they rushed and paddled harder, and some people began to cry.
While there, a curfew had been put into effect for the entire region of Kashmir. It was an indefinite curfew to save people from getting hurt, and to curb potential threats, so they say. You could basically not leave your house for the week. For anything. It is not strange for
army personnel, (their origins from all over India), stationed inKashmir to beat up taxi drivers for being so foolish to drive people into the region. Once in a cab, I had army men yell and shout at me for being so dumb as to think of coming here. "You are Indian, don't you know there is a curfew?!" It was almost until the point of being hit. My taxi driver was often hit right in front of me. These are violent times in our world, violent times indeed. This was not a safe place, the
people here were used to bombs, used to death, used to limbs and flesh, individual pieces not part of the whole.
Outrage busted at the seams from this crowd. Fighting, rocks, shouts, swears, screams. It was too far away to see, but potentially even blood. There was anger coupled with anguish. I sat in silence on this already deathly silent lake and tried to hear their words. Tried to hear their threats. Tried to hear their shouts. Tried to hear their prayers. After a while, they had no choice but to turn back for home.
In the end, the curfew had no implication on their goal. They were angered, emotional and blamed the police for their loss. Even if they did make it to the hospital, the baby had died before they reached the shore. They cried, and prayed, and with wet, tired eyes, looked to the sky for help. Their own police and government weren't helping them. They could barely help themselves, even in full force.
A baby dying is not like another death. Not like that of an old woman, or a diseased man. Not like that of a father or grandmother, aunt or uncle. Losing a baby is losing more than the person, its losing all the potential it had to live a good life and improve others. It didn't know
what was happening (as far as we cant determine), it did not know whereit's life would lead. The next Nelson Mandela or Indira Gandhi, the next Lance Armstrong or Neil Armstrong! Infinite possibilities!
Perhaps if we could predict lives, and this babies was one of sorrow, anguish, and pain; a life of bombs and destruction - perhaps then death was a good escape.