My Indian History professor told me once that for everything you can say is true about India, the opposite is also true. From my experience, India is a society of extreme contradictions, and every bit of India’s past lives somewhere in the present.
The country is rich yet poor, clean yet dirty, old yet new. It’s as if every generation of change in India has been marked with its own designated space in the current time.
Today started out as an average Sunday. My friend Devon and I decided we wanted to explore a botanical garden we had discovered on Google that is near our hostel. So, I sketched out a map on the back of my hand and off we went.
The area we live in is a bit tucked away from the rest of the city, and when Devon and I walked out of the campus gates, we turned toward a side of the road we never go down. After a while, it started to feel like we were in even less of a town and more in a village.
While I’ve always felt like an alien outsider in India, the feeling grew stronger while walking through that neighborhood. Though I mostly kept my eyes on the ground, I could feel the eyes of strangers burning into my back. We knew just as much as they that we didn’t belong there, but still we pressed on in the search for some greenery.
Apart from the stares, it was nice to see what a real Indian neighborhood looks like. For the first time in person, I saw children playing soccer on the street, women washing and hanging clothes on clotheslines and whole families deep in conversation on their front porches.
This neighborhood was probably lower-middle class at best. The inhabitants didn’t appear to have many material possessions, but they did look happy. I was so occupied in my observations that it wasn’t until we got almost to the end of the village that I stopped cold.
No more than 20 feet from where two boys were playing, off to the side of the road, was a dead puppy. Its mouth was stretched open as if it had screamed its last breath. Its legs were twisted and disjointed. Its small body was stiff but intact. It had died within the past day.
I came pretty close to throwing up the lunch I had recently eaten. I had to close my eyes and breathe deeply for a few minutes just to settle my heart and stop it from racing.
Seeing that dead puppy was disturbing in a way I had never before experienced, yet at the same time it served as a lesson about Indian society and its values. In Washington, Animal Control makes sure dead animals are taken care of as soon as possible. But there’s no Animal Control in India. The only people who clean up after death in rural areas are members of the lower caste.
Because of India’s living past, every aspect of society can be seen at the same time. Just before seeing the dead puppy, I smiled watching a group of children playing with three puppies on their front porch. No more than a minute later, I was haunted by the image of a dead one.
The heavy presence of Hinduism and the belief in reincarnation has created in India an apathetic image of death as being just an inevitable aspect of the life cycle. But being from the U.S., death is not something I see or deal with on a regular basis.
I think seeing death so up close and in my face was a good lesson in the facts of life. Every living creature dies. No matter how much we try to hide it, that’s just the way it is.