There is something about a bird’s eye view to make a city feel smaller.
The roofs of Old Delhi are covered in day-old roti, roti being the less well-known but far more plentiful cousin to India’s most famous bread: naan. I asked why so much food was wasted in a city so full of hungry children always coming up to car windows begging for 10 rupees to buy a chapati (chapati generally refers to a whole-wheat version roti).
It’s for the birds, of course. In a city where so many believe that they might be reincarnated in animal form and that suffering in this life will grant them a better chance in the next one, I suppose I can dimly grasp at the logic of feeding birds instead of children. But not really. No, not at all.
There is always this moment in a foreign country in which the prevailing customs and beliefs swirl and churn their way into my consciousness, lapping at the sides of my own moral ship and finally rising up over the deck to smack me down in a wave of pure shock and just a touch of fury.
To my way of thinking, this bit of shock and awe is a good thing. The unfamiliar ills of a foreign society are to wandering souls what koans are to Buddhists–paradoxes unsolvable and yet instructional. Pondering the same societal riddles over and over again helps me to see my own faults and America’s faults in a new light. They force me to move past certain caricatures of “India” and consider the unique opinions and viewpoints of everyone I meet.
I was talking with our housekeeper the other day about the role of grandparents in different cultures. I was telling her how many grandparents in China are the ones to raise their grandchildren while their own children go to work to support the entire family. I asked her if families in India were like this.
No, she said. She leaned back on the kitchen counter, looked up at the ceiling and sighed.
In India, the role of the grandparents is to criticize the daughter-in-law, she said.
But it won’t be her role. She’s already told her sons that she will never live with them after they marry, if she can help it. She does not want to make the lives of her daughters-in-law as miserable as custom would dictate, but she knows how easy it would be to fall into this societal pattern were they all to live under one roof.
So instead, she and her husband have a mortgage on a plot of land where they will build a home when they retire and where their grandchildren can come to visit them. She said she would rather break with tradition than live to glimpse her future daughters-in-law making long faces behind her back.
Just one more reason to remember that nothing in this country is ever entirely as it seems, as it is said to be, as it is “supposed” to be.
A few more photos from Old Delhi below.