The Life That's Hidden
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The Life That's Hidden

All about a trip I took as a young girl, and how it changed my outlook on life and the world forever.

The Life That's Hidden

"Flight attendants, please prepare for landing." My sister shook me from side to side with excitement that we were finally in India. I pushed my blanket off of me, put my tray table back up, and shifted my position to lean against the window. I watched intently as the clouds disappeared and a land full of wonder and excitement came into view below us. We continued our descent, passing magnificent skyscrapers looming over the people below. I marveled at the skyline, so full you had to look up to even see the sky, and as we got closer, something new came into view. They were houses, but no ordinary ones. Different shades of brown, gray, and black covered the houses in patches, old saris worn down to the last threads covered makeshift windows as drapes, just looking like one gust of wind could bring the whole structure falling down at any moment. My father noticed as my mouth gaped open in awe and confusion staring at these houses and said to me, "These are slums, those who are poor and have no money live here." I was taken aback by how unphased he was when he said this to me and I couldn't stop staring at them and even when we left the plane those houses and their residents never left my mind.

As we disembarked from the airplane, I continued to think about the houses and started to wonder about the people who lived there and what their lives were like. We picked up our luggage from the carousel and waited outside as the hot and humid air of Mumbai, India came to greet us. My uncle arrived in a sleek black car driven by his chauffeur, and we all piled in buzzing from the excitement of reuniting with our family. As we drove off, the city lights seemed to invite us in, but not until we had passed the area of slums that surrounded the airport. I sat up straight in my seat, adjusting my seatbelt to get a better look at the slums. A woman in a thin and worn out blue sari was crouched down to bathe her children with just a bucket of water and a washcloth, people had clothes hanging out on drying lines, and men worked to patch houses and maintain their communities with their faces beaded with sweat as the hot Indian sun beat down upon them. The car jolted to a stop at a traffic light and I made eye contact with a man carrying a bucket on his head and a child in his arms. His eyes looked sunken, tired beyond exhaustion, his body bent over from the weight, and his bones protruding from his skin as if they were trying to escape. He immediately looked away when our eyes met, but I wanted to look at him long and try to learn more about him. As the car sped off, I sat back in my seat, turned towards my sister and said, "How can people live like this?" Looking up from her iPod, she looked at me and said, "I don't know, but it's sad." I couldn't wrap my mind around what I was seeing or why no one else was having the same reaction I was, so I sat back and just let it all soak in.

We pulled up in front of my Uncle's penthouse apartment right in the heart of Mumbai, servants running to open doors and collect luggage for us, and family waiting by the entrance ready to welcome us in. As I entered, my eyes were blinded by the sunset sun bouncing off the chandelier, my nose filled with the smell of cloves, turmeric, and ginger sizzling as the food was being prepared, and my ears were overwhelmed with the sounds of family members reuniting and rejoicing. As the evening began to wind down, my sister and I were taken to our room for the night, a beautiful large bedroom with a balcony overlooking the city. My suitcase fell from my hands as I ran to the balcony excited to take in all the sights, sounds, and smells. As I gazed across the night sky, I noticed candlelight flickering not too far away and looked down to get a closer look to see what was going on. A family was eating dinner on the roof of their house since they had no electricity inside their house and the lights illuminating the sky from the city provided light for them. I stood still for a moment and all I could think about these people was, "How did they get here, how do they live, and how do the wealthy people of this city just ignore them and pretend like they don't even exist? How is this okay?" The questions were too large to ask my parents and too big to answer myself. I went to bed, my mind buzzing, and as the exhaustion kicked in, I drifted away into a peaceful sleep.

The smell of hot chai drifted into our room, waking me up with excitement for our first full day. Amid the chaos of fifteen family members trying to shower, eat, socialize, and pack, my parents, sister, and I made it out on the road just in time to catch our next flight. We waved goodbye to our family and the city and headed towards the airport. We passed the city with buildings so tall you couldn't see the top and saw the slums come into view again. Young children were outside helping their parents work, clean, and cook, not in school like most children were that day. They looked frail, arms and legs so thin you wonder how their bones are keeping up with them as they run around laughing and playing tag with their friends. I was overcome with a sense of helplessness but was unsure of what I would be able to do to help them.

We reached the airport and the mundane procedure of traveling began. Dropping bags off at check-in, going through security, shoes off, jewelry off, shoes on, and jewelry back on. We walked the stretch of the airport to find the gate and sat there waiting until we finally were able to board. We landed in Vadodara, a small town in the state of Gujarat, my parents' birthplace and where my grandparents call home. I was shaking and fidgeting with uncontrollable excitement of being reunited with my cousins and my grandparents, whom I had not seen in so long. As soon as we arrived I sprinted out of the car, up the three flights of stairs and knocked excitedly on my grandparent's door. I flung my arms around my grandmother, squeezing her tight, taking in that sweet, familiar, and comfortable smell that grandmothers always have. She smothered my face in kisses and tight hugs, leaving me grinning from ear to ear. I was so excited to be back at their house, a beautiful one story flat, with two bedrooms, and a balcony with a swing to look down at the street below. It was definitely a modern apartment, with stone tiles leading you from the living room to the back bedrooms, beautiful countertops lining the kitchen, high ceilings and natural light streaming in from the windows. We enjoyed our time here eating delicious food, playing Indian card games, and soaking in every moment that we were all together. Last minute, my mother came and told me that we were going to visit a close family friend who lived in a village roughly two hours away. As we piled into a car and began our journey, the landscape began to transition from an urban scene to a rural one, and the poverty felt as if it was slowly creeping back to being prevalent the farther we were from the city.

As we entered the village, groups of people were standing together in a crowd, cooking over a large fire pit, preparing to eat a meal together. The ambiance was inviting, making you feel welcome and comfortable as soon as you arrived. We sat down for some tea with our friends and began chatting when all of a sudden I realized that I needed to go to the bathroom badly. I leaned over in my chair and signaled to my mother that I needed the bathroom. She informed our friend who quickly got up to show me where it was. I turned around and asked my mother to come with me, as I felt uneasy going alone in a place I was unfamiliar with. We followed our friend out the door and onto a dirt trail until we reached a shack with no roof and a small door. Shaking, I opened the door to reveal a hole in the ground and nothing else at all. I turned to my mother and said, "I can't do this, I can't go to the bathroom here." My eyes were welling up with tears with the thought of having to use the bathroom here as my nose was held shut by my hand since the smell was unbearable. Her eyes widened in shock and embarrassment that I had just said this out loud. She pulled me aside and said, "You have to be respectful, this is how other people live and this is where they live, you cannot be rude." I knew that in the end I had no choice, so I went to the bathroom, longing to leave this village and return to a place where I felt comfortable and clean.

I kept these moments with me as we left India, landed in Boston, and finally returned home. As soon as we pulled up to the house, I jumped out of the car, up the driveway, up the path, into the house, up the stairs, into the bathroom, almost crying at the sight of a normal and clean toilet. My mom followed behind me laughing at the way I was acting, how excited I was to have these simple luxuries back, everything I never realized I was so lucky to have. I noticed myself appreciating all the little things more, reminiscing on the times where I didn't have them, counting my blessings, and being grateful for everything that I have.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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