India is many things, not one thing. It is a land of great wealth and beauty, of extraordinary poverty and suffering. It is a rich feast of images and colors. Visual artists often make great photographers, and Maria is becoming a wonderful photographer, this is a great photo, and it makes me want to go to Kolkata if she goes again, with my camera.
It is simple to stereotype a place, and I don't wish to suggest that this is the whole story of India, a deep and very diverse world I am told But it is an image that sears, people cleaning and living and sitting by a running sewer.
I talked with a good friend, a social activist last night, her name is Eve Marko, and she is widely traveled and has been to India. She said that whenever she returns to America, she thinks about how unaware most of us are of how fortunate we are to have electricity when we want it, heat and clean water, not to mention shelter and gasoline and plenty of food.
I believe this is true, when I look at the political news, I am struck by how angry, whiny and self-absorbed we are in danger of becoming as a people, so many of us seem only to care about money and ambition and false notions of security. There is no spiritual dimension to our national political life beyond jobs and business and profits and loss, no national aspiration other than a "booming" economy, which means a booming economy for very few of us..
It sometimes seems that every other value is subordinate to that. When I speak with the refugees or hear about them, I hear of their shock and bewilderment when they go to a Wal-Mart or American mall and see this staggering wealth of things to buy, a hundred different kinds of cosmetics, food and produce stretching to the horizon. The refugees simply cannot believe how much we have.
We take our lives for granted here, and a photograph like this reminds me to not be selfish and narcissistic. In a country of such enormous wealth, it just stuns me that so many people want to slam the doors in the face of such neediness, when we have so much to spare. There are many people in India and elsewhere who would be happy to live off of our waste.
I believe the true soul of our nation is generosity and selflessness, that is what we aspire to, even if we can't always make it. If we lost that, we lose who we are, and the world loses who we are. That would be a tragedy on so many counts.
(Speaking of which, you can help newly arriving refugees by going here, to a gift page established by the U.S. Committee On Refugees and Immigration.) And easy and inexpensive way to help and feel good and do good.)