An Italian in India
An Italian in India – Part 2: Peace, Poverty, and Chaos
It is impossible to further express how evident the contrast between rich and poor is. Hundreds, thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of people survive by begging for a few rupees outside some of the most incredible monuments I have ever visited, where usually the army is in charge of security, as with many public places.
Outside the Lotus Temple you can find all sorts of street sellers and beggars standing or sitting on an unpaved road. Inside, a vast garden opens the path to the gigantic marble temple, resembling a lotus flower on a pond; a pledge to the Jain Shasan religion. Its philosophy is based on the acceptance of all religions and philosophies in search of global peace. Meanwhile people are left on the streets as if the casts of Indian society had never been abolished by law.
You can only walk a few meters before someone steps in to try and sell you something, anything. But the most beautiful expression of Indian salesmanship are the bazaars. Chandni Chowk is a full district based on a huge bazaar, laying on the outer border of Old Delhi, close to the river Yamuna and to the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial. Chandni Chowk delimits the border with New Delhi. It is a claustrophobic cluster of streets with an unbearable number of people, where maybe one out of hundred wasn’t Indian, but only one out of thousand was western. It is one of the most famous bazaars in Delhi, as well as the oldest in town. It is almost impossible to reach its borders by taxi, because of the number of people flooding the roads. The merchants bring their goods in on motorbikes, usually with one guy driving across the crowd, while the second one, usually younger, balances up to five or even six boxes filled with all sorts of goods. People of all casts walk through Chandni Chowk, but the most impressive fact is to recognise how many different cultures and religions might be mixed together in such a closed space, fully integrated. In Chandni Chowk I saw Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, atheists, Buddhists, Jainists, and surely these were only the most recognisable ones, while many others might also have been present. All of them coexisting pacifically in the anarchic chaos that characterises India. Nonetheless, there is nothing of higher value than money in Chandni Chowk. Every bit of space is filled with craftsmen working wood, iron, steel or any other material; grain sellers, butchers, bakers, jewellers as well as dentists, doctors, lawyers, tailors, cloth sellers, not to mention the ground floor shops in the buildings facing the road. Absolute chaos where anything is impossible!
Just a few kilometres away, in Rajghat, lays the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, which is where his body was cremated. It is a park close to the Yamuna river that, with the Shantivana and the Vijaghat parks, forms a huge green spot in memory of the presidents and other prominent people who gave their lives for their country since independence. It should be a quiet and peaceful place, but during the Christmas holidays it was overcrowded by Indian students on school trips, coming from all over the country. No matter where you go in India, and when you go, crowds are something you have to get used to.
By Alberto Gouthier