Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Different Lens

As the train slowed down at New Delhi's railway station I saw the city from a different lens. Passing the slum quarters lining the tracks I imagined I was living there. It was 5 am, yet life had begun in the shacks roofed with tarpaulin, tattered cloth, plastic bags, and jute sacks. Men were shitting on the tracks. A few women were washing clothes. I thought about the vast, open fields of rural India. And then I saw the cramped, trash-ridden housing spread along the length of the train tracks. Why would a villager move to the city if this is what awaited him/her? The trains that constantly thundered by would disrupt night after night of slumber. Then one would get used to it. Habit is simply an acceptance of circumstance.

Money. That's the only reason I could come up with slum-dwellers tolerating the dirt of urbanity. Shreeji ka Kheda is comfortable by many standards. Homes have stable roofs. The noise level is minimal, pollution virtually non-existent. There is a freedom that comes with large physical spaces. Each family owns cattle and possesses land. But money, there's not enough of. So moving to the city becomes the solution. A large, polluted, noisy foreign land where all you own is what you bring. You shit on the train tracks. You sleep in a stuffy room. And you work, so that your family back home won't eat roti and peppers everyday.

I came to Delhi for three days so I could submit my Masters in Social Work application at Delhi University. I ate at expensive restaurants. I bought costly books. I spent at least two hundred rupees on auto-rickshaw travel. Yet in Baneda, I bargain to bring down the cost of tomatoes by two rupees. Maybe it's hypocrisy. Maybe its realizing the value of money in a place where you naturally spend less. Maybe it's in the mind.

Seeing the capital after coming from the States was different from seeing it after coming from Shreeji ka Kheda. Delhi is a place of migrants. Every rickshaw driver, every beggar, every labourer I saw on the streets - I wondered which village they came from, what their true home was.


  1. Pragya, this is simply brilliant. You have hit the proverbial nail in the head. Our cities are not at all migrant friendly in terms of both laws and infrastructure even though their cheap, hard labour is critical to the urban economy and the rural ones back home.

  2. Very thought-provoking post, written from the heart.

  3. Pragya you posed a question that people generation after generation get used to seeing and accepting as a way of life. A different lens and with a fresh pair of eyes. One sees the day to day living of migrants in big cities. Wonder what they are feeling as they are living their lives. Are they happy or are they trapped? Do they have a choice for a better life for themselves and their children? Do they have a voice in the middle of trains passing and using the tracks lined with shacks and people behind those thin walls?