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the stark dichotomies of life in Jaipur

Jennifer Oechsner


On my first trip to India there was a lot of shock and awe, especially on those first few days. This bold (some might call foolish) step to move here for a short time has certainly brought its share of both. But I'm going to be real with you. Some of this shock and awe can be paired with anger, disgust and a complete loss of patience. 

On each of my trips to India I have found great joy, seen amazing beauty and experienced deep compassion. On each of these trips I have also experienced anger, tears of frustration and the ugly side of human existence. As I have said before, in spite of this, I am continually drawn to return.

As I sit and write horns continue to blare and as the the sun sets a layer of dust settles over the city. But the other side of this same coin is the Peepal trees and Bougainvillea blossoms adorning the city, the overpasses painted with pink and white Rajput designs and the bright smiles shared with me each day from the people selling produce on my street. India is filled with these dichotomies.

Many Indians take great pride in the natural beauty of the country. The Himalayas, the stunning coastline, enormous banyan trees and the thousands of glittering temples are all celebrated by Indians and foreigners alike. Yet there are still so many people who think nothing of tossing discarded plastic wrappers on the ground and burning piles of trash. (although I was pleased to find out that many cities ban the use of plastic bags in stores and instead give you "carry bags" made of recycled fabric)

There are signs of economic growth everywhere. Construction is heavily underway in Jaipur and part of this growth is bringing a metro system to the city. Some portions of the city are nicely maintained including signs calling on its citizens to "keep Jaipur clean and green". Yet at the same time, a large segment of the population remains undernourished and illiterate. 

Another part of the scene that I find strange is the situation with the cows. It's charming that cows roam freely on the streets and that they are cherished so deeply. Most Indians I've encountered in Jaipur who do eat meat wouldn't dream of eating a cow. Of course there are religious reasons behind but there is also a pragmatic one. (one might question which came first) One cow can provide nourishment to many people for many years with its milk. The meat of one cow can only feed a handful of people for a short time. It makes sense to avoid eating them, particularly in a country where there is so much poverty. The strange part is that the cows on the street are often fed vegetable scraps that are left in plastic bags. This results in the cows eating plastic bags and part of the reason so many sick and malnourished cows are roaming around. 

Along with these dichotomies I observe is the interesting roller coaster of emotions accompanying my experiences here. The beauty is breathtaking yet the waste can be repulsive. I have met amazing and inspiring people and I see others who treat people like animals. Of course these type of dichotomies exist everywhere but they do seem to be more pronounced here. And of course life is always filled with ups and downs, this is part of the richness of human existence. Without sadness there is no joy. Without pain there is no pleasure. Without rain we don't appreciate the sun; or in the case of living in desert state of Rajasthan, the constant sun deepens my appreciation of rain. 

Living in a place that so much is different means walking around with eyes more open. This heightened sense of presence is party self preservation because if you don't pay attention you might get side swiped by a tuk tuk. But I also think that taking in the surroundings with an open mind has been good for my practice of mindfulness. I have realized that this is part of why I love traveling so much. Its not only about seeing the natural beauty of another country, ancient architecture and finding culinary treats. The simple experiences of wandering the lanes in a foreign city make me look more deeply at my own life and my own thought processes. When I feel anger or fear or sadness what are my own patterns of thought that take me to these states of being? When I place judgements on others how do I justify doing so? What habits can I address to take me away from self-created suffering?

There are many reasons I chose to take this leap and move to India when I had a perfectly good life in Portland. In the time I have been here I have heard time and again that India "India will change you". It is always said with a gentle smile. After 2.5 months in India I am starting to feel those shifts. Like all of us I am a work in progress. There are many layers to this work but one commitment to the process of self development is keeping my eyes open to the lessons each day has to offer. I know I didn't have to move to the opposite side of the world to do this but it sure is an interesting place to learn life lessons.