Monique Rhodes


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The Suffering Monkey

I see suffering here in India and I don't seem to be able to relate to it. It's almost like there is so much suffering that it feels normal. Everywhere there is poverty and dirt. But when suffering is normal is it then suffering? At what point is it merely a way of life?

There are poor people everywhere. But if there are poor people everywhere then is their poverty relative? In the west I see people who are struggling, not to have food and a roof over their heads, but to own the latest things. It's hard to put that into context here in India.  I am questioning what suffering actually means and perhaps realising with this incredibly tangible example of life here that so much of it is in our own minds.


In fact in some ways I see less suffering here in India than I do in the west where physical needs are taken care of as a priority and mental suffering appears to be at an extreme. I feel sure you could take a wise man from these streets in India into the west and he may feel the same grief we do as westerners at the poverty we see here. I would imagine he would grieve our emotional poverty, our addiction to having more.
Today I watched this man make his monkeys do tricks for a group of children at the side of the road. One of the monkeys was clearly unhappy as he was made to do all sorts of silly things. However a few moments later it was happily eating the reward it had been given. Perhaps I can aspire to be more like that monkey. Forget and just get on with things.



India - First impressions

As I flew into Delhi I was amazed at the smog. As the sun was touching my face through the aeroplane window I wondered if I was saying goodbye to the sun for some time. I could not imagine how it could come through the cloud of smog that even hung in the airport building.

It's taken a lot of mental preparation to get ready to arrive in Delhi. I have read about the emotional toll the country can take on you. The beggars, the people, with limbs and faces missing, the sexual harassment and then there is the noise, the pollution, the crowds, the filth, the smells. I feared I would get here and be utterly overwhelmed and exhausted in a few hours.

I arrived at the airport having read about the beggars, the scammers and how to take care of myself. I was ready. A man tried to ask me something as I walked to get my bags and I didn't look at him and walked on. I'm ready for is - I thought. There must be so many people out those front doors who are ready for me, this fresh arrival from New Zealand. But there wasn't. I walked quite quickly to the taxi rank, told the cab driver where to take me and we were off. Easy as that. I almost felt as though I had missed something.

The most fascinating part about driving through Delhi to reach my friend Mauro's house, who I am staying with, was that I barely saw a woman. There were so many men walking the streets, walking off the side of the roads and barely a female face except for my first encounter with a beggar and her child who came to the window of my taxi.

The driving is mad, I tried not to look, but also I am in awe of it. How they manage to duck and dive in the way that they do and not hit each other is beyond my comprehension. The endless car horn honking is part of the dance to let each other know they are there. In New Zealand, where no one seems to allow another in front of them as some sort of badge of honour, I can hardly imagine being able to get behind a wheel of a car here and lasting a few minutes intact. I did see a policeman giving a man a ticket and wondered what on earth a traffic violation in India could possibly consist of. He must have done something totally outrageous!

I spent the afternoon at the markets with O, a German friend of my host who had been to Delhi many times and was on her way to Sikkhim. She seemed to know the ins and out and wasn't perturbed when a fight broke out involving around 30 men in front of us in the car park and our taxi driver got out and in amongst it. I couldn't stop laughing. It did seem rather comical, though ever so slightly got my heart racing. It is day 1 after all.

We had a great time in the markets. I was blown away by a man who somehow knew that O was looking for a new bag because her zip was broken. And after offering in a few minutes he had it fixed. It reminded me how easily we throw things away in the west because so many of us have lost the art of mending and perhaps do not know where to go to get such things fixed. After a few hours of exercising my bartering muscle, which I have to admit is reasonably savvy, I spent some time talking to some beautiful women from Rajasthan who sell at the markets. They were so sweet and open and we laughed a lot trying as they tried endlessly and in vain to sell O something in black that would actually fit her rather ample bosom. I bought a scarf from them and asked for this photo in return. The woman starting at the camera asked if the next time I came back I would bring them a copy of the photo. I want very much to see if I can. It will be a matter of figuring out how to print it here. I can imagine that a photo would be an incredible treasure for these women.

O took me then to the Imperial Hotel, one of the most beautiful hotels in Delhi, where we had high tea. It was a complete contrast to where we had been and I finally saw some other white faces, not that I wanted to or needed to but more that I could not imagine any of these extremely wealthy westerners wanting to hang out where we are.

India, I think we are going to get along just fine.

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