Apparently, the place I am staying at is a really important center for cultural affairs in Delhi. The India Habitat Center is super prestigious, and is located in the center of New Delhi near everything. It’s a giant brick complex with gardens and fountains throughout. There are restaurants, gyms, a pool, conference centers, art galleries, a research library, an auditorium (where I saw the dance performance from below. Beautiful, intricate, mesmerizing). I spent yesterday pampering myself–utilizing all the cushy resources that the Habitat Center has to offer. I have to admit (guiltily) that I ate at the All American Diner downstairs. Decked out like a 1950s style diner, playing classic Beatles Tunes. I got a chocolate milkshake, two pancakes, eggs, sausages, and bacon. I know, horrible right? But I hadn’t really eaten in two days and can you think of better comfort food?
I only ventured out of the complex for a little while–making it a few blocks here, and a few blocks there. As soon as I left the complex, the city came to life again. A father pushed his bone-thin children over to me, who followed me like little ducklings for a few minutes, palms out, eyes wide, waiting for me to give them something. I didn’t. I know it may seem callous or cold to not just give something. I want to give to everyone who asks, because I know that a few rupees is nickles and dimes to me and a meal for them, which could make a world of difference. But the thing is, I feel hundreds of eyes on me–waiting for me, the young white girl, to open my purse. If I give even one rupee to that little girl, I will be swarmed. Still, it must all seem so unfair. No, correction. It is so unfair.
Yet there I was, the well-dressed, well-fed, healthy white girl walking through poverty I have never seen in the US. And, when I felt ready to get away from it all, I could. Back to my safety bubble at the India Habitat Center, where a hot shower, room service, and high-def HBO awaited. I think I needed that day of pampering though.
You know, I am becoming more aware of my status in the world. I remember, years ago, asking my mom why we were so poor and she responded that we really weren’t poor. In america, we were middle class. In other places we would have been considered exorbitantly wealthy. I disagreed (I think I must have wanted to buy something at the moment–like another computer, or cell phone or something–and had been denied because we “couldn’t afford it.” I assumed that meant we were the poorest of the poor). When it comes to money, I think I would be considered low-income. I live check to check and teaching dance classes doesn’t actually pay that well. Who woulda thunk it? I’m only here because I got a grant and even that is just enough to get me through this month. After that, who knows? But that’s beside the point. The key thing I’m realizing is that wealth is not about money, not really anyway. In school, terms like social capital and human capital always confused me. Bourdieu’s “Knowledge is power” concept just got me annoyed. What the heck does that even mean? But I get it now. Wealth is connections, it is where you are born, it is who you know and what you know and how you learned it all.
Fact: I grew up in a world which provided me an abundance of health, food, and opportunity. I was provided with one of the best educations that exists out there. We weren’t rich and at times, on paper, we were certainly poor (sorry ma, have to say it). But living in Upstate New York, USA? Homeschooling? Taking dance classes? Having a math tutor? Private Violin Lessons? Eating health food store produce? Owning a house? Going to the 3rd most expensive private college in the country? Traveling through Europe, not once, but four times before I turned 21? Lord! I sound like a princess! I mean, to be fair, there was a good deal of bartering and struggling (I’ll be in debt until I am 80–if I’m lucky) and purse-pinching throughout, but putting it in perspective like that really… changes the way I think about my life.
And here, even at the Habitat Center in the wealthiest part of New Delhi, I ration out my Newark Airport Fiji water bottle supply so that I can brush my teeth without getting sick. I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, but it’s something about not taking it all for granted anymore.
Anyway, today, I go out! To explore. Maybe take the metro (which has recently been redone and I hear is very modern. Women have their own cars in the front, so as not to be harassed). Enough pampering already, hello adventure!