I met these two girls at the landfill we were shooting at in Andra Pradesh, at this place called Anantpur. I can’t speak Telegu and they don’t speak anything else, so communication was a bit difficult.
I was waiting in the car for the others to finish shooting. I had already had an encounter with dumps in Tamil Nadu a few days ago, which was depressing enough, so I decided to wait this one out. After all, the others might have been working, but I was on vacation right?
Even though we were parked at the periphery, the flies were buzzing all around us and the stench was quite unbelievable.I was sitting in the car, wearing my travel-cap and shades to protect myself from the heat and the dust as much as possible, when I saw these two peeking into my window, staring at me like you would an animal at the zoo. They were very friendly, giggly little girls and we tried very hard to communicate.
What I managed to discern was that they were sisters, worked at the dump with their mother, sifting through garbage day in and day out, did not go to school and thought the ABC’s ended with G.
When I look at their lives, and countless others like them that I encountered along the way… It’s difficult to explain the assault of emotions… shock, disbelief, shame, guilt…
That could so easily have been you if you were born into those circumstances. Makes you feel so lucky that you are where you are. And you realize that that is all it was… luck. It could so easily have been me looking in through the window at someone else if I’d been born into those circumstances.
It shocks you out of your complacency. It is too much for your senses to take… the heat, the dust, the smell. Oh Goddd the smell!! The first dump we went to (in Tamil Nadu), we were shooting from a distance, from the top of a bridge.. and the smell was so bad it brought tears to my eyes! And there they were, people walking in the muck, rummaging through it all to figure out what can be kept and what can’t.
We went there to shoot the plight of the animals, and while that is quite an important issue… it was the plight of the humans that really got to me.
It makes you feel guilty… for living the life that you do, for the extreme disparity between the haves and the have-nots, especially when you realize how much they don’t have! For all the food you’ve wasted in your life, for all the times you picked up something without worrying about the price of the item (I usually do this in India, cos of the conversion rate being in my favour)… for all those times you complained about everything you’ve ever complained about!
When people ask me how my trip to India was… it’s difficult to explain. No one really wants to hear all this… they can’t understand. So I mostly tell them of the places I went to… the whirlwind pace that took me through 6 states in 11 days. And while I did have a lot of fun, while I did go to a lot of interesting places and meet a lot of lovely people… this happened too.
And this, I want to not forget. I want to remind myself what all I have to be thankful for that I’d taken for granted. For clean food and water, fresh air to breathe in and water to bathe in, with soap and all! The fact that you know your ABCs all the way to the end… the basics! Or so you would think.
We have no idea how lucky we are!