The first time I went to India I tagged after my elder brother, squinting around (owing to the fact that I hadn’t yet discovered sunglasses) at the strangeness of it all… whole families stretched out together on the pavement, men with no legs wheeling themselves around on what, at home, we used to call ‘billycarts’, clutching kids running after picee.
But the forts and the colours and the temples dazzled me and the cripples seemed unreal, like something in a circus. They didn’t worry me.
The second time I went, I hoped to show my 12 year old son how the other half lived. He saw the poverty and squalor clearly enough and hated it. But he concluded that it was their own fault. “They should have paid attention at school” he used to say disapprovingly.
And now, the third time, I find that I can’t quite ignore the casual cruelty and brutality of this country, and I can’t convince myself that it’s nothing to do with me and just step over the bodies. In Australia I would never ignore a starving old man or dog; why am I as a tourist able to do that? It puzzles and troubles me.
I feel responsible for not acting, guilty, and yet, aside from the occasional cash donation to a beggar, I still don’t act. I feel that if I ever come again, I must come prepared to do what I can.