Holy cow

Traffic jam. India. Holy cow! Cars and shuttles honk and halt for a crossing cow, while motorcycles and mopeds fearlessly wiggle through the mass of bigger vehicles. The sweet smells of overripe mangoes and sandalwood mates with the pungent smells of body odor and sewage. Meanwhile brawny, brown bodies crowd under market canopies, attempting to shade themselves from the blistering July sun. As my senses overload en route from the airport to my Uncle’s home, I sit pondering in the back seat of Uncle’s Mercedes Benz, while he speaks Hindi to his driver and my soul cries tears for the visible lack of upward social mobility here.

I ponder fate. Then out of thousands of windows in the traffic jam, a young boy of five or six years approaches mine. He knocks on it. I look up; our eyes meet. The boy points to a dead fly- swarmed baby in his arms. A real human baby, breathlessly limp in his arms. My universe stops, and I hear nothing. Silence crushes me for moments that feel like an eternity. Then my senses awaken. An infiltration of noise overwhelms me: horns honk; music blares. I open my purse. And Uncle yells, “No!” Uncle screams at me not to give anything to the slum dog. The car moves forward. Nearly two decades later, I still cannot erase this vivid nightmarish image from my mind. The memory still calls me to take responsibility for my unearned privileges.

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