Exposures


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The Golden Rule

Text by Patty Simon

Delhi, India

India has many religions – Hinduism with  33 million gods and goddesses, Buddhism with the teachings of Buddha and Christianity brought in from the western world.
As we were driving around Delhi, our guide quickly mentioned we were passing a Sikh temple – all in white marble. I knew nothing about Sikhism so we asked for a tour.
Before I describe what I saw and learned, I want to say that religion in this country is a spectacle and quite spectacular!!! Outside I see what looks like overpopulation on the streets with many poor, homeless, disabled or barely getting by folks who are hauling, hawking, or begging to stay alive. Inside the temple is white marble, crystal chandeliers and at the center is a solid gold shrine draped in marigolds and roses holding the holy book. There is no god, just a book filled with many teachings.
Now, we were graciously given a tour and told many interesting facts about the history and nature of this belief system but I am not an expert so will refrain from becoming a teacher.
What I want to tell you is this. Next to the main prayer hall are several rooms for feeding the poor. Volunteers of every socio-economic group (even the very rich) come to make 3 daily meals to feed over 20,000 every day. Everyone is welcome no matter what the belief. Our guide said you can’t be expected to pray if you are hungry. There is a kitchen with pots big enough to cook me, an automatic naan maker spitting out 800 kg. of bread a day and a sweet made of wheat, caramel, sugar and oil. There is a room where other volunteers shine everyone’s shoes. There is a bar outside where men are continuously pouring glasses of water for the crowds (not quite to our hygienic standards!).
I don’t know that much about Sikhism and I’m not all that religious but the amount of good they do for the needy each day was so heartwarming that I ended up giving our guide a big hug.


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The Women’s Car

Text by Patty Simon

Delhi, India

India is one of those cultures where so much happens on the street. I see everyone mixed up from all walks of life – from the rich and poor, young and old, secular and religious, laborer and educated, to the tiny shop owner and corporate executive. They all live together and fuel this enormous machine of a country.
So in the Metro, it was a surprise when our guide suggested I segregate myself and join women in the first car of the train designated as “The Women’s Car”. I almost blew him off. I thought to myself it can’t be that interesting!
But it was! Imagine being thrown into an instant sisterhood – a sorority of sorts. I told Dick it was like going to a fashion show. I was certainly the most underdressed. I literally could feel the “beauty”, the feminine energy and a subtle air of self-confidence all around me. Lots of shocking pink, ruby red and pungent orange in patterns and paisleys mixed with brocades and jewels in rainbow colors filled the train. Of course there were jeans, sandals and high heels with handbags and nose rings and lots of bracelets… Indian fashion mixed with American fashion but probably all made in China!
Magical moments happen when you least expect them. I exited the train with a big smile on my face. I may have been a foreigner in this country but I was one of THEM for fifteen minutes!


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The Wires

Text by Patty Simon

Delhi, India

I’ve been to India several times and have grown to love it. The chaos of people, colors, and religions overwhelm me at the same time they are seducing me. It’s like an addict needing a fix. I always want to come back for more.
I was so eager to go back that I went to the airport a day early. This lack of knowing what day it was would continue for several more. I flew 12 hours to Dubai – leaving in the dark and arriving in the dark – connecting to Delhi and arriving at 3 am. It took 18 hours. Dick greeted me with red roses + 1 yellow rose of Texas and then I fell asleep for 11 hours. I was so grateful for the sleep but so regretting the day wasted.
Our guide picks us up and we sludge through the beeping and dashing traffic. I laugh as the driver runs red lights that everyone ignores (lanes also). The traffic is like NYC or LA with one big difference. Not only are there cars and bicycles but bicycle rickshaws, motorized rickshaws, 2-wheeled skinny flatbed carts, bicycle carts and people with padded heads carrying tiny takeout cafés to steel parts for trucks. We change our plans and decide to take the metro which is much faster.
So far my experience felt like any other big city until I walked out of the metro. I felt myself smile as I saw an unbelievable sight.  A mishmash entanglement of hundreds if not thousands of electrical wires are bunched up and hanging off of every  building corner and stretching across streets. The “wires” are the symbol of the new industrialization and overpopulation that this country uniquely possesses. First they brought light and electricity to power light appliances but now they are charging every cell phone and computer and fueling the high tech industry. They mimic the chaos of the traffic found on the streets. I stop and take a moment to watch the incredible number of near misses that happens each minute between everyone – everywhere. Somehow, it turns into a perfectly orchestrated dance of moving forward in the world of globalization.


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The Little Acrobat

Text by Patty Simon | Image by Dick Simon
India

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I don’t know whether to cry or be in awe of what I am seeing. While traveling, I remind myself that these sights have context and the reasons become emotionally charged.

We are 100 meters from our hotel in Kanyakumari. We have walked this path over 10 times and once again, I am blown away by yet another spectacular sight.

A little girl, about 7 years old, dressed “up” in purple and balancing three silver pots on her head. She is 7 feet off the ground on a makeshift tightrope set up on the street. The young father looks indifferent while tapping a drum and the mother holding a crying baby in the sweltering sun is adding to the drama beating a tin pan.  I only hope they are ‘spotting’ her tiny body as she kneels on a silver pan balancing on her knees, swishing back and forth and forward and backwards.

We stop and get out of the car to watch and video. I notice not a few but many visiting Indians give large donations – paper money not coins and we, of course, do the same.

I notice I am almost in tears seeing this sweet, innocent child being used as the sole provider for her entire family. Though, in a different setting, she could be training for the Olympics as a young gymnast.

I wish I could see her in a clean, crisp school uniform going to school or dressed in a new party dress on vacation eating an ice cream. But, even as she is, the good news in a country of millions of poor – this family is not starving – but at what cost?

 


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No One Will Be Jealous

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon
India

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4 AM on Sunday – Kanyakumari

Note the time and date. Add being bolted out of bed by shrieking, blaring music coming out of bad speakers (the kind of music that is intolerable and brings on an instant headache) and you have no idea why or for how long. We stumble out of bed in the dark thinking it must be the call for sunrise and flip all the switches thinking it is some kind of malfunctioning alarm on a radio. Nope! It’s outside. We next check the hotel hallway making sure this is “normal” and not the tsunami alarm warning us we have only 15 minutes to run for our lives before a 30-foot wave comes crashing down on us. No one else is screaming which is actually bad news… this means this is all part of the culture. Ugh! I’m going crazy, because I stayed up til midnight watching “War Horse” (I needed a hit of American culture and our TV had been broken for 3 days). So, with only 4 hours of sleep, we lay in bed miserable concocting ways of blocking out hell (funny… on a Sunday)!

After a feeling of forever, it stops! Ah, the sounds of silence are truly sweet. But never fear, minutes later, more from the speaker! This time, competing with some earlier Hindu ritual, a chanted Catholic mass much softer but long drones on and on and on.

Oh, yes, it is Sunday! What was I thinking with all the countless temples and cathedrals?

We finally drift off and like the last 2 mornings, our brains are timed for 6:51 AM – sunrise. We trudge to the window and watch yet another beginning of the day (all too soon!).

* Our experiences on this trip are connected in strange ways. One hour later I hear an argument on the street. Or I should say a “cat fight” over some domestic issue. All too public and louder and louder until a male voice intervenes.  I only laugh. The whole town has only gotten 4 hours of sleep. What do you expect?

 

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The Invisible Truth

Text by Patty Simon | Image by Dick Simon
India

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This is more of a thought than an essay.

Here is the thought.

We have now traveled to four countries: Rwanda, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka. They had an invisible thread of similar histories all related to independence and change of governments, policy and conflict. Dick and I like to dig into the history. One of Dick’s missions is understanding post conflict. I Iike reading guidebooks and historical writing and talking to guides and locals to try to put this complicated puzzle together.

This is what I have found and it came to me when we were actually talking to a documentary filmmaker and I found myself strongly disagreeing with some of the content. It brought about a discussion about bias, the power of a filmmaker, and ultimately the question – “How the heck does one get to the actual truth of a situation?”

It seems impossible to get to the pure facts. Therefore, I back off, humble myself to the not-knowing, trying to accept the complexity and am left to an openness to every moment I am in a culture or read about one. I always come to this acknowledgment – “there is always more to the story”.

 


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Make My Day

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon
India

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I had grown tired in the bazaar. Day after day looking at plastic Chinese “junk” cheap enough for locals on holiday to have fun choosing a piece of jewelry or toy to take home. I had sadly reminisced in years back before plastic took over, how beautiful things were. Even the Indian bangles, now plastic, were made of pottery embedded with rhinestones.

The sun had just set and we were headed back to dinner, when I saw white stencil designs on the street. Coming closer they were made of white sand and the accouterment that made them were being sold. As an artist, I flip when I see another art form, so I was so excited and knew this would be my purchase.

On closer inspection, the designs were made by PVC plumbing tubing cleverly hole-punched by hand so when you filled it up with sand and roll it, a wallpaper design magically appears. They also had round screen designs of lotus and flowers and one that looked like a Jewish star.

The best part was not finding this cool product but paying the vendor and his wife $12. for one of each design. A crowd had gathered. We were walking away when Dick turned around and saw a great big smile. We knew we had made his day.