I had never seen anything like it before in my life. Or smelled anything like it, for that matter. A pile of trash, it seemed, covered by blue tarps or old pleated sheets of metal. As I stood in the off-skirts of the small town near Mumbai, India, I knew I had experienced many things that I would never see again when we returned to the comfort of home in America. But this was completely new to me, a sight so absurd that I almost wondered at its validity.
The worn-down walls of the shacks were made of fragments of wood, extra bricks, and other random objects piled together, with each side leaning in to provide minimal shelter from the gleaming heat of day and pouring rain in the night. No doors or windows existed, simply a gap in the wall in order to get in and out of the hut. A few pieces of clothing lay out over the roofs, laundry that had been washed and hung up to dry in the sun, but whether one could call them clean was another question. As I continued to send a wary glance towards the junk heap, my shock suddenly increased when I saw people - children playing on the roofs, women sitting at the doors, and men walking in and out of the streets - living among the waste.
My confused face appealed to my father, and his reply was a somber two words: "The slums." The stench was horrible, even from almost 100 yards away. A mile-long stretch of land filled with tens of thousands of decrepit homes known as Dharavi. I couldn't believe it. People, just like me and my family, were forced to live at the edge of the city in essentially nothing more than the leftover scraps of other more blessed humans, with little to no hope of ever altering their future towards a better life. They were alone, isolated from the city purely by chance in an unlucky birth. I stood on what seemed to be the last street at the edge of the city. To my right lay the Dharavi Slums, and on my left was the thriving city of Mumbai. As I turned my back on the slums and its victims, I could now see the huge buildings that towered over the city, and the people with their own busy lives rushing about in their midst. The display that lay behind me seemed to be an everyday scene to the natives of this city.
As I took my seat in the car to leave, a series of recent images flashed through my mind, as the blue tarps and metal walls in front of me began to blur together. A child turned mother, carrying an infant in her arms, with her younger brother huddling nearby. Two grinning boys knocking on car windows, hoping to sell their vegetables in order to earn a little money. Children showing off the disabilities in their bodies by twisting and wrapping themselves in awful positions, trying to gain the attention and, hopefully, the pocket change of an amused passerby. All I had to do was turn a blind eye to these poor individuals, and I could see the beautiful culture radiating from the city of Bombay and its people. Yet the irony found in peeking out of one eye in order to avoid seeing the desperation here, simultaneously choosing only to view the growing glories of the Indian culture, was too much to simply overlook. But there was a deeper irony that lay hidden within the people of the slums and other poverty-stricken Indians. An surprising inborn sense of perseverance, a fighting resilience, that permeates through every day of their lives. And of course, for without such enduring determination, they could not live. Each day is a struggle for survival. Immediately, I was forced to look at my own life of wealth and ease in America.
Prosperity and success comes almost naturally to us, with just a little hard work and dedication. The best of the world's resources are at our disposal when we choose to put our effort into any endeavor. Looking around us, we can easily secure the things we view as common-day accessories, but would have to be viewed as ridiculous luxuries in the part of the world which I was now thrust into. I knew something had to change. I now realized that I could no longer take for granted the things we assume we deserve because they are the benefits of living in such a great country as ours. I now wanted to take every opportunity that came my way and make the best of it. My mind set changed that day, and I knew I would always remember the people of the slums and the lesson they unknowingly taught me.
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