Stained-Glass Butterflies and Men with Guns

Violence. Authority. I imagine that the police in India are aiming for the latter, but I can’t help but see the former. Here’s one of the little comparisons that I’ve been so happily avoiding for the most part. I came here to experience India and to seek out pockets, moments of civilization. Comparing the US and India is not what I’m after. Finding the best in each place I go is the point. But this one thing brought back to me my foreign-ness here and the fact that I do not, cannot know exactly what to expect. Walking out of the airport, I had my first experience with Indian guns. The police at the exit were carrying shouldered rifles. Real, deadly rifles, with which they could shoot and kill someone, even if fleeing. I was taken aback, but also exhausted, and it seemed to me a bit foggy. I didn’t even have the energy to imagine a cause for these rifles – reports of suspected terrorists arriving, protests outside, a violent passenger who was being removed from the airport. I just passed them by with a “whoa.” Awaiting the train today, James and I spent hours in the Mumbai Central train station. For the most part, I was happy and contented. I had a veritable pageant being performed around me. There were very poor women sitting in a group with one man (prostitutes and a pimp? Another thing I can’t recognize here). They were eating bread and butter, but somehow the man had cadged extra butter. They made little balls of the butter, popped them in their mouths, and appeared to luxuriate in the richness as it warmed on their tongues. The bread was dispatched much more quickly. The women rarely looked at me, but if I smiled, they smiled[…]

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