Trains in India will never be the same

Yesterday I traveled by train.  I hadn’t been at Howrah Station since children came.  Now it was a different place for me, because my girls had wandered the tracks, sat on the platforms and looked up the TV hanging from the steel rafters.  I looked at those TV screens and imagined my children sitting right there on the floor.  I entered the train car and took my seat.  Three waif like children reached through the bars, hands cupped to receive..  I wondered,  "Were they friends of my girls in a lifetime ago?"  As the train rolled,  I looked at the shacks, and the families living on the open hillsides.  My girls talk about living in the open, along sides of ponds, along tracks, wandering, without shacks.

My first trip to Mumbai, (then Bombay) was ten years ago, when I traveled in my corporate role with Johnson & Johnson — One day I crossed a street toward a hospital entrance, when another waif girl about ten, a baby on her hip, ran up to me, "Aunty, Aunty!" she pleaded with me, hands cupped.  Her skin was the deep dark color of my daughter’s, her face not so different — they could have been sisters.  That could have been my daughter… images and thoughts as vivid now as then. 

The begging children at Howrah Station reminded me of my orphans.  I imagined them showered and dressed, pretty clips in their hair, faces glowing instead of their ashen look of dried skin.   My children’s skin has changed since they came to us.  Their arms and legs have many scars, pock marks, remnants of past trauma and infections.  But the skin is softer and smoother now, the the range of colors deeper and more intense.  And the girls don’t itch all the time.

Trains aren’t the same.  Begging children aren’t the same.  We have encounters and then we are changed — then I am changed, and so on….

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August 2007
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