The people of India like to get creative with their modes of transportation; some choose cars.
Those without means have to walk.
The less faint of heart prefer to ride motorcycles, and people that carry tons worth of objects will go by horse.
On this particular day, I rode an elephant.
This creature is one of the most breathtaking the country has to offer. Just as cows, goats, dogs, pigs and monkeys all own the roads together – the same ones on which battle each other in never-ending traffic – elephants roam around, in the most majestic way you can imagine.
View from the car of man riding elephant
My father and I had taken a driver around Jaipur for the day, and somehow we ended up in a predominantly Muslim slum, tucked right outside the town. I cringed at the sight of the territory we were entering; it was a scene not foreign to the ones depicted in Hollywood’s Oscar-nabbing Slumdog Millionaire. There were pigs picking at trash, alongside shoeless little boys participating in a makeshift cricket tournament, and elephants walking around not far from those boys.
My elephant’s trunk was painted nearly every color of the rainbow. I examined it from bottom to top, and when I reached his eyes, he was already looking directly into mine. As you can probably guess, I was terrified to roam the dirt roads on an elephant, but to my surprise, the scariest part was being hoisted up. The ride was calming, and he went just slow enough that I was able to breathe in the Indian air without being bombarded with too much pollution.
On top of the elephant, I felt like a celebrity; the local children were ecstatic to see new faces challenging their town, and they would all stop what they were doing as the elephant trod by them, and they’d wave hello to me with huge, silly grins on their faces. The ones who didn’t know Hello screamed Namaste, and the ones who couldn’t say that cried out Salaam. Alas, Hindus and Muslims alike came together in their shared inquisitiveness.
After my father and I came down from the elephant, we returned to the car. One of the boys that had been playing cricket came over to my side of the car, and stuck his face up against the window. He asked me in Hindi what my name is, and I told him. When I asked him what his name is, he replied “I love you.” I proceeded to show him how to make a three-leaf clover with your tongue. He stared, tried, and failed.
One his fellow cricket players noticed him over by the car. They ran over to us.
“Lock the doors!” my father yelled. “They’re dangerous.”
I didn’t lock them – I don’t know if my stubbornness was out of mere curiosity, or simply because I wanted to spite my father – but I had underestimated the power of six-year-olds, for my tongue trick pulled them in enough to begin begging for rupees. I shook my head no, but it’s as if the wind were directing my head movement.
All I wanted to do was open the car door, have them all jump in and buy their two-cent-worth chocolates. All you want to do is help these kids; take them away to Disney Land so they can play with Mickey and Minnie, instead of with drink and cow dung and cheap kites. But there’s only one of you and thousands of them, and when you look them dead in the eyes, you feel you’re suffering right there with them.