Those eyes. I’ll never forget those eyes.
They were a stunning copper hue, seasoned like salt with bits of hazel. They were large, naked, a beautiful piece of artwork unframed with kohl and untainted with added, artificial color. Yes, those eyes were naked, and as I looked deep into them from inside that scorching hot auto, I saw that they seemed to be carrying the weight of the entire world.
Honorable Mention 2009 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Her hair was curly, long and flowing to embrace her skeletal hips. It was painted a deep, intense brown and streaked with a honey-golden color, as if the painter decided to act a little whimsical and throw in a splash of color or two. A strand of it danced on the tiny fingers of the baby she carried.
There she stood, in the middle of the traffic, holding those eyes — those exhausted eyes, heavy with the unbearable burden that they were forced to carry. And in that auto, that scorching hot auto, on our way to the Taj Princess Hotel in the middle of Delhi, those eyes met mine — my naive, oblivious eyes. In a matter of 16 seconds, her eyes managed to permanently engrave themselves in my mind, the way two lovers engrave their names on the body of their beloved oak tree, or on the sidewalk where they first kissed.
She held out her right hand. It was swathed with lines of all different directions, not one of them a clear, definite path, but all randomly and fallaciously arranged. Yet in those 16 seconds I saw those randomly arranged lines found a way to reorganize themselves, to join forces and point in one direction: our auto. Me. As my eyes traced those lines on her feeble hand it shook, crying out for nourishment, an empty thirsty vessel waiting to be filled. Her lips were dry, her voice fraught with helplessness, too enervated to make a sound, but managed to faintly whisper one word: “paisa” [Hindi for “money”].
I vacationed to India with few expectations. The thrills of visiting the Taj Mahal and doing some intense saree shopping at Kerala’s “Jayalakshmi” filled me with excitement; however, nothing prepared me for what I would find behind the glamour and the glitz, in the true heart of India where men sell ripe kela on street corners and women carry barrels of jaal on their heads to wash their children’s clothes. Of course, standing an astonishing 15 feet away from the once-attacked Mumbai Hotel and sinking my teeth into one of the most exquisite seekh-kababs I have ever tasted in Madhya Pradesh was truly a delight. Nevertheless, in the end, I found the most beauty in India’s people, in the faces that usually go unnoticed, in the hands that are ignored.
There is a story behind every sweat-drenched eyebrow, every weary expression, every filthy, sand-covered foot. That woman especially was a face with a story: the untold tale of a mother living with no home or money, wandering through hectic Delhi streets as life drives past her at 60 miles per hour. Though she might appear a walking tragedy, there is beauty in her story. In fact, it isn’t too hard to find beauty anywhere in India, because it is a country bathed in glory.
The true purpose of traveling abroad is to recognize this significant and compelling truth: when we step out of our comfort-zones, are drawn out of our comfortable lives and pushed out of our complacency, we find our eyes being opened to another world that is entirely new and different, and life-changing.
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