Sun. 13th Nov. Today I have felt the weight of overpopulation. I don’t know the figures but I expect that India’s population is double what it was when I first came here 32 years ago.
The traffic in Mysore is not as dense as it was in Pune where one could not cross the street without fear of life and limb. But everywhere I walk in the street there are hoards of people. There are many, many handcarts, 5ft.x 3ft. wooden platforms with four bicycle wheels. They hold anything from a few ripe bananas to a complete kitchen cooking crepes with masala sauce. At one, this morning, I bought four bananas and a small glass of hot tea for 30 cents. After dark they have kerosene lamps.
Crowds and crowds of people walking. Every few minutes a tout playing on one’s conditioning to be polite and respond to their questions. “Where are you from?” Today I never responded to that question – just held up my hand in a ‘No!’ gesture. In looking after myself I am still aware that the touts are a sign of desperation. There is such a surplus of labour that pay-rates are hopeless. A storekeeper told me that he hires full-time help for $22 a month! The handcarts, too, are people trying to be self-supporting with minimal investment.
This afternoon I went to see a temple at Somnathpur, 38km. out of town according to my guidebook. It took me 45 minutes and three bus stations to find the bus. Refreshing, it was, to ride out of town into the rolling countryside carpeted in green rice paddies with palm trees in between. Another 45 minutes found me in the busy (very busy) square of a village called Bannur. Here I had to change buses.
In no time a man had directed me where to wait. Then there was a wizened old man in my face, short and skinny, a week’s growth of white stubble, bottle glasses and four stained teeth. I gave him five rupees but he wouldn’t go away. I was reflecting on how my budget would be affected if I had given five rupees to everyone who has asked me in the last month, how I cannot take responsibility for this man or rescue him from his plight. Then I am directed across the street to a small bus surrounded by people. I manage to scramble onto the bus through the scrimmage. It is like a larger version of ‘how many students can you fit into a VW beetle?’ There isn’t room for me to put both feet flat on the floor.
Who should be jammed against me but the same agressive old man. He keeps poking me in the ribs and motioning to his mouth. I practice the having of boundaries: no means no! There is no way I can reach my pocket now anyway. My day pack is in a woman’s face who has a seat behind me. The young man sitting on his uncle’s lap by the window, who has drawn my attention to this, offers to hold it for me. I pass it over. Twenty minutes later I emerge, like toothpaste out of a tube, at the temple. It turns out to be little different from the two I saw in Belur last week but not in such good repair. There are even a few erotic sculptures in exactly the same location, in a similarly disappointing state of erosion. But it is blessedly peaceful just to get away from the crowds in the open air…
Standing again on the way back to Bannur or more like jumping because this bus has no shocks and the road is all potholes. For the second bus I’m a little quicker off the mark and manage to grab a window seat. Now I am bouncing in a seat. Standing close by in the aisle is a young woman carrying a toddler. Two people hold the little girl but each time she cries. Now I’m feeling guilty but not budging. I guess the guy next to me feels the same because he slides forward and offers her a corner of the seat. So I squeeze up and now there are four of us seated. Just like on the motorbike that is playing leapfrog with the bus. Each time the bus overtakes them the little girl sitting on the gas tank grins at me. When I catch the eye of the young woman after she has gone down from the bus she flashes me a smile too.
Overpopulation, where is it leading to? Mass starvation, plague, chaos? Chaos is already. Development and aid have only postponed the problem. What solution can be pulled out of the field of possibilities in such circumstances?
It is a beautiful sunset, pink and gold reflecting off the paddy fields, glinting through the palm fronds. This moment.