Gently I sit on the patch of dry grass on top of the elevated hill. This spot gives a stunning view on the valley in front of me. Fields of corn, okra, wheat and grapes spread as far as the mountains in the back. Small farming villages are dotted around. The sun is setting with al her glory against the incredible mountain background. The red globe is about to crash into the spiky peaks of the hard rock. Her last bright light of the day, shining in a magical mix of yellow, orange and red. Every little object around absorb the rays and changes colours as if somebody is using colourful pencils and frantically recreates the picturesque surroundings.
“What about heading to that small temple over there?” Neha mentions as she points to the small colourful building only a few hundred meters from my comfortable sitting place. I met here at Lentil as Anything on my adventures in Melbourne. She grew up in Mumbai. She knows the hustle and bustle of this metropolitan area; where to find the best street food, the nicest musea, the best way to get through the city, and also a good spot to relax. We are a few hundred kilometres north-east of Mumbai in a luxurious bungalow park owned by her family. The atmosphere is opposite of Mumbai. The tranquility eases my mind, the bride colours of nature feed my eyes, the dark purple grapes surrounding the well designed houses nurture my mouth. The moment we arrived I jumped out off the car, took off my shoes and absorb the soft green grass beneath my bare feet. The view from the house is nothing short of spectacular, overlooking a small lake in between the higher areas of the land. A lake created a few decades ago to provide a constant water supply for the villages in the valley.
“Can I borrow your phone to make some pictures?” Cony asks me as we arrive at the temple on the hill. She is from South America, Chile, also on a search for what she wants in life. In Melbourne the three of us became friends. Their trip to India was already planned. My travels across the world were not set in stone. As soon as I landed in India I could see a possibility to connect again. We did, in Mumbai. Nothing short of crazy but somehow better then the extremely overpopulated and dirty New Delhi.
Mumbai is different. I could see a perspective change. I could see the development of the middle class people that were aspiring to the high living standards of us. Adapting to dream bigger and have the material possessions of the West. The difference of poor and rich is undeniably large. People on the street selling chai for 7 rupees next to an apartment building in the well situated and developed Bandra area of Mumbai. On one hand it looks like a typical concrete flat common in Europa, but looking closely you start to notice the security guards at the entry gate, the new cars driving in and out with drivers, and the often richly decorated clothing of the women. You realise this is the rich middle class of India. Staying in a their comfortable apartments in down-town Mumbai.
It creates a difficult to express feeling. I start to realise that with my background, my potential of having a good job, I could have a similar life as these middle class Indians. Meaning, having a driver, a chef-cook, a cleaner, and maybe even a personal assistent to help me whenever I need something. “Can you get me some pens?” and off my assistent goes. Almost as a slave but happy to earn some rupees and have a place to sleep. The feeling that creeps in is hard to describe. It is a mix of disbelieve, weirdness, longing, and a rising ego related to power and social status. I feel both embarrassed to feel the ego being satisfied of this high social standard as well as unease of the massive inequality and ‘use’ of people.
I think back on our driver that brought us to the bungalow park. He was willing to spend the night in the rental car. On the back seats while the winter temperature drops till 10 degrees. Luckily he accepted our invitation to sleep in the house. A small room especially made for servants was his place to sleep. A relieve it was to hear that this person was not to be put in the cold in an uncomfortable spot while we spend the time in all splendid luxury. The differences in social hierarchy, culture and wealth never ceases to surprise me.