Arriving in India feels like I’m being softly sucked back in to a deeply interwoven web. The web is so elaborate and many layered, and yet the complicated intricacies are what hold me up and keep me balanced. The web is filled with contradictions. One layer seems to sparkle and twist in one direction and the other threads wrap around it so that they are entwined so deeply they almost become one… then, all of a sudden, they separate and continue on their own path.
When I arrived in India I was greeted by Aishwarya and Priti di. They are my father’s sister’s daughter and her daughter. As with most of my other family members, it was a joyous and teary eyed reunion. For the next few days I spent time with them recovering from the jet lag and getting ‘work’ done. ‘Work’ in this case means getting outfits stitched for the wedding to take place in two weeks. Priti di owns a fabric shop in Rajouri Garden (a market area in Delhi) so I spent maaannnyy hours doing one of my favorite India activities, pulling fabrics off of shelves and unfurling them to look at the patterns, the weaving, the ornate brocades etc. SO FUN!
One of the major differences from buying clothes in India vs. the US.. It’s completely possible to get whatever you want in India, you just have to imagine it… Whereas, in America, we are typically told what to want and not necessarily always taught to think for ourselves. (THIS IS A GROSS GENERALIZATION but I’m doing it ANYWAY). While it seems so awesome to be able to have someone stitch something for you… it requires WAY too much decision making (what fabric to get, what design to get done, what the measurements should be for the design, etc.) and yet, it feels so much more connected to the process of how the clothes I wear get made.
Here’s where the complicated intricacies within this contradictory web lie. Aishwarya and I went shopping one day at this mall that could easily compete with the ‘top’ malls in the US. It has pretty much every store and more… plus it’s got Cinnabon which, of course, rounds out a typical mall experience. The first time I came to India, the idea that this type of mall could (and would) be built in this culturally rich country seemed to be a travesty to me. It was one of the factors that got me to go back to New York to work on community organizing and one of the factors that led me to the work I am currently engrossed in… The question at hand being, what do we, as a society, consider ‘success’ or ‘wealth’? Are we rich/wealthy/prosperous because we have giant malls with all the fanciest cars sitting outside? When I answer that question for myself, I don’t want another mall to pop up anywhere… And yet, what right do I (or anyone else) have to condemn India (or any other country) for joining the global market and having the things that many American’s (like my self) grew up with? Why shouldn’t Indians have the same options that Americans have? #CONTRADICTION It’s a contradiction I feel deep within me. Admission: I LIKE WATCHING FABRIC GET UNFURLED IN FRONT OF ME. Admission: I LIKE TRYING ON CLOTHES AND BUYING NEW SHOES that are pre made and tend to be ‘fashionable’. Admission: I AM A CONSUMER.. and sometimes I fear that I am going way above and beyond in the amount that I consume.
Is there a solution? I think part of the reason that I am currently on this learning journey in India (and Bhutan) is to think about what conscious consumerism can really look like in mainstream markets. It’s about thinking about how we can transform the system we currently live in while we live in it… becoming more aware of the purchases we are making, where they come from and the process by which they’ve been created. I realize that for me, there is deep growth that occurs when we face ourselves and are forced into making choices. I think transformative change is about consciousness raising.. not necessarily about boycotting what exists and attempting to stop it from happening but working from within (self, community, institutions etc). I also realize that when we do change our habits, we change the world.
The web of India is so multifaceted and this is just one layer. However, I do think it’s a tangible layer, one that’s fairly easy to pick up and look at. Other layers are family values, work life balance, etc… All things I think about in the subtle background of my mind but when I visit this place, they come to light in a whole new way.
Incredible India adventure has begun and I’m so happy to be here.