Here's a bit of the novel I'm working on for NaNoWriMo.
R.K. dropped them off at the main entrance to the old palace grounds. Mary had an enlightening the ride in. She had a chance to take in the scenery now that she wasn't jet lagged. She was startled to see that there were so many shops, stalls, carts and other commercial enterprises. It reminded her of strip-malls back home. Lots of little stores all packed together.There you go! I hope you like it.
Intermingled with the small shops were the hovels of the poorest of the poor. Many of these homes had numerous small children playing outside. The women, often in brightly colored saris were sitting in groups talking and making one of the many Indian breads Mary had grown to love.
Mary had always had an adventurous pallate, but India had been a revelation to her. Her parents didn't care much for "ethnic" food and the mission had tried to accomodate her "American" tastes. But she was having none of it. When they tried to serve her an Indian version of macaroni and cheese she finally rebelled and insisted that she be served what everyone else was eating. The cook was amused but Reverend Moorching questioned her choice.
"No, Reverend, I'm sure. If I'm going to be here in India, I want to eat what Indians eat. No exception."
So she had been exposed to a few Indian dishes so far. She was looking forward to learning more. But the thing she loved most was the paratha, a whole-wheat flat bread cooked on a skillet. It was delicioius. She ate it at all her meals.
But these women around the cooking fires outside their small shacks weren't making bread for priveledged Americans to eat, but for their families to survive. Mary had to remind herself that most of India was desperately poor. A kind of poor that American's never saw. Poor in America meant you only had one car and two TV sets. Poor in India meant you may or may not eat and your children may or may not live to see their 4th birthdays.
Sara caught Mary looking out the window at one of the poor families. She touched Mary's shoulder and said, "I know, it's hard not to look. But if you do, you must realize that there is nothing you can do for them. They were born poor and they will die poor and all the time in between they will be poor. Their poverty is our concern, but there is nothing we can do to lift them out of it. India is a growing nation, but she is not growing fast enough to bring everyone along yet. One day, this kind of poverty will not exist here. Until that day, though, we must look forward and not down."
The car lurched forward and the poor family vanished behind a bus loaded with people going to work. Mary considered Sara's words. They made her both happy and sad at the sametime. She wondered how the woman in front of the hovel would feel hearing Sara's words. What would she think of the notion that there was nothing that could be done for her. Mary doubted that she would agree with Sara.
As they continued to make their way to the palace, Mary saw hundreds, thousands of equally destitute families. All with the same dead stares, a look that spoke of thousands of years of oppression. Thousands of years of destitution. Thousands of years without hope. All piled on the shoulders of these masses of the poor. She wondered how anyone could survive. Was life so precious to them that they clung to it like shipwreck victims clung to the flotsam and jetsam of their sunken vessel, knowing that rescue was an impossibility, but yet they clung to bits of wood and foam in a bid to stay alive for one more breath, one more beat of the heart, one more moment of life. Is that what these impoverished families felt? Not living paycheck to paycheck, but simply mouthful to mouthful knowing that the tenuous thread of life could be cut at any moment. So precious was life that they endured this wretched existence to simply have one more day of it.
Mary knew that the fortuitousness of her birth would never allow her to sink into such poverty, no matter how hard she tried. The color of her skin, her nationality, her family, none of them would allow her to experience what these people experienced. It made her want to cry.
Sara was lost in her own thoughts as they pulled into the palace parking lot. She saw the endless ranks of hawkers peddling an endless variety of goods to tourists. They crowded around the car as it came to a stop.
Mary looked around the car at the brown faces, brown eyes and brightly colored merchandise that these men and women were peddling. She glanced at Sara who gave her a little smile and said
"Here we go!"
They opened their heavy car doors simultaneously and R.K. opened his a moment later. The hawkers stepped back to make room for the women to get out of the car and then closed in.
"Follow me!" said R.K. and Mary and Sara pushed their way though the crowd of sellers with many a "No, thank you"s and "No, not today"s and fell in behind R.K. as he made is way to the palace entrance.
Mary saw bracelets, necklaces, silk scarves, carved figures of gods and goddesses all on sale along with fruit, water, nuts and other goodies. Mary caught a glimpse of a female figure carved in a rich, dark golden wood. The small figure was of a many-armed goddess. The figure danced in her vision, swaying back and forth as the vendor, an old toothless woman, swayed with the crowd of hawkers. Mary looked at the figure as it moved along with her and noted that it had large breasts and a necklace of what looked like human skulls. Mary shuddered, but could not look away.
The figure was depicted standing on the body of a man, crushing his chest and groin with her feet. Her arms were akimbo and her tongue was sticking out of her mouth obscenely.
"Wait!" she yelled above the din of hawkers. Sara and R.K. stopped and looked back.
"What is that?" Mary asked as she pointed to the horrible figure of the multi-armed woman.
Sara followed Mary's finger to the now stationary figure a few yards away.
"It's evil," said Sara. "Don't look at it."
"I can see it's evil," said Mary, "but what is it?"
Sara sighed. The ragged crowd pressed in.
"It's the Hindu goddess Kali, consort of Shiva. She is the destroyer."
"She's amazing," said Mary.
"She's bad news," replied Sara with a sly smile.
"Come girls, come!" R.K. had returned to hurry them through the crowd and into the palace grounds. Mary looked back at the toothless old woman who was smiling right at her, holding the frightening figure before her, caressing it's front, fondling it lovingly as if she derived immense pleasure merely from the act of touching the small statue.
Mary stumbled as she turned and caught up with Sara and R.K. just as they passed through the gates of the old Mysore palace and into the shade trees beyond.