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Where the river runs purple

INDIA | Tuesday, 6 May 2014 | Views [145] | Scholarship Entry

That day, the day a child beggar gripped onto my hand in rural India, I had to look into the desperate eyes of a shadow of a child and walk away. We had been instructed not to give money to beggars. I felt cracks in my heart as I pulled my hand away. Our escape was just around the corner; a bright yellow bus. It was not much of a surprise really that it was surrounded by more beggars. The rest of the students and I huddled into the bus; the air heavy with melancholy. As the bus moved away, a group of us at the back threw money out of the window. Rupees mixed with dust landed at the beggars’ feet. I scanned their faces, hoping to see the young boy get a coin at least, but we were too far away. I doubted the money would help, but as we crouched on the back bench of the bus, money flying from our hands, I felt reassured by my friends’ humanity.

I was apprehensive about going to the slums after that; I expected more desperation. That’s not what I found though. As soon as I stepped forward, a crowd of children ran up to me laughing. Surrounded by homes made from corrugated iron and cardboard, the children were smiling. They pointed at my camera and as I handed it to them, they took snapshots of the man huddled into a room pressing prints onto fabric. There was another photo of the group of children, hugging each other tight. Half the floor was covered with litter; and the ramshackle house looked as if it could collapse at any moment. Inside one of the rooms, there were piles of clothes covering every inch except a small space where a man leant over a sewing machine. Muddied water snaked around our feet. Yet my attention was not focused on any of this, but on a little boy running barefoot, grinning, and playing with two sticks. His eyes wide with innocence as he skipped over a metal pipe, his smile exploding into laughter as he almost tripped up. As the Indian sun was scorching above I marvelled at how he had such energy in the drowsing heat. In this moment I understood that these people give this modest place a life. There was an undeniable energy here; the children breathed a buzzing hum which echoed like a heartbeat into the dust that trailed behind them. As I turned, behind me there was a river, it was not murky, but instead a deep purple where dye had filtered into it. In a place of poverty, I found colour, and a strange intensity for life. Where the people had taken a dirty river, and turned it purple.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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