RACHEL BURNS of Brunswick offers bananas to an orphan during a family trip to the Hanuman Temple in New Delhi, India, in December 2011. At left, some family members pose for a photo outside the temple. Clockwise from lower left are, Rachel Burns, Allie Burns, their grandfather, Gian Jhamb, aunt Alexis Jhamb and their mother, Kristin Jhamb. At far top left, merchants showcase their wares for tourists and temple visitors. Below, the family visits one of the most recognizable sites in India, the Taj Mahal. From left are Allie Burns, her dad, Paul Burns, Kristin Jhamb, and Rachel Burns.

RACHEL BURNS of Brunswick offers bananas to an orphan during a family trip to the Hanuman Temple in New Delhi, India, in December 2011. At left, some family members pose for a photo outside the temple. Clockwise from lower left are, Rachel Burns, Allie Burns, their grandfather, Gian Jhamb, aunt Alexis Jhamb and their mother, Kristin Jhamb. At far top left, merchants showcase their wares for tourists and temple visitors. Below, the family visits one of the most recognizable sites in India, the Taj Mahal. From left are Allie Burns, her dad, Paul Burns, Kristin Jhamb, and Rachel Burns.

NEW DELHI, India — We lurch forward and then become slowed down again by the traffic. Auto rickshaws zoom by us, and bicycles peddle by slowly.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: In December 2011, my family and I were fortunate enough to take a trip to India. The impetus for the trip was my aunt Alexis’ and my mother, Kristin Jhambs’, desire to visit India with their father and his grandchildren. My grandfather, Gian Jhamb, is from India and has not been back in 40 years. This trip was a chance for him to go back and for all of us to see our family’s heritage. We were able to reconnect with our last remaining relatives in India and visit some of the famous and historical sites such as the Taj Mahal. The following piece was written about an experience I had at one of the many temples we visited in New Delhi.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: In December 2011, my family and I were fortunate enough to take a trip to India. The impetus for the trip was my aunt Alexis’ and my mother, Kristin Jhambs’, desire to visit India with their father and his grandchildren. My grandfather, Gian Jhamb, is from India and has not been back in 40 years. This trip was a chance for him to go back and for all of us to see our family’s heritage. We were able to reconnect with our last remaining relatives in India and visit some of the famous and historical sites such as the Taj Mahal. The following piece was written about an experience I had at one of the many temples we visited in New Delhi.

I look outside the car to see a beggar tapping on our car window. I feel uncomfortable making eye contact so I attempt to avoid looking at him. I want to give something, but have nothing in my pockets.

 

 

 

 

On the sides of the streets hawkers are shouting in Hindi, attempting to sell their brightly colored pashminas, which are Indian scarves, their small intricate carvings and their unnaturally florescent peacock fans. The streets of Delhi are continuously lined with dogs, but not ones with owners. Their skinny ribs and cheek bones jut out of their skin and I wish they had a shelter to house all of these strays.

The chaos goes on as a part of natural flow on the streets. We begin to slow down and we pull over to a place that is obviously a temple. Our driver comes to a stop and we all unbuckle and get out.

The second we step out of the comfort of our car the volume of everything turns up quite a few notches. The sounds and sights become more crisp and clear. I look around and try to take it all in; but I can’t.

There are more beggars than any other place I have been in my life. They line the sidewalks and everywhere around the temple. Frequently a young child, an elderly person, or a small family taps on my shoulder or looks at me with longing eyes and holds their hands out asking for food or money. They give me that look which is speaking from their eyes: I-know-you-havemoney so-you-can-give-mesome.

It is as if we are a magnet for all the hawkers and beggars. Our family stands out with our pale skin and my dad with his big clunky camera that could be spotted from a mile away. We are definitely tourists.

We reach the next unbelievable part. Scattered around the temple are loads of people with body deformations. I glance over my shoulder and see a man with a spine that bulges out of his back and it looks as though he swallowed a stick. The most common disfigurement I see is missing fingers and toes. I look around and see a woman who doesn’t have any legs and is sitting on a scooter, like the plastic kind we use in gym class, using her arms to push herself around.

As I continue to walk around, I observe more and more deformities such as missing arms, and crooked or backward limbs. I pick up my stride so as not to be accosted by so many people. As we near the temple there are little tents set up, with people who sell offerings. We buy a strand of vibrantly colored marigolds and some bananas to offer to the gods.

Now we walk up toward the stairs, but before climbing we bow down on our knees and touch the stairs as a sign of respect. As we step in, there is a hustling and bustling of the typical mayhem.

We first walk of to the statue of Hanuman, the monkey god for whom the temple is named. We leave a few flowers and someone places bindis, the colorful dot which is usually a scarlet red, on the center of our foreheads.

We step out of the small room and back into the main area where people are singing, talking and ringing bells which echo throughout the space. The smell of burning incense fills the air and smoke burns from candles.

Next, we walk into a narrow passageway filled with pictures of Ganesh, Krishna and other gods and goddesses. At each painting we touch the feet of the god or goddess and then touch our head in order to show our admiration and honor to them.

We finally set foot in the last room, which has a fountain where many people are placing their marigold offerings in, on and around. I gently attempt to push through the massive crowds to make my way back outdoors.

As I emerge outside with my family, my sister Rachel plugs her nose. “Jeez it smells horrible out here,” she gags as she wraps her shawl carefully around her face picking up the strong scent of open wounds.

“Really?” my mom asks sounding surprised, and I realize her nose must not be very sensitive.

“I definitely smell it, in a big, bad, disgusting way,” I reply, making it clear that this scent we are inhaling is not a pleasant one.

The smell we are referring to is the sweet smell of rotting flesh and blood. Not surprisingly, we call this section of the temple “the open wound clinic.”

As we walk back to the car we are in conversation, but all of a sudden I think of something and slow down my stride. I look over at my mom, who is still carrying those bananas which we never left at any of the statues. Then I glance at my surroundings: all these people are homeless without food in their bellies. It doesn’t seem fair that someone should starve while I hold on to these inexpensive bananas.

“Mom, wait!” I remark with a strong tone of voice. “We still have the bananas, and look at the number of people who don’t have food. Why don’t we hand out our bananas to them.”

“Yeah we should!” Rachel chimes in, sounding enamored by the idea of helping other people.

Just as our driver, Richard, opens the door, we turn his offer down and ask him to give us a few more minutes to give away the bananas. I reach into my mom’s warm hands and pull out three bananas. Rachel does the same.

“You can each give three people bananas,” my mom remarks.

I stroll back down the gray stone stairs and back into the mobs of disarray and blends of every imaginable color. I look around at the massive crowds and try to choose wisely as I pick out the three recipients of a sunny yellow banana.

The first person I spot is a young girl, probably around age 7. She has shoulderlength, straight black hair and as I hand her a banana her blank face changes to a wide smile. A warm glowing feeling enters me as if a candle has suddenly been lit and the light of it is filling up my entire body.

Next I find a middle age woman who looks tired as she is leaning against her blanket that is so torn, it looks barely usable. She has a sleepy expression on her face but the second she realizes what I am giving her, her face lights up.

“Dhanyvaid,” the woman replies in Hindi, which means “Thank you.”

It makes me feel like a heroine to be making a difference; even one so small and so seemingly insignificant.

Before I move on, I survey the situation and try to find the best possible recipient for my final product. As a result of my detailed scrutiny I come across a man sitting a little bit separated from the rest of the crowd. A tattered pashmina is wrapped around him and his face is full of bags and wrinkles.

He leans against a stone wall and his face shows signs that he has given up hope in his life. Many of his toes are missing and no food is evidentially present with him at the moment. I reach into my hand and place the banana carefully near his lap and wait to see if his expression changes in even the slightest bit.

I look into his eyes and he stares back into mine. Then I feel something and look down to see him touching my feet. Then he touches his head and finally picks up the banana.

I can’t believe how thankful these people are for something that back at home we take for granted.

After standing for a few seconds in awe, I smile at him and then rush over to see to whom my sister is giving her bananas. A young boy sits on a brightly colored blanket. He is probably 3. He appears homeless, with no parents around to care for him. Rachel has two bananas left in her hand and when she attempts to hand him one banana, he takes both happily.

Although she was planning to give one to another person, we laugh and smile because as long as it’s going to someone who needs it, we’re satisfied.

As we return to the car, I begin to think about what I have experienced today — something that not many people will have the chance to see, but perhaps something that everyone should. By experiencing this, learning what goes on in other parts of the world, and helping people by simply giving them bananas, I have made a difference in the lives of a few.

I understand that giving out three bananas will not solve world hunger, but this experience has inspired me to continue helping those in need.

And with that, we’re off. Zooming around in Delhi traffic. Back to the sounds, the smells and the whole India experience. Like nothing happened at all.

Allie Burns is a seventh-grader at Brunswick Junior High School.

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