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How New Delhi Changed Me

I was flipping through my journal today when I stumbled upon some hastily scrawled reflections from a vacation early last year. I ache to board a plane right now– to explore new lands, but physical travel is not possible. While I can’t travel physically now, I can relive my trip mentally and emotionally through writing.

***

I spent exactly one day in New Delhi, but those 12 hours were enough to drastically shape my perspective on the world around me.

Right out of customs, culture shock hit me like a full-blown Lambo. As a native of stone-faced, everyone-is-guilty-until-proven-innocent, border patrol agents of the U.S, I was flummoxed by a light-hearted glint of a smile on each and every one of the men there. They emitted a carefree attitude and exuded a joy from simply spending time with one another. As the day continued, I was continuously impressed by the easygoing attitude of the populace. Traffic lanes and lights were mere suggestions that slowly melted into background decorations. The roads and sidewalks were so jammed that everywhere felt like a concert mosh-pit; rubbing elbows, fragrances, and sentiments. The noise was a constant clatter, an out-of-whack beat that was never in sync with anything; yells and screams, honks that vibrated through you. On paper, this environment sounds (no pun intended) chaotic and stress-inducing, but in reality, it was the complete opposite. Tranquility overcame me as I was able to melt into this vibrant scene and soak everything in as an observer. I cherished the opportunity to escape the “stereotypical tourist” label.

Now, let’s talk about the cows–possibly the best thing. As a native of urban Chicago, it’s bizarre to step out into a massive metropolis and come face-to-face with cows. It quite literally governs the way of life. These creatures are sacred to Hindus because of all they provide: milk, butter, dung etc, without needing much in return. So when you come across a cow that happens to stand alongside or in the middle of the road, which will happen, you’re forced to find another route because that path is closed until Bessy decides to mosey on down. I must say, though a nuisance for efficient travel, I would not mind if Chicago, by some miracle, had its own cows roaming the streets and sidewalks. Just imagine stepping foot outside of school after the last bell to see a cow in the parking lot. Wistful thinking, but a girl can dream.

Additionally, I realized how truly fortunate I am for everything I have. Even with all of India’s kaleidoscopic lifestyle, I couldn’t help noticing the blighted and unfortunate. Along with the cows, kids also meandered the streets. They tugged on motorcyclists’ sleeves, knocked on car windows asking for anything, only to be ignored. While poverty is an issue in every country, living in a suburb as I do, I’m often shielded from issues of the real world. Encountering this reality sent a pang of pity through me, but also a flood of gratefulness.

Another thing my suburban, American life has shielded me from is pollution. That day, as soon as I came out of the airport, I came face-to-face with the pungent pollution that permeated the atmosphere. In equal parts astonishment and horror, I watched as the blanket of smoke and dust settled lower and lower in the city as night arrived, wrapping over the top of buildings. By dusk, the pollution completely masked the upper halves of even the shortest of buildings and generated a fog that was unparalleled to anything I had ever seen before.

Despite this, I saw hundreds of posters dotting the streets that encouraged recycling and raised awareness about environmental protection. The citizens of New Delhi seemed to be actively taking steps to reverse the pollution and stretch out the Earth’s lifespan.

A city brimming with people of such different backgrounds all uniting for a common cause is something I used to consider utopian, unrealistic, but New Delhi proved me wrong. Its people care for the Earth. I’m still worried about the future of our planet, however, because while few countries around the globe rival the pollution of New Delhi, even fewer still can rival the awareness of its citizens. New Delhi is a prime example that educating and influencing citizens to collectively reduce pollution levels is possible, yet very few countries are following its lead. Proactivity is key in keeping our planet happy and healthy, something that I only really understood after my visit.

My time in New Delhi, though a mere 12 hours, profoundly influenced me more than any place I’ve ever been. Like the citizens of New Delhi, we must play our part in reducing climate change, especially with all the resources and luxuries that we have, if we want to preserve the Earth.

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