I wasn’t entirely enthused about being in Delhi. I had heard some pretty horrible things about the city from locals. My Indian friends said it was dirty, dangerous, and thoroughly unsafe for a solo girl to walk around by herself. Nevertheless, being me, I decided to give it a shot anyways.
I had been in India for a month and I wasn’t interested in seeing the touristy sights such as the fort and the numerous temples. I wanted to see something real and experience the way locals lived. Thus, I signed up for a tour with Street Connections. Street Connections is a tour company that supports the Salaam Balaak Trust, a local NGO that runs schools and shelters for street children in Delhi.
I was extremely lucky, as usually there are more tourists, but no one else signed up. My tour was one-on-one with Lalit. Lalit is a former street kid himself who was taken in by Salaam Balaak Trust when he was just five years old.
Seeing the hidden side of Delhi that most tourists don’t get to experience was truly memorable. We spent the day exploring hidden havelis, winding alleyways, and spice markets. Lalit was funny, kind, and very knowledgable. As we wandered around, he gave back information on the community that I never would have known.
As we wandered through the streets smelling of incense, sewage, and spices, Lalit explained little details. For instance, there are gods of every religion painted on the lower parts of the walls. The locals painted them in this area because too many people were using the bathroom on the streets. No one dares to pee on the walls anymore for fear of urinating on one of the paintings.
We also visited a Jain temple, a place for worship for the followers of Jainism. Jainism is different to Buddhism in a couple of ways. Both religions emphasize non-violence, but in Jainism, non-violence (ahimsa) is the central and most important tenant. I am very interested in this religion, and seeing a local temple was enlightening. As Jains believe in kindness towards all living beings, not just humans, no leather or animal products of any kind are allowed in the temples. Jains are vegetarians and avoid dairy products. Strict followers avoid root vegetables as well.
Salaam Balaak Trust
Lalit and I ended the day at Salaam Balaak Trust. The shelter is just one of many throughout Delhi. They have both crisis centers and orphanages, where the children stay long-term. Lalit himself was brought into the shelter when he was just five years old, after his parents passed away. He was living on the streets and addicted to drugs.
The orphanage doesn’t allow children to leave the shelter for the first two months for fear that they will run away. Although the streets are not a better alternative, children long for the familiar comfort of what they know. The goal is to ultimately get the children back with their parents, under the promise that their caregivers will keep them in school. Salaam Balaak helps pay the education fees in order to give parents a positive incentive.
Lalit was a huge inspiration to me. As the tour was individual, I feel like I really got to know him. After the tour, he let me drive around on his scooter. It seemed to be very amusing to the locals to see me rattling around on his old bike, fumbling with the breaks and laughing. Lalit is now about to graduate from school. He plans to move to Germany and start his own business. It’s crazy how people can come through so much adversity and still turn out to be successful and happy.
Thoughts on Delhi
People like Lalit are the kinds of people I hope to be like. People that see the positive in life, no matter what their circumstances. I’m not sure he will ever realize the imprint that he made upon my heart, but he did. My day in Delhi cemented the love that I feel for India. I know that Lalit is just one example of Indians who continue to make the most from their circumstances. I hope that I can bring even the tiniest bit of awareness to Salaam Balaak Trust, as it is truly an amazing organization.
Delhi may not be the prettiest or the cleanest city I have ever visited. However, there is a life and vibrancy there that permeates the whole city. It’s intoxicating in it’s craziness, as is most of India.