The Age of Kali: Part 1

March 29, 2011

My posts up to now have been colorful and positive of the place I have called home these past four months. But always in the back of my mind I knew I was leaving quite a bit out, and that my photos and notes were always a bit one-sided. That other side of India is, frankly, a disaster. The minute you leave Bombay, you are overwhelmed with the scale of the problem.

India can be draining and taxing. You always have to be  aware, and nearly everyone who approaches you in seemingly good faith has an ulterior motive, usually based on taking advantage of you for all that they can. I can’t tell you the number of times that I thought I had just made a friend, but right at the end, I was asked for money and ruthlessly insulted when I declined, or when after paying and tipping a friendly guide for a few hours of his time, getting a look of disgust and a “mother choate.” But it is hard to blame them for it, it is not their fault.

I daily see streets littered with trash and shit with barely room to place your feet, once magnificent buildings now soot-covered and crumbling, the UNESCO sign out front doing little to hide the trash and filth. I have seen tied up mother cows pawing nervously and crying out over the body of her dead calf lying in front of her, not fully comprehending the situation.

I have never been in a city (or passed a river) that didn’t reek of raw sewage, and your walks through it are spent sleeping over countless homeless people sleeping on the streets, dodging cars and motorcycles that know no road rules, and breathing in an endless amount of dust and pollution that makes your snot black and leaves you coughing up phlegm every morning.

On a larger scale, power outages are constant. Drinking water is scarce. There is no healthcare. There is barely an education system. Villagers live as they always had, only now with trash littering their dirt lawns and their fields at the mercy of global warming. It is sixty years after Independence, and there are still hold ups on the roads, and there are 950 women for every 1000 men. The country’s infrastructure is rotting, and the politicians are too busy looting the coffers to have time to do anything about it.

And the caste system provides the rich with an excuse and the poor with a justification for the state of the country and the atrocities that happen every day.

I have read parts from book about India called “The Age of Kali,” written by William Dalrymple in the nineties, and while the book is good, the name is better. “The Age of Kali” is derived from a concept in Hindu Cosmology that time is divided by four great ages, or yugs, which go from best to worst in succession. The Age of Kali Yug is the last age, an age of strife, corruption, darkness, and disintegration.  In the Age of Kali, Vishnu and Shiva are asleep, and do not hear the prayers of their people. A seventh-century Vishnu Purana wrote of the Age of Kali:

“The kings of the Kali Yug will be addicted to corruption and will seize the property of their subjects, but will, for the most part, be of limited power, rising and falling rapidly. Then property and wealth alone will confer rank; falsehood will be the only means of success in litigation. Corruption will be the universal means of subsistence. At the end, unable to support their avaricious kings, The people of the Kali Age will take refuge in the chasms between mountains, they will wear ragged garments, and they will have too many children. Thus in the Kali Age shall strife and decay constantly proceed, until the human race approaches annihilation.”

I am simply a traveler. I am not a high-caste Indian who has the means and connections to either escape to a different country or shelter themselves away. I am not a low-caste Indian who has to live in slums that often make me turn away in shame as I pass. I am simply a traveler who has to watch, along with its people, a beautiful country’s potential being squandered.

2 Responses to “The Age of Kali: Part 1”

  1. schmem Says:

    now this is what i’m talking about! wow! wish I could be there. when are you coming home? Are you staying there longer than planned?

  2. Priya Says:

    John,

    Your words are genuine and matter-of-fact. Sitting here in India, living the Age of Kali, I can’t help but look at your perspective and feel, all at once, gratitude at your just appraisal, shame at all that you’ve had to see, and immense pride at your positive experiences here. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: