I first noticed these apartment buildings while we were driving to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Spaced between long stretches of totally empty grasslands, we’d see pods of 10 to 15 buildings. All were 10 to 20 stories high, made of concrete, with dark windows. All were exactly, completely identical. Really, they’re sort of clinical—I’ve never seen socialist architecture, but I’d imagine it would evoke the same sort of mass-produced feeling.
On the way to Agra, these buildings were far removed from the highway, and I couldn’t see them in that much detail. The sweet CSJ social worker who was stuck with me and all my questions on that trip explained that many international corporations build “compounds” for their employees, outside of Delhi—often these buildings would have grocery stores, hospitals, and private schools interspersed between them, so that employees never had to leave or go into the city. Mostly I was struck by the number of buildings we saw—I struggled to wrap my head around just how many people they would fit.
The way from our hotel to the National Law University in Dwarka was blanketed in the same sort of buildings—slightly shorter, but rows and rows and rows and rows of them. Some of the pods were enclosed by gates bearing the markers of a housing developer, or a government building project. Some were slightly different colors. But they all had the same super-geometric shape that you could tell was designed to squeeze as many people into the space as is physically possible.
Almost every apartment had laundry hanging from the balcony. Bright towels and sheets, and little kids’ underwear. Many of the balconies had plants, and quite often there were people hanging out on (or hanging out of!) the balcony, with tea or a cigarette in hand.
If you put a family of 5 in each apartment, there had to be about 600 people in each building. In pods of 10 to 15 buildings. For miles and miles. Thousands and thousands of people, right next to, on top of, under, behind, around and together with thousands of other people. (For what it’s worth, I bet many of these tiny apartments had more than 5 people in them).
I was struck by how important it must be to be good at living with people, in India. When you have thousands of neighbors, being neighborly must become a crucial skill. This made it even more impressive to me just how quiet Delhi is—if you can get past all of the car horns, really, there’s not much other noise. No loud music, very few sirens. Definitely no yelling. How is it possible that this many people live this close to together, and there isn’t more yelling??
When I think about it, this makes perfect sense. The Indian friends I made on this trip were some of the most patient, warm, and friendly people I’ve ever met. There were several times during our trip when there was potential for great conflict between and among people. There were certainly many times when I almost lost my cool! More than once, I watched members of the CSJ team interact with people whose express goals were in direct contradiction to their own, and who endorsed extremely hurtful policies that CSJ works ardently to combat.
And yet I was impressed, over and over again, by the ways in which all of these people engaged with each other, and continued to engage—respectfully and cordially—through and in spite of difficult situations, and vastly differing viewpoints. At every level of government and the judicial system, and throughout CSJ and IJM, we met outstanding men and women who fight for survivors while maintaining and developing relationships with those who make their jobs more difficult. It was made clear to me through their actions just how deeply they believe that true justice and equity will require everyone working together.
Of course we know that people in Delhi are not always good at living together. Like every place on earth where humans have ever been, there are people in Delhi who hurt each other, sometimes in terrible ways. We learned a lot about some of this hurt while we were there.
I am so encouraged to know that for the hurting and hurt in Delhi, there are incredible advocates, who are committed to being in relationship with people. As I continually work to get better at living with and loving those around me, I can draw great inspiration from these friends, and the way they love and serve their neighbors.