A Reflection on Volatility and Peace in Delhi: August 13th, 2008

I was in a small car accident yesterday. It happened at an intersection within the block where we live in New Delhi. I saw the bright shiny Mercedes approaching to my right but I proceeded through the intersection in the understanding that I had the right of way. The Mercedes, however, did not give way and his left front bumper struck my right rear wheel. We stopped our vehicles and I stepped out to approach the driver of the Mercedes. His face was familiar. I had seen him many times in our neighborhood, though we had never met. We talked for some time, me standing at the side of his car and he seated inside. I was surprised when the man insisted that I was at fault for the mishap. And he was surprised when I laid the blame on him. We had a strong difference of opinion. We disagreed as to the accident, but we agreed to each take care of our own damages, which appeared to be quite minimal.

What I appreciated most about the man in the Mercedes was his demeanor. Even though there was obvious disagreement between us, he never raised his voice. He remained calm. He spoke his mind, but he never became hostile toward me. I did the same. We used our words and our minds, not our fists. We parted on good terms. If we see each other again, which is very likely, I hope we will exchange greetings. Perhaps I will tell him how much I appreciated his manner at the scene of the accident.

Three days earlier my wife and I had gone out for dinner at a very nice restaurant in South Delhi. We enjoyed our meal and our time alone. But as we left the restaurant and found our way to the parking lot, we witnessed a disturbing scene. We watched in horror as one group of men beat up two others in front of a large crowd. It was horrifying. We felt both helpless and sick to our stomachs. Other bystanders explained to us what had transpired before we got there, especially about the drunkenness and stubbornness of the two who had initiated the confrontation. But the violence still seemed utterly senseless. One man rolled his eyes in disgust and said, “This is Delhi. People love their power here, and they use it to crush others.”

As a city, Delhi has a personality, an identity. After arriving here three years ago, I was informally briefed on different aspects of the city, by locals and expats alike. Aside from all the great things that Delhi has to offer, I was told that this is a monster filled with lust, greed and anger. I was told by another that there is a spirit of volatility that prevails in the city and that we should not underestimate its potential to put us under its spell.

I saw that spirit in that parking lot three days ago, and it scared me. I recalled the uneasiness that I had felt at times when we first moved here. Delhi can be intimidating. I would be dishonest if I denied that I have personally struggled with these attitudes and influences since moving here. But I can also say that I not only survived the first three years of my expat experience, but I expect to continue to thrive here. It is possible to resist the negativity and to live contrary to this territorial spirit. Aside from trusting in God and embracing the freedom that he supplies, it has been my relationships with the people of Delhi, both Indians and expats, who have given me the strength and motivation to thrive in this city.

Along with the pain that I sometimes feel for this city I also have hope. I believe that this city has great potential, but only as the people resist the selfish spirit that is present here and embrace a spirit of love and peace and forgiveness. Because that spirit is also here. I may have differences with the man in the Mercedes, but I believe that he and I can live together peacefully in this city. 

I Am Managua

In the calm I stand waiting

In the breeze I call the storm

I call the darkest clouds

and with them lightning

and soon the rain

the torrents of rain

I remind you that I have weathered many storms

more than once the earth has shaken beneath my feet

more than once the crowds have revolted in my streets

more than once my sons have taken up arms against each other

they have given in to wars not their own

they have lived a nightmare for someone else's dream

my leaders have risen and fallen

some stole and stood aloof

some served and stood alone

my children suffered in the midst of it all

and I received their mothers' tears

I felt every moment of pain.


When the calm returns I stand waiting

In the breeze I call for change

In the clouds I ask for help

In the lightning I cry for hope

and in the rain, in the torrents of rain, I plead for mercy

and yet my past haunts me

You need not be afraid of me

You need not be threatened by me

and yet you feel the hurt and isolation

you sense my emptiness

You look for my soul, my being,

but it elludes you

I am traumatized, decentralized

I am in pain

I am Managua.

 (I wrote this poem in 1998 after six tough days in the capital of Nicaragua.)