Sunrises on the left side of our train as we head south from New Delhi to Gwalior, a pitstop of sightseeing on the way to the home of the Taj Mahal, Agra. Mist over fields melds light pink and orange light into sorbet. Tea cups and spoons clink and jostle as we make way. “Right on time…and all the dogs are barking on the dark and damaged highway where you wander…way over on the railroad…Every scrapbook stuck with glue, and I’ll stand beside you.” Van Morison is in my ears as we depart India’s 18 million person capital city by rail through the country. I’m glad to be back on the road.
A small child wearing a watch cap with both hands on the windowsill looks curiously out of the back of the bus in front of us. On this busy Sunday out of Agra, we chaotically weave through traffic. “All you need for driving in India,” a driver once said, “is a good horn, good breaks, and good luck.” This couldn’t be more true.
Slowing through a market filled with shallots, cauliflower, carrots, turmeric, green chilies, radishes, mangos, watermelon, I notice a kid running down the street in a University of Colorado crew sweatshirt, complete with Ralphie Buffalo and “CU.” I am elated to see my Buffs represented on the other side of the world. Regretfully, the kid zooms by just as I reach for my camera and I’m unable to get a photo.
This whole situation makes me think about something I learned about that sweatshirt at that mountainside school in Colorado. In some Anthropology 40something called “Anthropology of Globalization and Development, we studied how when clothes are donated in the U.S., regardless of their intention to do good or the need to get rid of excess garb, a lot of the time they will end up abroad. But when they get to the other parts of the world, often countries that are underdeveloped, and at that point they aren’t “donated” but sold by bulk purchasers who in turn sell them to street vendors as a part of a second hand economy. This is a two-way street. On the one hand, people are having to pay for handed down clothes that they should be getting for free and that were ironically, often made in the same region. However, the flip side is that this creates opportunity through the niche creation of pure cash retail. Food for thought.
A sweatshirt manufactured and screened in China, sent, sold and worn by a student in Colorado, then sold to a kid on the streets of Uttar Pradesh, India. A love triangle of cloth. “It sure is an interesting world,” I think. Here on the streets of Uttar Pradesh, it seems pretty small.