Eva Bradley: Contrast hard on the eye

By Eva Bradley

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When I was little I enjoyed collecting new words a bit like boys liked collecting butterflies or mud on the soles of their shoes.

Never a whizz at spelling them, I instead enjoyed finding new ways of using them, and as an adult I still derive a geeky pleasure from finding the perfect home for a particular word.

After a week in the spin cycle of India, I have found the absolutely perfect home for one of my favourite words: juxtaposition.

A word used to explain the comparison of two very different ideas set side by side, the word has always seemed a little lame - a little lacking - until I found myself in Mumbai.

Like every traveller here, I had watched Slumdog Millionaire and had my shots for every imaginable disease on God's good earth.

In a city seething with 16 million people in a country of over a billion, I expected the Third World. What I didn't expect was seeing it shoved up uncomfortably right next to the sort of trappings that would make the First World blush.

Even in Auckland a Lamborghini or Maserati stands out from the crowd. Put them next to a slow-moving fleet of dusty rickshaws and ancient taxis left behind by a rapidly departing British Raj and you have the foundations of the true juxtaposition.

On arriving in Mumbai we spent the day exploring the largest slum in Asia, where one toilet is shared between 1500 people, and the night at one of the world's most prestigious hotels.

Although, strangely enough, even at the Taj Mahal Palace you still have to share your toilet because an attendant is stationed permanently outside to flush it for you and then turn on the tap.

With one of the world's fastest growing economies, India is a juxtaposition of unimaginable and often unbearable wealth and poverty.

And not neatly sliced into clearly defined areas (where one can happily ignore the existence of the other) but just like the word explains - two polar opposites side by side ... the beggar outside the luxury shop and the Maserati parked right alongside the slum, its owner apparently impervious to the painful contradiction.

As our train for distant climes chugged into the station, several neat and tidy air-conditioned carriages slid past boasting recliner seats and cabins with comfortable beds, one reserved for me.

Dragging behind them came a dozen more with people spilling out of them like a bath with too many bubbles.

Numbed by a lifetime of comfy Kiwi equality and the expectation of safety nets, equal opportunities and a narrow gap between the haves and have-nots, India is making me understand the meaning of juxtaposition with a lot more clarity ... and I'm no longer sure I count it among my list of favourite words.

- Northern Advocate

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