They Want to Live, but it’s All So Futile (

Glendora Press, Oct. 1, 1969

They Want to Live, but it’s All So Futile

  (Editor’s Note: For two years prior to joining the faculty of Glendora High School, Dwayne Hunn served the U.S. Government as a member of the Peace Corps. For the next several issues the Glendora Press will carry articles by Mr. Hunn in which he vividly describes the stark reality of life in teeming India and some of his experiences there during his Peace Corps duty.)


 American kids can roller or surf skate down driveways into quiet streets. There (India), they skate in congested streets, There, they skate to stopped taxis, grab onto their doors, and ask for “bukshis.”

Few of them stand and lean on their boards as American kids so often do on their boards or skates. They cannot, for they are often without feet. Chopped off at the knees or hips, they use roller boards to make their begging trips.

I drowsed in a few Peace Corps training sessions, and in two of them I was jolted awake by the remarks of the speak­er. One speaker’s subject of masturbation jolted my Catholic conscience upright. The other jolt from slumber came via a statement that, “Fifty per cent of India’s beggars are pur­posefully maimed.”

“How can you make a statement like that and back it up?” I querried. I can’t remember his exact answer, but I think it had something to do with a state government survey. I found such a statement hard to swallow then.

One of the nights that I was escaping from my Worli living experience found me exchanging gory experiences with a fellow volunteer at the Bombay Peace Corps Hostel. He and his wife warmed up by telling of how they observed a baby deficate diarrhea, scoop it up in her fingers, and eat it. Her mother didn’t stop this until she noticed the intense stares of the couple.  {The above story happened to me and I wrote it as such but got published as happening to a mother.}

*       *       *

They then related a story they had heard from another friend. The friend had been on a crowded train. A woman on the train was holding a howling baby who had bandaged eyes. After more than an hour of crying, and after the moth­er had refused three offers by a man interested in looking at the baby’s eyes, the man took the baby and unwrapped the bandages to find a cockroach gnawing on each eye. I too find this hard to swallow. But after having been there, the lectur­er’s statement is less hard to swallow.

There the game of life is played close to the bone, so closely that it sometimes cuts into the marrow. They are not eating each other, but they may be modifying some of their own lines to ensure money to feed other family members. Those children who have been fated to beg to help support the rest of the family feel the pain of inflicted ugliness, less a gouged eye, a chopped arm, a hand-made-paw. The Hindu re­ligious-philosophical concept of dharma, meaning one’s fate could be a trick of India’s earlier elites to ensure their com­fortable position and the poor’s defeat.

Life magazine spoke of a saintly Sister Theresa of India. I also knew a Sister Theresa, a different, but similar one. She was also Spanish, and her happiness and resolve also seemed unconquerable. She and three other Spanish nuns di­rected the Cheshire Home for 50 paraplegics.

The 50 would never be able to live on their own, some couldn’t urinate on their own, some would soon die, come couldn’t utter an understandable word, a few were spastic. One could do nothing more than squirm across the floor, clutch a space with a paralayzed hand, and utter grunts and groans while showing one of his two faces—a smile or a lost frown.

Here the nuns lived, prayed, smiled and sang. Sister Theresa, it was said, was from one of Spain’s richest families. When she couldn’t raise funds for the home’s needs, she wrote to her other family. Sister, and some others like her, would spend their lives with the sick and dying in a parched and barren land.

After two years, I’d see my parents, America, affluence. Many of the 150 orphans I worked with never saw a parent or…Showing them a new game, wrestling with them, scold­ing them—seemed to make their eyes shine brighter. They had beautiful eyes and smiles, even if there wasn’t much which stood out on their bodies.

Easter calls for a big feast in most American homes. At the orphanage it was no different. The kids gathered their tin plates and looked forward to the Easter breakfast of a plantin, mush—meant, I guess to be oatmeal, and a roll with a touch of jam inside. For lunch they gobbled the dahl (high in protein), curry with their hard roll.

Around 3:30 p.m. they’d have their daily snack of pow­dered milk. (Thrice daily Uncle Sam supplied the powdered milk, and most of the other food.) Dinner was also a treat for the curry sauce had meat in it and it rested on rice. Dessert was a piece of candy for every kid, with even a few pieces left over. The candy was a gift of a tourist.

Three hunks of bread, a small mound of rice, gravy with a few chunks of meat in it, three cups of powdered milk, a banana, and a piece of candy—filled. Their bodies couldn’t stand out, but the smile and love reflected from their eyes and teeth could, and they were as bright as any kid’s I had ever seen.

Zubair Shaik, about 11 when we came, could not under­stand our American humor, our jibes at the rote memorization he brought home from school, our desire to see thing work, our dissatisfaction with the way of life of the general population. Zubair looked up to us, like most Indians did, but it wasn’t just because he was small, like most Indians. He followed us around, and we took him around. When 1t was time for us to leave, he could reply to our jokes with his own snide, American-like wit; he could laugh heartily, and we loved him. And Zubair loved us. But it was Bill, his neighbor for 20 months, that Zubair loved most.

*       *       *

Bill left two days before I did. A large crowd of those who loved him gathered to bid farewell. It was a dear and trying situation for Bill and Zubair. In his last hour at the airport, Bill tried to stay out of Zubair’s range.

It was I who had to hold Zubair, first in my arms, then on my shoulders as Bill boarded and the plane taxied. It was a tragic departure, and yet it was beautiful. Much of what I saw in India was tragic, and yet it could excite a feeling of beauty.

Hollywood can make dollars produce beauty. It can produce “Sound of Music” and “My Fair Lady” and the world marvels at their beauty. In India, the masses, the rich, and the PCVs use these produced beauties to escape the tragedy, ugliness, and their own weaknesses that they so often see around them.

I loved to escape to an air-conditioned movie and its solitude and excitement. I hated to leave them because it was a harsh return to heat, smell, crowd, and filth outside; and there wasn’t the hamburger or icebox to return to enroute to a comfortable bed. When you consider the number of losing battles you fought with bedbugs and mosquitoes, you didn’t even have a comfortable bed.

It was late when “My Fair Lady” ended. The streets were nearly deserted, relatively clean; stars were bright, and the air brisk and fresh. I whistled as I followed a guy and girl walking hand-in-hand.

I rounded the corner across from the Bombay Rugby Club, still watching the couple, still feeling content. I hardly noticed the stench from the garbage pile. (The city’s garbage is stacked at night in sheds, or when the sheds are filled, on the sidewalk.) There were about five piles, each two to three feet high, spread on the sidewalk to my left. The normal con­tingent of rats, dogs, and a cow or two engaged in snacking. I didn’t see any birds; normally they eat with the others.

I did, instead, notice a man. On a back pile, partially hid­den by darkness, squatted a frail, ragged man. I walked next to him, unnoticed by him. In silence, I watched him for about a minute. From his full squat, his hand moved over the pile; feeling a bone he pulled it, shook and brushed some other garbage loose from it, put it to his mouth, and chewed its remains.

In Hindi, I asked, “What are you doing?”

He replied, “Food, Shab.”

With that he weakly returned his face and hand to the pile. No beckoning for money was made, but I reached into my pocket for change.

“Thank you, Shab,” he said.

From bus windows, I had seen full grown men, robed in only a loin cloth, scavenge from daytime garbage piles. Walking the sidewalks, I had seen little kids recover broken egg shells from the same, dip their fingers into them, and suck the eggs’ remains. Then they’d find other shells which they’d run home to their hutments, or tenements with, I sup­pose for mother to perform her culinary magic on.

Next to these experiences I can remember the parties thrown by the movie stars, the rich businessmen, and their sons and daughters. I can remember the quantities of good food, when the law said no parties of more than five persons shall serve food.

I can remember the rich’s infatuations with drink, sleek clothes, Beatle albums, and sex. I could go to these parties and escape the experiences of the masses which I knew better and cared more about changing than the party-givers.

But I haven’t learned to forget that too many rich enjoy living on a hill while condoning the life of the masses in an earthly hell.


Teacher Tells Peace Corps Experiences

Glendora Press — Sunday, September 28, 1969

 Teacher Tells Peace Corps Experiences

Stark Reality of Life In India Told by Hunn

(Editor’s Note: For two years prior to joining the faculty of Glendora High School, Dwayne Hunn served the US. Government as a member of the Peace Corps. For the next several issues the Glendora Press will carry articles by Mr. Hunn in which he vividly describes the stark reality of life in teeming India and some of his experiences there during his Peace Corps duty.)


Rich escape the raw guts of life

To wine, dine, and be nice.

Poor survive on raw guts in life

To mind,
Perpetuate a crime

And await divine’s sublime?


I don’t know if they can convey

Only in silence

Is the naked strength of poverty retained.

But in remaining silent

Will those tragic and beautiful chains

always remain? ….

Should they be ripped away?

(This year I am trying to be a teacher in mud-riddled California. When I started teaching, I felt I should, felt I’d like to convey some of the feelings and thoughts some of the following experiences ignited. Perhaps I wanted to do so be­cause they might make me stand out. I hope it is not for this reason, but rather because it is my little experience with a reality of life, a reality different, and not necessarily holier, than experiences many go through. It was a reality which was enriching for me, and which, even if only vicariously, I hope can be enriching to, or appreciated by others.)


It took about forty hours. To Beirut it had been all right, but from there I began to feel more and more like a sardine-­in-can.

On the ride from the airport to the hotel, I yelled to the bus driver to watch out for the car he was about to force into the middle ditch. Ira Kaye, our director, said, “Dwayne, if you can’t get used to that, you won’t be here long.”

I shut-up. With the rest of the group, I just stared from the windows at the hutments, pools of water, and masses of skinny brown people.

We settled into our rooms and then went down for lunch. Lunch was to the music of a rock group In the Beatle tradition. Not one of the band members spoke anything but Eng­lish.

I slept for awhile and then went out for a walk. The side­walk was filled with flitting sandals, white shirts, and little brown people. I towered above most of the crowd.

When a hand tugged at mine, I was aware of the pres­ence of children. I looked down and quickly turned away.

I felt—not embarrassed—bit that I shouldn’t look, I shouldn’t gawk, though I wanted to. I looked enough to know that the hole in the side of his mouth was the size of a half dollar. I saw the blackened gums, the rotted teeth—those that were, the ugliness of the hole.

He didn’t stay long. I don’t think I gave him any money; I had decided that I wouldn’t give to beggars. His friends stayed with me for about an hour and on later trips through that part of the city I would see them again.


Two days later, I hoarded a municipal bus for my work site. I served as a parade for the small brown people, for as I walked to the rear they all turned to stare.

Hadn’t they ever seen a white person ride a bus? Proba­bly not, I answered myself. The British had chauffeurs for the buses were too dirty, noisy, and crowded.

I had difficulty adjusting to their constant and intent ob­servance so I started staring back at them to while away the uncomfortable minutes. I did this for many months. Until, it seems, the city’s millions became accustomed to seeing young Americans on crowded buses, crowded trains, and bi­cycles—transportation that bad always been their domain.

I got off at Worli Chawis. It was a tenement area, but other than a feeling of the city’s ugliness that had been with me since deplaning, I noticed little more than some strewn garbage and many dirty, gray buildings with bars on the windows. Only later would I learn that each of the ten rooms (13’x l0’) on each of the four floors of each tenement housed between five and twelve people, that water ran for slightly more than an hour each day, that neighbor wouldn’t talk to neighbor because of class or religion. That was later.


Now I wanted to see where I was to live. I found the Ma­harashtra Labor Welfare Center, and on its second floor I found two or three Indians gesticulating in a bright, yellow painted, chair, new bed, table and sink. They were proud of what they had done to this once-tile closet. They had a spout bucket sitting on a shelf above it. They explained that a bucket of water would be brought to me each morning by the night watchman. Then they showed me my washroom.

It was down the stairs, around the front of the building, through an open passageway along the side of the building, and into the back of a small building which housed the public urinal, the stench from which was stifling. It was a 40-yard dash that I would sprint often in the next nine months. They had even bought a few piece of furniture for the washroom.

The sweeper and his family, who used the stall adjacent to mine, would squat for their relief. I had a throne to sit upon. They showed me the throne with a special zest, glee, pride, or something. They entered and beckoned me to fol­low for a close-hand look at the two toilets and one erratic functioning shower stall, all of which filled a space of less than 40 square feet. I didn’t immediately move in. I was trying to bolster myself.

Over the walls hundreds of large, healthy, brownish-red cockroaches were twitching their feelers and scampering around. My guides didn’t seem to notice them. Humans, I was quickly learning, didn’t constitute this nation’s only pop­ulation problem.

During the next nine months,  after much use of my sandals, the cockroaches, with their twitching feelers, would still rule the roost. As with people, cows, rats, flies, mosqui­toes, and bed bugs, I’d painfully accustom myself to crowds, even in my most private minutes.

During the first six months, there were many days and nights that I’d average 15-20 trips to my throne. Due to the distance, and the crucial seconds it would take to unlock the door, I sometimes was not in time.


Working at an orphanage, trying to establish a chawl library, a kitchen garden, a milk feeding program, teaching at a school for the elite, establishing a work camp for those stu­dents. playing and popularizing basketball, and trying to see and learn, kept me moving around the city. More than any period of my life, I was looking, listening, and trying to learn and understand.

I’d see the blind trodding through crowded trains singing their religious songs and asking for alms. I’d see the blind with their gouged eyes, the blind and the seeing with their pock-marked faces; I’d hear their wail, and I’d try to think.

I’d get of at a train station and move with the crowd through the exit. I’d pass under the bridge and see the beg­gar in his familiar spot. He could see, and so could I. I could see that all the fingers on his left hand were chopped off at the first knuckle. His right hand had three fingers. His right foot had a dirty, perhaps at one time, white, wrap around it. It had a big toe and a little toe. His other foot had only a big toe. Lacerations covered his shins and forearms. His tin cup lay at his side.


Others, like the woman with her two children, sometimes took advantage of the shade of the bridge. She was relatively healthy. Her children, probably both under 2 years, were even clothed, even had a few sheets to lie on. Many babies in Worli, and throughout the city, had no sheets to lie on. They crawled on the pavement as their mothers sold vegetables from burlap sacks to the throngs of passersby. Instead of clothes, their babies had their legs, pelvic areas, and bloated stomachs covered with sores.

Even now, as I write, I question the validity of what I put down. I question the validity when I pass the stories on to interested listeners. Did I really see those things? I have some pictures to remind me. Yet, pictures don’t make it what it was; people respond to them with a “They’re great.”

Pictures can’t tell it like it was, or express how it felt; nor, when I slow down long enough to remember, do I really recall all it was, or how it felt.






Proposed 27th Amendment

proposed *27th amendment

  national initiative


vote of confidence (recall)


"Take the initiative."