Sunday, December 19, 2010

india now and then

Returning to the land of my childhood always brings a resonance within me. There is this 'joy 'n peace' combo working away inside. I just enjoy being back in India.

I like noting the things that stay the same and the things that change.

About 90% of men still seem to have moustaches - but not quite as many (thankfully) still relieve themselves pretty much anywhere. As one long-time observer noted, 'Indian men must have the smallest bladders in the world'.

You still need a dictionary of acronyms in order to interpret the newspaper. Headline after headline, article after article is dependent on clusters of capital letters. And 'CPI' is not the 'consumer price index', but the Communist Party of India - while CSI is still barely hanging-on as the Church of South India!

When I was taught to drive it was about looking one way and then the other - and then doing it all again - before venturing out onto the road. Here there is still that sense that the one who does not look at all has the right-of-way. Whether pedestrian or vehicle there is a lot of no-look venturing out onto the road as others give way to you. Establish eye contact and you will be waiting for hours.

I do not know where all the small notes of change are hiding in India, but shopkeepers still seem to have none of it when you purchase an item. And I smile when Indian shopkeepers in New Zealand seem to have the very same difficulty.

Travelling on the trains of India - tomorrow we take the 38hr trip from Bangalore to Kolkata - is still one of life's great joys. Sitting or standing at the open door of a carriage watching India go by...

What about plunging the thumb into the base of an orange? And I mean a real big orange - none of this ping-pong manadarin stuff we get in New Zealand. It is still one of the simple pleasures of India.

But there are things that change as well.

I'ved enjoyed watching Indians love their India and take pride in it. I don't remember it being like this. That Mysore zoo was stuffed with people - with Bethany and I the only foreigners.

I've been staggered by the status that India now has in the world. In the six weeks that I have been here, the leaders of the USA, France, and China have all visited in order to broker trade deals worth $10 billion, $6 billion, and $16 billion respectively. I hope some of that money reaches where it needs to go.

I've been humbled by the extent of the missionary force moving cross-culturally within India. I keep bumping into missionaries, Indian missionaries moving elsewhere in India. Consecrated people living sacrifically for the sake of the gospel. Some estimates put the number at 50,000 people. We even visited a school for missionary-kids - entirely Indian students. It wasn't like that in my day! Remember all that gnashing of teeth over foreign missionaries being sent home? God knew what he was doing.

I've been concerned at the lack of indigenous songs in the churches which I have attended. With just a few exceptions, they are singing what everyone seems to be singing. Very sad. It didn't used to be like that as the downside of globalisation begins to kick in.

nice chatting


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

dirt, chaos - and beauty

One of the definitive Indian experiences is to travel through the dirty and chaotic city of Agra, turn a corner, and be stunned so suddenly by the marble magnificence of the Taj Mahal.

This juxtaposition of rubbish and beauty captures so much of India.

You see it on any visit to any bazaar. Noise and filth and chaos may afflict every single sense - but then you see it: the brightness and beauty of onions and cucumbers, oranges and bananas, stacked with care and order.

I have been teaching at the South Asian Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) - here in Bangalore - for the month of November. The beauty of the campus is breathtaking. Every morning I marvel as I walk. But take a few paces outside the campus and the trash piles up everywhere. That juxtaposition - yet again.

I see it every morning as I read my Times of India. The front page - every single day - has been obsessed with corruption among the powerful. More rubbish. Then on page 2 they have run a month-long series entitled 'Bangalore Patrol' with the results of a study into 'civic services' in the city: measuring mobility, water, sanitation, public anemities, environment, and crime. It is not a pretty sight. Lots of rubbish going down (and lying around). At times I sense embarassment and shame with the reporters. But then turn to the back pages of the paper and the collection of photos and stories to do with beauty on a daily basis defies belief. Never have I been in a society so fascinated by beauty and the beautiful. That juxtaposition - yet again.

None of this should be too surprising. Any reader of the New Testament and student of human nature knows that the juxtaposition of rubbish and beauty fills its pages while capturing so much of who we are in whatever country we find ourselves. The wonder of the gospel is that God created us and our world as things of beauty - but sin and evil have rubbished this. And now, through the gospel, our own rubbish can be transformed and we can participate with God in his mission in the world to see that rubbish restored as well.

What a life! Here's to beauty for ashes...

I look forward to returning to Agra next month and revelling in the gospel once again - and renewing my commitment to participating in the restoration of beauty in the world wherever that may be.

nice chatting