Friday, November 10, 2006

Thoughts on the British in india

You don't have to spend long here to be aware of the legacy of the Raj. It's there in the road names, "Hudson Circle", "Brigade Road", or the rather idiosyncratic signs
"Do not commit nuisance here" "Wanted, receptionist. Fresh or experienced."
It's there in the public school apsirations of the csi schools, with their culture of rousing school songs, "mens sana.." and all the trappings of a vanished Empire, tiffin and punkah wallahs.
Everywhere you go, there's no escape. For a socialist type like me, it's been deeply uncomfortable.
Worship last Sunday was a bizarre recreation of the church of my childhood. I presided at a Eucharist that was broadly series 2 (modified Book of Common Prayer, for non Anglicans!)....a robed choir sang Merbecke, and we processed in to "All things B & B". Only the packed church, with congregation spilling outside, the sea of colour when i looked down at the congregation, and the hands outstretched at the altar rail reminded me that i was in India.
Disturbingly, to be white still seems a passport to instant respect. A blessing from English hands is valued more than an Indian one, and to the young indian to be westernised to be to sophisticated and successful.
No matter that the IT industry which is making some in Bangalore rich is bringing huge social problems in its wake, as young people find themselves wealthy beyond their wildest dreams in a country where the cost of living is breathtakingly low.
Having brought a car, and thus contributed to the dual problems of congestion and pollution, drink and drugs are the only remaining ways to spend their easy wealth.
With both men and women employed (often doing antisocial hours to match the time zones of the countries they are calling) the traditional Indian extended family is breaking down creating new problems of geriatric and child care....But despite this, to be westernised is perceived as a Good Thing.
After a few days, i was ready to hang my head in shame and slink away...but then, in trust indian fashion, just as i was sure i knew something, a fresh circumstance challenged my views.
You see, I met Andrew, a Sunday school worker with CSI. Like 70% of indian Christians, Andrew's family is dalit...less than human, the lowest of the low...valued so much less than beasts that are revered as gods. But his grandfather converted to Christianity, following what amounted to a miracle...
He was employed by a British tea planter, a Christian who held daily prayers for his staff...but grandfather, a devout hindu, was not convinced. Then one day he had an accident, breaking his treatment was some days journey away, and by the time he arrived gangrene had set in and amputation seemed inevitable. Surgery was planned for the following day, and he lay in the ward, in great pain and utter desolation...He noticed a picture of Jesus, which he recognised from his employer's home...and in some desperation prayed "I am in too much pain. If you are indeed a god, act."
That night his pain did not keep him awake, and instead he slept deeply and dreamed vividly of two men in white who came to him and assured him that Jesus had indeed healed his leg.
In the morning, the gangrene had gone, the broken bone was whole and, not surprisingly, grandfather converted to Christianity on the spot, though facing huge opposition and persecution from his own community. Even now, when Andrew returns home to his village, he is out cast.
But, he says, it is worth it.
For Andrew, Christianity represents an open door, an escape route from the confines of the eternal cycle of karma in to freedom and dignity as a child of God.
Small wonder, then, that the Christian missionaries of yesteryear are treated like beloved relatives, spoken of as if they've only just left the room, remembered as people and not just in the names of hospitals, churches and schools that they founded to make a difference.
If everything is determined by karma there is no impetus for social change, no sense of mutual responsibility...but again and again we see the church acting, working with those who had believed themselves beneath notice, and doomed to eternal misery.
As i've said before, nothing is straightforward here!


Andrew said...

who says miracles no longer happen, and in unlooked for places?? Not surprising (as you say) that he had a rapid re-appraisal! How long ago was Andrew's grandfather healed? The juxtaposition of the very rich and unbelevably poor living side by side, aparently without any thought that something could be done about the disparity, must be mind-blowing.

Greg the Explorer said...

I am of course deeply surprised that some money grubbing televangelist wasn't a part of this story! LOL ;)

Too often we in the countries such as mine (Australia) lose sight of te miraculous in our faith - Salvation becomes a set of beliefs which unless ascented and adhered to is lost or never gained.

IF you are God...act if that isn;t a call to the church then I don;t konw what is - If we are in community with God...act!

Songbird said...

Hattie Ghandi, the post you tried to make to update us about your mom ended up on one of the RevGal blogs and I had to take it down. Could you re-post it here? Here's your text:

Hello again from Hatti Ghandi - currently wrapped in a thai pachmina in the beautifully rainy city of Cardiff and a very long way away from her mother indeed. Today I bring you another basic update of her being hell and wappy and thoroughly uncomputerised. She is currently living in one of the poor areas and my home in Thailand seems luxorious in comparison. I'd tell you what I've heard, but I know full well that my best efforts will fall far short of her own accounts, and I need to build up some type of reputation for myself...aside from the hat adoration.
Love to all from the rainy city and the strange country of spices and colours far away in a dream

the reverend mommy said...

Dearest Kathryn,
You are in my prayers. I consider you a dear friend, even though we have never met and I pray that your ministry in India bears tremendous fruit. You are a dear, dear person and I wish I could be with you!
May God shower you and your ministry with blessings!

sally said...

I felt that very keenly when I visited nepal, and saw the appalling poverty there - our guide was a deeply religious man who talked about the next life, and faith in god being all..but as yoiu say I just saw it as a way of keeping these people in squalor and telling them thye would be rewarded in the next life - no social programme at all.