Monday, January 30, 2006

Take Diversion

The Indian version of the "Detour" road-sign is "Take Diversion." I should just tattoo it on my forehead since nothing seems to go as planned anyway.

Malgudi Days
This is the first chance at email I've had since Friday afternoon. The bus from Vijayawada to Amaravathi did not run on time, so I missed the ensuing bus to Guntur where I would have gotten my Chennai train. Fortunately, this train leaves every evening and seats are readily available. Having missed the train and thus wasted the ticket, there seemed to be little reason to leave the peaceful atmosphere of Amaravathi in a rush, so I didn't. There was no internet at all available in Amaravati this weekend. The next morning (Saturday) I got some great interviews with local people concerning their businesses.

RK Narayanan wrote a series of books about a fictitious south Indian town, Malgudi Junction. Amaravathi could very well be Malgudi. Every day - actually, every five minutes - I saw charming scenes of a way of life that is quickly vanishing. Without internet, all I could do was scribble them in my theme book and hope to transfer them later.

In this way, I discovered a gathering of some 200,000 Indian Christians in nearby Guntur, somewhat controversial as there are Indian groups who dislike conversions. My friends Madhusudana and his family have a house in Guntur and said I could stay there as long as I like "as it is your own home." They are pretty cool so I said, okay and tonight we will have homemade dinner at Vijay's auntie's house.

Last night I took the bus to Guntur. A tiny girl named Nagalaxmi came and sat next to me to practice her English. "Your name is what?" "Ca-ro-line." "Your village name is what?" "Chat-ta-noo-ga." I was proud that my "village" name was equally as long and musical as hers, Kondalurpet.

Healing Hands & Headaches
Upon arrival in Guntur, Vijay met me at the bus station. We went to the meeting site - just an open field with a temporary stage erected - and talked to the Christians of the Randy Walker Global Outreach (with varying results including their trying to "save" me. "Can we pray for you?"). I had a chance to follow the touring bus with the Christians and go to Rajahmundry with them, the next stop on their mission/crusade/tour. (Most of the team are westerners working with the locals.) I would have done it if a rumour hadn't started circulating that I was a spy from Sai Baba's (?!). I think that's why they were trying to "save" me. After a guy from Alabama tried to heal me by pressing his finger on my forehead and praying aloud, I got a headache that lasted all day today. Maybe it's God's way of telling me to stay away from this particular socioreligious phenomena. Or it may have just been the cognitive dissonance created by hearing an Alabama accent in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh.

The volunteers were interesting; they all seem very sincere about helping people and as far as I know, are not preaching against Hinduism, just doing faith healing. You can freely promote any religion in India, you just can't speak negatively about any of them - that's where the trouble starts.

The Indian Christians were about as unfriendly as the Western ones were friendly. They must have had a very bad experience with the press because they were very suspicious about how they'd be portrayed. I just wanted to find out as much as possible about them, so that I can report what I find. If they don't let you ask questions, they make it difficult to do that.

The short of it seems to be - from what I saw sitting there and talking to people for about two hours - that Hindus are coming to Christianity not primarily because they like the belief system, or because they believe Jesus is Lord or anything like that, but because the Christians are, in local parlance, giving "best services." It appears to have more to do with the locals just wanting love and acceptance and help, than with their wanting to "be Christian," or with rejecting Hinduism.

That's very understandable, for poor people to want help wherever it is available. If the Hindus don't like it, they must get their act together and offer the same stuff. There are lots of NRIs with money now who could fund similar missions in a Hindu vein. This particular group focused on faith healing before preaching or conversion. There were laypersons laying on hands and praying for the recovery of locals from various ailments. In my case, though, it seems to have actually created an ailment (the headache). I regret that I didn't have the time and resources (time to translate from Telugu and talk to locals about it) to find out more.

Even the Dalai Lama said that Buddhists should follow the Christian example of charity and outreach, rather than sequestering themselves so much in the monasteries. In his autobiography the DL mentioned several examples of Indian charity and how he admired them - because, he said, his own compassion was just words and concepts, and these charity workers were really putting their compassion into action.

My Guntur hosts, Vijay and Phuni (sons of Madhusudana), are bright-eyed, athletic kids. Vijay is studying 3D animation and multimedia at the local university. I have seen his stuff and think he's pretty talented. He also studied karate for two months, mostly, I think, so he could take a series of photos in macho karate poses. I had to admit he looked pretty cool in these shots.

I was all set to get another ticket to Madras tonight, but now have been invited to the boys' best friend's wedding on February 2nd. This could be fun and a great photo op. I have a free place to stay here and in Adyar, Madras for a while.

Now I have, literally, about 100 emails waiting for me. . .

The Madras street kids are also waiting for me, viz. this letter from Prabhakaran, their adult "supervisor," to their sponsor, complete with misspellings:

Dear R,
I recieved your messages. Thank you.
Today i pay the invoice 181.13 for January. Thank you. Today i recieved 8784-115 and prabhu recieved 1889-115.
I think monday mumtaz and jeniffer will withdraw food money.
I wellcomes Dancing Lady Caroline. Thank you.
Here all are fine. Thank you,
Regards, V.Prabakaran.

There seem to be more people waiting for me than for any other unemployed writer in the universe. I guess that's a good thing.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


Libran Lover said...

I CAN'T BELIEVE WHAT I JUST DID! I browsed your blog for about 5 minutes and then thought/fantasized for about 5 more minutes and then shot off an email to my new employer asking for a 3-6 month sabbatical in India before I join them (I am in the US right now)! I had already given quitting notice to my previous employer a few days ago. GODDESS! WILL THIS WORK OR WILL THIS NOT? I hope my new employer doesn't get mad at me! I DON'T EVEN KNOW IF I (AND MY FAMILY) CAN AFFORD FOR ME TO NOT GET PAID FOR 6 MONTHS!

- An Indian in the US

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

To Libran Lover: Go for it! Wow, I am even encouraging Indians to be irresponsible and adventurous, that is great. It will work if you work it!

Dear Anonymous:
As of today, this Blog is no longer accepting anonymous comments. Since I am revealing myself, my life and intimate details like email to the world, it's only fair that my commenters do so as well. Please register with Blogger in order to keep participating in constructive, mutual dialogue. Thanks for tuning in!

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Dear Anonymous:
I wish I could address you by some name, but since you haven't provided one, I can't. I wonder what you, or other anonymous posters, have to fear by logging in.

I am not promoting or advocating what these Christians are doing in India (nor am I necessarily opposing them). My personal observation - which applies only to this particular group, the Randy Clark mission - is that this group is not aggressive toward anything. They are not preaching against Hinduism, or anything as far as I could tell - though I did hear of other groups that sound as though they are doing just that. I will deal with that separately as I discover more about them.

Instead, these people are offering unconditional love and positive prayers free of charge. Unintentionally, they are thus encouraging locals to look to the West and to white faces for "salvation." But this is not their specific agenda.

It could be argued that, having access to Western funds, they have an unfair advantage. But there are now plenty of Indians with access to such money. Rather than buy another Acura or another big house in Silicon Valley, or hiring another maid, they could spend their money promoting Hindu, or other Indian, missions doing similar things (such as those of Mata Amritanandamayi) - if they so chose. Just a suggestion, a positive one. I am trying to keep my thoughts about these phenomena constructive, with a focus on what could be done positively rather than what is being done negatively.

A variety of opinions are always welcome here. Thanks for viewing.

SeaSwallowMe said...

loved the ramble. and the line "Or it may have just been the cognitive dissonance created by hearing an Alabama accent in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh." was just hilarious :)

and, btw, welcome to dud-sea-scrawls !

Libran Lover said...

This is related to my earlier comment (see above). I did not get that long vacation to visit India after all! I hope I am able to do it another time. Meanwhile, I'll just travel vicariously through your blog.