Thursday, 30 January 2014

It’s amazing how quickly the exceptional becomes the norm and yet how the apparently normal remains unacceptable….

The animals: from the lizard that traverses the sanctuary wall behind the altar during worship, to the chicken who visits our training session, to the pigs honking and rooting around outside my window, the goats that pass through grazing the leafy vegetation most days, to the dogs basking in the dust (do they belong to anyone, are they fed?), to the troupe of monkeys who haven’t been quick to return for a another barage of stones from the young children at the school. 

From the chapel I watch building work - a wall must be built round the government property adjacent to the Bishop’s compound - a new rule for every government property to make it secure. The trees are felled by men wielding axes, the smaller pieces are gathered in bundles and transported home on the women’s heads for use for cooking, women are generally present fetching and carrying; not something seen much in British building sites. The work is incredibly manually intensive.
The food: I’m happy with curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The variety is wide, plain rice and fried rice, curry of every description: fish, carrot, potato, beetroot, okra, brinjal (small green aubergine), beans of all types and thin dal with tomato and garlic. Every sort of flat bread: roti and chapatti, puri and vattayappam, but not a naan to be seen. Breakfast treats include upma (pronounced oopma) a comforting semolina porridge, with carrot, onion, and curry leaves and a spicy coconut and chilli pickle to heat it up, even the dosa with peanut butter has green chills with the peanuts, to give it quite a kick! I’ve been tutored by the cook ‘John’ to make afternoon snacks; chana dal bhajis with fresh chillies, onion, and coriander leaves, other bhajis and potato bondas - recipes available on request.
And best of all the Christmas decorations are still all up - each day I read again - Merry Christmas! Evidently they take them down on Ash Wednesday.
Yet in this second most populous country in the world, and by far the biggest democracy, where there is so much colour, so much vibrancy, so much laughter and smiling, there are things that are hard to take.
The diocese I am in (Nandyal) has the first woman Bishop of any diocese in the Church of South India (CSI), and yet there is no other woman pastor in the diocese, evidently there are some in other diocese but this one isn’t keen on them! 
In the Deccan Chronicle (an English language paper for Andhra Pradesh) yesterday I read of the Supreme Court’s decision not to review its verdict criminalising homosexuality in the country. The penalty can be up to 10 years in jail and is a law left behind from days of Empire (1861). Quite challenging as my ‘Second Batch’ of moustachioed, motorbiking clergy, are studying the character of ‘Jonathan’ the man who loved David with ‘more than the love of a woman’ today. We discussed openly, but opinions are split; both on the nature of Jonathan and David’s relationship as describe in the Old Testament, and the place of gays in Indian society and the church!
And the papers are full of stories of gang rapes. Many in Britain will have heard of the young medical student, raped and murdered on a bus  in Delhi before Christmas, and the Scandinavian woman raped near her hotel, but this doesn’t seem to be unusual. The most shocking perhaps the gang rape of a young woman that was apparently ordered by the village chief because of the woman’s ‘inappropriate’ relationship with a man from another village. This in the state I am in now. Perhaps the good thing is that this is all now getting in to the press, getting talked about, and recognised as a real problem to be dealt with, but there seems to be a long way to go!

Two weeks in and so much that was strange feels so everyday; the huge numbers attending church, the use of translator, the beautiful sunny warm days, but I’m also getting a better feel for Indian society and some of the challenges facing this nation.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Martin's first impressions January 2014

A Quiet corner of Hyderabad
The Bishop of Nandyal and Me
I arrived in Nandyal on Saturday (18th January) after a couple of days ‘disorientation’ in Hyderabad. The journey a bizarre combination of 120kmph+ toll roads, to unmade up, heavily rutted dust tracks, to clogged up towns full of bikes and cars, motorbikes and tuk tuks, buses and trucks, cows, pigs, and dogs, and pedestrians, to driving down incomplete carriageways of new duelled sections where you beat the traffic on the open half but have to negotiate a scary, precipitous ramp to get off the end. At nearly 5 hours this is quite an eye opener.
January is a great time to visit this part of India; every morning is like the perfect English summer day - the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the birds are singing. The nights are warm but not oppressive (the airco remains mute). The Indian welcome is warm and embracing, and yes, full of garlands. 
I was promised garlands, and I’ve had garlands; at the Bishop’s house on arrival, at the church on Sunday, at the church with no roof, at the Diocesan offices…..
Preaching with a translator
New Church - No Roof
Sunday was a full day; asked to preach at the church of the Resurrection in Nandikotkur (about an hour and a half from Nandyal and Bishop PushpaLalitha’s home church, with the school she first studied in next to it). The church was packed with more than 150 worshippers inside, segregated with the women on the left and the men on the right, and many more than this number outside. Microphone’s and amplification play a big role in Indian worship! Then on to the church in the same village where +Pushpa was confirming 45 people, then on to see a women’s centre -established by Sister Mary Kendsy, but only 3 women left, but great plans for a 30 women at a time for 6 months, to study, learn practical skills, and ‘sing songs’. Then to the church with no roof. One of the biggest problems here is church growth! Churches are too small but there is little money for the rebuilding of bigger ones. Along the way the Bishop is petitioned by those wanting a roof, wanting a new building, a wife of a pastor who’s husband wasn’t receiving the appropriate amount from his congregation, and so on, request, after request, after request.
Monday saw a visit to the Bishop’s office, the cathedral, and the PSG school - idyllic learning outside seems from another era. The evening saw the arrival of the first ten clergy for their ‘Pastor’s Refresher Course’; every one with a moustache, and every one with a motorbike! We’ve had a lot of fun looking at Old Testament characters, some parables, and lots of spoken (and sung English). I’ve also learned my first song in Telugu (the local language spoken throughout Andhra Pradesh): Ede Diman, Ede Diman….(This is the Day!). 

At the end end of each afternoon the children from the Oxford school come out to play, throw stones at the monkeys (they are bad and bite). They all want to know my name and tell me theirs, to shake hands, and to smile before heading home on bikes and tuk tuks; there seems to be a statuary minimum of 10 children per vehicle, although 12 or 14 is not unknown!
I have been looked after so well, tasty Indian food, I’ve managed to persuade then to give me black tea and no sugar (a very odd thing it seems), and my only risk to health so far is that I will put on weight! A highlight was a visit to the home of one of the clergy; seeing his two sons and their two Muslim friends performing their ‘Republic Day’ dance for me quite wonderful.

At the end of week one I am struck by the friendliness and the welcome, the still stratified society with cooks, and housekeepers, and cleaners and drivers, and the numbers. So many people, so much traffic, so many needs, but such vibrancy, it is infectious.