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India 2017 part 2: The People

June 13, 2017

The second most populous country in the world, polytheism in the extreme, an alphabet even more foreign than cyrillic, crushing poverty; how would this place weigh on me?  What would the people be like?  Would I be able to make any connection to the lives they live?

The Indians I have known abroad have been of a certain economic and/or educational status.  They could afford to live abroad, after all.  So, while we are friends, how much of that is because they meet me more than half way?  We speak English to begin with.  They have lived in the West.  They know both worlds.

There are good people and bad people and people just trying to get by everywhere, in every society, but India has staked a claim on a corner of my heart.  So many are so poor, but they share what little they have with those who are poorer still, the animals on the street.  There is definitely a need for a country-wide massive sterilization campaign, but as it is, street dogs ~also cats, and of course cows~ are given basic respect.  Traffic goes around them.  I watched what appeared to be a full water tanker trunk come to a complete stop because a dog was sitting in the middle of the road.  A waste of time, gas, effort?  Some might say so, especially because there are dogs everywhere, even where there are no cows.  But the only few I saw who had been hit were on the very busy highway.  There are laws of physics which must be obeyed.  One night, we saw a young man and his girl on a motorcycle do some tricky maneuvers to avoid mowing down a couple of rats playing recklessly in the dimly-lit street.  Some families have pets.  Occasionally there was a dog on a leash going for walkies with Master or Mistress.  Our friends in Mumbai have a gorgeous dog named Luca on whom they dote.  But even families whose home is too small or their budget too tight to take in one more soul, may have an arrangement with a particular street dog.  He guards their door; they give him food and a place to belong.  It is a natural custom to put a dish of water outside the home for any creature who may be thirsty, dog, cat, bird, squirrel.  People understand their climate can be brutal and are concerned for the beings with whom they share it, even when the birds make a mess of it.  My friend expressed her distress that she sees this slowly changing.  As western thought encroaches, people’s focus is narrowing.  They become more interested in looking out for themselves and their own enrichment, forgetting how they used to be, how they used to care.  I hope their deeper identity wins out.  The higher we place ourselves, the more disconnected from the rest of creation we become.

Connection.  Giving.  Meeting needs.  The Sikh faith was born in India, from a Reformation of sorts.  I knew very little about Sikhism before we went and having found several versions of their origins, I will stick to what we observed, who they are today.  The Sikh faith seems to grow good citizens, regular stand-up folk.

The articles of faith commanded by Guru Gobind Singh always to be worn are called the 5 Ks; Kesh is uncut hair, the perfection of God’s creation.  The Kangha is a wooden comb, practical and symbolic of a clean and tidy life.  The Kara is an iron bracelet, a reminder that what is done with the hands must be in keeping with the Guru’s teaching.  The Kachera is a simple undergarment, originally symbolizing a soldier’s willingness to be ever ready for battle or defense, but also symbolizing self-respect and mental control.  The Kirpan is a dagger, symbolizing the Sikh’s duty to come to the defense of those in peril, and is to be used only in defense.  It is the true Sikh’s duty to aid those who suffer unjustly.  Indians know when there is civil unrest, it will be Sikhs in the street guarding against looting and protecting their neighbors.

Reverence for one God, respect for oneself, regard for the disadvantaged ones, if you have Sikh neighbors, consider yourself fortunate.  Also, attached to every Sikh temple, gudwara, is a free kitchen or canteen, langar.  Staffed by volunteers, anyone is welcome to come and eat, without charge, as equals.  The food is vegetarian, except under special noted circumstances, and caste is not acknowledged so all people are welcome.  Those who can afford it make an offering to the temple, those who can not are not identified.

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Sikhs are a minority in a predominantly Hindu country.  There is a larger segment of India who are Muslim, having been ruled by the Muslim Mughals for three hundred years.

Loose percentages of the population:

  • Hindu      80
  • Muslim    13
  • Sikh            2
  • Christian   2
  • Buddhist   1
  • Jain           .5

As a Christian myself, the thought of 330 million Hindu gods and goddesses (as there are said to be, although there is no complete list) mooching around the place gave me the heebidy jeebidies.  But my God is there, too.  I was raised Baptist and despite certain disagreements I have with the organizations today, I am still a Baptist in my linguist’s spirit.  The eponymous practice of immersive baptism comes from the word Jesus used.  It’s the same word textile workers use for putting cloth into the dye, then bringing it out wholly transformed.  So, while any Bible-believing church could be home for me, it brought tears to my eyes when we just happened to stumble upon Central Baptist Church, New Delhi . . . on Good Friday.  We stood at the back of the sanctuary as the service was already under way.  The open doors may have been for ventilation, but a more welcoming sight I have not seen in some time.  The tune, if not the words, of the hymn was so familiar, there in the middle of a most unfamiliar place.  A woman caught my eye and motioned for me to come forward, to sit down, several times she offered with a kind smile.  But knowing the Hindi sermon would be lost on me, we slipped out when the hymns were finished.  Stepping back out onto the street, I was encouraged and felt another thread of connection in this vastly foreign land.  Yes, I could love these people.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Eleanore Gigandet permalink
    June 16, 2017 22:03

    How wonderful to be able to travel and get to know people of other countries and nationalities. My experience is your writings and books I’ve read. It certainly is a very big world in my eyes, but a very miniscule dot in the universe. I’m very much enjoying your travels, Molly… keep it up! 😊

    • June 16, 2017 22:23

      Thank you, Ellie 🙂 It’s a blessing to be able to travel and share my experiences. If I can ‘bring back’ some of the people and ideas that I encounter so others can know them, too, I hope that spreads understanding and compassion.

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