Today I went on a trip with the guys from the US who were staying at the college in Bangalore. We went to Mysore, Gumbaz, Svivanyapatan, 0oty and Nanjandug. I was up early because departure was at 7:15, we didn't have breakfast, then there was lots of arguing with auto drivers. The problem for me is that dealing with auto drivers is a complete mystery, I don't know the rules. When we arrived the procedure was to take our tickets to the counter and have them endorsed and only, then we could get on the bus. The people on the bus were very friendly, I was next to a Mr Aris and he let me sit by the window. One thing they all find surprising is that I am 38 and not married yet.
I guess the main thing that struck me was the inequality in Indian society. The fabulous wealth that built the Mysore palace contrasts with those who have nothing. There is also quite a large class of people, well off by Indian standards, with a living standard similar to E. Europe in the communist era. That is what most people dream of I suppose. Below that level in society there are a variety of different sorts of accommodation from concrete rectangular shacks with flat roofs to mud walled huts with leaf roofs or just sacking and plastic thrown over a frame. It makes me think of the story of Lazarus the beggar. The crumbs from our table would go a long way to helping the poor in the developing world.
The trip took us to Gumbaz, the tomb of Tipu Sultan who fought the British. The Sri Chamundeswari temple on Chamundi hill and the Nandi bulls on the way up. Then to the Mysore palace. This was completed in 1912 after the original palace burnt down in 1897. It has some beautiful wooden and silver doors, carved ceilings and mosaics. There are some historically interesting pictures showing life in the Edwardian Raj. One strange feature is the way the troops and horses are always facing you, no matter what angle you view them from.
We stoppped the night in Brindavan Gardens to see the illuminated water park. It was quite something. I got bitten 7 or 8 times on the knee by something, my India companions say it looks more like a bed bug than mosquitoes. I had used my mosquito net for the first time that night.
The next day we went through the Banndupura national park to Ooty and stayed the night in a hill station. The Eucalyptus forest and tea gardens were very interesting. The hill station was freezing cold and smelt musty and damp. 4 of us had to share 1 and a half rooms. There was a power cut for most of the time we were there. Even so it was better that the previous hotel.
The next day we went to the Svivanyapatan and Nanjandug temples. These were very old, built of massive stonepillars. I felt disorientated by the stone, the darkness and the mixtures of smells. There was the sweetness of joss sticks and a rather unpleasant smell, probably rotting vegetation from the offerings. The temples felt very primal with their darkness and the stone floor in contact with my bare feet. A priest put something on my forehead but I am not sure what it was or why. At another temple a liquid was put in your hand which you drank and then wiped your hand on your hair.
Returning to Bangalore we went through some obviously very poor areas both in the country and Bangalore. Some areas did smell but on the whole they didn't which surprised me. People are actually remarkably clean considering the condition that they live under in villages. Another thing that occurred to me was that bad as the trunk roads were, they were nearly all tarmac (or were at some stage).
Back in Bangalore we were cheated again by the rickshaw driver going all over the place. Then the day was finished with pizza American style from Pizza Hut.
The principle got up after chapel to talk about people coming into the college to take drugs. It seems that a used packet of spasmoproximol had been found. Others felt that there was a different agenda and it was more to do with control of students (and staff). There are clearly a lot of tensions at UTC.
Monday’s lecture was very interesting, about high and low traditions and their anthropology. It was particularly in respect of Dalit (a word than means oppressed, what used to be called untouchable) theology. The class also suggested that I join the students in their mess for dinner as it was the end of the month and there was a celebration. Each month a new team looks after the mess, at the end of their term they spend any money they have saved on a special meal. After the lecture I went to the Jonty Bazaar with Randy and his kids, so now I know where it is. I got a steel cup, some washing powder and a line so I can now make tea and wash my cloths.
The Hinduism lecture didn't happen, but I did get an unscheduled trip to Asha deep (light hope). It is a Catholic institution that works with rag picker children. This is the lowest group in society- only the dead have less. They live by collecting fragments of cloth from rubbish. It is very difficult for the sisters because the children find it difficult not to steal and they don't look after their things. The parents don't really like their children getting an education because it deprives them of income. Those who do go are given a school uniform and sent to school. The uniform and tiffin (lunch boxes) are kept by the sisters. Hard as it is the work obviously has its rewards.
This afternoon I tried some basketball with Avi and Ashwen and later played volleyball with a group of security staff and students. The security staff are all Nepalese and with a couple of exceptions don't speak any English. They are fairly low down in the UTC social scale. Many of the college staff and students regard them as drunkards who do not do their job properly. It is certainly true that they gamble because money exchanged hands on the outcome of the game. Yet if they are not treated well, how the gospel ever be extended to them? I find there are serious class problems in UTC. It may not be Caste/Dalit division but it exists. Socially UTC is far more integrated than general Indian society but it gives some indication of how divided India is.
There was just time to shower and get to dinner which was noisy and good humoured. In the west we would need a lot of alcohol before we indulged in so much plate banging and stamping. There was plenty of food but I had to steel myself to eat chicken which was mainly skin, fat and bone. But it was really enjoyable despite my fastidiousness.
After dinner my friend Ekie and I took a few turns round the lawn. This is a common thing to do as exercise after dinner. Then he came to my room. We discussed differences between India and the UK especially financial ones. The riches of the west, including my own are a real source of embarrassment to me here. In comparison to students here I am fabulously wealthy and lucky. There is a lot to pray about and reflect on. I am sure the answer is not to give up everything but to be good stewards of our wealth and gifts.