It was a great trip, and now I’m back home, trying hard not to succumb to the jetlag demons and go to bed at 7 pm….
This was my third trip to India, but I’ve come away with deeper and richer feelings about the place. I feel like India is in my blood now. It’s the most different place from where I live that I’ve ever visited. As Kipling so aptly put it a hundred years ago, “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”
I was worn to a frazzle as we concluded the conference Sunday night—dozed in the car on the 45 minute trip back to the hotel, and then slept the night through, which is a real feat considering the noise. Yes, we’re on the fifth floor of the hotel, with the windows shut, but the noise from the street is deafening–every kind of horn you can imagine, being blown nonstop, and an occasional impromptu musical performance blaring on loudspeakers. In the morning, we checked out at 10 am, on our way to Varanasi. It was supposed to be a 2-3 hour car ride, but we were now hearing it was more likely to be six. It was about 300 kilometres, but with Indian road conditions that can easily be six hours.
It turned out to be a ride to remember. I was thinking of many of my American friends and thanking God they were not here with me—you know who you are! It was six hours of swerving and braking and hornblowing, dodging bicycles and trucks and other cars and rickshaws and animals and everything else imaginable. I was sitting in the back seat looking out the side window. We would frequently pass bicycles at 60 km/hr with what looked like only inches to spare, and the bicyclists never seemed to flinch. I looked out the front window a little, but the view was too harrowing. I thank God that in my entire life I have never been bothered with carsickness—if I was ever going to succumb, this was going to be it.
The ancient road was now paved, but in the same location it has been forever. Shops and stalls and houses lined most of the route, coming right up to the edge of the road. Children played, adults shopped, ate, bartered, made furniture, cooked, worked on vehicles, changed tires, slept, bathed—everything humans do, they were doing it. Villages turned into cities, and the traffic slowed further. Only now and then did we pass a small section of uninhabited ground.
This is India. Most people don’t live in the big cities, but the thousands and thousands of villages that cover the land. The more prosperous villages are located on the highways, like the ones I was seeing. The poorer villagers live far from the main roads, but in reality, it is hard to imagine poorer living conditions than what was passing before my eyes.
I saw lots of men relieving themselves—mostly they turned their back to the road, but it didn’t take much of a guess to know what they were doing. I also saw a few men bathing—squatted down with what looked like a sheet over them, and again, it was obvious what they were doing. I’m not sure where the ladies were taking care of business…perhaps they’re a bit more modest.
There were people napping here and there on crude homemade cots—do they have real beds in houses somewhere where they sleep at night? I don’t know. I saw many “barbershops”—single chairs outdoors in front of a large mirror nailed to the side of a tree. Haircuts cost 20 rupees here, about fifty cents.
Food was being cooked and eaten. Toddlers ran about in warm sweaters, but naked from the waist down–toilet training? Laundry was hung out to dry, on clotheslines and sometimes on bushes. Mechanics worked on cars. Life was happening.
When our driver stopped to get gas, I talked Lilly into walking a ways down the road with me, and our driver said he would pull over and pick us up when he caught up with us. I soon realized that there was about two inches of dry dusty dirt all along the side of the road. It was impossible to walk without kicking up a cloud around you. If I lived in India, I would soon tire of the dirt, the noise, the pollution, the traffic and the crowds.
Everywhere I looked, there were people, people, people. If India has more than three times as many people as the US, and the land mass is only a third our size, then that means the density of people is about ten times that of the US. It seemed like a lot more than that!
The road trip to Varanasi was an education in itself.
On our last day in India, back in Delhi, I finally got to see the apartment that our church helped to buy for PG and Lilly. They had never had a home of their own, were living in the basement of the ministry office, and we were thrilled to be able to bless God’s servants who had sacrificed so much their entire lives. They are really happy here.
The apartment is on the fifteenth floor of a high-rise complex on the outskirts of Delhi. As we approached the area, I suddenly saw dozens of very new, high tech, architecturally sophisticated skyscrapers. I was shocked. “What is all this?” I asked our driver. “Call centers” was his answer. It was unbelievable. I had seen handbills posted for “Spoken English Call Center Training.” These are highly desirable jobs, very well paying jobs, but high stress, according to the driver. Of course they are high stress. Imagine talking to irate Americans all day long, angry because they can’t understand your accent! Oh people, be kind!
We also passed a glitzy mall that reminded me of a Galleria. Our driver said there were twenty malls like it nearby. I was stunned.
We arrived at the apartment, and PG and Lilly were so happy to be able to show it to us. It is very modest on American standards, but it is located in such a booming area that their initial investment has now appreciated four to five times in four years! The value is comparable to East and West Coast housing costs in the US. Lilly says her favorite part is that she can wake up in the morning and see the sunrise from her bed. I looked down from the balcony (fifteen floors!) and everywhere I looked construction crews, men in hard hats, were working. It was dark now, but I am told that construction continues 24 hours a day. The foundations have been laid for another huge highrise directly in front of PG and Lilly’s building, but fortunately that building is only twelve floors, so Lilly’s view of the sunrise will not be blocked! I think our Father in heaven may have helped to engineer that.
India is definitely changing, has changed significantly since I was last there five years ago. There is an emerging middle class that is highly educated and motivated. The economy is going up, up, up. But extreme poverty remains for a huge percentage of the population, with living conditions that would never be tolerated for anyone in our country. I would like to think that as the economy improves that those living conditions will also improve for all. But in a country where the caste system rules and Hinduism prevails, I fear that is not going to happen. The gospel is the only answer for India. The Kingdom of Jesus is the only thing that will make a difference. May His Kingdom come, and His will be done!