Joy, India Style

I was never a big Patrick Swayze fan – God rest his soul. The movies in which he starred always seemed pretty shallow and predictable to me – although I must admit, MOST modern movies are, in fact, shallow and predictable. Come to think of it, I am often shallow and predictable. Maybe I’m just proving that the old adage is true: we dislike in  other what we dislike in ourselves.

Anyway…  I was excited back in 1992 when I learned that Swayze would be featured in a movie version of  a novel that had made a lasting impression on me, Dominique Lapierre’s The City of Joy. When I was able to finally see the movie, I was disappointed. It wasn’t  so much that Patrick Swayze delivered a poor performance. Rather, I felt let down by the movie’s failure to effectively capture the images that the book had so vividly painted on my imagination.  Isn’t it strange that with the movie’s $27 million budget, the production company couldn’t even come close to depicting the rich scenes portrayed by the author? And the author only required pen and paper. The book is always better than the movie.

Nearly 30 years has now passed since I read The City of Joy. But I still remember the book’s main characters. For me, the central character was Hasari Pal, a farmer from rural India who comes with his family to seek work in the large city of Calcutta, a city most often associated with the work of its most famous resident, Mother Teresa.(Calcutta was renamed Kolkata in 2001; I’ll hereafter refer to it by its current name.) As Hasari’s family attempts to create a new life in the bustling city, they struggle to survive in the harsh conditions of the Kolkata slum.

Kolkata_Slum
Modern Kolkata slum by Wolfgang Sterneck (see full attribution below)

The two other main characters in the book are also newcomers to Kolkata. Father Stephan Kovalski is a French priest who chooses to devote his life to serving and living among the poor people inhabiting the slum. And into that same environment comes Max Lowe, a disillusioned young American doctor who comes to Kolkata in attempt to find some meaning for his life.

In large part the book describes the experiences of these three men and how their lives intersect in the context of one of India’s poorest communities. As I made my way through the book, I was captivated by the description of Indian life and culture. Prior to reading the book, I knew almost nothing about the country. But after having read the book, I knew that if I ever had the opportunity to travel to India, I would take it. Little did I know that only a few years later, a much more personal reason would draw me to this fascinating  country.

Over the past 15 years, India has come to hold a strong and significant place in the heart of our family. We frequently speak of India to our families, friends and co-workers. During these conversations, people often ask us, “Why do you travel to India? What is it in India that is so attractive to you that you want to go back?”  Of course, we are excited to answer these questions. In part, because we love talking about India. But also because we hope that our answers will help encourage others to join us on our next visit. Here are a few of our typical responses to these questions.

Indian teachers performing for students on Children’s Day – New Delhi – November 2018

First, we love the people of India. Indian people are friendly and hospitable – especially at the schools and church that we visit while there. I grew up immersed in southern hospitality but I have to be honest, the Indian people might give us southerners a run for our money for the title of most hospitable people in the world! When you combine Indian hospitality with the contagious joy that Indian’s exude, you can understand why we love to visit. And the Indian people adorn themselves with wildly colorful clothes. They also speak many varied and interesting languages. And Indian music is unique and lively.

Elementary school children – New Delhi – November 2018

And we love the children. I must say that the children in India have to be among the most beautiful in the world. More than once, I have been moved to joyous tears just by being in the presence of Indian children. Their singing is heavenly. A friend once commented that  the sound of Indian school children singing must be what the singing in heaven will sound like. And I have to say that I agree with him.

Delhi_Traffic_Jam
New Delhi traffic (Image by Lingaraj GJ – see full attribution below)

We also enjoy visiting India as it provides an opportunity to experience sights, sounds, tastes and smells that are extraordinary and distinctively unique. In New Delhi, it seems that my five senses are constantly active. The smells of food cooking in the streets is almost worth the dreaded jet lag resulting from the 14 hour flight. And the tastes of the food! Indian food remains my favorite. As for the sights, it is fascinating just to watch the movement of the multitudes of people, cars, scooters, motorcycles, rickshaws, and bicycles. As we are shuttled around the city by our Indian drivers, I often find myself sitting quietly in the passenger’s seat, enjoying all the activity swirling around the vehicle. It is fascinating to me.

Cows freely roaming the streets of New Delhi, a city of 20 million people

And I love the cows! I grew up around cows and they rouse in me fond memories of my childhood. And don’t cows always seem to be at peace? Even in the middle of all the activity in New Delhi, the cows seem undisturbed. As a result of the time I have spent in India, the sight of a cow has come to remind me of how precious our created world is. There is something in the Hindu respect for the cow as a giver of life-sustaining milk that I think we can all learn from. Our God has blessed us with His wonderful creation by which he sustains our physical bodies. While only God deserves our worship, we should have deep respect and gratitude in our hearts for all of his creation – including cows, rivers, birds, plants, mountains, air, water and all the other wondrous blessings that come from God’s hand.

In home women’s prayer meeting – New Delhi, India – November 2018

Another reason we enjoy visiting India is that it allows us to share time with the Christians there. We draw so much encouragement from their faithfulness to Jesus. Less than 2.5% if India’s 1.3 billion people are Christian. Consequently, Indian believers face many more challenges than we do in the US. This seems to strengthen their faith and give it a vigor and vitality not commonly seen back home. This challenge us to go deeper with the Lord and to increase our dependence on Him. And for that we are grateful.

This leads me to the what is ultimately the primary reason we enjoy India so much: we encounter Jesus there. Like few places in our country or in other countries we have visited, we see the real Presence of our Lord and Savior there. Jesus is alive and well in New Delhi and his Presence inspires and encourages us. And it brings us JOY!

I began this blog with reference to The City of Joy, a novel set in Kolkata, India. Since publication of the novel, Kolkata has come to be known as the “city of joy”, and rightfully so. But Leslie and I also believe New Delhi is worthy of the same title. Because “joy” is the word that we most associate with our travels there. And no where is that joy more evident than at the Good Samaritan Schools. But I’ll save that story for my Christmas blog which I hope to post next week. Thanks for reading.

Kolkutta Slum Image by Wolfgang Sterneck on Flickr via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; New Delhi Traffic image by Lingaraj GJ on Flickr via CC by 2.0

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