01 August 2012


More stories about the blackout(s) in India this week. Look here for a story from the Telegraph, and note especially the map showing the states affected.

Varanasi is in Uttar Pradesh state, an hour's flight from Delhi International, and 12-hours by train. (Don't get me started about the trains. It is one form of transport we did not use, and that I really wanted to experience!) In point of fact, part of the Delhi Metro system is in UP state, as is Agra. Most of our drive to see the Taj Mahal was in UP state. I invite you to take a look at that map again. This is the most populous, and the fastest growing state in India.We were told that if UP were to separate from India, it would be the 5th most populous country in the world. (But, frankly, today I'm too lazy to actually do the work to verify that. I'm content to say, "wow, there are a LOT of people there!")

I think most of us realize that India is a vast country with a rich and varied history and culture. Africa, Middle East, and Central Asia all feature into its early occupants and its storied past. So, we intuitively know that "not all Indians look alike." Still, I was pleasantly surprised to note the variety and interest of so many faces in Varanasi. Differences in stature, facial structure, and color. For some reason I thought that since our trip would be limited to this one city (discounting for the moment Delhi as our entry and exit city), the populace would be more uniform in appearance.

But, consider that it is after all the center of Hinduism; that people from all over the country - indeed, the world - make pilrimage there; and that it is considered a blessing to die there. So, yes (duh) it will be a city with diversity. We saw that in the faces of the children we worked with in a school there. And well . . . what random group of children won't have a delightful diversity of expression? And what laughter will not speak across diversity? And don't hugs and games break down supposed differences anyway?

Some other interesting manifestations of universality:
Humor: we drove by a set of "shops" each day, and noticed the various posters plastered above them. One had a photo of a beautiful Bollywood actress (sorry, I don't remember her name). On one of these posters the photo had a tooth blacked out and a mustache drawn on. Yes, the best humor works across cultures.
Smart-alecks: I sat in a Christian worship service, near the musicians (of course) where one of the older boys recognized me as someone who had been at the school and would be back the next day. He knew enough English to talk to me, and to help me learn the Hindi words for the various instruments. Only at the school did I realize that this kid was a real smart-aleck. Not even the funny kind . . . just a trouble maker. You just can't get away from that.
On the playground: girls and boys will play differently, separately, and with some level of disapprobation for the other gender's mode of being. And when they get beyond that (say, playing chain-tag with western foreigners) they have a blast.
Hospitality: OK, so it might be argued that vis-a-vis the West, hospitality is hardly a universal value or practice. But I do know richly hospitable Americans, and we all know genuine love and hospitality when we experience it. Language is no barrier to the truly hospitable; nor to the truly thankful recipient.

Bottom line, best expressed in this cut from classic American cinema

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