Boken ”Biblar och brunnar” av Yngve Frykholm presenteras här på engelska, översatt av Donald Kidd i samarbete med Lars Frykholm.
BIBLES AND WELLS
Ten years in India
Translation by the author’s nephew Donald Kidd, edited by his son Lars Frykholm.
Note on the author by Lars Frykholm:
My cousin Donald Kidd started translating this book as a part of studying Swedish, and a year ago started sending me his version. On digging out my copy I realized to my embarrassment that I had never actually read it; it was very present in the family when he had finished it but didn’t seem very interesting to me at thirteen – and it seems I just never got around to reading it later, which is a great shame as I think it is both well written and interesting. Working on this text has been a great experience, bringing back many memories of Dad with his enthusiasm and joy over his work, and his profound love of Tamil culture and language, and above all his love of the Indian people. One must remember that the audience he is addressing is mainly the Swedish missionary supporters to whom he is trying to convey some of the problems and rewards of his work. When he describes the difference in background and culture he may sound slightly distanced at times, but I think it is evident that he is never condescending, just trying to bring alive to his Swedish readers in the much less globalized world of the time what it might be like to work as a missionary in India.
My father, was born in 1917 in South India where Harald Frykholm, his father, had already been active as a missionary for more than a decade. There were ten brothers and sisters in the family and although all were born in India, starting with Ragnar in 1910, they were sent home to Sweden at the age of eleven – this was for the Church of Sweden Mission to avoid paying the more expensive adult fare on the journey home. In those days the periods of staying out for the missionaries was ten years, not much compared to the 19th century forebears who went out for twenty years or simply for life, sending their children back when it was time for them to start school, but still long enough to make virtual orphans of the youngsters who grew up in the care of the mission school home in Uppsala. My father as a young student had other plans, thinking of studying architecture, but after Harald’s passing away at 55 in 1935 he followed the calling to become a priest. After a short time as a pastor in Uppsala, and having also completed military service, he went to work in Geneva for an international Prisoners of War relief organization organized by Christian student groups. He spent five years in Switzerland were my mother joined him after they were married in 1943. His work regarded the distribution of the collected gifts (mainly food parcels) to a lot of the POW camps in German, which he often carried out himself. After the war the little family, now with two children, spent a year and a half in Uppsala before my parents went to India in a rickety old DC3 owned by the Swedish Mission. A month or so after them arriving there in -48, I was born, and there was later the addition of two more sisters. Having been quite proficient in Tamil as a child, Yngve spent time studying it seriously on arriving in India to be able to be efficient in his work. During his first period of five years’ work as a missionary Dad’s stationing was in Dindigul, and the second, after a year’s interval was Coimbatore. “Resting” for a year at home in 1953-54, Dad visited countless congregations and supporting unions to collect money for his project to start drilling wells in India which gave the title for this book. The motivation would have been the frustration and desperation in trying to work as a missionary during the five –year drought and famine that beset India in the early fifties, movingly described in some of the chapters towards the end of the book.
I think he is remarkably reticent about the part he himself played in the well-drilling project which he brought about more or less single-handed through the collection work mentioned above. When we went back to India after the year in Sweden, there were three Swedish modern light-weight drilling in the hold of the ship (I remember visiting the factory which delivered them!) and although the Church of Sweden Mission certainly must have provided funds, the initiative and driving force to get things started were his. He is also humble about the possible mistakes and failures of this project, but I think the figure of 250 villages provided with wells in five years, and other organizations as well as the Indian government following suit speak for themselves.
Wanting to avoid for his children the situation he himself grew up in with a family separated by continents, we moved back to Sweden in 1959 and my father became a vicar in different places. In 1967, he went for a two- year spell of relief work in Delhi, and later settled in again as a parish priest until his retirement in 1983. Having moved to Malmö for his retirement, he kept doing more or less full-time temporary work in different parishes there until he was 79.
Yngve Frykholm was both very fluent in vernacular Tamil and a scholar of the subject. He was awarded a Swedish licentiate degree for his studies and spent many years working on a translation into Swedish of the great Tamil work of literary aphorisms called “Tirukkural”. This book appeared in print in a popular edition in 1971. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 91.
- Meeting with south India
- South Indian village
- The city
- Home and family life
- India’s four great men
- Temples of the new India
- The world’s most religious people?
- Christianity in India
- South Indian church on the way
- From bibles to wells
- This is also India
- Youth in a young church
- Heroes or heathens?
- The little congregation with the awkward name
- Advent in Konnampatti
- Exactly as in heaven
- Puncture for a large audience
“In the old days one could recognize without fail the missionary in that he always carried a Bible under his arm wherever he appeared. These days he is recognized by the tangle of camera straps and light meters and other technical apparatus in which he is enmeshed. Some years ago at a Christian Conference in Allahabad an Indian bishop said approximately that.
It should probably be said that this observation hardly did either kind of missionary full justice. Just as at one time Jerusalem’s temple builders had to work with sword in one hand and trowel in the other, so even in older times missionaries in India were compelled to figuratively build their church with the Bible in one hand and the trowel in the other. The missionaries’ daily lives have had for the most part to span an infinite series of practical and seemingly trivial little things.
During ten wonderful years in India I have constantly experienced how the Bible’s message was equally relevant and alive, whether it be spread through improvised church services in skimpy village chapels or through the clatter of ironwork hammers and well drilling machines. “Bibles and Wells” are therefore not opposite extremes. On the contrary, they serve here as a summing-up of the many kinds of impressions and experiences that these ten years have left behind.
It is a uniquely stimulating experience to get to know South India and the swarming diversity of its peoples’ lives. But it demands both practice and understanding and quite a lot of patience. Much of what at first perhaps seemed foreign and repulsive assumes little by little the pleasure of the standardized. Life in South India never becomes monotonously standardized. It is endlessly rich in contrasts and variations. It often grinds jarringly untrue of famine and sadness and suffering. But it also vibrates with impulsive and unconstrained joy of living. In the long run the Tamils’ country cannot leave anyone indifferent.
I would wish that the scattered glimmers of impressions that follow here could contribute to spreading interest in a people with whom from birth and experience I have come to be very strongly attached.
MEETING WITH SOUTH INDIA
If one wants to get a kindly and positive impression of India one should visit the land of the tamilians which in their own language is called Tamil Nadu.
There are certainly many provinces in India that are more beautiful than Tamil Nadu. Already the neighbouring state Kerala on South India’s west coast is more famous for its natural beauty. In many other regions there is more lush greenery, and more varied nature and animal world. In the district around Agra, Delhi and Jaipur one finds a greater wealth of magnificent cultural monuments. Occasional tourists perhaps get more immediate profit from a visit to the highly populated cities Bombay and Calcutta or to the temple city Benares. Many are enticed by the kingdoms of the old Rajahs, where nature is more untamed and untouched and where the impenetrable jungles are full of tigers and other large game.
In this respect the Tamil country may not be so exciting. The nature is here and there not especially varied. One can travel entire days through quite dull flat country. But it is all the more lovely when one suddenly glimpses blue mountains on the horizon or gets to cool oneself at the sight of broad rivers and fertile rice fields.
Except for Madura and Rameswaram and other known temple cities, the Tamils’ cultural monuments are not always so easily accessible for the occasional visitor. They are located away from the airline routes and the large highways. Many of them have partly fallen into oblivion. History’s changes and the Tamil’s progressive spirit have at times concealed the treasures contained in ancient history. But those who have time and patience can by looking there get a glimpse at a deep dimension of culture that makes Tamil Nadu well worth getting to know.
At the end of 1958 Tamil Nadu, which to a large extent overlaps with the province of Madras, had around thirty million people. Most inhabitants speak the Tamil language, which is South India’s main language, a language with age-old ancestry and a rich literature. Tamil Nadu is bordered in the north by the province of Andrha. The closely related language Telugu is spoken there by more than thirty million. Another northern neighbour is the previously independent kingdom state of Mysore that is located farther to the west. Its language is Kannada. In the west, Tamil Nadu borders with the federal state Kerala, which in surface is a fraction of Tamil Nadu. But there the population density is all the greater – nearly 14 million inhabitants. Kerala consists of among others the former principalities of Travancore and Cochin. There Malayalam is spoken. All these languages belong to the so-called Dravidian language stock. One can say that they are related to each other like Swedish, Danish and Norwegian, if still with slightly bigger mutual differences. The Tamil says that his neighbour from Kerala speaks Tamil although “with a potato in his mouth”. No doubt these South Indian people could without great difficulty be able to learn each other’s language if they did not each have their own highly artistic and intricate alphabet. If you start by car from Kerala on the west coast and are in a hurry – and this of course should be avoided – then by travelling in a northeasterly direction through Coimbatore and over the Nilgiri mountains past Mysore and Bangalore, you can reach in one day, for example, Chittoor in Telugu country. You have then during a one day trip encountered billboards and road signs inscribed with four different kinds of written characters that in turn represent these Dravidian languages that are spoken by a total of more than 93 million South Indians.
But we stay within Tamil Nadu, whose capital is Madras. This city admittedly cannot adduce any older history in the Tamil country’s development. It was built by the English East India Company and because of its excellent harbour and good location quickly became an important trading center. Notwithstanding that the city has approximately one and a half million inhabitants, it is not like Bombay cluttered with high rises and tenement buildings. In the densely built harbour district there is a clamorous crush of people and simmering business activity, big and small. But there are also many green areas with beautiful villa sections, parks and sports fields. Cricket and the Indian national sport, field hockey, and especially soccer are played there. One of the most successful division teams in football, which as a rule are recruited within corporations, comes from the Swedish match factory outside the city. When a so-called cricket test match or international is played in Madras, the entire city turns upside down during the three days that the match lasts. Banks, offices and businesses go at half speed. Production drops because many employees skip their work.
The industries in Madras are hardly dominant. On the city’s outskirts there are however several impressive factory complexes for production of cars and bicycles etc., not to forget the Swedish match factory. The most noticeable factory is a newly constructed large facility for domestic production of railway carriages that is assisted by a large array of Swiss engineers.
Madras has lots of cinemas and churches. The city is an old center for many Christian missions and denominations. The country’s own religion, Hinduism, is mainly represented by a large temple in the suburb Mailapur. Otherwise it is not very noticeable in the city’s inner parts. It appears to be money that rules there. The old business companies and banks have ever more magnificent buildings, entirely or partly airconditioned. Several thousand people are employed within the film industry. The Madras government’s administration premises, like the university and museums, are beautifully situated by the popular Marine Drive, a wonderful car and pedestrian road along the ocean’s beach.
In olden times the sea made South India’s greatness. One is reminded about that when one visits the “Seven Pagodas”, which is a popular destination for outings south of Madras. There one can inspect a number of exceptional monoliths, entire temples artistically sculpted out of a single piece of rock. Down by the beach stands a row of very ancient exquisite temples, of which one after the other are sinking into the sea. During a couple of generations at least two temples have disappeared, as little by little the waves ate further inland. A third temple is half washed away by the waves.
Further south by the same coast is a humble fishing village. Nearby is the previous capital of one of the three leading kingdoms in Tamil Nadu. The city was called Kaviripoompattinam and was in its time widely famous for its trade and sea faring. It is said that two thousand years ago it flaunted large three story houses, wide streets and distinguished temples. Tamil historians explain that it disappeared long ago into the sea in the same way as the “Seven Pagodas” is sinking now.
In any case the Tamils were a seafaring race from early on. One hears them sometimes calling themselves ‘India’s Vikings”. Long before war and invasions and later overpopulation forced them away to Ceylon, South Africa and Indonesia, the Tamils had made themselves at home in countries around the Indian Ocean. The merchants’ caste in South India made significant contributions to global trade on the seas. It is said that the Tamil’s trading at the time extended as far as ancient Greece.
The trade colonies through which 18th century European colonial powers tried to monopolize the coveted export of spices from South India were also situated by the Coromandel coast south of Madras. In their time, the Dutch and French fought over Cuddalore where, according to unverified information, Karl Johan Bernadotte [later a king of Sweden] one time in his youth is supposed to have been a captive of the Dutch. The French have until recently owned Pondicherry, where French continues to be regarded as the language of the educated, notwithstanding that the city is now incorporated into the Indian Union. Slightly further south of Pondicherry is Tranquebar, which for a long time was owned by the Danish king. “Ingefära [Ginger]” is said to be a direct loan word to Scandinavian languages from the Tamil language for the spice that was exported to Scandinavia through Tranquebar.
No port cities of importance remain today in South India with the exception of Madras on the East coast and Cochin in the province of Kerala. Among the province’s seven largest cities after Madras one finds Madura (with over 360,000 inhabitants), Trichinopoly, Coimbatore and Tanjore, all wellknown names to those who have followed some of the Swedish Mission’s contributions in South India. Only these cities boast a population exceeding 100,000, because the majority of Tamil country’s thirty million people live in smaller cities and in the numerous villages.
If you make a round trip from Madras over Tanjore and Trichinopoly southward towards Madras and afterwards in a northwesterly direction towards Coimbatore, you get a diversified picture of Tamil country’s nature and the life of its people. If you travel by train and have the good fortune to master the language a bit (moreover even with English one gets far), one may during the course of the trip come across an interesting cross-section of South India. It is an unforgettable experience to jostle with all kinds of people in the crammed, overheated train compartments and to study the colorful crowds in the big train stations. By letting oneself be drawn without resistance into the boisterous, loud discussions one can come almost marvelously close to the easily approachable Tamils during a train journey. One learns a lot about their way of thinking and traditions and every day life. The traveler’s noisy social life increases to a huge crescendo when the train makes a pause at a station. There the platform is flooded by vendors and beggars and train travellers in a bewildering varied mix. One bargains and haggles over the delicious fruits and fragrant cakes carried around by countless vendors. Directly from the platform you can also buy a steaming rice meal, wrapped in green banana leaves and with newspaper around it all. The rice is flavoured with a deliciously spiced and strong curry stew. This daily diet needs never be repetitious. A clever cook can vary the curry’s composition in at least twenty different ways according to whether the stew contains meat, fish, egg or vegetables etc.
Afterwards one can never sense even the weakest smell of real curry without being filled with an aching longing to return to India. One feels thrown back again to the foreign world of strong visual and aural impressions and smells where one was allowed for far too short a time to feel so wondrously accepted and at home.
An almost equally good way of approaching the people of South India people is to travel by car from city to city and from village to village. It is worthwhile to take your time, so that you can often have a break in coffee cabins at crossroads together with farmers and workers and hear them discuss the villages’ future problems from their own viewpoint, while they rest after the hard work on the dry earth. Or when you with persistently blaring car horn plow through the thronging unruly sometimes disconsolate and sometimes amusing street life on the squares and backstreets and bazaars of the smaller cities. Then you find yourself in the heart of South India. Wherever you stop, you encounter the simple cordiality that is the most pleasant trait of the Tamil’s character.
But it is seldom a restful journey. Not even on a deserted country road can you have a break without within a few minutes having a curious chatting or silently staring crowd around you. Everywhere you face the heat and the noise and the smells. It will not be long before you have lost your heart to the Tamils’ loveable country and people.
The national highway going south from Madras is almost as good as an autoroute. Nevertheless you are hardly tempted to drive too fast on it. At any time an ox wagon carriage can be placed crosswise in the roadway. Little children can appear from nowhere and run after each other over the national highway during cheerful play. Worst of all however are the wobbling bicyclists. Most have no clue about traffic rules. India still has left hand traffic. But it is only the motor vehicles that somewhat respect the traffic rules. The motor traffic is comprised for the most part of good-looking buses that keep to a regular schedule and trucks of varying vintages. Cars are not quite so common on the roads, but their number grows every year. There are only half a dozen makes of cars, and they are produced within the country under a license. In order to support India’s own car production the importation of all foreign cars has been blocked. The quality is still quite inadequate even for new cars of Indian manufacture.
After several hours’ journey through flat plains, where cities and villages follow one another regularly, we come to the fertile districts. It is the area which is under irrigation from the holy river Kaveri and its tributary Koleroon. Already in ancient times up to three rice crops a year were harvested here. The growing number of Hindu temples are evidence that this is a region of ancient culture. Lush palm groves border the green rice fields. The district becomes more beautiful the closer we get to Tanjore and Trichinopoly, whose temples and palaces testify to a past greatness. Both are seats of government for their district. The bishop of the Lutheran Tamil Church lives in Trichinopoly. This office was first occupied by the Swedes E. Heuman, O. Bexell, and J. Sandegren in that order. In 1956 J. Sandegren was succeeded by the South Indian Dr. R. B. Manikam.
Shortly after Trichinopoly the fertile farmland ends. The vegetation becomes increasingly barren. The villages are relatively sparse. At times one travels through desert landscape, where dry fields lie uncultivated, bordered by jungle scrub and cactus. If rain comes, the farmers plough in the hope that continued rain will get something to grow. But it doesn’t happen often. Without wells or irrigation most often the land is barren.
India’s road builders have traditionally been compassionate to those who must walk far on foot. The country road is bordered on both sides by enormous banyan and tamarind trees that give a pleasant protection from the burning midday sun, and in the evening longed after coolness. Here and there along the road you see two man-high stones erected on end and connected by a similar stone crosswise on top. This arrangement is so that tired walkers can be freed for a while from heavy loads on their head without needing to set them on the ground. To erect such a stone bench is a meritorious deed that according to the Hindus’ belief is given credit for in a future life.
The road is never monotonous, not even in sparsely built up districts. Everywhere you see walkers on the way home to their villages, alone or in small groups. Splashes of cheerful colours gleam from the women’s saris, when they trudge home from the market with their bundles on their head. By the occasional stream or pond you can see women that dry their saris in the dry wind. They have just bathed – as customary with the sari on them. Their worn cotton garments have been lathered and rubbed clean in all their many creases. The poor have no garment to change into while their wet sari dries. Therefore a corner of the sari is tied onto the bough of a tree and the garment stretches out in the wind like a colorful sail, while the owner stands curled up in the last turn of the six to eight meter long material. In this way she quickly gets the sari dry and can continue her walk.
Often you see entire families that have camped by the edge of the road. These are casual road workers or others who are looking for their income far away from their home villages. The man lies stretched out in the shade of the banyan tree, while the wife cooks in a clay pot over a little fire that smoulders between three low stones. The smallest child sleeps in the fold of a doubled up piece of material, whose two ends are tied firmly to a suitable branch. Also at home this improvised hammock is the babies’ most common cradle, hardly beneficial for their backs. The other children play half naked in the road dust with danger to life and limb.
Dindigul’s red cliff shows up in the haze like an enormous skull. Up on top there is a beautiful old temple and the remains of a fortress, used among others by the French in their battles with the Englishmen, in which diverse Indian minor princes were involved on both sides. An old rusty cannon shows clear traces of French lilies in its ignition hole.
Here the earth becomes red and fertile again and the landscape more varied. Behind Dindigul appear two mountain ranges, of which the biggest reaches an altitude of more than two thousand meters. On these cool hills lies Kodaikanal, a sought after holiday place that one hundred years ago was “discovered” by American missionaries from nearby Madura. Under severe hardships they determined that the mountain’s steep slopes reached a suitable elevation. The place became a wonderful retreat during the hot season for tired missionary wives and children sick with malaria. Now Kodailkanal is a popular “mountain station” that smells of eucalyptus and coniferous trees. It can be reached in a few hours by car or bus. During the summer’s hottest months more and more Indians seek its coolness.
In Kodaikanal there is a big American and a smaller English international school. Since 1925 there has also been a Swedish international school that is administered by the Church of Sweden’s Mission. (Editor’s note: The author and his twin brother were among the first group of pupils.) Thanks to this school many Swedes, missionaries as well as industry and business people from different parts of India have been able to keep their children in the country up until thirteen or fourteen years old.
Sweden’s Ambassador Alva Myrdal has been active as the Inspector concerned for the school.
Our continued road towards Madras runs not far from the foot of Kodaikanal Mountain. Halfway up to the top are extensive banana cultivations that cover the slopes with their lovely greenery. Around the foot of the mountain grapes are grown in large plantations that were planted 100 years ago at the initiative of Catholic monks. If we stop the car anywhere along this road, we will become swamped with vendors with loaded baskets. They throw large clusters of grapes into the car and underbid each other with low prices in order to sell as much as possible during the short season when the grapes ripen.
Halfway between Dindigul and Madura the road is crossed by a broad irrigation canal. It is the river Vaigai from the border mountain far away in the west that has here been harnessed and channeled out in an ingenuous canal system. Right up until the main canal the road is bordered by bare ground. Immediately on the other side the whole land is green, gleaming delightfully green, with endless rice fields and gurgling canals. After another hour we arrive in Madura, which is an age-old center of culture and at the same time a flourishing industrial city. Madura is most famous for its magnificent temple whose five main towers can be seen far and wide. We have now traveled around five hundred kilometers from Madras on amazingly good roads with many unpredictable traffic obstacles in the form of kilometer long herds of goats and buffalo, columns of slow ox carts and people everywhere.
You should take your time in Madura, before you continue the trip past Kodaikanal Mountain in a northwesterly direction towards Coimbatore. With small detours you can visit several of the places that already are well known for those who have read and heard about the Church of Sweden’s Mission in South India. In addition to the mission stations in Dindigul and Madura there is in this district also Usilampatti with its excellent secondary school for girls as well as Tirupputtur with the Swedish Mission’s Hospital. Further up towards Coimbatore we travel through the area where hundreds of Christian village congregations have been founded by Swedish missionaries in connection with the last decades’ mass movement among the outcastes.
Notwithstanding that the landscape on the road towards Coimbatore is bordered with magnificent fringe mountains in the west, we now travel again over barren bleak plains. These districts are hit more often than others by long-lasting drought. Instead of being drenched by the annual monsoon’s abundant flows, they are haunted by an excruciating dusty wind from June to nearly September. Instead of palm trees and rice fields one sees mostly uncultivated plains, where lonely, straggling palmyra palms rustle dejectedly in the wind.
Palladam is a center for the Mission’s work in the poor villages. The little city looks desolately dusty and blown asunder. Considerably more beautiful appears Pollachi which is closer to the cooling fringe mountains. Here as well live Swedes who manage boarding schools and village work. The mountain chain in the background is called the “Elephant Mountains”. There in the large teak forests you can follow the arduous procedure where wild elephants are caught and tamed and finally put to work in logging of the valuable forest. All of this impenetrable forest area is protected. At dawn, you can spot from the elephant’s back herds of wild bison and antelopes and occasional groups of wild trumpeting elephants. To your surprise you learn that once an elephant has been properly tamed and trained to be a working elephant, in the evenings it can be let loose to graze in the forest. There it wanders around all night with its wild relatives to appear submissively the following morning in the camp for its morning meal and a new work day.
From Pollachi remains barely an hour’s journey to Coimbatore. On the road one passes near Karunagarapuri, which is another center for Christian women’s work under Swedish management. The more we see of the villages along the road, the more we see of the drudgery of poor people with primitive tools in typically barren ground of this area, the more we understand that life would appear hopeless for millions of people in South India without dedicated industrialisation and increased irrigation. It is then more hopeful to approach Coimbatore, whose first distinctive feature is the thick smoke from Madukkarai’s huge cement factory, constructed by a Danish engineering firm.
In the background there is a glimpse of the Nilgiri mountain’ s two thousand meter high massif that is like a blue wall, the border to Mysore in the north. The road becomes broader and changes into decent cement when we drive in through Coimbatore’s suburbs, where textile factories succeed each other in rapid progression. A clean and pleasant city, characterized by a hopeful progressive spirit!
We will get to know more about Coimbatore in a later context. But we have perhaps already seen enough of Tamil country’s diverse nature and the life of its people to understand that this country has a distinctive ability to captivate. Here live a people whose culture and every day customs have their roots in a tradition and history that is well worth getting to know.
“When the sweet Tamil Nadu’s name is mentioned, then our ears are flooded by the honey of happiness. When the fathers’ country is mentioned by our mouth, then our breast is filled by a great force.” (Tirukkural)
We have established that Tamil Nadu is an unusually pleasant province within the wide borders of large India. Even neutral visitors who for example come directly from northern India’s dingy villages and cities are usually astonished by how relatively pretty and enjoyable it looks in south India, and how pleasant it is to deal with the happy and approachable Tamils. One seems to notice a substantial alertness and progressive spirit among south Indians compared with many other kinds of people in India.
It may be that the comparatively dense occurrence of Christian churches and schools in south India to some extent has contributed to give the Tamils and above all their kinsmen in neighbouring Kerala a certain advantage intellectually. Also the city residents who have not gone to school cheerfully throw around English phrases every day, often with atrocious “pidgin pronunciation”. With a little good will on both sides, an occasional foreigner can establish contact with porters and taxi drivers, which usually is more difficult in Bombay or Calcutta. Not least in the countryside, southern India gives the impression of having advanced further in development that many northern provinces.
The Tamils themselves look for explanations for this further back in time. They think they are able to trace it to their old culture and the national special nature that south Indian patriots cherish with chauvinistic fervour. The Tamils consider themselves to have been, already in ancient times, more progressive than their northern countrymen.
It is not worthwhile to try here to reproduce the complicated discussions about the south Indians’ race and origin. As a rule they are called Dravidians, and this is a term that they themselves are very proud of. If this Dravidian race has ever existed in defined form, it has like most other races in India been heavily diluted during the course of the centuries.
Irrespective of the question regarding the Dravidians’ origin, the south Indian culture, however, is of impressive age in itself . The Tamils’ proud self-assurance has very old ancestry. Their epic poetry of the past tells about Tamil kings that planted their victory flags on the Himalaya’s slopes far up in the north and who never let themselves be suppressed by foreign conquerors and invasions by people. The Tamils’ contemporary leaders like to point out that not even the great kings Asoka and Akbar could put the Tamil country in their empire. The three south Indian states that were called Cherans’, Cholans’ and Pandiyans’ states never really let themselves be subsumed under any single Indian empire.
When one reads about the three Tamil kings’ daring triumvirate, one actually gets an impression of wholesome and plucky drive. There was a cozy patriarchal relationship between the kings and their vassals and subjects. Their bloody battles with each other were characterized by a kind of collegial respect, as befitted evenly matched competitors. Contemporary Tamils persuade themselves that the feuds of the time were a medieval tournament game. If any of the kings happened to have its country nibbled along the edge by foreign conquerors, he soon obtained compensation by beginning war with one of his Tamil neighbours. If his harvest came to be devastated by drought or crop failure, he made up for it through robbery and plunder directed at his nearest Tamil neighbour country. This was believed to belong to the natural order, and the kings then battled against each other with great bravery and noble sportsmanship.
In the Tamil literature’s epic poetry there is a special meter that is used only in songs that are sung before a planned military campaign. Their purpose was to give the enemy advance warning, so that they could put their women and children and their livestock in safety before the battle.
Even in other contexts the three kings’ humane manner of governing is praised. They always deferred to their ministers wise advice. Because the ministers were as a rule widely acclaimed for their wisdom and piety. The kings were of course generous patrons who understood the fine arts. When the harvests failed their subjects were not required to pay taxes. How this loss of tax income was later compensated one never gets to know. But one can guess that it was by war with a neighbour king. It belonged to the king’s self-evident duties to construct irrigation canals and attend to social services. Incidentally, these services were never severely strained, because everyone had work and food for the day. No overpopulation, no famine and unemployment, no epidemics were known at that time.
Now is this correct? Have such utopian societies really existed in south India? An outsider becomes a little mistrustful when he confronts such historical writing. One is surprised that so many responsible researchers in south India actually are busy with such dreamy idealization of their peoples’ great past. They rely on support from the most unreliable sources. In ancient times poets were often court poets who made their living by praising their royal employers in an elevated way. Naturally, the praise took to the high side.
Even if one therefore must take these idealizations with a grain of salt, one is easily infected with the moving love with which Tamil Indians embrace their language and their ancient literature. They point out that the Tamil language is the only language still living whose ancient classical writings can compete with the oldest known dead languages. They date without hesitating their oldest literature to thousands of years before Christ was born.
This literature shows an amazing variety that awakens in the reader the longing to know more about how it looked in Tamil Nadu in past times. Strangely there is a great number of ancient poems whose authors unanimously explain that South India still in historical times extended far south of the country’s southern tip, the sea-surrounded Cape Comorin. This large area of land is said to have disappeared into the sea. Even present day school books tell about kings that lost large parts of their country through fantastic land subsidence. Those who survived these disasters compensated for them by conquests of more fortunate small kingdoms.
One has the impression that the Tamils are unable to keep the border clear between legend and history. But it still helps us to understand better this people’s uniqueness, if we know approximately how South Indians themselves understand their ancient history. In any case, the Tamil people live on a very old cultural heritage. It is inevitable that a people that recently has become independent after having been under foreign domination for centuries goes to excesses in its national self-esteem. The Tamils envisage that their forefathers lived in a kind of earthly paradise. Everything existed at that time – hospitals, homes for the elderly, irrigation canals, a humane government with slight or nonexistent taxes.
Yes, there were even airplanes in India at that time! Oh – what? ask the mistrustful westerners. – Yah, it is told in many ancient writings that one of our heroes travelled in a wagon that flew up in the air. It was called “Megdooth”, which means the clouds’ messenger. Hence, our forefathers could make airplanes, but they lost the knowledge together with so much else during the time of the foreign oppression… There are actually such things to read in the school children’s history books.
If many Indians’ therefore lack what we call critical historical sense, it is because they live so intensely in the world of legends. But it is actually fascinating to become acquainted with this world. South India’s literary treasures give a captivating insight into the ancient notions that for many contemporary Tamil patriots represent a living reality.
It is only a great pity that so few Westerners have had the privilege to delve behind the veil that hides the treasures of Indian literature. In spite of its venerable age, Tamil is not one of the classical languages usually studied in the West. But the few people who through time-consuming drudgery have learned to master this quaint language with its clever alphabet have certainly been richly rewarded for their pains. Unfortunately it is impossible to do the old poems full justice by translating them.
During the period that the Tamils themselves call “the age of weakness” of the country there were actually westerners who discovered some of these treasures.
The first of them was a Jesuit missionary by the name of Beschi who lived in Madura together with Brahmins and other members of the renowned Tamil Academy, whose center was located in the large temple city in the heart of the Tamil country. Beschi composed an excellent Tamil grammar. He wrote wonderful poems in the Tamil language with Christian content, and he obtained from the Tamils an honorable name of the kind that otherwise is awarded only to their most distinguished poets.
It was an English missionary called Pope who first made the songs of the Tamil saint Manikkavasagar known in English translation. Today these hymns are still the pious Tamils’ Psalter, from which they get their daily edification.
Another masterpiece is the Tamil version of the great heroic saga Ramayana that originally was written in Sanskrit. Unfortunately it is very little known to the outer world. The ancient story depicts the God son Rama’s adventure as exile in the great woods, where his beautiful consort Sita is abducted by wild monsters and demons from Ceylon and finally is freed with the help of an army of holy monkeys. In its Tamil form this poem is loaded with excitement and drama and contains beautiful depictions of nature and the life of the people. If the Tamil poet Kambar’s gigantic epic Ramayana in its original version could be read by people outside south India’s borders, it would be more universally counted among the foremost works of the world’s literature.
However, for the purist Tamil patriots a work that stands in a class of its own is the Tirukkural. This famous book is often called the Tamil’s Bible. It is also an inexhaustible manual on the wisdom of life, political science and marriage techniques for happiness. The Tirukkural has been translated to, among others, Latin, French, English and German but loses most of its special nature in translation. The Tirukkural pursues to masterly perfection the Tamil language’s ability to accomodate in short phrases and aphorisms, so called “kurals”, comprised of merely seven or eight words, (to accommodate) entire oceans of the wisdom of life. “If one slices a mustard seed and presses seven oceans into it, one gets a brief Kural”, says the Tamil about this kind of poetry.
The Tirukkural is an “open sesame” for those who want to understand and get contact with the soul of the Tamil people. A kural is an infallible resource for two people in South India to come to the same wavelength. This may apply to an everyday good joke or to an attempt at sounding out sources of the truth – there is always a suitable Kural on hand.
The previously mentioned missionary Pope imagined that he found an echo of the Sermon on the Mount in the Tirukkural’s rules of life, especially in the book’s first enormous section that deals with the “divine virtue”. The author of the Tirukkural was Tiruvalluvar, one of the Tamil’s idolized philosophers. He worked in Mailapur near Madras, where it was said that the Apostle Thomas preached and baptised. Some argue that they both lived almost at the same time and that Tirvalluvar can possibly have been influenced by Christian thoughts. Others consider that Tiruvalluvar lived considerably earlier than Thomas, others again that it was several hundred years later. All determinations of time in south India are uncertain and almost always contradict each other.
But when the Tirukkural in the chapter on “Patience” talks about one having to meet an injustice with quiet tolerance – “yes, still better is to make your enemy blush by heaping good deeds on him” – one imagines indisputably to hear the echo of the Sermon on the Mount.
Such pearls glimmer here and there in this great work of poetry that contains nearly three thousand strophes, each with its compact content. Even if most of them seem to deal with more commonplace problems of life, a missionary can, for example, with the Tirukkural’s help attain good contact with his Tamil friends on a deeper plane. Here there is an exceptional means to that end. One asks, for example, why being busy with the Tirukkural seldom becomes anything more than an intellectual game? Why has it not been able to influence more radically community life and the caste spirit, the sometimes heartless indifference to fellow human beings’ suffering, that one is so often shocked by in India?
“Yes, why then hasn’t the Sermon on the Mount made more of an impact on the Christian Western countries with its concentration camps and its atom bombs?” my Tamil friend may retort. Then we have got a connecting point and from there we can go further and perhaps search more deeply for life’s well-springs.
Present day Tamils readily want to cut themselves off from their northern countrymen. Their proud nurturing of their own language and their cultural specific nature shows a tendency to degenerate into a kind of south Indian separatism. Most of all, many of them would prefer to see an own “Dravidian” country in south India completely separated from the rest of India.
One may however hope that this will show itself to be a transient phase in the Tamil people’s interesting history. What one most of all would wish for India’s general national development is, on the contrary, that the particular heritage and character of the different provinces may come to benefit the greater national community in a healthy exchange for the best of the entire peninsula.
For this common future task, Tamil Nadu and its glorious people have the most ample qualifications to leave a contribution of lasting value.
SOUTH INDIAN VILLAGE
“Only he who lives from ploughing and harvesting lives. — All others live from plodding along and begging” (Tirukkural)
Rural life in India has never been a peaceful idyll. It demands a lot of effort from the Indian farmer even during the infrequent good years to force from the earth its crops with obsolete agricultural methods and impractical devices.
And still this farmer in all his simplicity is an example of the calm and upright self-esteem based on the certainty that all other people actually are recipients of charity. How would they be able to live, if he would not have provided rice and onions and spices and the simple vegetables that belong to life’s necessities even for the poor?
A lot is written and spoken about the Indian farmer’s backwardness and dull conservatism. There are meddlesome city residents who in their impatient eagerness for reform suggest that the villages’ people are the corpse in the cargo in the Indian State ship. And still it’s probably no exaggeration to say that India’s destiny will be determined just out in the seven hundred thousand villages. The Indian farmer is despite his self-esteem not so clearly conscious that food production is the country’s lifeblood. But he works in the sweat of his brow behind his old wooden plough with something of the comfortable pride founded in what the author of the reverend book of wisdom Tirukkural says: “Only he who lives from ploughing and harvesting lives”.
It is the sensations of smell that dominate visual recollection of daily life in an Indian village. Sound and sight impressions pale in comparison with them. In the early dawn rises the distinctive lovely smell of dew on finely powdered dust. It is wondrously serene to awaken on such a morning on the verandah of some hospitable dwelling house. The ramshackle wood bed with its sparse braided rope chafe your back. One of course didn‘t have the heart to say no to the generous loan of the house’s only piece of furniture, notwithstanding that it would have been more comfortable to lie directly on the floor. The early-rising roosters scratch in the dung heaps. Soon the dust tickles one’s nostrils, when small girls walk around, bending, morning-ruffled, and sweep the yard with their spidery brooms, emitting a sleep-inducing monotonous “scrape, scrape”. They churn up a light cloud of dust, mixed with the smell of cow manure. The smoke from the hearth begins to push forward through the wide chinks between walls and roof trusses.
The master of the house comes out in his loincloth with a little brass jar in his hand, intended for morning toilet. He breaks a little twig from a suitable tree. Then he thins down one end of the twig by chewing it into a brush, with which he then rubs and polishes his teeth, while he shuffles around in the morning’s peaceful tranquility. The sap contains a substance that maintains the village people’s teeth shining white.
Most houses do not have their own outhouse. You administer your early morning needs out in the open fields. There the village geezers squat in jovial conversation, smoking their small black cigars. If one comes early to the village, one must push through a rampart of stench from the open communal land. But the sun is an efficient sanitation plant. It burns away most of the waste that unfortunately is used too little for giving nourishment to the earth.
But now more pleasant smells emerge from the chimney-less kitchens, where the housewife has blown life into a smoldering fire, consisting of straw and dried cow manure. In the more well off homes rustling rice pancakes are baked on smoldering hot stones, with the addition of melted butter and strongly spiced onion and chili sauce. It is a breakfast befitting gods that gets the occasional guest to tolerate the mostly watery coffee. But alas, how few there are of the villages’ industrious people who get even the simplest coffee for breakfast! They sit and splash their “kanchi”, a decoction from leftover rice, with which they chew a little onion or two.
For poor and rich, for freehold farmers and landless farm workers, a new workday begins in the little village. People of higher caste live in their special sections that have nice-looking houses with tile roofs. Their servants are the outcastes, the “untouchables”, who live on the other side of the communal land in their clay huts. The outcastes’ family can be indebted to the master of the house’s family for generations. He is then practically a serf. But at the same time a patriarchal relationship between master and slave can prevail. The latter is certainly hen-pecked with many abusive words and gets to perform all sorts of heavy and unpleasant chores. But often there is an undertone of good-humour and fatherly concern in the mighty farmer’s rough treatment of his servants. As long as these act with the generally accepted respect and reverence and do not wave around proud declarations about the caste system’s abolition in the new India, the master as a rule ensures that they do not starve to death.
When there is a feast in the village, such as a marriage or the annual festival for the village’s little temple god, the outcastes get a decent square meal. But first they must bang for hours on their home-made drums made from the stomachs of cows that have died from natural causes. Then has a great time observing these outcaste fellows, who sway in complicated shuffling pirouettes with jangling little bells around their ankles. The whole time they drum the beats in constantly stepped up tempo, with sweat flowing and ruffled hair manes fluttering. The farmers’ cows are mooing in wait for the morning milking. There are no large squeezes of milk from each cow. It is true that in the cities one has started cooperative dairy associations that help members get imported milk cows. But out here in the village mostly they are not disposed to interfere with the cows’ life pattern through breeding pedigree animals and artificial insemination and such modern inventions. If I raise such things in discussions, I often get the answer: “Pooh, the small milk that we consider we need, that we still get from our cows, because we have of course so many. What would we do with the milk, if we got enough for some of it to be left over? It would only stand and go sour in the heat. We let cattle reproduce as best they can, and even if they are skinny to look at, then they still perform their task of producing manure.
India is likely to have more cattle per inhabitant than any other country in the world. It is written and spoken about excessively by amazed Westerners about the love and religious adoration that the holy cows enjoy. Often enough, this reverence restricts itself a bit half heartedly to letting many old cows die of natural causes instead of slaughtering them. It is pitiful how little is extracted from these myriad decrepit creatures. The dung is not used to give the earth its nutrition but rather as fuel. India’s limited forest resources would never suffice for the households’ fuel needs. Little girls are sent out daily with their baskets to gather up the day’s harvest of manure in the fields. This is afterwards baked into round cakes that are daubed on walls in long lines. The sun-dried cakes constitute the households’ primary fuel.
One understands why Prime Minister Nehru has established that India stands with one leg in the Nuclear Age and with the other leg left in the cow-dung age. One understands also, that he with particular eagerness had enormous factories for artificial fertilizer built and that he at the same time with interest follows the attempts to develop little cheap solar cookers that can solve the fuel problem of many millions.
In the villages as elsewhere there prevails a colossal difference between the rich and the poor. I have hardly visited a single village in the Coimbatore area where one has not pointed out “the rich man’s” farm and with reverence explained that he probably has a half million rupees in the bank. A large landowner can during a few good years make enormous profits. If his family has, during a few generations, married into neighbouring families of the same caste, he perhaps owns so much land, suitable for cotton cultivation, that a few years’ good crops are enough to make him very rich. His expenditures are not large, as cotton doesn’t require irrigation and other care to speak of. Work remuneration is phenomenally low. If it doesn’t rain enough one year that is of course too bad. But if the cotton gets the rain it needs there are big profits. Taxes are far from burdensome, measured by Western standards.
It follows that many of the large farms that I have visited during travels among these villages give a distinct impression of solidity. In the sitting room where I am invited to sit down to eat a delightfully juicy mango or a lovely spiced curry the owner shows the many photographs that line the walls in glass frames. There a bespectacled youngster stares fixedly at the camera, wearing the wide sleeved black English students’ coat and the black four-cornered graduation hat. These academic garments are used in India only for the degree day, when one rents them from a store and has one’s portrait taken in the finery.
That one there is my younger son. He is studying in the USA to become an engineer, explains the proud father. There is a bridal couple pictured, the husband in correct woolen suit and the woman in a thousand crown sari with gold brocade, both festooned with wreaths of flowers and both with the dogged gloominess in their eyes that convention demands.
Yes, that is my older son and his wife. He has a spinning factory in Combatore and has just built a still bigger one in Tirrupur. And that is my younger brother. He has a law firm in Madras. And so on; an impressive line.
In Indians’ village to a particular degree the proposition applies that to him that has, more shall be given, but also naturally the opposite. The outcaste who perhaps in his entire life has strived to get himself a single wretched cow or only a few goats should be glad if he succeeds to keep them when the rain fails to appear and he becomes unemployed for long periods of time. Or also he comes into the claws of the village’s moneylender. Maybe he had to marry off his daughter. Or perhaps it was a batch of clothing that he according to the family’s rules and commands must give his nephew when he was married off recently. He needed a loan. It is usually easy to get loans in the village. But it is odd how difficult is afterwards ever to pay back the loan again that only grows with compound interest. And it is interest that is calculated in percent per month instead of per year!
It is the outcaste who is the freeholder’s lowest paid farmworker. It is he who after his meager morning meal trudges away out to the fields with the old wooden plough on his head, herding a pair of oxen in front of him. At home in the clay hut the wife puts the baby (there is always one such in the family) on the big sister’s hip. Then the kid sits there the whole day, naked and snotty and grumpy during the sister’s play and chores. I have seen a flock of eight-year-old girls try to hopscotch with their little siblings clinging to their hips. If one of them tries to put their little kid down, a terrible howling will follow.
Mother has gone away with two pots to try to get water. The older children have already been sent out, each with a herd of buffalo or goats, which they guard for the master. There are always a few little extra coins, or perhaps a handful of rice or peanuts now and then, that in this way contribute to the family’s minute income. The villages have their own unwritten laws, and many of them guarantee even the poor certain elementary rights. The village’s five man council, the so-called “panchayat” is an ancient tradition. It is the “panchayat” which oversees that the commitment between the master and farm hands is fulfilled.
During normal, reasonably good years the outcaste with all his family usually makes a kind of oral contract with some landholding farmer. This ensures him a certain compensation in kind at harvest time. In return he will in addition to working in the fields also provide the master and his family a certain number of leather sandals.
The lowest among the outcastes in Coimbatore District are frequently leatherworkers or very primitive shoemakers. They skin the animals that have died of natural causes and tan the hide for future needs. It is a long awaited day for the outcaste’s family when an ox or cow ends its days. Then they get a square meal from the meat of the animals who have died of natural causes. When one is almost constantly calory deficient and starved, one cannot be so fastidious. During the starvation years in South India from 1948 until 1955 it happened quite often that the outcaste hastened the creatures’ death by poisoning them secretly. But then there was for some reason a squabble in the outcastes’ blocks over the bits of meat and someone tattled. Then the village panchayat would sit in judgement and severe punishment was meted out. The guilty must often leave the village with their families forever. Even for an outcaste it is a bitter fate to be without home and roots in this way.
There rests authority in a genuine “panchyat”. Five of the village’s old wise and trusted men sit there on their raised place under the banyan tree and discuss all knotty problems with proud consciousness of their authority. Panchayat is the Indian democracy’s seedbed and core. Even if the members are of higher caste, it is not certain that they can read the ornate petitions that have been written out by the village school teacher from someone’s dictation, and are supplied with many smudgy thumbprints instead of signatures. However I have often been impressed by their clear grasp of the subject and their well-organized comments in the discussion. Certainly there is a lot of lengthy talk. But sometimes one can in the middle of all the unnecessarily lengthy discussion hear samples of purely astounding eloquence.
A good and responsible “panchayat” is a big asset for the village. But sometimes alas, dissension and partisan feeling occur, rendering the five man council inoperative. It happens that certain leading castes come into conflict with each other. Soon the whole village is divided into two hostile parties. One burns each other’s houses and establishes regular little civil wars. Before the police has time to arrive – and that takes time where there is no telephone – much blood can be spilled.
Another common reason for police intervention is illicit distilling. The province of Madras belongs to the states that with great idealism want to realize national hero Gandhi’s pipe dream of an alcohol free India. The State has given up considerable amounts in foregone taxes from the serving of liquor that palm toddy and rice wine provided earlier. Moreover, the state has to spend enormous sums for police enforcement of the total prohibition.
This policy has without doubt led to a substantially healthier life in the villages.
Previously there were quite terrible conditions among the poor, who sacrificed their last coins to get drunk to forget briefly their joyless existence. The new generation seems not to have any need for alcohol. But the older generation that has not become properly weaned from their alcohol craving pay when they need it the price for illegally produced alcohol. Or they distill it themselves for household requirements. The pessimists usually say that moonshining is one of the few cottage industries that really pay off as extra income in the countryside.
I once came driving in a Land Rover near a village that was rather notorious for its illegal distilling. It was Sunday morning. Outside of the village little groups were seen that seemed to be engaging in a picnic in the open air. Out in the middle of the field they sat and pottered about with pots and containers over smoking fires. It looked jovial and enjoyable. But I still became a bit troubled. Village folk do not usually engage in such leisure time pursuits, least of all out in the open field in the roasting sun. When the car approached, there was a big commotion in the party. They took off in all directions. Left behind was nothing but moonshine equipment. The field-grey car looked like one of the police’s vehicles. I understood why the fellows preferred to pursue their business in the open air. If they can only themselves disappear in time when surprised, the apparatus cannot be traced to any given house or to the owner.
It is usually good for the village not to be too dominated by a single caste or a few families, the latter unfortunately often being the district around Coimbatore. Where life is at its best, different castes and guilds cooperating to make the village a relatively self-sufficient unit.
In the villages there is in general not only the powerful landowner and his outcaste minions. There are smallholders who together with their sons must toil to feed their family on a meager bit of land, which however is their own. There are also tenant farmers who are forced to surrender an unfairly large part of their crop as rent to a landowner, who lives a pleasant life in the city. For the entire population of India, including all family members, for every 100 Indians there are 47 freeholding (owner-occupying) farmers, 9 tenant farmers and 13 property-less farmworkers, while only one is a so-called “absentee landlord” who lives on his interest and rent. Hence, only 30 remain who are employed in other than farming, they those who according to the Tirukkural “live from plodding along and begging”.
Moreover these others are represented in the village, if also quite few in number. Village blacksmith and carpenter and potter are usually represented with at least one family in each village. With their primitive tools they mend the farmers’ implements, throw pots and crockery for household needs and shoe the even-tempered draught oxen. The payments for their services are often in kind – a basket of corn or onions, a chicken or a goat. Masons and well diggers are also represented by a few smaller caste groups.
The picture from the village street is not complete without the washerman with his big bundles of clothes loaded in pack saddle on top of little wretched donkeys’ backs. Often the burden is so heavy that the animal’s hind legs chafe together against their hocks so that they are worn bloody and sore. The washerman must sometimes walk many miles to the nearest watercourse. He is not allowed to use the wells. His business is considered impure, and he himself is of a low caste. (He later stands) Down in the water he later stands beating the dirty clothing with a flat stone. He pounds the dirt out of them, as well as also buttons and delicate seams. The clothes are laid to dry directly on the ground or over scrubby cactuses.
It is ostensibly cheap to get one’s clothing washed in India, but through wear and tear it is in the long run very expensive. One must also firmly insist that the finished clothing is returned without unnecessary delay. Otherwise one can get one’s best shirt rented out by the washerman to a third party in the meantime. Even the washerman needs his extra earnings. An old missionary once recognized his own white Sunday shirt on a corpse, that in accordance with Indian custom was borne in open procession, half sitting on his bier. A few days later he got back his shirt, neatly cleaned, bleached and ironed by the shrewd washerman.
The spinning wheel is the symbol of the national ideal aimed at by many leading Indians. One wants to return to the olden times, to the self-sufficient village’s homogenous culture. Every person should learn to spin sufficiently for his own simple needs. Ideally, one would want the entire country in a similar way made into a self-sufficient unit, as much as possible rooted in the countryside, isolated and independent from the outer world.
This is a reverberation of the national pathos that was ignited by Mahatma Gandhi and his supporters during the fight for freedom against the Englishmen. The spinning wheel was a protest against India being exploited as a market for the textile factories in England, a rampart against the white man’s endeavor to make the coloured people dependent on the Western countries’ industrial products. Gandhi’s famous “salt march”, as he and a crowd of devoted supporters marched down to the harbor to produce their own salt in defiance of the Englishmen’s prohibition was another typical symbolic gesture. For Gandhi it was shocking that something so indispensable as the household’s daily salt could be placed under a state monopoly and taxed!
But now the tension between old and new, between “foreign” and “domestic” is a domestic Indian matter. The entire overpopulated India cannot be contained within the sought-after village communities’ idyllic frame. Farmland and village crafts cannot give work and sustenance to all these constantly growing millions.. Only a single-minded industrialisation can save the country. This India’s leaders realize all too well. But at the same time they strive with moving dedication to maintain the old village culture as far as possible.
Not even the most romantic village way of thinking can close one’s eyes to the development that has led to city and countryside belonging together and needing each other after all, yes, they are indispensably dependent on one another. The villages’ people cannot only live on payment in kind and barter in the old style. They also need cash. Every big city has a market once a week. Then there is a throng of people and ox wagons on the roads. The air resounds with a persistent jabbering noise at the market place, which is woven into the swirling cloud of dust. There the farmers sell their skinny hens and goats and vegetables. There is trading and haggling and shouting all day long. Many come there solely for fun or to meet relatives from remote villages. Many brides are bartered and marriage contracts are made in the crowd of the market during a lot of betel nut chewing and coffee drinking with sodden, fly-ridden cookies as snacks.
In the evening the city’s stores and cafes are overrun with the villages’ people. At the cinemas they look wide-eyed at the flickering film footage and are deafened by hundreds of blaring loudspeakers.
Then even in India the city and countryside meet. Then the old and the new India rub against each other. Something of the old individuality disappears. Something new and sometimes confusing comes into the picture.
But when the farmer in the darkness of the night herds home his balking newly purchased oxen, he forgets the city behind him. When the outcaste in the crowd of drowsy ox wagon caravans trudges home with his bundle on his head and a bottle of kerosene in his hand, he recognizes again the old India’s soothing rhythm of life. Then the village’s people are on the way back to the plow and the tilling rake.
Soon begins yet another day on the barren earth which for them is the centre of the world. In all their unsophisticated simplicity they are the masters of the world. “Only he who lives from ploughing and harvesting lives.”.
Don’ t ponder the rewards of virtue. – Only contemplate the man who sits in the palanquin and he who makes the effort to carry it. (Tirukkural)
The clamoring grimy train station is the doorway to the large city. It is the gate of entry to the new India which is gradually replacing the old. Here all the contrasts between rich and poor meet, between tradition – bound fatalism and innovative spirit of forward progress.
Nowhere in South India is this conveyed more clearly than in Coimbatore. At its big train station the contrasts collide with tremendous noise.
If the impression of smell dominates the countryside’s more peaceful life, then it is the impression of noise that mainly characterizes the meeting with the big city. Already in the train compartments conversation is held in fortissimo. Foreigners usually ask me what the other passengers are actually quarreling about. No, it is the usual good-natured tone of conversation. There is so much noise in India that must be shouted down. So one shouts. When the train at last halts and and it comes to locating little children and lost baggage and bartering and haggling with the porter until arriving at a miserably low compensation for his services, the thousand voices combine in a collective deafening noise.
Everywhere the eye encounters contrasts. There, wealthy men of industry in blinding white clothing stride out of their air-conditioned luxury compartments. A blustering shoving throng of “coolies” scuffle for a chance to lift their beautiful suitcases out and carry them across the platform to the shining big American car that waits within the station area itself. In the air-conditioned compartments one can draw the curtain keeping the windows closed, and in pleasant coolness isolate oneself from the noise and smells, from maimed beggars’ pitiful requests and the vendors’ raucous shouts.
A civil servant climbs out of his first class compartment followed by a trail of “peons”, a cross between personal servants and doormen at the countless public offices, often wearing a turban or a kind of red marshal’s ribbon. They usually earn plentiful coffee money for carrying business cards in a dignified manner to their powerful masters or organizing an audience with them. Here are the ones who bow submissively all the time. One of them is carrying the obligatory bed roll which is carried on all night trains. Another lugs the Mighty One’s metal trunk, yet another his chest of archives. If the boss is really important, he will be met at the platform by a crowd of cringing underlings, who hang welcome wreaths on him.
There are many Westerners who are astonished by the bullying manner in which the country’s masters, politicians, public officers, and rich business people treat their subordinates and the poor in the country. Are they by any chance aping the earlier English masters’ supposed arrogance? There is perpetual whispering and silent gesticulation by busybody officials in most public offices. For the subordinates it is a matter of cringing and fawning. No loud voices may disturb the mighty boss, where he sits behind his screen and rings a bell when he wants to have contact with the outer world.
In the still remaining Indian class society one addresses servants and people of a lower caste with the familiar second person form of the word “you”. If I happen to address the porter who whips out my suitcase from the compartment with a polite third person “you”, and treat him with the respect that should be due to a porter, he becomes very embarrassed and smiles surreptitiously at my ignorance. If I should tries in the new-fangled western way to carry the baggage myself, which I of course could very well have the energy to do, I would “loose face” completely in the porter’s eyes. Then I am followed by many disappointed appeals that will finally perhaps change into irritated taunts.
“-If even you, white men, will deprive us of our livelihood by carrying your suitcases yourself, from where will we get the money that we need for our women and children? – you cheapskate!”
I may also hear something similar, when I stubbornly refuse to travel with the ramshackle rickshaws that still are found in many cities. I refuse to let myself be tugged along by a fellow human being toiling like an animal between the long shafts of the little two-wheeled carriage with it’ s torn hood. In such carriages one can have both one or two well-fed persons gracefully leaning back against the backrest, while the poor human draft animal is almost raised into the air by the shafts. Still he is happy that it was he who got the chance ahead of his competitors. My refusal to go by rickshaw usually is not at all appreciated: “Mister who is so well off wouldn’t let us poor people starve!”
At this point however I have support from the country’s legislating authorities. A proposal has been made to abolish these rickshaws and handcarts that are so degrading to human dignity. It is really disheartening to see these worn out work slaves drag their handcarts in the port district of Madras, loaded with skyhigh piles of cement or rice sacks. The muscles are strained to the breaking point under skin burned black and glistening with sweat. The fellows snort and pant and swear at one another, when the heavy loads get jammed up somewhere. They work harder than animals but are still happy to at least perhaps have ensured for the day the next meal for themselves and their families. They defend themselves with rage against the “humanitarian” proposed law that would deprive them of their meager daily earnings.
The new India strives to shake off the hopeless fatalism that is considered to be so characteristic of the Orient. There are still millions of Hindus who acquiesce in the face of life’s injustices with a resigned reference to the gods’ will. The teaching about transmigration and the law of “karma” about cause and effect is for them the explanation for how a few people can wallow in life’s luxuries while others must toil in the sweat of their brow to make life pleasant for the former. All this is said to be connected to their good or evil acts in an earlier life. Among the large cities’ swarming millions there are far too many who out of bitter necessity and in apathetic resignation let themselves be satisfied with carrying the heaviest burdens of life. But there are also many who consciously strive already in this existence to be masters of their own destiny.
I push myself out of the swarm at the station and quickly succeed in getting an auto-rickshaw. This handy vehicle is equipped with a Vespa motor and seats for two passengers. Now begins a journey straight into the new India. Enormous movie posters cover the walls. The worshipped movie star Sri Ganeshan’s luxuriant apparition gazes out over the queue that snakes around blocks outside of the cinema’s ticket booths. In India luscious flesh is a sign of success in life, for which this star is living proof. One has at least three shows a day at the larger cinemas. Crowds of poor unemployed youngsters stand patiently in line even at noon to slip into the cinema. It costs very little. But the money could be used better. Going to the cinema has become something of an endemic disease. India’s film production is the world’s second biggest. The film stars have – like in the West – become a kind of religious surrogate, a replacement for the old Hindu gods who are losing ever more of their power over modern India. There is a tumult of excited admirers when some film star gets caught with his luxury car in the congested traffic. The films are long by Western standards. They must last for three hours for the audience to be satisfied. It often becomes a stretched out jumble of songs and dances with some kind of anxiously fluttering thread of action through it all. The melodies of songs that catch on with the audience often become smash hits that reverberate for years from cafés enormous loudspeakers.
Loudspeakers and amplifiers are the modern India’s toy and curse. Every café lets the music blare out as loudly as possible to drown out their numerous competitors. For every wedding a loudspeaker set-up with a few scratched records is rented with a handful of scratched gramophone records that begins to make noise at dawn and goes on for three days. There are certainly laws to curtail the very worst noise during the night. But many sad letters to the editor in the newspapers suggest that there might be loopholes in the law. Perhaps the nearest police chief or constable is invited to take part in the wedding dinner. Then the tunes boom out in the night without concern for those who may possibly be so constituted that they want to sleep at night.
My rented vehicle races rattling into the traffic evading obstacles and lurching in the streets’ turmoil full of contrasts. Large luxury cars jostle for space with oxcarts and bicycles and handcarts. Outside the city’s elegant textile stores, where wealthy ladies with an expert air choose among cascades of glittering saris, beggars grovel on all fours with contorted, atrophied bodies. Rushed directors hurry around with briefcases under their arms while the street’s unemployed proletariat wander around in the hope that something will happen. Behind the commercial buildings’ important– looking facades hide overcrowded districts with winding lanes.
But Coimbatore is a city with bold go-ahead spirit, a city whose industries and commercial life is growing quickly with every year. –“An upstart city”, say some, who find there few cultural monuments from a past time in the form of tall temples. These dominate the street scene all the more in older cities such as Madura and Tanjore. In the middle of Coimbatore’s commercial center is however a quite large mosque. One of the most frequented streets nearby is strangled totally by a Moslem shrine that is located in the middle of the street. There the faithful offer incense and carry out their devotion. Most are children and heavily veiled Moslem women. The Hindus good-naturedly allow the traffic to tangle in this hopeless bottleneck – an example of the tolerance with which one embraces the Moslem minority in South India.
Tradesmen in the same business are usually concentrated on the same street. Guild spirit is further fortified through the caste system. On one street one finds only textile stores, on another only jewelers. The average Indian’s luxury consumer needs are limited to these two categories. In the richer families one allows one’s social prestige to be shown by the number and quality of the women’s silk saris, these wonderfully beautiful garments whose elaborate drapes never become outdated.
Even in less wealthy families one puts one’s savings into jewelry with which the women and small children are equipped. Hence large sums change hands daily over the counters in textile and jewelry stores.
Beyond the jewelers’ street you find the brass-smiths’ stores with gleaming household utensils in long swollen rows. A generous assortment of brass containers for cooking and fetching water belongs to a good family daughter’s dowry. During the marriage seasons that are limited to certain established months, a lively commerce prevails here. Further away there are potters and basket weavers. All are on the same street, this is a part of caste tradition. No one would get the idea of setting up on his own elsewhere in the city. Now one can go from one store to other, comparing and bartering and haggling endlessly. This is half the pleasure. The seller would be amazed if one took his first price quotation seriously. No one looks with disfavor on the colleague who gets the deal.
In the more modern districts are rows of ironware shops, whose proprietors are often Moslems. There they sell pumps and pipes that have become the most up-to-date merchandise in Coimbatore’s quickly electrified District. Stalwart farmers sit there with their saved coins tied up in their loincloths. Over countless glasses of strongly sweetened coffee they discuss their irrigation problems, thumbing and measuring pipes and couplings, and then finally sign a contract for a pump set-up that will outperform the neighbour’s and amaze the village. Just nearby one finds plenty of electric stores. They also are having a boom in trade, like the neighbouring radio firms. Furniture -stores, photo firms, car dealers, sellers of workshop machinery – all give evidence of, despite everything, a rising standard in South India.
And everywhere there are cinemas, restaurants and smaller cafés with a perpetual swarm of customers. And everywhere there are beggars. And not far away the slums begin.
But Coimbatore has like most modern cities made serious attempts to find a remedy for the misery of begging. Directly outside the city is a neat home for beggars, operated under municipal management. In regular intervals the police makes a sweep and gather together a crowd of beggars who are forced to transfer to this home. There they get clean and proper lodging to reside in and regular meals to eat. But in similarly regular intervals the guests run away from their free guesthouse. They do not like this overly safe monotony. One beggar added that such forced accommodation in Bombay caused a sensation by bringing an action against the Indian State for infringement of human rights that were ensured for him in the country’s constitution. He claimed that begging was his legitimate business that no one could prevent him from carrying on. Moreover he pointed out that the beggar guesthouse did not sustain him with the daily ration of cigarettes that he felt he needed. If he were only allowed to beg in peace, he would be able to sustain himself both with cigarettes and other necessities of life. It is reported that professional begging now is also forming its own trade union with around a half million affiliated members, supposedly one of the best organized in the country.
But this does not solve the begging problem. Of course there is behind all the occupational business in the context also an immeasurable real need. This concerns not least the huge throngs of homeless and unemployed for whom there is no space in their village. They cook their meager food under the naked sky. During cold and rainy nights they lie shivering rolled up in their tattered sheets between the overpasses’ concrete pillars, while the traffic rattles by a few centimeters from their heads or toes. The praiseworthy attempts that are sometimes made to provide them accommodation in municipal hostels usually do not remedy the misery. Unoccupied places on sidewalks, along wall and under bridges soon become filled with new homeless in a never ending stream. There are simply too many people. Not even in the otherwise so flourishing Coimbatore does one get the opportunity to forget the always oppressive problems of overpopulation.
Nevertheless one dares to say that Coimbatore is a city where people work. Even this concept is certainly relative. Schools and businesses do not begin their work day before 9:30. Public works and offices don’t open until 11 o’clock, just when the sun begins to burn hottest. This is an inheritance from the time when the Brahmins dominated schools and the civil service. They must get time for their detailed ceremonial baths and prayers that begin at dawn and take up several hours.
Moreover, probably India has the largest number of bank holidays in the world, or more than thirty a year. With genuine Indian broad-mindedness one wants to respect all religions’ most important celebrations and festivals. It takes many years before the westerners out there learn to always consult their almanac before going out on errands to banks or government offices. Far too often he stands there disappointed in front of doors that are closed on the basis of some religious or regional patriotic memorial festival about which he had no idea. The Christian Christmas and Good Friday are also holidays, like of course also Sunday, which the Englishmen in their time turned into a general work-free day. All of this of course does not apply to the countryside. There one works when the earth gives cause to do so during all the days of the week. In between there can nevertheless be long work breaks out of necessity.
I once heard a questioner in federal parliament in Delhi asking whether Indian’s productivity ever could attain even the country’s minimum needs, as long as one pays for all of these holidays. It was Prime Minister Nehru who answered. Despite certainly wanting to agree wholeheartedly with the questioner he was obliged, somewhat crestfallen to refer to the country’s distinctive situation with its many religions and its hot climate. It can also of course happen that the many holidays contribute in their way to the solution of the problem of generally insufficient employment.
Otherwise it should be clearly stated that one, at least in Coimbatore, does not get evidence for the Western myth about oriental inborn laziness. The comparatively fresh climate stimulates the will to work. If there is only the opportunity to work, no one is idle in Coimbatore.
The demand for sandals and clothing seems insatiable. One hears a constant humming from street tailors’ sewing machines, a nailing and hammering from the countless shoemakers’ workshops. The off the rack industry is completely rudimentary. The simple shirts and pants in question can be sewn as cheaply after measurement by the local tailor who is engaged for everything.
With his clattering old machine he sews his seams with furious, staggering speed. The tailor is the constantly industrious ant of Indian street life.
But it is especially in the textile industry that one notices the feverish enthusiasm for work. There seems never to be an end to the factories that are proliferating around Coimbatore. In their trail follow workshops that produce and repair factory machines. Most factories are cotton mills. They spin thread that is sold to the hard-working weaver caste cottage industries. The little family companies begin more and more to engage electrically operated, half-mechanized cotton looms. The warps are set up manually outdoors. It is a festive sight when one strolls in the morning in the large suburbs, where the weavers live and work. Warps in gleaming beautiful, happy colours assembled in long rows on primitive bamboo trestles all along the street where black pigs root around and scabby dogs have fun hunting the persistent crows. Kilometers of beautiful warps in lengths of ten and twenty meters.
The hand woven saris and the fabrics that are produced in this way are so skillfully and tastefully put together and executed that they have all it takes to become a sought after export item. The colour sense of the Indians is a strange thing. The cheap colour prints of popular gods and politicians that hang on the walls even in wealthy homes are held in sickening colors. But the colors that occur in the textiles are often selected with exquisite taste and precise instinct for colour scales and combinations.
The large cotton mills work in double shift, sometimes even triple. Very early in the morning one sees long crowds of women on the way to relieve the night shift. Their food provisions are carried in a little brass bowl with a screw top. It consists of the indispensable rice and some simple curry sauce in a hard packed mixture. A deafening noise reigns in the mills. Women are standing in long rows, women who perhaps a few years earlier left village life behind them. Now they are tightly concentrated on a job at a demanding tempo. The men are in an obvious minority. Female labour is cheaper and more good-natured. Far too many families in Coimbatore allow themselves to be supported by the housewife’s low salary, while the husband loiters in the streets and cafés. When the work shift is over, the women trudge home with their empty bowls. Their black hair has become snow white or silver grey from the whirling cotton dust.
But every now and then industrial peace is lacking. The situation becomes quite confused by the trade unions being distributed under four different national organisations. Two of these are closest to the communist color, one quite moderate and the other very radical. One national organisation is attached to the governing Congress Party, while the fourth could probably be said to be closest to the unfortunately far too weak Socialist Party. Therefore in one and the same factory usually there are at least two trade unions, the one of the congress party and the communist. Their leaders are often professional politicians instead of workers. One trade union can call a strike, while the other urges their members to work as usual. In Coimbatore’s large suburbs, where cotton mills are close to each other, political deaths often occur. It is competing trade unions leaders who kill each other.
In some factories slowdowns are pursued. A hard tested factory recently had to close down. It might be all right if the trade unions were always run with real concern for the workers and their best interests. But often one starts a conflict out of mischief to become popular and recruit members from the competing trade union. As a rule it is the workers’ families who suffer.
But despite all this one works in Coimbatore. There is whirring and pounding hammering and rattling in countless factories, pump foundries and workshops. Crowds of people are trying to get into the cities’ industries from the overpopulated countryside. Most of them become quite unsettled and homeless for long periods of time. But many of them finally find work in some way. If, in the best case the husband, wife and perhaps one of the sons succeed at the same time to get work they can earn together between eight and ten crowns a day, sometimes still more, if they are really lucky. This is a fortune compared to the three or four Swedish crowns a day that the family in the best case could scrape together during good times in the countryside.
Despite all the difficulties that should by no means be trivialized, the standard therefore rises. The average consumer requirement of cotton fabric needs only to rise from the existing perhaps five meters a year per person to eight or ten meters in order for the number of textile factories to almost double. Even if it looks like miserably small improvements for the individual, for the whole of India it means a total increase of production of great dimensions.
Therefore it is not an expression of wishful thinking if we get the feeling that the indifferent fatalism’s days are numbered in the new India. Still there are far too many that waste their best years and strengths vainly looking for work. Still there are far too many who carry the heavy burdens for a few privileged people. But life in Coimbatore shows that the new India does not need to be a home for tired and stagnant resignation. It is encouraging to think of the many who have found that diligence and eagerness to work are virtues that in the best case give a dividend already in this life: Not a leisurely palanquin for the few, but a better life for many.
HOME AND FAMILY LIFE
“The flute’s and zither’s sounds ring out sweetly only for those who do not hear their own children’s chirps and chatter.” (Tirukkural)
India’s most difficult problem right now is overpopulation. When I travelled out to India in the beginning of 1948, the population amounted to somewhat over 300 million. On my last trip home in 1958 the number had risen to nearly 400 million.
In the populous centers one cannot avoid noticing this avalanche-like increase in population. It has become strikingly cramped for room during these ten years. And it probably will become yet worse. So many scary figures have been mentioned and published about this that a repetition is superfluous. The most frightening thought is that if this is allowed to continue in the same constantly increasing way the population in India by the next turn of the century will rise to a billion.
If one wants to study the overpopulation problem from its inside, it can be useful to try to understand a little about the south Indian outlook on home and family life.
I do not know any more children loving people than Tamils. In the Tirukkural Book of Wisdom there is a whole chapter that in short sentences reflects the immeasurable joy and wealth that it signifies to have many children. In addition to the above cited small introductory strophe there is a whole line of similar gems that shine with the happiness of parenthood, one of which reads as follows: “not even the food of the gods can compete with the simplest porridge that has been smeared around by my child’s little fist”. The old Tamil literature was never so lyrical as when it described home and family and love life. The famous Tirrukural alone with all of its sapient life’s wisdom devotes a whole enormous section to this subject, comprising almost a third of its 3000 strophes. Recorded there are all nuances of the good wife’s feelings, when she is together with her husband and children. Recorded there is the harrowing longing that she feels when the husband is away on a long trip to earn money for the family, and her tremendously happy anticipation before the reunion.
But the language sounds at its most beautiful when the Tamil literature’s great singers depict the small children. The words’ rhythm and tone give a direct sound impression of the kids’ childish babble when they toddle around and mess about during innocent play with wooden elephants and dolls. The Tamils love their children, and the love only grows stronger the more children they have. Perhaps this is the direct explanation for the Indian system of having large families. What the English out there call “the joint family system” or the family commune and that has the goal of keeping the family together for as long as possible, even after the children have grown up and established their own families, depends simply on family love and solidarity being so strong that one never tires of one another, and never gets enough of each other’s company.
It is worthwhile and sometimes slightly humbling to talk to Indian friends and compare the approach to home and family in East and West. What to them almost seems most objectionable in our social system is the custom of letting parents live alone, after the children have become adults and established their own homes. Whatever the situation regarding space, income and access to domestic servants may be, it is a given fact that the old parents will continue to live in the center of the family to the greatest extent possible. The external arrangements vary of course to a great extent according to caste and social group, ways and means. In the overcrowded industrial communities, it is usually one of the younger families that takes care of the old, often alternating with the other siblings. Among craftsmen and farmers in the countryside it is still most common that the sons remain living with their wives at the family farm. If space is insufficient, they reside as near to the parents’ home as possible, in a neighbouring house or on the same block.
With few exceptions the patriarchal system is applied in this matter. It is the young girl who with much sighing gives up her father and her mother to stay with her husband and his family. That may be partly why the bride during the entire wedding ceremony is wont to sit with gloomy hanging head. To look happy and expectant or curious would not seem proper at all. The pictures that one often gets from American marriages, where the bride hardly has time to say “yes” before she embraces and kisses her husband, seem extremely offensive for the Indians. In India public kissing never occurs, not even in the films’ most touching love scenes.
But when it is time for the young Indian housewife to give birth to her first child, the custom generally applies that she moves home to her own mother. Where this is not possible, the mother must always be given notice to attend when her daughters scattered in various places are about to give birth.
Now, what is the status of women? Is it so subordinate and devalued as one easily assumes? This as well varies to a great degree from one caste to another. Indeed also for South Indians it is a matter of prestige first of all to have many sons. This may well be partly also an economic question. Sons can earn money and work for the family, while on the other hand daughters are more “expensive to manage”. Their dowry costs big money. I know families that put themselves in debt for their whole lives to be able to marry their daughters in a socially fitting manner.
At the Swedish mission hospital in Tirupputtur there is a childbirth department that is within sight and hearing of the guestroom where I once spent time as a patient. One evening there came an entire ox wagon load of women from a nearby village. They had with them a delivery case that probably was a bit complicated. Otherwise they would probably not have left their home village. The entire night the delivery room was lit up and secretive, worrying sounds were heard from within. Suddenly a tremendous lamentation in a collective chorus of howling, crying women’s voices broke out. When the next day I expressed sorrow to the woman doctor because the delivery turned out so unhappily, she answered: “Why no! It was a magnificent little girl. The women wailed because the young housewife has now given birth to her third daughter and still had no son.”
Certainly there are in such cases perhaps a great deal of dissatisfied whining when the poor mother with hanging head returns to the husband’s home with her girl child. But after the first disappointment has subsided, it is moving to see how the Tamils love their little tots. They call forth all their resourcefulness to give them the language’s most beautiful names. They make great sacrifices to furnish them with jewelry, from the little silver heart that like a glittering fig leaf swings from a string stretched around the little naked child’s stomach, to the jewelry and saris, with which the girl later goes to meet the bridegroom that is often quite unknown to her.
Otherwise the Tamils deny sharply that they would treat their women with less respect than the men. All that stuff about women’s inferiority imposed by the lords of creation are a later invention, imposed by the domineering Brahmins, the Tamils say. Just look at our own ancient literature. There it is often women, who by the strength of their virtue and bravery rule an entire state or a minor principality.
One tells about the famous legendary figure Kannahi, who in anger that her husband has been the victim of miscarriage of justice sets all of Madura on fire with the help of the outraged gods. It was her love and great virtue that gave her such devastating power. And so one quotes once again from the always pertinent Tirrukural, that in one of its aphorisms says something like this: “The woman who at dawn, unmindful of other gods, begins the day by worshipping the feet of her husband gets such power that she merely needs to say “rain”, and rain streams down!”
Thus, reverence for men is still there? Certainly, say the Tamils with irrepressible Eastern logic, but that is exactly what gives her such an authority.
In most castes it is considered good upbringing that the women tiptoe around in the background and obsequiously attend to the men. At social affairs it is always the men who are served first. When with polite belching they make known that they have eaten their fill, it is time for the previously so quiet women and their guests to settle down to a feast in a neighbouring room during much talk and merriment. Commanding masters of the house have confided in me that this subservience actually is something that the women only play at to impress the guest. When he is well out of earshot, the women again take the scepter in the house. In the large family collectives it is actually often the father’s mother who collects the family’s income and holds onto the cash-box. All expenditures must be submitted to her review.
Seen in India’s greater context the women’s emancipation in public life is one of the most striking proofs of the new spirit of the times that has emerged in recent decades. One meets or hears about women ambassadors and ministers, governors and magistrates, bright and elegant representatives of the new India that would give the Western women’s organisations an inferiority complex. In one of our Swedish women’s magazines there was a lovely beautiful Indian woman pictured, who had made herself notable at some international women’s congress. The caption was: “Is she actually underdeveloped, or are we underdeveloped?“ This is yet another example of the situation that one often has reason to ascertain: “The most capable and well educated people in India are as a rule of such “top quality” that they outshine their Western counterparts in the international context. The Indian elite are sharper than most. But in India’s collected masses of people, they are far too few. Below them there is then so to speak nothing and nothing, until one is down to a layer of rather mediocre talents in state and administration, whose education and capabilities still leave much to be desired. The higher education must be quite thoroughly reformed, before the distinguished types that are seen out in the world can be said to be representative, strictly speaking. The alluring Indian woman at a conference in Paris may represent a women’ s movement whose members come from an exceedingly small upper class.
Among ordinary everyday people the Indian woman’ s “emancipation” is slow. Outside the family circle she is still acutely socially handicapped. But in the South Indian family collective she is highly respected and honoured.
It is of course unavoidable that the new times increasingly break up the fine old family ties. Modern societies’ more differentiated ways of earning a living disperse the large families and divide them up into smaller units. The sons get employment in different parts of the civil service and business world and in this way kinship ties are thinned out.
Yet there is in most places a touching family cohesion. The telegraph service has certain numbered standard formulations for telegrams in urgent family matters. When for example such a telegram is sent out to all siblings, containing the Indian-English formula “Mother dangerous”, this means that their mother is seriously ill and calls them to her. This sets in motion a large number of sons and sons-in-law and second cousins and cousins from different directions. They may spend their last pennies on a long distance train ticket for all to be gathered together at the sick bed. Even quite distant relatives in such situations feel compelled to come. Therefore Indians are frequent train and bus travellers. Many have their business dealings spoiled by repeated sick visits, mainly because the alarming telegram often proves to have been sent in sudden panic. The family might well find the mother fit and well again at the end of the journey. Then one has instead a reason for a joyful gathering of relatives and no one regrets the unnecessary travel’s inconveniences and costs.
This unfailing eagerness to visit sick relatives perhaps seems a bit amusing to us. The doctors out there usually tear their hair in despair seeing the throng of relatives that crowd in clusters around their patients and settle down on the verandahs and backyards of the hospital in order to be able to pamper their sick relations. But isn’t this cohesion actually something enviable for us in our stream-lined objectivity? How many of our old people, who are tied to their nice hospitals and old people’s homes, so forgotten in their dazzling white, sterile loneliness, would not happily at any time trade some of their comfort for the happiness of being pampered like that by sons and daughters and relatives from all over!
Indians are touchingly fond of relatives. One might say that they consume so much energy in cultivating this love of family and relations that they do not have much to spare for other fellow human beings. This would possibly explain their relative lack of more outgoing social interests. That which occurs and happens in the context of other families and castes outside their own as a rule concerns them little. This is at the same time their strength and their weakness. The strong family solidarity is a great asset for the Indian society. But great difficulties arise when it comes to creating a broader basis for community and collaboration on the local or national level. One lays down without hesitation one’s last rupee to scrupulously follow the family’s rules for expenditures that are imposed for example in connection with marriages and burials of a relative. But when it comes to making a collective contribution to a joint enterprise together with all the castes and groups of the village, it is usually a tight squeeze before the money comes through.
Because the family’s and relatives’ interests always are central, it is natural that marriages and starting of families is the entire family’s common concern. Even in families that are very much influenced by western ideas, the rule still applies that the young persons’ future partner is chosen by the parents and by the old and wise of the family. In many castes one follows a complicated rule of priorities, whereby cousins of a certain generation are in the first place paired up. If suitable parties are not available, the bidding goes further into the family and its bigger entity, the caste.
But luckily one is not content with this mechanical procedure. One has to find certain guarantees so that the young shall fit together after all. If the boy has a higher level of schooling, one looks high and low for a girl with approximately the same education. Then their horoscopes must also be in harmony with each other (more about this in a following chapter). With the ever more differentiated society of the present day it now appears that the rules for dowry and the like must be revised. A girl with a university or teacher’s degree can be so sought after in the marriage market that her parents do not need to be burdened with any dowry at all. On the contrary, they can demand certain compensation if the bridegroom to be happens to be worse equipped in the matter of education and income. Behold the first crucial step towards women’s emancipation!
Regarding the exacting question of dowry, a fair skin is also a definite asset. The skin’s brown hue varies considerably in India, from the higher castes’ astonishing light color to the outcastes almost black color. Even within the same caste or social stratum quite large variations occur. If the girl happens to be fair skinned and in addition beautiful, her father gets off “lightly”. Light skin is actually more important than beauty.
In one of the English large city newspapers an Indian woman wrote not so long ago a rather temperamental letter to the editor. She accused her countrymen of hypocrisy, when they so often complain about racial discrimination in Africa or the United States. “Just look at how we reward fair skin color in our entire horrible dowry system! Look only at the newspapers long lines of marriage advertisements! Almost always they end with the words “Advantage given to fair-skinned” or “Dark-skinned don’t take the trouble to respond”. No, do away with dowries and bending over for the fair-skinned when bargaining for marriage candidates!”
Well, what do the young people say themselves? Do any so-called love-marriages occur that are based on mutual attraction instead of the family’s edict? Do they ever marry outside their own caste? Short stories in the modern weeklies grapple often with these questions. It is a recurring theme in the long-winded films. The more “modern” youth occasionally revolt, but will as a rule have reason to regret it bitterly. Such revolts usually mean social isolation and ostracism by the family, and there are not many who are willing to pay that price. It will cost them as dearly as converting to another religion against the will of the family.
Now moreover most parents are sensible enough to give the young people the opportunity to discretely inspect each other before a contemplated marriage match. It probably also happens more than once, that an honest “no” from either party is respected by the elders. One is pleasantly surprised to note how many alert youngsters solve this problem without apparent conflicts. They adapt to current conditions without grumbling but certainly have opportunities to express their wishes with respect to some favorite among the youths that they meet at different family functions. I have found a predominantly strong feeling for the family’s and the relatives’ greater common interest even among young men who have been in Europe and obtained good degrees. Possible Western ideas are put on the shelf, when the homeward bound ship calls at the ports of Bombay or Madras. Families have not so infrequently a bride standing on the quay who is willingly accepted. What father does is always best, quite particularly in India.
Should this lead us to make the daring statement that this system actually seems to result in more happy marriages than in our slapdash Western selecting and rejecting of life partners? Albeit at the risk of being accused of being a reactionary, I must give evidence of many longstanding, extremely stimulating contacts with exceptionally pleasant and happy families in South India where husband and wife had only met briefly before marrying. Their loyalty to family and relations was so strong, and their confidence in the elders’ judgement so established, that they did not put into question whether the marriage would be happy.
Now one can immediately, as usual when it concerns India, present much support for exactly the opposite opinion. One can bring up a whole line of horror depictions of very young girls being forced to marry elderly male relatives, possibly to be sentenced to a widow’s hard fate in a few years. There probably is not any social order that cannot lead to aberrations, and everyone knows that many occur in vast India. The authorities are, by the way, trying to regulate the worst abuses, the existence of which is evidenced by unhappy housewives having chosen to drown themselves in the farm’s well as a way out of an unbearable marriage.
But speaking in general, and without for a moment presuming that the Indian system would be suitable for Sweden, one must conclude that the Indian arrangements for marriage, home and family life on the whole works well.
But for how long will one be able to apply these arrangements? They must of course be all the more difficult to sustain in today’s mobile society, where also young unmarried girls come out into working economic life as phone operators and teachers, clerks and tourist hostesses. The old society strives valiantly to prevent or at least delay seemingly inevitable disintegration. The older generation restricts the young with rules and taboos that become more and more unwieldy in the constantly new and sometimes delicate situations. There are simply not many opportunities given for ordinary unconstrained interaction between the sexes. Already after the first five classes of elementary school girls and boys are separated until the university phase. Cinemas have, except for the more expensive tiered seating, strictly separated sections for the male and female audience. A wall goes between them. Trains and busses have reserved sections for women who are traveling alone. They can only be seated in a regular compartment only if they have their husbands with them
In the few universities and colleges where coeducation occurs, the girls stay strictly separated, and their lodgings are at a distance, enclosed behind high yard walls. Parents dare to relinquish them only on this condition: around the clock control and supervision.
That this in its turn leads to abuses is obvious. The young students’ behaviour when a bevy of shy embarrassed girls appears in the lecture rooms is unbelievably immature and childish. They tittle-tattle and whisper and throw wads of paper and crow with cackling falsetto voices if they succeed to hit one of the girls down in the first row. The iron curtain of propriety that separates them from the opposite sex during growth years never gives them the opportunity to learn to act in a collegial and gentlemanly manner towards the girls. Nor is this needed with the present day arrangements according to the grown-ups. Families arrange for their marriages as early as possible, and later everything comes out ok.
If only that were so! The price that one has to pay for all of this system that is so foreign to us is a certain measure of low-level prostitution with considerable unhealthiness and in the worst cases venereal infection as a result. That family life, despite this still seems to work so well on the whole, is perhaps the very best evidence of the strength and healthiness in the deeper family solidarity.
With love of relatives and family being so predominantly strong, it is of course quite natural that large broods of children also become a desired asset. To have a large family is still for most Indians a proof of the gods’ particular good will. Many sons give even the poorest a certain prestige. They will perform the burial rites upon the death of the father. Otherwise he will not be blessed in the next existence. Especially among farm workers and farmers it is believed that a large crowd of children is an asset, a source for improved incomes. In India children constitute the only pension insurance of the poor man. With them he seeks refuge, when he is no longer able to work.
This line of reasoning of course stood up better in the times when, at least during good years, there prevailed reasonably full employment. In the past, when epidemics and drought could run wild, the population numbers were held down. There seems to have been space enough in India then. But now modern methods for vaccination have reduced cholera, plague and smallpox epidemics to relatively modest proportions. Thanks to DDT, malaria has also been strongly reduced. Improved hospital and child care have quickly reduced the infant mortality rate. The country’s road network and the railroads have been expanded so that one can quickly move food to vulnerable disaster areas in case of drought and flooding. Many people are being saved from a premature death.
But the birth rate does not decrease. The parents who have let themselves be blessed with eight or nine children with the thought that half of them perhaps anyway will not reach adulthood now find to their happy surprise that most of them grow up in turn to themselves establish a family. But the happiness mixes with a growing concern. How will the family’s little piece of land be able to feed all these sons with their wives and children? How shall all of these children get education and employment? The avalanche-like population increase has created serious unemployment. The children growing up become an economic burden instead of an asset. Especially this is the case when the demand for professional training asserts itself in the increasingly industrialized society. Countless ambitious middle class families in today’s India carry are loaded with unacceptable burdens in the desperate endeavor to give their children a good education.
The authorities make great attempts to try to attempt to manage overpopulation. They are well aware that all of India’s future ultimately depends on this question.
Can the population increase be eased before it is too late?
Those who know the traditional Indian approach to home and family realize of course, that one must move here with a lot of tact and infinite patience. Educational activities with guidance centres and clinics for family planning have been started. The state has made good documentary films, which are shown for example as a prelude at public cinemas. Through these attempts one tries carefully to show that parents do their children a greater service by “planning” the number of children adapted to the family’s resources and thereby giving the children a better start in life.
As far as I have been able to see, it turns out that middle class families, whose incomes exceed 150 crowns a month (a good income for Indian conditions) generally have fewer children than the poor. Their ambition to place the children in secondary school and colleges makes them understand soon enough that families do better by having fewer children. If even more families could get their standard of living raised to around the same modest level, probably their number of children almost automatically would be limited. We recognize easily the magic circle: Without birth control no hope of raising the standard. Without higher standard no understanding of birth control.
The bigger problem is how one will reach the many millions in the countryside’s forgotten villages. It will not be easy to break with prevailing tradition and ingrained thinking. One has to guide the strong family love and care for the dependents’ best into new fresh furrows, with a view to a better future for everyone.
Will the chirps and chatter from the children continue to get to ring out, freely and happily, more sweetly than the flute and zither in the Indian parents’ ears? Can they avoid being weighed down by overcrowding, semi-starvation and discouragement? The fight against overpopulation is certainly the most difficult but also the most exciting and captivating task that the ancient, but still so young Indian people have imposed on themselves.
INDIA’S FOUR GREAT MEN
“Only great men succeed in doing what is great – Small men cannot do so.” (Tirukkural)
When one tells about India it is unfortunately all too easy mostly to bring forth one-sided examples of all that is disheartening and difficult and bothersome. He who is in an unbearable hurry and who at any price wants to measure India against western countries standards, will find many reasons for irritation and despair. Many travelogues overflow with superficial generalisations and casual criticism.
But there is just as much that at the same time should be put on the debit side of the new India’s credit account. The more that we see of this land and its daring best efforts to become a democratic welfare state, the more we believe in its ability to succeed. In comparison with Asian and still more with Africa’s recently independent states, the young Indian republic appears after slightly more than a dozen years of evolution to be a model of stability.
What has captured me most of all in the life in India isn’t the colourful and the picturesque, nor the gilded and the false romance, but the hopeful belief in the future among the people’s best leaders. Certainly there remains a lot of misery and startling poverty. But something new is still in motion. And it is a movement forwards, a movement towards something better.
When India in 1947 won its full independence, it faced just as large problems such as Pakistan, Burma and Indonesia. From the very beginning the government was wrestling with great difficulties in the form of devastating religious disputes, drought and famine in the south, downpours and flooding in the north, as well as illiteracy and backwardness among the huge population. But while its neighbours’ governments still suffer from crises and military dictatorship, India has already taken up a democratic leadership position in South Asia.
India has had the good fortune during its critical early years of independence to be led by some highly distinguished men. We cannot understand its development at a later time without at least briefly learning about four of the greatest of these men, namely Mahatma Gandhi, D.R. Ambedkar, Vinobha Bhave and Jawaharlal Nehru.
Gandhi gave India idealism and humanity. When the British Crown surrendered power over its largest domain, this took place in a rare spirit of understanding among (former opponents. This mutual esteem had been unthinkable without Gandhi’s sustained endeavor to lead the national fight for freedom peacefully with “clean weapons”. Gandhi is revered by all patriotic Indians as a national saint. His teaching of patience and tolerance in the face of political opponents has made a deep impression on the thinking of Indians. “Ahimsa”, i.e. non-violence, has become the people’s highest moral ideal.
In India the people’s admiration for Gandhi increasingly approaches religious worship. He is generally referred to as the “Nation’s Father”. When with glowing idealism he introduced his campaign for national emancipation through “passive resistance” and fasting, it took a long time before the Western countries took him seriously. His greatness was hidden in a very humble external character. Although he had benefited from higher western education and for some time practiced as a lawyer for Indians in South Africa, he was later always dressed only in a simple Indian loincloth made of home spun and woven cotton. But it was exactly this ascetic appearance that strongly contributed to winning his countrymen’s hearts and that gave him a great reputation for piousness.
Each state and large municipality in India has a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. They are often so ugly and cheaply made that there has been talk about state intervention against the worst abominations. Every day the statues are covered with garlands of flowers. In front of the feet of these aluminum colored plaster figures are small offerings of flowers and coconuts. Often Gandhi figures are included with other pictures of gods in bright color in the decorations of the newer Hindu temples.
The National Father is running the risk of becoming a divine figure, too often exalted above the toil of everyday life and political squabbles. Gandhi is invoked in countless contexts. Politicians of every color promote his example in the fight against the caste system and economic oppression. But at the same time one complains rightly that for the common man he seems to have become a dark and dim figure, relegated to Hinduism’s indistinct world of gods. His high ideals are no longer taken seriously by everyday people in everyday India.
Gandhi won some of his biggest battles by fasting. When any especially difficult negotiations with the English broke down during the days of the fight for freedom, he resorted to the ultimate lobbying method by fasting “until death”. No one doubted that he was serious in his intention that in this way he would sacrifice his life for his ideals. The people’s opinion became too strong for his opponents. No one dared cause the death of the revered leader through voluntary fasting and thereby he sooner or later attained his objectives. The last time that Gandhi resorted to this weapon he directed it against his own Hindu countrymen. It was during the deadly fighting between Muslims and Hindus that broke out shortly after India gained its freedom. Gandhi fasted then to protect the Muslim minorities in New Delhi who were surrounded by Hindu fanatics.
But not everyone had the privilege to be a Mahatma Gandhi. (The honorific name “Mahatma” means “Great Spirit”.) When a contemporary politician of less stature declares that he is planning to “fast until death” until the government meets his demands, there is almost no one who takes him seriously. You know that he will gradually allow himself to be convinced to break his fast without completely losing face. It also happens that schoolboys lie down near their principal’s home and launch a fast to compel him to make concessions or to lessen examination requirements. This becomes a parody of Gandhi’s ideals and methods.
Gandhi was punished with his life for his great broad-mindedness and his demands for equal treatment of all castes and religions within the new Indian states’ framework. He was murdered at the beginning of 1948 by fanatical Hindus, who did not tolerate that Muslims and Christians would be guaranteed the same civil rights as the Hindus who dominated them in number. These fanatical groups of Hindus wanted to make of India a pronounced Hindu state with Hinduism as the state religion.
But the murder of Gandhi missed its objective. Instead, it led to a still more resolute endeavour to make Indian a “secular” state. This does not mean a state without religion, but rather a state that is neutral regarding religion and that gives just as much consideration to all movements and religions and to all minorities within its borders, regardless of their caste or language or relative number.
India’s Constitution is built on the principle of the individual ‘s full freedom and equal rights before the law. It is permeated with Gandhi’s proclamations on people’s brotherhood and their togetherness. It is said to be strongly influenced by the democratic Constituton of the United States of America. It draws more from Christian sources than perhaps its Hindu writers are ready to recognize. This exceptional document had as its principal author another of Indian’s great men of this time, namely Dr. R.B. Ambedkar. It was he who gave India its constitution and humane legal system.
Dr . Ambedkar was the justice minister in Free India’s first government. He was born and bred an outcaste. All his life he had to fight social and religious prejudice and was forced himself to experience the outcastes’ difficulties and abasement. With his unusual aptitude and ambition he became however a splendid pioneer for the outcastes’ emancipation. It was he who formulated some of the most important paragraphs in the new republic’s Constitution. Therefore he personally received the storm of applause that erupted when the article that forbids any form of discrimination on the basis of caste was enshrined by Parliament in the Constitution.
It was a tragedy for India that later Ambedkar with disappointment and bitterness retired from public life. Shortly before his death he converted to Buddhism together with hundreds of thousands of other outcastes. He didn’t get enough support in his continued struggles for reform, especially regarding sanitizing the ancient Hindu marriage customs.
There are always small people at hand that brake and see to it that there is delay for many years more before the great legal reforms reach out from Delhi to the countries 700,000 villages, many of which still live in isolation and backwardness.
But fortunately India can boast that it still has one man great in spirit, whose main purpose is to awaken the people’s responsibility for the villages’ propertyless proletariat. Vinobha Bhave aroused in India the desire to solve the problem of the unfair land distribution. Acharya Vinobha Bhave appears even in outward manners to be Mahatma Gandhi’s trusted disciple. His clothing resembles Gandhi’s, as does his extremely ascetic way of living. He wanders from village to village on foot, and wherever he is he proclaims the teaching of “Sarvodhaya”, an ideal which in many ways is close to Christianity. Like Gandhi, Bhave wants to remind all Indians of their dependence on one another. He collects around him large crowds that are enraptured by his appeals to the country’s landowners and those with property to realize the idea of human brotherhood. He induces rich landowners to spontaneously give away a part of their land to the landless farmworkers. Yes, he even convinces entire villages to put collectively all their resources at the disposal of the new form of village community that he is striving for, and that results in everyone taking responsibility for everyone.
Now some skeptics certainly say that all this is beautiful and enticing but it can’t succeed in practice. Bhaves’ belief in the innate goodness of human nature is seen as unrealistic in practice. The farming areas that are given away are often the least fertile, both stony and dry and without suitable wells. It certainly happens all too often that the big promises are not realized. Bhaves’ lesser prophets at the local level are not able to convert the proud plans into practice once the initial enthusiasm has subsided.
However, Bhaves has through his pilgrimages awakened the national conscience. He keeps the authorities constantly aware of the need for top-to-bottom agrarian reforms, and he shows there are other and more positive solutions than those that the communists want to introduce. Even if it looks like it will take several years before the broader masses of the people are impregnated by this new spirit, no one can claim that there have been no great leaders or that there is any lack of Inspiring ideals and lofty goals for the new India.
Last but not least it is Jawaharlal Nehru who has given India a tenacious and inspiring leadership. It hardly pays even to try to suggest in a few short lines what India’s prime minister has meant for India. To weld together this people with its many races and languages into one nation with common objectives was an enormous task.
One should certainly not forget that the English had left behind fairly well oiled government machinery. They had developed a superb staff of civil servants. They had founded a wide-ranging school and university system. They had built one of the world’s largest railroad networks and initiated the country’s industrialisation. Dam construction and electricity generating plants were by no means unknown under English rule. Many Indians are grateful for the contributions that were made for the country’s best interests by capable and farsighted Englishmen.
But it couldn’t be avoided that the state machinery began to creak precariously as the problems piled up and the number of people increased. The Second World War had demanded such a powerful contribution on all sides that the technical development that had begun ground partly to a halt. Railroads and factories were worn. When Pakistan became an independent state with a Moslem majority, the economic balance in both India and Pakistan was disturbed. Raw materials were on one side of the border. The factories that would refine them were on the other side.
When India became free in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru was the given leader and Gandhi’s obvious heir. Before him were tasks and difficulties that were so enormous that any man of lesser stature would have wavered. Now the fight for freedom was over. Now the first goal was attained, for which it had been easy to find fiery appeals. When it concerned the people’s freedom and national independence there had been no difficulty in gathering the most differing people and groups towards a common dedicated effort. But what would happen to national unity afterwards? We have already seen from a great many other countries in a similar situation how it often goes when national dreams of freedom must suddenly be replaced by hard every day work.
During the fight for freedom students and teachers and workers had become accustomed to regard strikes and demonstrations against the authorities as acts of love of their country. How would they now be induced to give a continued united effort, no longer in the fight against the existing order bur rather for the people’s own best common interest?
In the countryside millions of landless farm workers went and waited impatiently for the great transformation. Now they would all get a piece of their own land to cultivate, a house to live in, a well and a pair of oxen for irrigation. All kinds of politicians, during the days of the fight for freedom, scattered around such casual promises.
Now the same men came back and showed their previously well-camouflaged red colors. Instead they began to sow dissatisfaction with and mistrust of the country’s new leaders in the hearts of the ignorant villagers. Even the unusually frequent natural catastrophes, which struck the land in the form of drought and flooding, were blamed on the domestic government. In many parts the communists had great successes in India’s first general election in 1952. The governing Congress Party suffered in many provinces from a quite serious backlash.
One may be thankful that Nehru didn’t give up in the face of these difficulties. When drought and failed crops were the most difficult, he proclaimed the motto “grow more food”. The country must be self-sufficient. While the dissatisfaction and divisiveness seemed to be growing in the provinces, he proclaimed the country’s first democratic election. Without letting himself be discouraged, he engaged commissions of experts for the first five year plan. With his enormous authority he has inspired not only the Central government in Delhi but also the other provinces’ governments to indefatigable work, which is now beginning to bear rich fruit.
One of Nehru’s most exacting tasks has been to try to find a wholesome solution for the characteristic tension between old and new that characterizes the India of today. The western countries’ culture has for more than a hundred years influenced the country’s development and left long lasting imprints. How shall one unify and if possible merge the best of western and eastern tradition?
One sometimes says that Nehru himself is the best example that such a unification between east and west is possible. But there are also on the other side critics that blame Nehru for representing on the contrary this internal duality, which has been so typical for India in view of its dual cultural heritage. On the one hand he is bound by Indian tradition and the eastern approach. On the other hand he is strongly influenced by a western viewpoint, which is close to agnostic. He knows that Hinduism’s legacy and social order is an important and indispensable element of the building of the nation. But he often vents his impatience with Hindu traditions that sometimes seem to impede the modern technical development that is necessary for India to survive. In background and culture he is a thinker and aristocrat, raised over the world’s crowd and everyday pettiness. But in his political activity he has become a people’s democrat with a burning ambition to turn India during his lifetime into a socialist welfare state.
Critics of Nehru abroad sometimes complain about his lack of consistency in foreign policy. They don’t like India’s pretentious roll as mediator between the east and west blocks. It is certainly not a rewarding task to try to build bridges in the cold war. If Nehru were allowed, undisturbed by great political entanglement, first to set his land on its feet and thereby obstruct communism within India’s own borders, this can be a victory for democratic forces in Asia that would be more meaningful than any other. There it becomes perhaps easier to understand and better to appreciate his attitude of positive neutrality, even for those who want him to declare more openly what side he is on.
Solely the fact that the Indian republic of its own free will preferred to remain in the British Commonwealth is evidence as good as any of the human greatness that can be said to characterize Nehru and the men closest to him. Notwithstanding that for a long time he had been under British captivity, Nehru preferred in all friendliness to collaborate with his former enemies within the framework of the wide-ranging Commonwealth, whose common highest symbol is the Queen of England.
But things are not always easy for Nehru. He is no dictator, and he is often smacked about in the press and by people’s opinions in India. This happens especially when he at times attacks prejudice and superstition that want to slow down the country’s development and isolate it from the outer world. He has at times had problems with powerful leaders within his own Congress Party who represent the orthodox Hindu reaction. Their motto is not brotherhood but rather isolation from the outer world. They go so far in their national self-assertiveness that they oppose all collaboration with western culture and technology.
While those governing strive to build more factories and to rationalize trade and agriculture, the Hindu reactionaries demand that all of India should make a single great self-sufficient “village unity” independent of the outer world and resting on the primitive principle of self-sufficiency.
While the authorities work to improve healthcare following the western model, one can hear leading Indians who are explaining in the press and on the radio that vaccination against epidemics is a foreign invention that one should completely avoid. They can be completely dispensed with, they argue, if one uses native herbs and home remedies.
The government tries to establish greater social security for everyone and spends enormous sums to improve the outcastes’ living conditions. Meanwhile the reactionaries agitate with all their strength to enforce prohibition against all slaughtering and demand the establishment of care institutions for feeble cows.
But it is beginning to be ever clearer that time is working for Nehru and his government. No one can shut their eyes to the fact that India must win the increasingly critical race against the explosive population growth. With first five year plans the country has shown its will and capacity to solve its economic problems in a rational way.
If India succeeds in its fight again starvation and overpopulation and mass unemployment, the credit for this tremendous achievement can be
attributed mainly to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
TEMPLES OF THE NEW INDIA
The father is honoured best by the son when his qualities make people burst out “What remarkable asceticism his father must have practiced to have gotten such a son!” (Tirukkural)
In India one believes in the doctrine of transmigration. One of the Hindu religion’s most pervasive traits is the belief in the “law of Karma”. Even modern Indians claim to possess hereby the only logical explanation for the problems of suffering. Existence is governed inexorably by the law of cause and effect. What man
sows he must also reap. But Karma’s law extends through any number of lives. The evil that a person is guilty of in an earlier existence has in a way stocked up a supply of misfortunes that strikes the person when he is reborn in this world in another form.
However, if you have in an earlier existence been generous with gifts to the temples or have been busy with fasting or asceticism or self–torture, you can count on having a good life with many sons, whose knowledge and qualities strike neighbours with amazement and envy.
This viewpoint may be all right for those who have had the luck to be born on the right side of the village common, among people of higher caste, among Brahmins, businessmen and farmers with property. But for those who happen to have their home on the other side, in the miserable shacks of the “untouchables”’ or in the slums of the poor, the thought about Karma’s law is not quite as encouraging. The belief that misfortunes, sickness or social handicaps are a divine punishment for sins in an earlier existence usually leads to fatalism:
“What is the use of trying to improve one’s conditions and standard of living?”
The underprivileged in India are beginning, however, to express doubt about this inflexible fatalism. The people in power in the country have clearly expressed their belief that the horrifying low standard of living certainly does not need to be something inescapable and determined by fate.
The New India’s five-year plans are the clearest examples to show that this country wants to shake off fatalism. The ancient country’s youthfully venturesome sons have in many areas already shown such qualities that they have gained the outer world’s amazed respect and admiration.
As usual, Prime Minister Nehru is a step beyond his contemporaries when he sets out the objective for the new India’s technical development. Even while taking the risk that this might bother the old devout conservative Hindus, he explains that the new factories, steelworks, power stations and irrigation networks are the new India’s temple buildings. “We must now invest the energy and the sacrifices that our fathers put into the country’s many magnificent and costly temples in these new modern temples”, he says.
This modern objectivity is necessary in this country, where all too many people with exaggerated reverence cherish their old institutions and traditions. Many good Hindus still believe today that the poor, strictly speaking, are indispensable. To whom would you otherwise give your alms? If there are no longer beggars, how will you be able to collect virtues for a future life here on earth? So the practice continues that the clever businessman sends out his errand boys to change piles of copper coins for him. Afterwards the crippled and lame, the lepers and homeless come with their beggar bowls in a long snaking line and each person gets a copper coin. They then hurry on to the next philanthropist who once a week perhaps actually supplies a simple portion of rice for each beggar.
I have often seen these poor crowds queuing for their copper coin or little meal, while the Hindus on the block express their admiration of the great humanity of the giver: Watch this pious man doing so many good deeds! What a storehouse of advantages he is heaping up for the next life! It is not surprising that he is already so prosperous now.
This is the inheritance from the olden days’ temple duties. It is possible that it had a certain value as a social program long ago when India, according to its own researchers’ information, did not suffer from any overpopulation and all healthy people were fully employed.
But in this century of enormous population growth, rational Indians, with Nehru, must consider that the social problems are not being solved through alms. A radical growth in production is needed in all areas. Whether you like it or not, the country must go in for determined industrialization. One must apply modern methods for farming and livestock breeding. This means many departures from ancient Hindu traditions.
Feeding the millions of new mouths added every year and giving the swarming masses of the huge country a richer and more humanly dignified life, that is the temple duty of the new times. The new temple duties are to feed the millions of new mouths that are added every year, and to give the huge country’s swarming masses a richer life that is more worthy of humans.) Therefore, according to Nehru the new temple buildings will become the many huge dams and new large factories. The basis for these large construction projects was set out in the first two five-year plans during the 1950s. Now they are aiming for a still more comprehensive third five-year plan.
In other contexts, much has been written and said about both of India’s five-year plans. Instead of repeating facts and statistics, we shall try to examine how these new developments appear within a small ambit, as seen from the ordinary person’s point of view.
Perhaps it is misleading to take Coimbatore as a starting point for a study of the five-year plans from within. This fast growing city in the heart of South India’s perhaps most progressive district is not otherwise entirely typical of the country’s situation. I have seen considerably more backward areas both in South India and especially in India’s northern parts. The relatively cool climate in Coimbatore-District and the barren soil quality seems to have stimulated the people with greater energy and willingness to work than what would otherwise be normal for this latitude. Already before the five-year plans were underway, Coimbatore had secured the name “South India’s Manchester” on the basis of its quick development, especially in the textile industry area.
But Coimbatore may still be valid as an example of what can happen in India once people have become conscious of their development potential in the technical area. One needs otherwise only to travel on the access roads to ”the more southerly located, considerably more traditions-bound temple city Madura to see that Coimbatore, however, is not unique in its kind. In Madura as well, the factories are rising like mushrooms out of the ground. North of Coimbatore there is also the previously independent Kingdom of Mysore, which already in the time of the English was referred to as a pattern for modern technical development. And then we still have not mentioned the big industrial cities Bombay and Calcutta, Ahmedabad and Cawnpore. There are therefore many good examples.
In one day one can drive from Coimbatore to visit not less than five of the modern dams that have been built by the New India during the past ten years. They are all within less than a two-hour drive from the city. The District of Coimbatore is surrounded by mountains. “Western Ghats” is a mountain ridge that runs parallel with the west coast all the way from Bombay in the North to the southern tip of India. These mountains in many places reach more than 2500 meters, higher than our highest Swedish mountains. They collect up a big part of the Southwest’s monsoon rains. For this reason, the areas placed closest to the east of these mountain ranges, such as the District of Coimbatore, suffer from a nearly chronic lack of rain.
Up in the mountains lush greenery is growing. The summits are covered with tall eucalyptus trees and extensive plantations where one cultivates coffee, tea and bananas. There you also find South India’s popular mountain resorts, lovely retreats during the hottest summer months. But down in the plains the soil is dry and sun-baked. Until very recently one could drive for hours through an oppressive bleak landscape. From the mountains, water in large amounts was flowing down during the rainy season but never taken care of before it literally ran into the sand or away to the sea through shallow riverbeds that were soon lying dried out again like broad gravel stretches.
Already during the time of the Englishmen monumental dams were built in South India as well, partly producing electric power, and partly irrigating large areas. When you see the fantastic development that has happened since India became independent, you understand why Nehru’s friends say that he has dams on the brain. The enormous irrigations systems that are found in connection with the western mountain ridges near Coimbatore are not so gigantic in size but all the more in number.
If we start from Coimbatore and set a course towards the northwest towards the “blue mountains” (in Tamil: Nilgiris), within one hour we arrive in Bhavanisagar. “Sagar” means sea, and one really has the impression of a sea when from the dry districts on the other side one can see the blue, gorgeous water mirror with the magnificent mountains in the background. Below the two-kilometer long semi-circular concrete embankment on which cars can drive in several lanes, roaring masses of water surge forward and divide into a network of irrigation canals. Around the outflow a beautiful park with glittering fountains has been laid out. A whole city of bunkhouses grew during the construction work. Many people remain there who have obtained permanent work in connection with the dam facilities. They have good-looking newly built accommodations and schools for their children, leisure premises and an infirmary. A flourishing little town has grown up in this environment, so wonderfully different from that which is otherwise common in these districts.
If we follow the wide irrigation canals further down into the district along the hundreds of thousands of acres of land that have now been converted to lush rice fields, it is not difficult to ascertain that these areas have been converted to farmland very recently. Trees and bushy ground cover are still of the kind that there usually are on the infertile sandy plains. Coconut palms have still not had time to grow tall. Beyond the irrigation system a scrubby jungle begins.
The farmers that walk here and slosh behind their wooden plough in the deep, wonderful humid mud in their rice fields still remember with grim bitterness the conditions that reigned before the water goddess Bhavanis’ abundant streams reached their villages. Their sun tanned faces light up with delight when you ask them about how they view the recent improvements:
“Previously almost all of our earth was “such that turns its face to the sky” (i.e. completely dependent on the uncertain rain). We could only grow the simplest corn, and often the crops failed. Only a few of us had wells, and they were perhaps sufficient to grow a little tobacco, perhaps a few onions. But now rice grows here, only delicious rice, and we get two crops a year, sometimes three!”
In the midst of the worst years of drought after 1948, Nehru had begun his campaign to make the country self-sufficient in food with the slogan “Grow more food”. When one sees the happy farmers that now get to irrigate their dry earth with streams from the miles long new irrigation canals, one begins to sense how the miracle came about already during the first five-year plan.
But constantly and inexorably new mouths to feed are added. Constantly the number of unemployed grows. One constantly needs new factories and the factories need electric power. Every little cascade must be exploited in the all too few mountain districts. If we travel from Bhavanisagar further up into the mountains, within an hour we come across a still bigger project. The Bhavani river is being tamed in several stages, where its plunges down the Nilgiri mountains. Kundah is the name of a place at an altitude of more than 1500 meters where, with technical and economic assistance from Canada steep tunnels have been blasted through the mountain to the power plant far below with its giant turbines.
If we want to see still more of the same kind, we can drive further to the other side of Coimbatore heading west. Then we are already in the neighbouring state of Kerala. There are the newly completed dam constructions Walayar and Malamppuzhah that have transformed large areas into arable soil. The latter is completely surrounded by steep verdant mountains. On the large artificial lake that offers South India’s most lovely bathing, timber rafts and boats of the most old-fashioned kind are bobbing. That the lake is big and there is little swimming ability in India is shown by the fact that eighteen men were drowned some years ago in connection with transporting timber over the water.
A further few hours’ travel takes us to Amaravathi. They are no names in the Tamil language that sound more beautiful than the names of the rivers. The river gets its name from the goddess that is its source, and her temple is built as a rule in the middle of the stream, where the water gushes out from the floodgates. When we visit Amaravathis’ temple is still being built. The dam’s big mass of concrete rises each day higher against the blue sky, and along the outside of it, myriads of women workers climb with rocks and cement in simple chip baskets on their heads. Below rumble excavators and dinosaur-like machines on caterpillar tracks or rubber wheels. There is banging and clattering of diesel engines and pneumatic drills. The elated chattering of the thousand women sounds like the buzz of a gigantic swarm of bees as they climb up and down the steep unstable ladders with their baskets. In the temporarily harnessed rapid far below, big trout make giant leaps against the current. Introducing fish in all the waterways is also included in the five-year plans. It happens more and more often that the farmers, after finishing plowing in their wet rice fields, take off their dirty turban and use it as a primitive net to catch fish in the water canals by their fields.
But now questions and speculations arise. Won’t all these splendours only come to those who are already lucky enough to own their own land. And how few are they not in relation to the millions of impoverished agricultural workers, who never owned their own land? And how many will ever have a chance of coming within reach of the new irrigation network in within the foreseeable future? The country’s water resources are of course, despite everything, sadly limited, even if they are exploited as rationally as possible.
How often one hears such discouraged complaints out in the forgotten villages among the outcaste proletariat:
-“We thought that life would be different for us. But it looks like the contrary- those who already have something, they get only more and more. The rich get only richer. But we poor become even poorer than before.”
It is clear that the five-year plans’ blessings cannot always be spread out equally and fairly among all the people simultaneously. There is already an eager tug of war is going on between states and provinces that all consider that the others have been inappropriately favoured at their own cost. It is also true that many ordinary simple people seem to be waiting a long time before they notice any appreciable difference in their miserably low standard of living. It has indeed been noted that as a result of the first five-year plan, there has been an increase in the average income from 278 Swedish crowns to around 310 crowns per person per year. But the question is to what degree this increase can be said to be equally distributed over the entire line. The value of India’s currency has of course also continued to fall, although not as sharply as in Sweden.
One is therefore still only at the beginning. Still the majority of the people are among those who rarely get enough to eat. Their chances of getting the occasional day’s work seems to be all the more few and far between out in the villages. Their children often loiter after a few years’ sporadic studies in the village school, without any greater promise of getting regular work. Even in the diligent and industrious Coimbatore, youngsters go from factory to factory, from workshop to workshop, and beg for work.
This is, once again, overpopulation’s constant and current problem. It will take desperate perseverance from the country’s leaders to continue indefatigably towards the determined goals while seeing how the increase in production of the five-year plans is gobbled up by the increase in population.
And still one cannot miss noticing how the standard slowly but still noticeably keeps on rising. How will one otherwise explain the constantly growing number of secondary schools? Soon there will be such a school in every major village. How else to explain the fact that India’s film production is the second largest in the world and that the number of cinemas is growing at the same pace as the factories and workshops? Everywhere new hotels and restaurants are being established. However, a rice meal that for us seems wonderfully cheap costs a day labourer a large part of his daily income or at least one crown. And still there is a steady turnover at cafés and food stalls, a swarm of travelers on the trains and buses, a clattering squeaking jumble of bicycles on the city streets during rush hour. Ten years are enough to be able to make striking comparisons between then and now. There is no doubt that things are slowly moving forward, thanks to these five-year plans.
More and more villages are getting access to electricity. Now every farmer with self-respect is getting an electric pump for his well. It will replace the outmoded irrigation methods using the sluggish oxen’s tenacious creaking. Coimbatore is swarming with foundries and workshops that produce the new electric centrifugal pumps. Their goods have rapid sales. And from the farmer’s well flows a steady stream of water out over the fields, where rice plants and sugarcane stand large and luscious. This is his first acquaintance with technical things. Although the farmer perhaps cannot read and write, he beams happily with mechanical know-how when he demonstrates his new pump. He flaunts terms about fuses, resistors and horsepower with the same joy as a little boy who has just got his first proper toy train.
If one wants to know what the five-year plans mean for the villages in general, one gets the answer “Community Development”. This is a wide-embracing plan to improve living conditions for a quantity of selected village units. New roads are constructed to break the isolation of the villages. Outcaste slums are cleaned up. Wells are dug and infirmaries established. Home industries and cooperative workshops for the repair of farm equipment and pumps are initiated. The basis for the whole undertaking is the sound principle that village people will be stimulated by helping them help themselves. A consistent condition for getting public contributions is that the villages themselves must pay 25 or 50% of the costs for these projects, in cash or in the form of free labour.
Of course one makes special efforts to improve the lot of the outcastes. Already before the five-year plans large sums were set aside for this purpose. A special public department allocates grants and supports boarding schools reserved for the outcastes. Entire slums are cleared out in the villages and replaced with new, whitewashed houses with tiled roofs. It is unlucky that many of these projects unfortunately tend to sustain the outcastes’ isolation from the outer world in new ways. Wise Indians have strongly criticized these boarding schools and new living quarters that are reserved for the outcastes. They have come about with the good purpose of giving the worse off a better chance. But the new districts are still further outside of the village. “Far from the old filth and all the garbage! “ was the praiseworthy motto. The result is new ghettos, although cleaner and neater. In many cases the outcastes protested by refusing to move in. The beautiful districts lie eerily deserted. Now it is hoped that instead different castes can be mixed in these new districts. People of different castes are encouraged with generous rent reductions if they will live in the same district as the outcastes. This succeeds far from always.
There is a flagrant lack of ardent and capable social workers to carry out all the good plans in a way that is acceptable for the village people. This leads to a lot of awkwardness and many mistakes in the beginning. But seen as a whole, at least from a limited South-Indian viewpoint, there is still no need to be ashamed of the result. If you have dealt with people in the villages and have experienced yourself what endless coaxing is needed, and what an infinite amount of hot air is expended before the village’s “panchayat” five man council can be united in common positive input, then it seems incredible that so much could already have been carried out for the benefit of the villages. If you have witnessed on the spot the indescribable grinding at each lower level of the state’s bureaucratic machinery, then you will still be impressed that in spite of everything impetus from Delhi and Madras reach the isolated villages far away in the wilderness.
But all of this must of course cost an enormous amount of money. Can the State bear all these new burdens without economic collapse? The average taxable income of the Indians is of course generally non-existent.
It is true that the people has to carry heavy burdens for the five-year plans in the form of mostly indirect taxation. It is also true that the State finances have many times been stretched to the breaking point. But when the Indian engineer proudly shows the plans and cost estimates for his ongoing dam construction and is happy to point out that this after all is quite a lot more that what the English achieved, we should also bear in mind that India could not have achieved its five-year plans without considerable help from outside. When you drive with sincere admiration down the ever more numerous concrete and asphalt roads and compare them with the wretched potholed washboard roads that existed barely ten years ago, you should not hurry to blame the Englishmen for development that went more slowly during their time.
For we must remember that India has benefited from a favorable political situation. India has become a coveted prize in the tug-of-war between West and East. Both parties in the Cold War are competing to win India for its side. The world’s most powerful states outbid each other in technical and economic assistance. We know that India will not allow itself to be drawn, lured or induced towards a direct connection with either side. But it gladly takes help from all directions “without strings attached”, to use the vivid depiction of the English expression, and therefore without attached conditions that mean political or military dependence. And the situation is such that both America and Russia are still happy to contribute to the five-year plans. The British Commonwealth also gives technical assistance through the so-called “Colombo Plan”.
This leads sometimes to a less becoming exhilaration in certain Indian circles. They think that they are strictly speaking doing the foreign countries a favor by accepting their help. When the other year one wanted to protest through mass public demonstrations against American nuclear testing, a very well-known leader proposed that as a reprisal India should refuse to accept help from the USA.
In connection with the International Monetary Fund’s conference in New Delhi in 1958, there is a charming cartoon that ironically makes fun of India’s leadership. It shows Nehru sitting selling goods at a bazaar with a rug in front of him, with the inscription: “Our needs for the five-year plan.” Around him are placards that relay some of the traditional Hindu approaches to charity: “Beggars do the giver a service by giving him an opportunity to give alms”; “God helps those who help others”; “Charity does you good“ “The fruits of generosity”; etc. One of the Western onlookers in the picture seems to be the pipe-smoking head of the International Monetary Fund, the Swede Per Jacobsen, who blurts out “Surely, he is altruistic”
This kind of humor directed at oneself is not too common in India, but all the more refreshing when you find it. Even if you realize that India is dependent on and gladly accepts foreign assistance for its five-year plans, this hardly needs to lessen the worth of the result that has been attained during the past ten years.
The young India’s best sons are perhaps now already beginning to be deserving of the exclamation: ”What remarkable asceticism their fathers must have practiced to have gotten such sons!”
THE WORLD’S MOST RELIGIOUS PEOPLE?
“The letter “A” is the beginning of all letters. – The “Highest” is the universe’s origin and aim. (TIrukkural)
“Discussions of politics and religion are not allowed here” This is often written on a notice in many Indian cafés and eating places. Long before South India’s people had begun to engage in daily politics, religion was an incendiary topic of discussion. The old literature tells about bitter feuds between competing sects within Hinduism and closely related religions. Fights about religion and persecution were surely not – as one likes to assert out there – a specialty of the Christian West.
Indian has the reputation of being the home of the world’s most religious people. It is certainly true that religious questions were for a long time at the centre of people’s interests. The classical literature in Sanskrit and Tamil and other Indian languages have rightly made the Westerners respectfully conscious of India’s ancient spiritual heritage and traditions. It would then be strange if the many different directions and shades that are contained within traditional Hinduism in addition to offshoots in Buddhism, Jainism and other less known religions, had not been the origin of strong emotional engagement. When these different directions moreover had to meet the upsurge of Islam and Christianity, it was completely natural that spirits clashed at crossroads, at cafés and marketplaces. And when the controversial religious issues finally were also used as weapons in the political debate in connection with India’s fight for freedom, it is easily comprehensible that owners of restaurants and coffee places had to protect their movables from being transformed into projectiles used to underline arguments in the discussion.
Hence these notices: “Discussions of politics and religion are not allowed here!”
So it is thus far true that India is the world’s most religiously engaged group. But after all, that often heard saying demands that there be certain reservations made considering the latest developments.
It is true that almost all Indians in one or another form seem to be strongly influenced by and tied to a religious view of the world. Insofar as the religious question is something generally human, it can certainly be said that it is sort of more open on the surface in India than in other countries. On the other hand it is doubtful that it always goes particularly deeply in the individual.
By the relatively ignorant, Hinduism is often summarized by catchphrases such as polytheism and idolatry. It must be made clear immediately that such clichés cannot by far explain what India’s ancestral religion actually means. Within Hinduism there are countless swarms of different conceptions of gods and religious notions. It can show the most delicate acuity, and the most enraptured expressions of the deepest godly mysticism, concurrently with all that which for Westerners seem the grossest forms of idolatry and sacrificial services.
Behind all of this one seeks the intangible origin and source of the cosmos, referred to as “Bhagavan” – the Highest. Especially in South India there are currently many who contend that they are in heart and soul monotheists – they believe in one god only, the Highest. All these idols and legends (the pictures of gods and legends) that sometimes may seem beautiful and moving but at times seem only ugly and grotesque to the non-comprehending Westerner are said merely to be different means of expression of each person’ s way to obtain contact with God and the Creator.
The stone idols are for the educated Hindus the focal point in which the presence of the unique God and the worship of the faithful converge. This is sometimes likened to the burning glass that in one single little point concentrates the heat of the enormous sun. “As the letter “A” is the beginning of all letters, so is the Highest the universe’s origin and aim.”
That there are then extremely few ordinary people who have the slightest ability to understand these fine discourses is another matter. Out there in everyday life among the people’s poor and small, all sorts of ivy is growing on the old gnarled tree of Hinduism. There religious life is limited to the more primitive idolatry with accent on small devils and various demons and powers that in one way or another must be appeased.
“Everything is contained in Hinduism” is a claim sometimes made by its own theologians and scholars. Everything from the highest monotheism to pure atheism has its place within Hinduism’s generous and wide embrace.
In any case, it can safely be said that Hinduism for its part is contained within almost all forms of Indian popular and social life. Since ancient times its classical writings in Sanskrit, the fine old dead language of temple priests and Brahmins have made their imprint on life in matters great and small. The holy documents of the Vedic writings have been recited and learned by heart from father to son throughout countless generations of priests before they were in time put into writing. But the old conceptions have set into people’s consciousness and govern a lot of their conduct.
We have already seen how the approach to caste and family life is closely tied to the religious conceptions. The same naturally applies to the rich flora of festivals and pilgrimages and observances that still govern all phases of everyday life, at least among the countryside’s conservative people. By the same token the Hindu has due respect for the traditional teaching about “ahimsa”, an aversion to killing anything living. In certain extreme factions this is fostered with such zeal that you sweep in front of you with a broom so as not to tread on the tiniest little bug, and you walk with a protective mask so that you don’t swallow the tiniest midge. Even the insect’s little body, according to their beliefs, shelters a poor immortal soul that has become lost in the secret wanderings of transmigration.
These thoughts have led to all Hindu true believers being vegetarians. Certainly there are only the Brahmins and some of the high castes that neither eat meat or eggs at all. Most of the others won’ t mind enjoying a delicious curry made with goat, chicken or fish, if they can afford such luxuries. But for the Hindu the thought of eating beef, cow meat and oxen, as the Muslims and Christians customarily do, is so nauseating that one sees his face contorted in disgust at the mere mention of such savagery. It is therefore entirely consequential that the definition of outcaste in most records is only those that are guilty of the heinous crime of eating the meat of cows. Therefore even the European is in principle an outcaste, an “untouchable”. This principle is applied however to the latter only by the most orthodox Brahmins.
But the teaching about “ahimsa” also has other consequences. You must not in any circumstances kill the ubiquitous monkeys that are almost as holy as the cows. Nehru and many with him have glumly determined that millions of people could be fed with the food that is pillaged by these marauders. The farmers have great difficulties with the monkeys during the harvest time. Then the whole family with a horde of servants must settle down in small shelters out in the fields. In front of these improvised palm huts are piles of small stones that are thrown at the monkeys when they come to ravage and devastate. But woe to the one who in his impatience happens to throw such a large stone that he by mistake kills a monkey! He will be unlucky both in this existence and even more in the next!
Monkeys also cause a lot of harm in the cities. They become so audacious that they crowd into the houses and plunder the pantries and bite women and children. With a sure instinct for timetables, they turn up at the train stations in just enough time before the passenger trains’ arrival. They enter the compartments through windows and doors and air outlets. I myself have had a banana torn roughly out of my hand while I sat in a compartment and ate my travel provisions.
But the Hindu’s ingrained aversion against engaging in violence also has its tragicomic consequences. It certainly happens all too often that some greedy farmer loses his temper in a dispute with relatives over a piece of land or somebody’s woman. A fair number of unpremeditated killings occur. But generally Indians are so unaccustomed to engage in violence even in self-defense that they easily fall prey to those who have a more hands-on approach. It happened several times during a few months that entire busloads of mostly male passengers were robbed in the most humiliating way. In a lonely place along the bus’ route of travel a little bunch of small gangsters placed an ox cart sideways to block the road. When the bus was forced to stop, the crooks came forward. In some cases they were armed with nothing more than heavy cudgels. Faced by this threat, more than forty trembling male passengers were robbed of watches, cash and rings. Non-violence at any price…..
Hinduism’s view of life puts it imprint on Indian life’s workday conditions, for better and worse. We have already hinted at how the doctrine of transmigration affects the Indians’ view of society. Astrology has a still more tenacious hold on the life of the people. Even the Indians who have had Western higher education are amazingly bound to astrology’s predictions and directions. When a child is born one hurries to get a horoscope for a reasonable fee from the nearest trusted astrologer. This is kept as an important valuable document and consulted later when there is the matter of reaching an agreement on marriage between adult children and a suitable party of the same caste. Then the two horoscopes are compared very closely. If they are not ‘in harmony” with one another, as it is called, the contemplated marriage is stopped. One prefers to wait until one finds someone else whose horoscope is better.
Large business operations can let important transactions wait for several days, yes, perhaps for weeks, until the astrologers assign a suitable point in time. Often this falls in the early dawn before the sun rises. Many European companies with amused resignation must put up with the most absurd times and arrangements for such transactions with Indian colleagues or customers.
If you want to travel without too much of a crowd on the train, you should choose the days or nights that are considered “unfavorable” for travel in a northerly and southerly direction. I seem to remember that it is on Tuesdays and Fridays that you can travel in a northerly direction in almost empty compartments on the otherwise overfilled trains. The same applies in a corresponding manner for other days in other directions. The Indians avoid the unfavorable travel days to the greatest extent possible – all based on the astrologers’ recommendation. Nehru made himself unpopular among representatives of this powerful professional group and their followers with a caustic comment in his inimitable manner.
-“There would be a better rate of development in this country if a lot of good people would engage in their work instead of running to those who peer at the stars”, he said.
But Hinduism also makes great efforts to become more up to date. It is seriously threatened by the new spirit of the times. Many people, especially among the cities’ troubled younger throngs, are turning away with weariness or indifference from their fathers’ inherited beliefs. Secularism is on the way also in religious India.
But now Hinduism’s automatic self-defense mechanism comes into operation. It is used as a rampart against the new time’s secularisation and materialism in the same way as it was earlier against Christianity and Islam. The defense is seemingly to accept the foreign thoughts, to melt them in the desired direction and then to assimilate them. They become entirely unconsciously a new component of Hinduism’s broad based doctrine. Soon it is not long before a Hindu savant, a so-called “pandit”, entirely artlessly can prove that for example the principles of Marxism have the whole time existed in the old Veda writings. He can say the same about Christian or Muslim thoughts. Everything seems to fit into Hinduism.
However this is not just an instinctive defense against competing religions and doctrines of salvation. Syncretism, the mixing of religions, has in later times been elevated to something similar to national religion. In this country with its many religions and castes and denominations, for domestic peace it has become an essential of life to avoid all fanaticism and opinionated religious propaganda. Instead tolerance has been given the seat of honor. With India’s renowned vice President Dr. S. Radhakrishan in the lead, one vigorously drives the thesis that all religions strictly speaking are equally true. It is unimportant how one perceives the details of the creator of the universe. Each honest endeavour to make contact with the divine leads in one way or another towards the objective that is Bhagavan – the Highest. All paths are in fact branches of one and the same main road. Each one will be blessed in his way.
This Eastern tolerance has completely broken through and been incorporated into the national inheritance. If you want to express yourself paradoxically you may dare to say that most Hindus are fanatically tolerant. No one is allowed to believe that he has found the Truth in a more restricted area, let’s say through a particular revelation. The only thing that is not tolerated is when some come forward with objectionable claims that the Truth is exclusively found for example in the Bible or the Koran. Certainly one agrees happily that everything in the Bible is true. Everything in the Koran is also true in its way. The only thing that is not accepted is that the Bible or the Koran or any other book or teaching would have a monopoly on the truth.
There is hardly a doubt that this standpoint also gets attention among Westerners who are tired of religion and culture. One is at this time too afraid of everything that appears to be “religious fanaticism”. But at the same time it must be said that the deeper religious feeling becomes unrecognizably diluted and superficialized at the same rate as the limits of this cherished tolerance are endlessly expanded. It easily happens that tolerance floats out in a kind of slack indifference. It becomes a broadmindedness that finally says: “It does not matter what you or I think or believe, because everything is as true in its way.”
This is according to my belief the greatest danger that threatens modern Hinduism in today’s India. The world’s most religious people frequently take the name of the Highest, Bhagavan‘s, on their lips. It is good practice that all public events shall be introduced with prayer. But it becomes a highly conventional item on the program, often sung by some school girls, with vague content and fuzzy words, a kind of holy mumble that no one understands while the preoccupied audience stands at attention for a national anthem. When Dr. Rahakrishan recently inaugurated a handsome state research institute for the textile industry in Coimbatore, the ceremony was introduced with a song consisting of five Tamil words repeated a few times: “Where do you look for your invisible God here?”
The new India’s tolerant collection of Gods that are also worshipped together as one God has become a lowest common denominator shown at solemn occasions as a symbol for national cohesion. The country’s leaders saw what devastating consequences religious tensions resulted in during the horrifying bloodbath in the fight between Muslims and Hindus in connection with the country’s emancipation and the detachment of the Muslim Pakistan. You understand and appreciate their requirement of mutual tolerance. But on the other hand you must ask if the vague concept of God that became the result actually holds the necessary strength and salt to halt secularization’s assault, also in religious India.
The majority of the educated Hindus with whom I have had the pleasure to associate actually have a very dim concept of what they believe in deep down, if they now believe at all in any of their inherited Hinduism. The religious leaders are conscious of this weakness and are striving for a reformation. In different ways they try to give the old traditional Hinduism a much-needed facelift so that it can better meet the demands of the future. Together with all this you can also establish that the national self-confidence brings with it a sometimes aggressive desire to uphold the superiority of Hinduism compared to the religions said to be imported from outside during India’s time of weakness. In the midst of all the tolerance, one notices an evangelizing tendency in certain Hindu movements that firstly seems to be concerned with winning back the many outcastes that have become Christians.
Now we focus on the heretical question: Is it possible that the talk about the world’s most religious people is a myth, sustained by old habitual thinking? Can one imagine that a people of whom the greatest number must constantly worry about their daily rice can have the time and strength to spare for the soul’s deepest needs? My contacts with Indian society’s poorest and most oppressed have hardly supported the idea, common in the West that the chronic poverty itself and life’s slower tempo in the drowsy hot climate would make people especially predisposed to religion. Nor does one get an impression of some deeper spirituality among the hurried nouveau riche businessmen of the big cities, or among the large throngs of class-conscious industrial workers. One is tempted to conclude that Indian religiousness is cherished by a small pious group in the country, temple Brahmins, university teachers and retired civil servants. Basically they are quite ineffective against the fast secularization that is the tune of the moment, not least in this India that within the course of only one generation is trying to move with one giant leap from the Middle Ages straight to the Nuclear Age.
But we must reiterate that it is dangerous to generalize, especially with regard to such delicate and imponderable questions as these. That which is said about the people in one province may (not apply to another state, perhaps not even to the bordering country or district. That which applies as higher wisdom in Benares is perhaps a bad joke in Madras. Not least in this area the slogan of India as a country of contrasts is verified. In the parts of India further north, especially strongly perhaps in the Central Provinces, there is an aggressive reactionary Hindu movement that would gladly like to eliminate all Muslims, Christians and atheists in India. Even the hated Pakistan should, according to these fanatics, be reunited by force into a purely Hindu millennial.
In South India on the other hand a movement has emerged that fights for a completely opposite goal. It is the so-called “Dravida Kazhagam” that in a violent frenzy goes on the assault against its own inherited Hindu religion and the detestable “Brahmin rule”. This people’s movement directs its edge against everything that is North Indian, yes even against dependence on the central government in Delhi. The detested Aryans from North India are said to have forced their way down on South India. Their businessmen are blamed for dominating trade and exploiting the poor South Indians. The Aryan rule has taken Hinduism and its Brahmins into their service to oppress the Dravidian race and hold it captive in religious prejudices and superstitions. The great Dravidian fanatics that around them have collected great throngs of Tamil youths fight for a Dravidastan for the Dravidians. This is an imaginary dream state that shall be severed from any connection with the Indian federal republic and its government in Delhi. With special fervor one turns against the Hindu religion imported from North India. It is that which is blamed for the country’s poverty and backwardness, for the caste system’s injustices and the temple priests’ spiritual oppression. Hinduism’s customs and traditions, its temples and clergy are mocked.
The representatives of this movement protect themselves valiantly against the allegations that they are atheists and subverters. They on the contrary claim that they want to create a renewed, Dravidian version of Hinduism, free from polytheism and superstition. Their new idol is “Common Sense”, the most frequent word in their speeches and written propaganda. They are not averse to use the example of Christ as a weapon against their own religion in order to show in this way how badly the Hindu gods stand in comparison.
Both of the above directions appear however to be led by misdirected political fanaticism. One detects very little deeper religious commitment. Their arguments are horribly non-factual and naturally historically untenable. But in South India the Dravidian movement has had an enormous affiliation. It competes with communism to win for its side apathetic youth whose studies seem to lead nowhere and whose possibilities to earn a living are still too limited. The parallel with Nazism is uncanny. In Dravida Kazhagsam there are young storm troopers who wear black shirts. They keep themselves busy roughing up Brahmins and cutting their holy mops of hair, and with a lot of bluster and fighting demonstrating against North Indian politicians and leaders visiting Tamil Nadu.
The communists proceed more carefully and are wary about openly antagonizing Hindu believers. But they are also engaged in efforts at ideological undermining, the result of which is a spiritual vacuum among the world’s most religious people.
How does the average man on the street or the farmer behind the plow react? He who is positioned anywhere between the extreme directions, appears most of all to be confused and quite perplexed. Maybe this is just the reason for him to adhere so strongly to the existing social order, which gives him a feeling of having a certain religious anchoring. The advances of secularisation are not equally quick on all sides. Especially among the village people one is unwilling so quickly to drop the old before one knows what one gets in its place. The yearly pilgrimages to Palni, Rameswaram, Madura and other famous temple cities still have their attraction, not least as a welcome change for the relatively few who have the means to break the monotony of hard everyday work. One makes simple emergency repairs to the simple village temples and their horses and idols of dried clay gaudily painted in all the colours of the rainbow. But it hardly pays to ask the old men of the village the meaning of this or that custom, or what this or that village god represents.
-“ Hmm yes, we do that because grandmother and grandfather taught us that. It might always help us to improve crops and increase rainfall. Ask the temple priest in the neighboring village. Perhaps he knows the answer.
In the old days it was common for wandering singers and preachers to settle in the village for a while and entertain the gathered people during long moonlit nights with songs and stories. These depicted the doings of the gods and heroes in the past, giving a simple explanation of the contents of the legends. But nowadays these popular preachers are seldom seen. They have had competition from the bike-pedaling communists and their meetings under the banyan trees, as well as from the itinerant theatres that are rooted in every major junction on the road. From there, movie music blares out over the countryside amplified by enormous loudspeakers in a dreadful mix of eastern melodies and western jazz rhythms. On the screen the rural family to its consternation sees how the old gods Krishna, Rama and others are ridiculed. When they turn up on screen there is often derisive laughter and catcalls from the younger parts of the audience.
The spiritual bewilderment and disintegration of course become still more evident in the large cities’ hustle and bustle. Many unemployed are drawn there from the tediousness of the countryside. Above all the restless youth who have had some years at school and the taste for a more exciting life try to get away. The cities have a growing mobile population, mostly comprised of young temporary workers who leave their families behind them. For them there is not much left of the family solidarity and caste traditions that for most Indians are life’s holding ground. In the large cities the atmosphere is more obtrusively materialistic. There people are fed with the new age’s notions and ideas in the ever present cheap weekly news publications, and from cinema screens and lecterns of the demagogues. The young generation easily falls prey to man-made salvation doctrines of a communist or Dravidian fabrication. It is each man for himself. The spiritual values become all the more hard-pressed in overpopulation’s constantly increased hustle and bustle.
Is there a chance that India’s people will find the way to the Highest, he who is the universe’s origin and aim as the letter “A” is the beginning of all letters? Whatever would happen to be one’s attitude towards these questions, everyone would agree that the development of this area deserves to be followed with the utmost attention.
CHRISTIANITY IN INDIA
To extract from several things spoken from many different mouths that which is Truth, this is true knowledge. (Tirukkural)
Is Christianity a Western import? Is it basically foreign to Indian nature? There are many Hindus that claim that Christianity could not possibly suit the western “imperialists”. But it does not belong in India. Because it isn’ t Indian. Every Indian god should be Hindu, the extreme nationalists believe.
Sometimes it happens that Prime Minister Nehru has reason to quite brusquely dismiss such arguments.
-“Who are those who claim that Christianity is not an Indian religion? Long before it became widespread in Europe there were Christian churches in India. Christianity has just as much right of domicile in India as Hinduism or Islam”, says Nehru.
He refers especially to the old Syrian churches that exist on India’s southwest coast. While our Swedish forefathers still sacrificed to Oden and Tor in the old heathen temple in East Aros (now Uppsala) these old churches had taken root in the Indian province that is now called Kerala.
It appears as if they had been founded by Nestorian sects that had emigrated from Persia in connection with the third century’s persecution of heretics. But the Indians themselves are not so particular about exact, scholarly supported information on the timing of events. The Syrian Christians in Kerala claim that their church was founded by no less than the Apostle Tomas.
There is a little mountain outside of Madras that is called Saint Thomas Mount. On this place that now accommodates a Roman Catholic church one shows a place where the formerly so doubting Thomas according to legend is supposed to have suffered the death of a martyr. A Hindu temple priest is said to have penetrated him with his spear there. A little recess was created in the rock where the apostle took support with his hand.
Most of South India’s Syrian Christians call themselves “Tomas Christians”. Not so long ago they commemorated the 1900th year anniversary of the apostle’s martyrdom with big feasts and pilgrimages. However the pious legends may relate to actual truth, these churches make a venerable impression. If one comes travelling on a Sunday morning through the wonderful palm-covered districts with abundant water that give the province of Kerala its reputation for natural beauty, one gets a distinct impression of sanctity and festival. One thinks one is transported to a completely Christian country. From the ancient churches the church bells call (one) to (the) church service. People dressed in white walk in large groups with hymn books in their hands. The Church’s liturgy is of Orthodox origin. The Church music is strongly influenced by Indian rhythms and sounds. It jangles and pounds with drums and shawms. But the devotion seems pure and genuine, and the crowded churches bear witness to the living and strong Christian traditions.
The old talk that Christianity went hand in hand with Western countries’ colonial expansion does not apply at all with regard to India. When the missionaries from Western countries first ventured into India they admittedly used the Portugese trade colony Goa on the West coast as a beachhead. It was Francis Xavier’s famous Jesuit mission that gained great victories during the 17th century. But these Jesuits were very anxious not to introduce any customs and uses that could seem to be Western and jarring for good Hindus. Their work area was far within the country. There neither the Portugese or other Westerners predominated, but rather the various little princes’ despotic and often erratic rule. The Jesuit missionaries sometimes paid with their lives for their proselytism. This is evidenced in particular by the famous John de Britto’s martyrdom among the South Indian Maravars, a pugnacious robber caste. De Britto is one of South Indian Catholics’ most cherished saints. Many automobile workshops, cafés and cigarette factories display his name.
Jesuit missionaries lived and dressed like the domestic Brahmins, the Hindu priest caste. They always walked on foot in saffron hoods just like the Indian beggar monks. They were strict vegetarians and gave themselves Brahmin sounding names. One of them became widely acclaimed as a researcher and author in the Tamil language. Another of the Jesuits’ most famous pioneers was called Nobili. He broke from his colleagues’ earlier principle of first seeking to convert Brahmins and people of high castes. He founded large congregations whose magnificent cathedrals dominated large parts of the countryside between Madura and Trichinopoly.
The Jesuit mission had to endure a lot of criticism for the somewhat casual way in which gradually large throngs in South India without baptism preparation worth mentioning were converted from Hindus to Christians. They have also been criticized for going too far in their zeal to keep much of the old Hindu traditions to make the transfer to Christianity easier for their converts in this way. For example, they did not want to break too suddenly from the caste system but rather built separate churches for high caste people and others, significantly simpler for the outcastes. In this way caste awareness remained in the Christian church as well. Even these days, the churches’ leaders wage a hard battle against the caste spirit, also among Christians.
It was especially easy for the Hindus to accept Catholic Christianity because the Jesuits’ adoration of saints and festivals could be adapted in many ways to the Hindu customs and usages. When the Catholics hold their annual festivals for saints with noisy processions, as pictures of saints are carried through the streets in gilded palanquins with crashing of drums and fireworks, it usually is hard at a distance to notice the difference between Catholic and Hindu temple feasts.
Notwithstanding that the Jesuit mission for a long time was banned, mainly for political reasons, the Roman Catholic Church has grown very strong in South India. Its members represent all possible layers of Indian society, high as well as low. They operate under their own management an impressive amount of secondary schools and establishments for higher education. The Jesuits have been followed by other Catholic orders, whose leaders and learned men are ever more often Indians. The Catholic congregations are well advanced on the way to self-government and self-support. They own plantations and large areas of land. They have bought into the most sought after city districts, where they earn a lot of money on rents and real estate.
Many of the large cities’ Catholics are industrial workers. The Catholic Church is not a friend of family planning. Therefore children of all ages are swarming in their overcrowded slums. One Christmas morning I saw in a certain city district an improvised festival place organized by the Catholics. There were vending stalls and hand-powered carousels, on which the children hung in joyful shouting clusters. Over all of it was enthroned a very large Christmas star made of silk paper in varied colours, suspended from a flagpole. In the center of the star shone the communist emblem, hammer and sickle, on a blood red background! It is a great concern for the Catholic Church in India that so many of its Christians are communists.
Even if the poorer members’ Christian knowledge and service customs sometimes seem depressingly primitive, the Catholic Church is at large a considerable factor in Indian society. They work with the long-term in mind. Its priests generally have an extraordinary solid education. One of my Swedish colleagues met an Indian Franciscan Father who during a longer study visit in Europe learned Swedish – One must be able to do that, if one wants to follow the newer exegetic research, was his view. The Catholic Church in India is a domestic church with a well-organized priesthood. Most bishops are Indian. One of the Roman Catholic College of Cardinals’ most prominent men is said to be the tall Indian cardinal Valerian de Gracia from Bombay.
Thus, when talking about Christianity in India one should not forget the Roman Catholic Church. One should perhaps also note with thankfulness that there currently seldom seems to be any rivalry between Catholics and evangelical Christians in the country.
The evangelical church in India counts its history from the day in July 1706 when the German Lutheran Ziegenbalg landed in Tranquebar on South India’s east coast. At the large Ziegenbalg Jubilee that was celebrated at the same place in 1956, the Christian Church had a renewed reminder of the fact that Ziegenbalg’s modest beginning in Tranquebar 250 years ago in itself seems to have introduced a new phase in church history. It was the Christian world mission that was founded there.
Ziegenbalg came with (full) authorization from the Danish King Frederik IV, because Tranquebar was at the time a Danish trade colony. Still today one finds the Danish castle by the beach of the Coromandel coast almost as the Danish admiral Gedda built it in the 17th century. Outside there Ziegenbalg and his aide Plütschau waited for several hours in the burning summer heat, while the Danish commander mockingly slighted the pious King’s holy emissary. It was far between Copenhagen and Tranquebar and Ziegenbalg had to overcome many harassments before he could begin to carry out the King’s assignment to let the Indian subjects take part in the richness of Gospel. Ziegenbalg got no support from any colonial powers in the traditional sense of the word. It was Fredrik IV who personally funded the sending of Ziegenbalg and Plütschau while the missionaries were recruited from the German pietism’s stronghold in Halle. In this way the ground was laid for the so-called Denmark-Halle mission that began an entire mission epoch in India.
Ziegenhalg’s example was followed a little more than a generation later by the English Baptist William Carey. It was he who with the spark of his appeal “Expect great things from God – Dare great things for God” brought to life an unparalleled mission interest within Anglosaxon Christianity. His work was located mainly in another Danish trade colony near Calcutta, namely Serampore. The dominating colonial power at the time was the English East India Company. Its policies were designed to upset rather than to help missionary work in its initial phases.
On the trail of Ziegenbalg and Carey followed subsequently not only German, Swedish and Danish Lutherans, not only Carey’s English Baptists, but also representatives of the other main trends in western Christianity. English Methodists and Anglicans, Scottish Presbyterians, Canadian Baptists and Scottish Congregationalists et al during the nineteenth century founded their own churches and denominations in different parts of India. But South India got the most in proportion to area and number of people, not least since the American Lutherans moved in during the First World War to replace the German missionaries in the Telugu area north of Madras. It didn’t need however to be overcrowded. There were unlimited work tasks for everyone.
One sometimes accuses missionaries of wanting to introduce Western countries’ inventions with nosy ignorance of other people’s traditions and a lack of understanding of their heritage and individuality. This does not apply to the great missionary pioneers in India. They dedicated enormous effort to study thoroughly the different languages and the cultural and religious situation that they encountered in the alien environment. Already Ziegenbalg’s performance in mastering in a phenomenally short time the intricate Tamil language was impressive. And the shoemaker Carey’s achievements in this area were still more fantastic. In rapid succession he learned a series of languages that were used in and around Calcutta. He translated first the New Testament and later the entire Bible to one language after another. He studied and wrote and preached and made a living in between with simple ordinary work. He created an entire Christian literature in the peoples’ languages with the help of imported printing presses.
There were many missionaries, who like those named above, spearheaded language research in India. The first privately owned printing presses were introduced to India by missionaries. In the literary field this represented a beginning of “the technical help to less developed regions”, in which the Christian mission made a ground-making contribution before this modern catchphrase had been invented. The printing works published not only a number of Bibles and hymn books but also a number of school books in the local languages. The missionaries’ zeal to improve literacy among the people was dictated first of all by their concern for the newly established congregations. The Indian Christians had to learn themselves to use God’s Word daily. But at the same time one wanted to improve the people’s living conditions and educate responsible leaders, teachers and priests. In the missions’ elementary and secondary schools not only the Christian, but also Hindu and Moslem youth got the opportunity for higher education that at the time was only reserved for Brahmins and young men of the highest caste.
Also in other areas the missionaries spearheaded social reconstruction work. One established boarding schools and special homes for orphans, for single women and ostracized widows, aid institutions for the blind, lepers and other handicapped people. All these acts of love were an inescapable complement to preaching the Word, especially necessary in an “underdeveloped country” such as India was at that time. Together with the many mission hospitals in addition to agricultural and trade schools of different kinds, all of these operations constituted a Christian “technical assistance contribution” of great importance.
Thereby the State and authorities got an exceedingly necessary – and so gradually all the more valued – helping hand and were at the same time spurred on in their own efforts for the benefit of the people. One gets to see these days a further after-effect of the Christian contribution, when rich Hindus and temple foundations accept the authorities’ invitation to follow the Christian missionaries’ example. Secondary schools and colleges, hospitals and orphanages are founded by wealthy private persons and foundations and are operated to a large extent along similar principles and with the same government grants as the Christian institutions.
But were all missionaries in India as splendid talents, as strong preachers and far-sighted leaders as, in their time, Ziegenbalg and Carey? Had they all the same strong spiritual authority as for example Christian Frederich Schwartz, the famous “Priest King in Tanjore” that in the 18th century baptized huge crowds of devoted heathen Christians and functioned as ambassador and peace mediator between Englishmen and rebellious princes?
Alas no, the mission’s history in India is by no means solely the history of great geniuses and preachers of god-given brilliance. It would be of course absurd to believe that a lot of small-minded sect spirit and meddlesome ignorance has not also pervaded the missions contributions out there as well as in several other parts of the world. An ever so devoted conviction to stand in the service of the Highest – and that most of them had – unfortunately implies no guarantee against human blunders and failures. The fact that the outcome has been so good is perhaps the most obvious proof that the Lord of History governs and puts right, where the “human factor” does not measure up.
There is still a spirit of grand adventure in this mission history. When the German so-called Gossner missionaries had baptised seven Christians in Ranchi they built a cathedral that must have seemed entirely too big. Now every Sunday one holds two fully attended high masses in this big church. A similar fearlessness in belief was shown by the proportions of the New Jerusalem Church in Tranquebar that was built by Ziegenbalg in 1718, while he was still struggling with great difficulties in his work.
The newly founded Christian congregations did not look like much at first. Their simple small chapels could not even compete with the smaller Hindu temples in the region. Their members were mostly poor and in the eyes of the world highly insignificant. But soon their children began to go to school. The most capable perhaps got help for higher education. Soon they were not satisfied to be “only” village school teachers. They took academic exams and got positions in offices, banks and commercial life. In this way many village congregations were gradually depopulated. The Christian Church’s center of gravity in India came to be moved increasingly to the cities. There are now many substantial, wealthy congregations, whose leading men are doctors, lawyers, secondary school teachers and civil servants. This though is one of the reasons that the relatively few Christians carry so much weight in public life in India. The literacy rate among the Christians is higher than among all other groups of people.
The Christians in India were at times accused of running after everything that came from the West. During the nineteenth century they were however by no means alone in this. Most educated Indians relented to the Western countries’ great political and cultural prestige. Gifted young Brahmins travelled to England to complete for high level state exams. They were immeasurably impressed by the Western countries’ economic resources and technical leading edge. The ancestral national culture was seen to be looked down on in favour of the Western countries’ apparently more “viable” culture. English became the language for conversation of the educated in India.
After Japan’s victory over Russia in the Russian-Japanese war and still more after the First World War a change came about in this matter. Asia’s people regained their national self-awareness. Newly awakened nationalism now veered into overemphasizing the Asian cultures’ advantages in the face of Western countries’ cultures.
In the midst of all this the Christian churches found themselves in a hard-pressed situation. Because of its earlier strong dependence on the foreign missionaries they came to be portrayed in the nationalist propaganda as kinds of vassals for foreign powers. Missionaries had at the time hardly found greater reason than other Europeans to inhibit the Indians’ own eagerness to swallow up and imitate everything that was Western. There were only a few far-sighted men, often perhaps just Scandinavians and others who did not belong to colonial powers, that already at an early stage tried to help the Indian Christians preserve the link to their own culture.
But most often the Christian church premises were built following a foreign template, copying models from Germany and England. The Christian city congregations learned to sing hymns translated from German or English and with western harmonies. Such a chasm is set between eastern and western music, that these chorales must have seemed at the beginning to be highly unnatural in the Indian environment. But after a number of generations the Indian city congregations have become so accustomed to sing “western” that Indian sounds and rhythms in Church music feel foreign to them. They cherish with touching faithfulness their four-part Church chorales and their organs, most of which have been damaged by the climate. But all too often unfortunately there are deficiencies in their feeling for what is beautiful and worthy in Western music. At a solemn church consecration that I attended, the visiting mission director A. Bäfverfeldt had just pronounced the solemn opening words and pounded three times on the church door. The doors opened to the beautiful temple that had been built by a Swedish missionary in an agreeable conforming Indian style. Within sat an orchestra formed only by young Indians with bows lifted. The congregation marched in to the tune of “Santa Claus’s Royal Guards” played in jazzy four stroke time.
It is such extrinsic things that sometimes give the unsympathetic Hindus reason to ask if Christianity is not a foreign Western element in India. They shake their heads in wonder when they hear German chorales sung in the churches. They make fun of the Christians’ faithful custom of wearing a tie and suit at Sunday’s high mass instead of the Indian “dhoti”, the cool white loincloth with the relaxed outer shirt , that of course is better adapted to the Indian climate.
To the poor Christians in the many village congregations these Western fads seem equally foreign. For them it is completely natural to sing their hymns and their liturgy with Indian melodies and rhythms. It will be no easy task to bridge the gap between the old city congregations and the newly added village congregations and thereby also bridge the gap between east and west in every-day customs and church service manners. It is however a duty that some of the young churches’ younger leaders especially seem to want to take pains to fulfill.
But the question to what extent Christianity has created a right of residence in the Indian environment is naturally ultimately at a deeper level than is seen in external behavior. One hears less often the assertion that Christian beliefs and teaching actually should be foreign to Indian thinking about life. Countless educated Hindus have gone to Christian high schools and colleges where they in different contexts have received permanent Christian impressions. Bible quotations and words of Jesus occur surprisingly often in public talks, especially of course when these are held in English. The English language and literature are notoriously impregnated with Biblical expressions and turns of phrase. I once heard a Hindu give an inflammatory communist speech in Tamil, in which he said (inter alia):
-“Who is this man who hands his son a stone, when he asks him for bread? Thus spoke the Christians’ God, he who is called Jesus. But our own government, that would make everything so much better for us since the Englishmen left, does not hesitate to give us rice that is mixed with gravel and pebbles.”
Christian thoughts have strongly influenced Indian’s leading Hindus and zealots for social reform. Gandhi tried in many ways to materialize the Sermon on the Mount in his social and political actions. But there is an absolutely essential central idea in Christian belief that the Hindus neither can nor will accept. It is the claim that Jesus Christ is the only saviour whose deeds are valid for all times and all people. Here is the breaking point. This Christian basic idea clashes with the Hindus’ widely embracing tolerance. [p. 119] The Indian Christians constantly hear from their Hindu countrymen that their Christianity is exceptionally valuable in every way. They may well profess their faith and attach themselves to Christ – as long as they do not claim that He is the only way to redemption. If they do, they violate what is said to be the Indian culture’s hallmark, namely tolerance, and unlimited broad-mindedness.
This plausible argument must of course create a kind of national inferiority complex among Indian Christians. Is perhaps Christianity’s “border crossing tendency” a Western contrivance that has been introduced by imperious missionaries? Should one not for national domestic peace‘s sake accede to the numerous demands to abstain from so-called religious propaganda? Of course all religions are welcome in India, as long as they do not make conscious efforts to “enlist converts”. Hence the Christians are tempted to let themselves be isolated as a separate defined caste in a kind of spiritual ghetto. All this has without doubt led to a slowdown among the young churches in the evangelistic expedition of conquest that should be Christianity’s most natural manifestation of life.
In order to seek to transcend the difficulties and misconceptions that are suggested here, today’s independent Indian churches’ own leaders have taken the initiative to eagerly engage in studies and educational work. On the one hand, the goal of this is to try to find more and more domestic forms of Christian liturgy, church architecture and church service customs etc. One strives after knowing better the old cultural legacy of one’s own country that, despite all the nationalistic propaganda phrases is well on the way to being forgotten even by ordinary Hindus. One wishes to take advantage of the experiences in Indian spiritual life that can contribute to giving a deepened understanding of Christianity’s unique nature and content.
On the other hand one hopes to be able to show that there is another way than that of the watered down range of vision, the supposedly broad-minded way of tolerance. One tries to teach both Hindus and well as their own Christians to understand that perhaps it is not at all presumptuous but on the contrary man’ s deepest mission to try to penetrate to the innermost truth of things, the absolute, divine truth.
In this quest one finds support in the Tamils’ venerated teacher, who in the old writing Tirukkural enunciated one of his most beautiful words of wisdom: “To extract from several things that are heard from many mouths that which is the truth, that is true knowledge.”
SOUTH INDIA CHURCH ON THE WAY
“The truth will set you free” (John 8: 32)
Christianity has an ancient lineage in India. Compared with other countries of Asia and Africa, India had been the object of the most long-standing and perhaps also the most concentrated contribution of missions. In proportion to this contribution the result can perhaps be unclear for those who count solely with numbers and statistics. Indian has only about ten million Christians. This is in truth an infinitesimally small percentage of the country’s entire population of slightly over 400 million.
On the other hand, one can probably dare to say that the Christian churches in India have been for a relatively long time on the way to independence. One no longer talks about “the missionary field” in the old traditional sense. Now we are concerned with young domestic churches that are getting ready to shoulder ever more independently the burden of pastoral and mission work. They are no longer under foreign control. Their leadership is domestic. Their management is carried out by Indian men and women.
For many years it was the missionaries that managed and controlled the congregations as a kind of pontiffs and patriarchs. But it must be said at the same time that they at an early stage set up the aim to become increasingly superfluous. It was a German missionary leader of great stature, the Leipzig Mission’s first director Graul, who already around 1850 began to work based on the so-called principle “Self-Administration; Self-Expansion and Self-Maintenance”. Already early on a lot of energy was spent educating capable leaders from the ranks of the Indian domestic congregations, adapted to assume responsibility for the churches’ administration. Long before the question of India’s political independence had become current, many of the old well established missionary societies had gone a long way in this direction.
Unfortunately, however, some false romantics around this talk about young, domestic, independent churches has become widespread. One began to be persuaded that there would be huge and wonderful changes once the churches had become independent, free from the missionaries’ guardianship. Now they would develop fully their youthful freshness. Now they would begin to use fully their unspent energy and enthusiasm that the young church’s leaders so eagerly waited to develop in freedom. Now there would be a breath of fresh air and speed in the evangelical work, when the gospel could be borne by Indians for Indians. The missionaries’ role could soon be played out. They would only be needed as occasional specialists in one limited area or another.
All of these were naturally beautiful and highflying goals at which to aim. But one has probably done the young churches a disservice by suddenly expecting too much from them. These young churches are still to some extent the older Christianity’s problem children, even with all of their freshness, liveliness and rich possibilities. Sometimes they are even more worriedly conservative than the older churches. In some respects they don’t make any impression of youthfulness. Sometimes again they are tempted to want to break new ground in a far too radical new way. After the first giddiness from freedom, all parties have begun to realize that the missionaries’ contribution is as important as before, but on a slightly different plane. The domestic churches’ responsible leaders have in many ways expressed their hope that the supporting missionary societies and churches will not abandon them during the important period of reorganization that is now taking place.
The good Swedish men and women who for a long time have been accustomed to support and embrace the Lutheran Tamil Church in South India with special dedication, need by no means believe that we are now finished with India, and that now our responsibility will soon come to an end. The Swedish Church through its mission administration must still carry out its part of the duties for its daughter church in Tamil country for a long period of time. It is important to help this church to full freedom. Not merely freedom from foreign guardianship, which already has been accomplished, but rather freedom from the problems and difficulties that burden a young church of this kind in India. If we in the future will be primarily busy with “our” Lutheran Tamil Church, we should however remember that its situation is in many respects typical also of that of other young churches in India.
Certainly this church (called out there “The Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church”) has already reached a respectable age. In 1956 it celebrated its 250th anniversary of Ziegenbalgs arrival in Tranquebar. The jubilee was crowned with the consecration of its first Indian bishop, Dr. R.B. Manikam. The Church’s leaders and its members in the city congregations have reached a point of steadiness and maturity that may actually be above some of the other churches in India. But it still must be said, without a trace of contempt or lack of love: Seen in a perspective of ecclesiastical history, it is still in a kind of “awkward adolescent phase” and demands therefore a corresponding tender-hearted and careful nurturing. It oscillates between exaggerated self-reliance and exaggerated inferiority complex. Sometimes it masters complicated problems with exceptional wisdom. Sometimes again it appears to be paralyzed when faced with the most ordinary difficulties.
There are three main problems with which the Tamil Church, like many other churches in India, must contend in particular. The first is the lingering caste mentality. The Indian caste consciousness has shown itself to be so strong that it has been carried all the way into the Christian church and created barriers between Christian brothers. It was not only the Catholics in their time that omitted to brake this pitiful tendency. While most of the evangelical missionaries wanted to make a clean house at once and resolutely forbid the caste system in all of its manifestations within the Christian congregation, the 19th century German missionaries argued that one should go more gently forward in a spirit of pastoral care and with patient exhortation and nurturing.
The past hundred years brought wonderful change in this respect. Christianity has been having an effect as a blessed salt. Christian brothers of both high and low origin eat and gather in the houses of each other in a way that would have seemed unthinkable just fifty years ago. One calls each other “brother” and consorts with great warmth at reunions and conferences. But one does not care to be in-laws, if the old caste differences are a hindrance. In the city congregations there are many who all too eagerly put forth that they belong to a higher Hindu caste. Even among the Christians the functions of family and relations take place entirely within the frame of the caste community. Outsiders will not be welcome. Young people of the family are married within caste boundaries. As long as these reservations are upheld within the consort of the Christians, the young churches of India have not achieved full freedom. Because then the seed of partisanship and caste division remains in church politics. When a representative assembly and parish council shall be chosen, the different candidates are put through, sometimes completely unabashedly, on the basis of caste lines that are represented in the parish.
The Indian churches’ leaders do their best to eliminate this abomination. But unfortunately it looks like there will be a long delay before the Christian church in India can become a true model and a testimonial of the deeper fellowship that does not know of any man-made divisions.
The other problem is the lack of economic freedom. The goal for church building in India has of course always been to create economically independent, self-sustaining churches. In this regard, however, the young churches have become almost chronically handicapped. Even if the core of the Indian Christians, those who are seen and noticed in society, make an economically substantial impression, the majority of the Christians are quite poor parishioners. This applies especially to the large multitudes that during the last fifty years joined the church in the form of a collective mass movement. They come from the outcaste proletariat who live under the subsistence level.
The principle has long been upheld that the young churches should pay their domestic priests, church custodians and other employees with their own resources and take care of their own congregations. But difficulties arise in that the supporting churches and missionary societies have placed a heavy burden on their daughter churches in the form of an unreasonable number of institutions, such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes of different kinds. The management of these institutions naturally costs large amounts every year, and as a rule the Indian churches cannot cover them on their own. Many of these Christian contributions to community life will continue to demand economic support from the outside. At the same time one will hope however that the churches will be prepared to divest themselves partly of their responsibility for the many schools, as gradually the Indian state becomes ready to assume full responsibility for the educational system. The Christian schools’ administration devours a lot of time for priests and other leaders and makes the Church overly bound to these institutions. What is now needed are new fresh contributions to the Sunday schools and youth work where youth can be given the Christian upbringing that is no longer possible in the State supported mission schools.
In order for the young church to attain its economic freedom, an increased spirit of sacrifice is needed on the part of the more fortunate church members. There also are needed special efforts to improve the finances of the very poorest village congregations. Our Swedish mission has a lasting responsibility for the numerous congregations that grew up in the so-called mass movement districts. These new congregations consist mainly of property-less farmworkers of the lowest caste. How can the young church on its own absorb this proletariat without help in the form of money and missionaries from Sweden? We must engage all imaginable energy and resourcefulness in order to give these poor village congregations help so that they can help themselves. Otherwise the young church’s economic independence will be an elusive dream, whose fulfillment is set for an uncertain future.
However, for many leading Indian Christians the church’s economic independence is becoming a serious matter of conscience and honor, as important as self-governance. Before this comes to be, there is a risk that it will from now on be subject to the Hindus’ accusation that Christianity is a foreign phenomenon that can live in India only with support from outside. The example from the Syrian churches on the west coast and a few other self-sufficient churches has however shown that it is possible that even in economic matters they can be free from dependence on western churches and association.
The third great difficulty has been for a long time the confessional divisions between the different churches. The first pioneer missionaries were actually not at all confessional in their nature. They did not hold their Lutheran, Anglican or Baptist denomination like an advertising board in front of them, so that everyone would know immediately where they belonged. The common position against the surrounding heathen world was for them the only determining factor. Denominational particularities became of subordinate importance.
But when the first pioneering period was over, separatism became gradually stronger, especially during the latter part of the 19th century. Not least the German Lutherans began ever more to take care of and watch over their type of faith, and to draw up borderlines against their neighbours, to give themselves and other Christians a confessional label. The Indian Christians of course had no possibility) to understand the crises in church history from which these divisions occurred far away in the western countries. Beyond the usual teaching in the faith’s main parts, they now also wasted a lot of time learning the different nuances and refinements that differentiated them from the Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, etc.
An English church leader who supported ecumenicalism and happened to be on a trip in India, told me that one time at a railroad station he saw an Indian evangelist standing there selling bibles.
-“It is so good to see an Indian Christian in action!” he exclaimed merrily, while he went forward to greet his Indian brother. The latter recoiled backwards with embarrassment and stammered: “No, sir, I am a Canadian Baptist”
One must with sorrow in one’s heart note that many of the Indian church Christians cherish with great fervor their own denomination’s type of confessionalism. They have even become more zealous than their previous teachers in telling themselves that they have all possible advantages over the other Christians in their surroundings. Hindus often have reason to note these divisions: “You say that you believe in the same God, you Christians. How then does it fit that there are all these different churches and denominations that all have different names?”
But fortunately it is not separatism that appears to get the last word in South India’s young churches. Some of their greatest leaders, among whom one remembers especially the late renowned Indian bishop Azariah of Donrakal, awakened Christianity’s conscience with his fiery protests: -“How can we testify freely out here in India, if we must inherit all these western countries’ sects and denominations and labels? Let us show our non-Christian brothers that we really have one Lord, one belief, one baptism and one God that is everyone’s Father!”
Missionaries and church leaders of more recent times have in the same way realized that the Church of Christ cannot afford these devastating divisions that are a betrayal against their own Lord, whose last prayer was that “they all may be one”. Some of the young churches in India were the ones that got to show the way towards a bigger unity with the bold and zealous venture that got the name “Church of South India”. This South India’s Unified Church was founded in 1947 as an inspiring result of yearlong negotiations among four leading church movements. The Methodists and the Presbyterians, and the Congregationalists associated with the otherwise very exclusive Anglicans in South India in a joint church under unified leadership and with unified clergy. Its thirteen dioceses are placed under bishops, of whom the majority are Indians. For these churches to create a real entity and living fellowship among such different personal characters and ecclesiastical traditions is not an easy task. One has allocated a thirty year time period in order to “grow together” with each other. But it must be a fascinating task because it is carried by faithfulness to the Truth that alone can free human beings from selfish and narrowminded separatism.
However, when this unified church was constituted on an historic day in November 1947 with prayers and blessings, our Lutheran Tamil Church was not part of it. Notwithstanding that even the Anglicans in South India whole-heartedly had realized that a regional entity among Christian denomination was more important than anything else at that time, the Lutherans and the Baptists did not join.
The Church of South India now stretches over all of the Tamil country and a substantial area outside of it. It has nearly a half million members. In the middle of all this is our Lutheran Church with its 50,000 souls disseminated as small islands and enclaves. Doesn’t this run the risk of being considered a separate sect in the broader context? Its closest company is the even more confessional minded so-called Missouri Lutherans (of American origin) that are also spread here and there in Tamil country. Their view of the Bible and office is much further from us than the Church of South India’s soundly anchored evangelical beliefs. But then we are naturally more closely related to the little Lutheran church that has grown up near the east coast north of Tranquebar under the auspices of the Danish missionary society. This church is waiting even more eagerly than we are for the day when the Lutherans get together to enter into the larger South Indian unified church where everyone can be “perfectly united into one”.
Many Lutheran consciences have during the past ten years been worried about the question: Why didn’t we join? Yes, why aren’t the Lutherans part of the marvelous ecumenical venture that is being tried out in South India just now? For “our own” Tamil church it probably depends firstly on the division that lingers within its own ranks. The double connection between German and Swedish Lutheranism has in many respects been enriching for the Tamil churches. As known, this originated with a common mission contribution of the German Leipzig mission and the Swedish Church’s mission in India. But on the other hand the differences between Sweden and German mission thinking have created difficulties. This has been expressed particularly with regard to the vital question of ecumenicalism. The Lutheranism that came from Leipzig had many advantages. One should name especially the patient pastoral care nurturing the congregations and its substantial thoroughness in teaching the catechism. But it was strongly exclusive in its confessionalism, probably much more than in German Lutheranism in general. This caused something strongly resembling spiritual pride in the intercourse with other evangelical communities in southern India. It was this that the somewhat later arriving Swedish collaborators found especially hard to bear and that gave cause for many divisions in the collective work. For the Swedish missionaries that brought with them their home church’s more open hearted ecumenical outlook, it was offensive to find how the Lutheran Christians in Indian were bred not to have a fellowship in Holy Communion with other evangelical Christians, with whom they often were very closely related though family and friends.
The Lutheran priests and leaders that are bred in the German spirit appear only to be able to think of ecumenicalism as collaboration with other Lutherans in India, even if these speak different languages and have among them completely different church traditions. Those who predominantly have been influenced by the Swedish Mission’s approach to these questions, on the other hand will not find peace until the Tamil Church with all its Lutheran inheritance and its individuality, and with all its flaws and possible advantages, can be included as a structural part of a still larger South Indian church. This would for all parties concerned not mean dilution but rather reciprocal enrichment, and so would at the same time obviate some of the terrible offense and waste of energy that are involved in the divisions among Christians.
It is however hopeful to note how our Lutheran Church’s attachment to one sided influence from outside gradually begins to loosen more and more. It is not the Tamil Church’s fault that they have had as spiritual “parents” a pair of such odd partners as the Swedish Church and the German Leipzig Mission. The young church is on the way to being freed from its guardianship. It is its own leaders that are now insisting on having their own free choice in the church union question and to be able to do this in compliance with the Gospel. In later years the negotiations have gained new impetus. One is beginning finally to see the goal in the form of a genuine desire to reach out to a broadened and deepened Christian entity in South India.
It is the Truth that will liberate the domestic church. Without all false romanticism we as collaborators must strive together with the young church to find a richer measure of this eternal truth. This will demand still more daily labour and fresh self-examination on both sides. What has been stated above about “our” Lutheran Tamil Church in South India should give a better for our supplications and remind us of our duty and our privilege to support in future this young church, with which our Swedish church through God’s own ordinance has become so inseparably unified.
FROM BIBLES TO WELLS
Twelve miles west of Madras is Vellore, which is the city of residence for one of the province of Madras’ counties. In the centre of the city there is an old fort, surrounded by wide moats bearing testimony to southern India’s bellicose past history. They say that a Muslim military commander, who after bloody battles, had taken Vellore some time during the 18th century, crowned his victory by forcing Brahmins to sacrifice a cow within the Hindu temple’s most holy room. After this horrible desecration the temple has not been used again. Its ornamented towers loom over the desolate temple courtyard in the middle of the fortress area.
But Vellore is no longer a city that broods over bitter memories. It has become known throughout India as the host for one of the country’s best medical schools. The city is dominated by its students. The cafes and eating places are often full of youngsters, tidy boys in dazzling white clothing and eyeglass-adorned female students in bright, beautiful saris. Scattered around the floor are briefcases, stacks of books and microscopes.
These youngsters belong to India’s academic elite. Thousands of clever students from the entire country seek entry to Vellore‘s medical school. Most of them undergo a hard selection to gain a place. Vellore’s professors are known for their great ability. Some of them have made their names known internationally through medicine.
This medical school was founded fifty years ago by a sweet little female doctor-missionary from America named Ida Scudder. Its professors are recruited from the USA, England, Australia and India. The foreign missionary-doctors have energetically trained top quality Indian doctors and professors. Each year the number and importance of Indian professors has grown. The many doctors who get their training in Vellore are an exceptional asset for the new India’s health care.
Near Allahabad far up in Northern India is an agricultural school that in its subject area has the same fame as Vellore. Its founder was a missionary who after his first years in India travelled home to the USA and got training as an agronomist in order to afterwards settle down in Allahabad. Each year hundreds of young agronomists graduate from the agricultural school with a first rate training which is focused primarily on being of benefit isolated and backward farming villages.
Not far from the southern tip of India is Martandam where the missionaries under YMCA for a long time have done highly respected pioneer work for the benefit of the villages’ poor inhabitants. In this institution they have successfully tested different methods of giving help for self-help for those who most of all need assistance. For those who live under the subsistence level even the smallest amount of extra income means the difference between a life of misery and a somewhat tolerable existence. In Martandam they have especially concentrated on improving poultry breeding, so that even the poorest can make a profit from this. The Indian village poultry are wretchedly skinny and lay hardly three dozen eggs every year. Their eggs are also amazingly small in size and mostly reminiscent of pigeon eggs.
Through the YMCA Institute in Martandam countless poor villagers have had help to breed a stock of good poultry that lay large and delicious eggs. These are greatly sought after and fetch significantly higher prices than the small Indian eggs. Martandam has also set up an effective sales organisation on a cooperative basis, so that the eggs are sold quickly far inland. Also in other areas such as market gardening and pig and goat raising, Martandam made pioneering contributions to southern India. The experiments have been imitated in many other areas. There are now numerous villages in southern India where the poor date their era on the basis of “before and after Martandam”.
One could go on for a long time enumerating such initiatives that have been useful and a boon for India’s social and economic development. It is no accident that the Christian mission in India came to the forefront for its “technical assistance to the less developed areas.” There have always been farsighted missionaries who would not be content with merely giving alms here and there to help with the compelling need all around them. One was simply forced to seek longer-term solutions, such as to give help for self-assistance in the place of alms. The missionaries that might have taken such a “spiritual” view of their task that they mainly took an interest in the souls of people quickly found that one could not preach the Gospel to people who are hungry and sick. The gospel of salvation was after all was directed towards the whole person. Therefore one could not leave the body’s suffering and problems for others to deal with, while one single-mindedly focused on the souls of starving people.
One did not need to be busy with profound reasoning to realize that Christ’s message had been incomplete, if one did not also follow the Lord’s example with regard to taking care of the lame and crippled, the sick and the blind. Naturally we Swedes are most familiar with the Swedish Church’s mission hospital in Tirupputtur near Madura. At the time when people who suffered from cataracts still didn’t have any idea that they could get help through operations, the Swedish eye specialist Fredrik Kugelberg made a contribution there that became known and appreciated throughout all of southern India. He gave sight to the blind.
Gradually the hospital expanded to also include medical and surgical wards. In this way every year more and more people could get help in Tirupputtur from Swedish doctors and their Indian aides. When the patients went home again to their isolated villages they took with them glad tidings which for the simple people at that time were fantastic and inconceivable. They had been seen led by the hand as blind people when they left the village. Cripples had been transported as helpless derelicts in ox carts to Tirupputtur. When they came home again with clear sight and healthy limbs, they brought with them an echo of the wonderful news that once reached John the Baptist in prison: “The blind get their sight, the crippled walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead stand up, and the message of good tidings is pronounced for the poor.”
The medical missions were the most natural charitable activity besides the missionaries’ actual preaching, because it had its example in the mission of the Lord. But in India it was naturally not sufficient only to try to remedy the direct distress from sickness in the closest surroundings. The main concern was to give information, and to contribute to forming social living conditions that can prevent sickness and unnecessary suffering. Therefore one must train doctors and nurses, laboratory experts and X-ray technicians etc. And therefore one must build from the bottom to raise the level of literacy in the country.
School activities for that reason automatically became a part of the Christian mission. The individual missionary, who founded his little school at the edge of the village or in the middle of the city’s heavily populated slums, did not always really see his role as part of a larger strategic context. For him it was simply an obvious need to give his newly founded Christian congregation the possibility to read and to make use of God’s words. Because the adults as a rule didn’t have the energy to sit at the school desk, the children instead learned to read and write.
Expectations soon rose, however. The most clever youngsters must be given the opportunity to be trained as teachers and leaders for the home congregation. So the Christian school system grew from the village school up until the secondary school and college. The mission’s contribution to higher teaching in India soon became of youths as well. The higher education that earlier had been reserved for the higher castes and especially the Brahmins, came within reach of youths from the people’s broader strata. Unfortunately this contributed to the migration from the countryside. A clever boy with schooling had no possibility to take advantage of his talent in his home village, all the more so if he came from the lowest and most despised castes. At best, he could become a village school teacher. Many thousands of those have received both education and employment from the mission’s school authorities. But most had to move to the cities. There they became clerks and bank tellers and teachers. Many villages gradually lost their best to the cities.
When now the new India with great singlemindedness develops its own school authorities and expands national health care to cover the countryside as well as cities, the mission’s role in this area is almost played out. And this one should greet with joy. The mission’s schools and hospitals maintain their importance only in the measure that they succeed to hold a high moral and professional quality in their work that can serve as a model for the state with its greater resources.
But there is still an endless amount of tasks among the villages’ forgotten masses. There can never be any real balance in Indian society, if one cannot succeed in improving the village people’s work opportunities and living conditions.
Already early on the missionaries were forced to mobilize their resourcefulness to counteract hardship and poverty in the Indian villages. They were most often occupied among the villages’ outcaste proletariat. This people did not have any of their own land to till and were as a rule indebted for their whole life to rich landowners or moneylenders. They were entirely dependent on weather and wind for their daily bread. When the rains came they got work in the farmers’ fields. But in the time between the outcastes could go for months without any regular occupation.
It probably did not hurt that there was a certain degree of migration to the cities from the outcastes’ overpopulated slums. Even if one or another clever boy got a chance to get school education and a profession in the city, this did not however solve the problems for those remaining. Not even the mission’s many trade schools were very helpful in this matter. Certainly many youths were trained to be carpenters or blacksmiths or skilled craftsmen. But they weren’t allowed to carry out these trades in their home village. The Indian guild system reserved all such trades for the trade-castes. An outcaste could not dream of setting himself up as a carpenter or as a blacksmith in his home village. Therefore even he became gradually absorbed into the city’s work life, if he was lucky and clever. Otherwise he became a loitering vagabond who did not belong neither in the city nor in the countryside.
Many missionaries have developed grey hair and ulcers as a result of their gallant attempts to address the villages’ local sustenance problems. But they had no choice. They were moving among people who could not afford to send their children to the village school, as they could not make do without the occasional small income that the children could earn by watching over the farmers’ buffalo and goats.
These people had of old a slave mentality that made them incapable of taking responsibility for improving their living conditions. An outcaste almost never owns land of his own. If one would try to give him a piece of land and help to obtain an oxen or two, one must fear that he would pawn it all as soon as he found himself short of money. If one gave him a tool for simple ropemaking, the whole enterprise would risk coming to a halt, because the owner would spend the amount of money allocated for the purchase of raw material. The same would happen if the outcaste was given start-up capital for breeding pigs or goats. When the little black piglets had begun to fatten up and grow, there would perhaps be a wedding or funeral for relatives. Then even the poorest must follow tradition’s inexorable laws and commandments. If he was an uncle of the bride he must give her a sari. If he had the misfortune of being the father of the bride he would have to provide her with a dowry and invite the relatives to a party. How could one blame him for selling his pigs before they were ready for the market or slaughtering his goats prematurely, rather than increasing his debt to the moneylender? And so the promising project would fall apart.
The only solution was to create a permanent organisation on the basis of a cooperative with local interests and supervisors. This was tested with success in Martandam. But this required a comprehensive system with a lot of reliable people that the average missionary in field work usually seldom could muster.
Pessimists (in India) say that in India one always had around an 85 per cent chance of failing at whatever one undertakes. Whether one would build a house or start a cooperative organisation or establish a model farm, one must count on so many unfavourable factors that the chances of succeeding reasonably well can be said to be minimal. Taking this into account, it is not surprising that so many ambitious self-help projects in the villages have run out of steam. Instead one should be amazed that the long process of attempts and failures have led to some positive results that have served as models for similar enterprises in other places.
The Church of Sweden Mission in India has had its share of failures. But on the other hand, in one area or another it has also served as models for others. Its social welfare work with the thieves’ caste around Usilampatti won in its time justified appreciation from among the authorities and the general public. It may also have been somewhat easier to work with these traditionally indomitable people, who count among the more gifted and ambitious castes in southern India.
However, the Swedish missionaries mainly worked with outcaste groups in the underdeveloped countryside around Coimbatore who joined the so-called mass-movement. Drought was almost chronic there. The propertyless farmworkers of the lowest caste who were drawn to the Christian Church, lived literally from hand to mouth even during relatively good times. But it became even more difficult for them when a drought set in, the harvests failed, and the work in the fields stopped.
In many locations at Palladam, Karunagarapuri and Arulpuram, names probably familiar to friends of the mission, attempts to improve the atrociously poor congregations’ living conditions were tested, one after the other. It was not a question of something as luxurious as “raising standards” but rather simply trying to help the poorest to survive when times of hardship were the most difficult. A quite large number of children were able through boarding schools to cut loose from the paralyzing grip of poverty. Many received decent vocational training at the trade school in Dindigul. But those who remained in the villages still had to be helped to increase precarious incomes during times of drought and unemployment. In connection with confirmation courses for adults in Palladam, training was given in ropemaking, rug weaving and gardening. In Arulpuram lately there have been interesting attempts to teach the outcaste women to spin at home as well as training handicapped youths to operate simple looms.
One has the best chances of succeeding if one tries to connect to the outcastes’ ancestral occupational calling, which is leather work. What makes these pariahs so terribly scorned in the Indian caste society is their handling and skinning of cows that have died from natural causes. As a rule they are better at tanning hides than farming. Missionaries have quite often tried to give them start-up capital to buy and tan raw hides of buffalo and cows.
Even within these areas of work one has encountered great difficulties. If one did not have the opportunity to start up activities on a cooperative basis with proper supervision, there was a large risk that the hides would disappear or shrink in a mysterious way or would be destroyed on the way from the place of purchase to the tannery and market. In the area of home tanneries there should however be certain development possibilities that unfortunately never have become properly exploited because of lack of fulltime supervisors and assistants. Most missionaries unfortunately could not more than occasionally divide their energy between this and their actual main task: fostering congregations and building a domestic church in the south Indian countryside.
But there came times when the village chapels were abandoned and empty and when the congregations left the villages to decay. Between 1948 and 1955 southern India was afflicted by the worst drought since the 1870s. In many places the monsoon rains failed to appear in full or part for seven years in a row. The few and shallow wells of the outcastes ran dry first. Despite constantly worsening starvation and unemployment they stayed in their villages as long as there was water to be had from some generous landowner’s irrigation well. Despite all the proud declarations about the abolishment of the caste system, the outcastes did not dare to approach the caste people’s communal drinking water wells. For this, the castes’ taboo rules were too deep-rooted and tenacious. They were therefore compelled to wander with their empty pots from one field to the other in the hope that their owner would still be lucky enough to have sufficient water left at the bottom of his well to dare once in a while to water his withering vegetables. Then the water ran in muddy trickles out into the irrigation ditches. With the patience of desperation one could perhaps fill up a pot or two by scooping up the water with one’s hands. One would probably often pay for such a pot of water with a corresponding quantity of cow manure collected while trudging tiredly through the fields.
When the last irrigation wells dried out, life died out in the village. Then it was the outcastes who first of all had to go away with their children and with their property in a pack on their back. One saw them come walking in tired discouraged bands on the way to the overpopulated cities hoping that they would be able to live from begging or occasional work.
The Swedish Church’s mission having brought the Bible to these drought stricken districts now faced the duty to convert its message into practice. And that which first came to mind was to provide “these little ones a cup of fresh water to drink”. It was impossible to ward off the sting in the words of Jesus: “I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink.”
Therefore we began to drill wells in south India. On the first Sunday of Advent in 1953 a well drilling machine arrived with a Swedish well driller in Coimbatore, the center of the hardest hit area with the most outcaste villages. A few months later a further two machines arrived that had been purchased in Sweden with the special means that during 1953 had been collected among the Swedish church people and the general public. The Swedish specialist Ragnar Edervall trained in a short time three Indian drilling teams. The drilling machines were pulled from village to village and showed thousands of amazed and overjoyed villagers that the time of miracles is not past.
When the ground water receded one could not access water by blasting and digging in the usual way in open wells. But by drilling one could reach without difficulty down to magnificent veins of water already at a depth of thirty to fifty meters. Such drilling went amazingly quickly. Already within a week from the day when the drilling tower was raised in the village one could sometimes see test pumping from the completed well. The onlookers stood there at first with astonishment, taken aback in the presence of the unimaginable. The water flowed in streaming abundance from the pump’s outlet faucet. Then wild scenes of frantic joy would occur. Everybody threw themselves over the water with their empty pots, filling them helter skelter in a whirling throng of men, women and children, caste members and outcastes side by side. Children and dogs and pigs wallowed in the water that ran out onto the communal land. The whole village was transformed. When the first commotion had subsided and the machine was hauled away to the next village (in five years there were around 250 wells drilled with Swedish machinery, of which two thirds produced water permanently), a pump was mounted, hand powered or electric, over the bore-hole. The dispersed villagers began to return. The outcaste leather workers began in some places to renew their attempts at home tanneries when there was plenty of water, which is needed in large quantity for such ventures. Small vegetable gardens grew up here and there using run off water. Women of high castes began to get along with women of low caste around this blessed water that of course poured out of a pipe and therefore could not be “contaminated” by the low caste people’s simple pots.
Not even these well– drilling operations were successful without exception. There was a great deal of difficulty with the maintenance of the heavily burdened pumps and sometimes there was a lack of neighborliness after the first jubilation had worn off. The mission’s and the church’s human resources were not sufficient to fulfill the possibilities offered by irrigation of uncultivated land and further stimulation of cooperative tanning operations.
Seen from a longer perspective, even these relatively successful operations became no more than a limited “selective contribution”. But it brought the Swedish Mission a great deal of goodwill in southern India during the country’s most difficult years in modern times, and also gave cause to the authorities to drill many new wells and to purchase a large number of drilling machines for the drinking water needs of the villagers.
Thus the Christian missionary contribution in India has extended over quite a wide area, from bibles to wells, from the needs of the soul to the needs of the body. It was never endowed with any infallible guarantee against human missteps and failures. But wherever the mission has been faithful to its calling and innermost precepts there has been a glimpse of an edge of the truth in the Lord’s promise: “As the Scripture says, for those who believe in me, streams of living water shall flow from their deepest thoughts.”
THIS IS ALSO INDIA
If I say: “Take hold of enough food for seven days”, you refuse, and if I say “Be without for seven days” you also refuse. Oh, my stomach, how hard it is to live with you.”
(From the Tamil poetry of wisdom)
More than one half of India’s population live under the subsistence level. The poor man’s only comfort, although a meager one, is that he is not alone in his poverty. For those who seldom or never properly eat their fill the above cited saying accommodates a diversity of grim life experiences. The stomach is the intransigent enemy and tormentor of those who are not fed. To be forced to live without cooked food for seven days or still longer is unfortunately by no means unusual for millions of people in India.
In times of drought and crop failures one gets to hear far too often a desperate sigh from hungry people: “If one only could get rid of one’s stomach!” The starving fight continuously to soothe their stomach’s persistent distress. They try to deafen their hunger with peanuts and whatever they can scrape together to survive. But it then can suddenly happen that they by chance are invited to a party. Perhaps they have managed to push far enough forward in the beggars’ queue for a free meal in connection with some rich person’s marriage or temple celebration. There the poor see before them all the splendors of the world. They try to fill themselves with enough food for the next seven days. But in this case as well, he is let down by his stomach. It accepts neither starvation nor overfeeding.
One hears most about the poor in India because they are so many and so terribly poor. But there are also rich people in India. They are few in number but very, very rich. The often referred to princes and maharajas hardly need to be named in this regard. Their number is dwindling and their class is being discontinued in this democratic India. But in their place has now come a new upper class of successful businessmen and large enterprises.
The country’s five-year plans have brought about an important upturn for trade and industry. Naturally this benefits the masses in many ways. Those who are lucky enough to get work in the large cities’ metal and textile industries are a favoured social class when compared to the situation of the property-less farmworkers. But those who primarily draw advantages from this industrial development are the capitalists and industrial barons. It is sometimes complained correctly that the poor in India are becoming poorer, while the rich are becoming richer and richer.
At the same time as the difference between poor and rich is still staggering, the number of rich in India is growing. Wealthy landowners in the country villages increasingly invest their capital in new textile factories. The older stay back in the village and run their thriving farms. Their sons get to go to trade schools or are sent abroad for higher education in engineering. When the youngsters are fully trained they are married off to a female relative from a neighboring village and settle down in a newly built luxurious house in the industrial city.
Coimbatore is a city that is to a high degree dominated by this new upper class. In certain parts of the town they build one luxurious house after another. Their owners compete with one another to build more and more ostentatious concrete palaces, surrounded with lavish gardens and plantations and guarded with high walls to protect against thieves and beggars. Outside the gates uniformed doorkeepers stand post day and night.
It is interesting but a bit pathetic to visit such an Indian millionaire’s home. One tiptoes carefully across shiny smooth floors and admires the modern air conditioning and the tiled bathrooms. One goes from room to room and from marvelous balcony to shady verandas. But several of the rooms have almost no furnishings. Perhaps in a corner there is a big double bed with spring mattress and mosquito net in place. Beside it there are Indian sleeping mats rolled up in a nook. On a string stretched over the room clothes are hanging helter-skelter. In the living room there are deep sofas and armchairs lined up stiffly. They look like they have never been used. On the walls cheap coloured prints hang in gruesome gaudy colors, representing the god Krishna and the abundance of goddess Laskshmi or Gandhi and Nehru. A common motif is Krishna and Buddha in the company of Mohammed and Christ at the same table, with the pious Gandhi in the middle.
On the verandah there are wicker armchairs in a stiff row along the wall. In the cool of the evening one glimpses the house’s women who prefer to sit on the floor with their legs crossed under them. Or they also sit perched on the verandah’s cement handrail, as they usually did in their home village. In the countryside one wasn’t accustomed to using furniture other than possibly a bed with a bottom made of cords for the house’s gentleman. The village culture has not had much to contribute to the stylish home’s furniture. But the women make up for it in the back garden of the house. There are rows of well-fed cows chewing their cud in their stalls. The cemented garden is in the traditional manner coated with cowpads in water. The house’s mistress carefully tends her plot with onions and corn and fodder for the animals. Over the millionaire’s quarters there is a rural and familiar smell of cow dung and curry cooking spices.
When the Indian quickly became rich and settled down in cities, he probably in his way feels his kinship to the sorely tried poets who said “When I say take hold of enough food for seven days you refuse”….. He suffocates in his wealth and doesn’t know what to do with all the money. He comes from an environment where one has not learned how to use a lot of money for personal use. His consumption needs still are highly limited. His biggest interest is to get for himself the biggest car possible and for his women the finest saris and jewelry that one can buy. He eats a massive amount of good food until his stomach becomes overly satiated and sore and uninterested.
But whatever he does, there is still money to spare. They say that a successful entrepreneur is hardly satisfied if within five years he has not already earned back again all of the capital that he had invested in his factory. Salaries and expenditures are low. The demand for textile goods grows at the same rate as the rising population. Taxation is not especially effective. There are many ways to dodge the tax authorities. Wealth is multiplied and invested in new factories, which are put in the name of wives, sons and sons-in-law. Thus, in Coimbatore a small number of family businesses during the last couple of decades have acquired most of the booming textile industry.
The rich build for themselves beautiful summer villas up in the mountains. During the hot season they travel there with their countless relatives in many cars to enjoy the coolness. But the women often look uncomfortable in their woolen cardigans and hats and high-heeled shoes. If there is rain up in the mountains they can’t stand the chill but rather travel immediately down to the heat of the plains again.
A Swedish female colleague tells that one time she saw an elegant Indian couple walking in a beautiful park in the popular holiday resort Kodaikanal. The man was wearing a nice western suit and the housewife was wearing a sari bordered with the most beautiful gold brocade. Suddenly the woman was seen bending over and picking up a clump of cow manure in her hand. Without interrupting the conversation she walked on at her husband’s side, carrying her smelly soggy cargo only to a little later disappear into a waiting car with a uniformed driver. In the midst of a luxurious life she had adorably kept a reflex movement from her home village where cow manure was automatically picked up by everyone to be used when dried as fuel.
But no more than a generation is needed before the newly rich have adapted to their unfamiliar environment. In the clubs of the larger cities Indian men and women appear with sophisticated elegance. They play bridge and tennis, and even dance the modern dances.
Among Coimbatore’s economic upper class one can sometimes meet interesting people with a wide range of interests. I especially remember the refined Mr. Srinivasan who owned a spinning mill and a printing shop in the city. He had established the printing shop to publish his literary works. He wrote novels in Tamil and poetry in several Indian languages as well as English. His father still took care of the farm in the home village and always traveled by oxcart while the son had a Dodge of the latest model. In England he had obtained a strong university degree and married an English textile artist. For several years he was the president of the local Rotary Club. Later he became the head of an impressive institute for textile research established outside of Coimbatore by leaders within the south Indian textile industry.
Now one might ask oneself: if there are such wealthy people in India, is it so important that we westerners give money for hospitals and orphanages and drilling wells for India’s poor population? I myself could not help reflecting on this, when one morning I came home to Coimbatore after visits in poor villages among the countryside’s backward proletariat. Outside the textile factory owners’ exclusive club hundreds of expensive cars were parked. Their owners had gathered from all over southern India to attend a Rotary Club conference.
Certainly many associations such as Rotary and Red Cross are engaged in charitable activities. But the planning of aid projects is mostly awkward and half-hearted. Several years ago an association of Coimbatore’s society ladies built a magnificent orphanage just outside the city. It was inaugurated with pomp and ceremony by the State’s governor. But for at least two years the beautiful facility was lonely and empty. They had not succeeded to obtain any administrators for the demanding task of taking care of and parenting orphaned children.
With similar gestures the Rotary Club contributed to establishing an ambulance that would serve as a motorized clinic for the countryside’s isolated villages, under the direction of voluntary doctors. This was rarely seen in action. The doctors that had promised their collaboration were too busy earning money at their private clinics. Notwithstanding that many of the contributing Rotary Club members singlehandedly would have been able to fund the entire endeavor without noticing this in their bank accounts, the city had to contribute half the cost for establishing the ambulance and management.
When a devastating cyclone swept across southern India several years ago, the governors were ordered to enforce by hook any by crook “voluntary” contributions from large enterprise owners, to an aid fund that was founded to assist the hard hit population. During the time one often saw notices in the newspapers with the following heading: “Director N.N. is pleased to announce that he has donated 1000 rupees to cyclone assistance.”
Even if the majority of India’s nouveau riche upper class lacks a sense of social responsibility there are frequent exceptions. One should not pull all the rich in the country over the same comb. Perhaps India’s leaders shall succeed in their quest to even out some of the most striking divergences and elicit a stronger feeling of human fellowship and solidarity beyond the borders of family and caste.
In any event, one cannot claim that the south Indian capitalists are a mediocre species. Because they have come from many different backgrounds, one can meet creative and colorful personalities among them.
In the city of Dindigul many people live from processing the tobacco that is grown in the surrounding areas. They produce cheap little cigars in addition to snuff and chewing tobacco of different kinds. In this trade there was a simple man of the people named Angu Vilas who shot up like a comet and became one of the city’s richest men. He began by selling tobacco products in an ordinary little kiosk and earned for this certainly no more than fifty crowns a month. As a sideline he experimented with different fragrances and essential oils, which he mixed into the chewing tobacco and snuff. Indians love such essential oils and artificial flavors, and for this reason his goods were quickly in great demand.
It didn’t take long before Angu Vilas was a rich man. But he still directed his sales to the countless small retailers. Tobacco was sold in small packets for a low price to the kiosks and coffee shops. For this reason Angu Vilas received his income in the form of copper coins. Accountants and clerks at his bank looked forward with disgust to his deposits on Saturdays. A few minutes before the bank would close Angu Vilas came driving in with a truck full of sacks. These were filled with change, mostly copper coins. This was the net income of his business the past week. With a grand gesture he let the sacks hang over the bank counters and ordered the accountants: “Please, count the amount and credit my account!” The accountants did not dare to protest. There were plenty of competing banks in the city who would gladly have taken over Angu Vilas as a customer.
Angu Vilas was to the highest degree a “self-made” man. When his many relatives and caste kinsmen sent their hopeful sons to him with a prayer for help for studies or training they were always harshly refused. He considered theoretical studies with suspicion. On the other hand he assiduously supported the fine arts. He had come to know that the old south India’s princes made themselves famous as patrons of the arts. Therefore he organized every Friday evening a so called “bhajans” [a performance of religious songs] in his home. He invited singers and musicians from Madura and Madras who in consideration for liberal payment held a concert all night long. For the whole city to enjoy it, he set up immense loudspeakers on his roof so that the songs and music amplified one hundred times bellowed out in all directions. Angu Vilas himself loved to sing to the accompaniment of the orchestra and drums. He became happy without measure when he discovered that he could immortalize his singing with the help of a tape recorder. After his death, for several years his singing still echoed out over Dindigul every Friday evening.
The hospitality as well as the childlike excitement with which Angus Vilas showed his home to westerns was touching. The whole city spoke with reverence about his “palace of mirrors”. This proved to be a banal square hall with walls partly covered with mirrors. Hanging on a wire from the ceiling above the orchestra’s stage there was a very big naked doll made from pink celluloid. The house teemed with children and relatives and servants who made a huge noise to make themselves heard above the orchestra. It was clearly noticeable that everyone loved and worshipped the house’s master, who when he was not engaged in earning new millions of copper coins, filled the house with his thunderous laugh and overflowing joy in performing.
Another amusing profile in the upper world of finance was Mr. G. D. Naidu in Coimbatore. His family was already well ensconced in the textile trade and had used a part of their excess millions to found a technical institute and various trade schools. G. D. Naidu was full of bizarre projects and ideas that revealed a significant technical talent. He created interesting hybrids with red melons and the otherwise rather bland papaya fruit. According to his own information this took place through injections. Anyhow, the result was an unusually delicious fruit. He had a drug factory that made medicines and pills from Indian herbs by following ancient recipes. According to the advertising they were an infallible cure for cancer, tuberculosis and diabetes.
But G. N. Naidu also founded a large engineering school that soon specialized in producing small cheap but efficient radios, intended for those with lower purchasing power. Here youngsters without more than an Indian primary school education were trained in an amazingly short time as radio assemblers. Mr. Naidu claimed that in six weeks he could have the same training result achieved by the state’s higher engineering schools in several years. Whether or not this was the case, the result was impressive. The small radios were highly in demand.
However Mr. Naidu had difficulties with the tax authorities. He was known as South India’s most dedicated tax evader. During several years he succeeded with rigidly consistent principles to deprive the State of several hundred thousands of crowns in taxes. But finally the tax authorities’ patience ran out after all. They let it be announced that on a certain day they would appear with the police and assessment committee at the head to carry out a distraining order to obtain assets that could be used to pay the money owed for unpaid taxes.
On the day fixed by the tax authorities, Mr. Naidu organized an exhibition in his largest workshop. There he lined up a quantity of samples of radios and other products that he had produced. When the State’s bailiffs arrived, he invited them first with eastern hospitality to a splendid party at the place of the exhibition. When the table laden with food had been emptied, the host blew a whistle. Shortly thereafter all his staff marched into the room with sledgehammers. Obeying a short command by Mr. Naidu, they smashed all the radios and other splendid products. A big Hudson automobile that had been driven in through the wide doors experienced the same fate.
“So this is what the Indian Republic boasts is free enterprise!” Naidu exclaimed with some of the authority of an Old Testament prophet. He meant that in the same way industriousness and resourcefulness of the individual were smashed through the tax policies of the State.
A high level minister had to finally travel from Madras to talk sense with the powerful and stubborn Mr. Naidu. The result of their deliberations was a real eastern compromise with a lot of bargaining on both sides. Now Mr. Naidu has put up big placards at his company’s gate that say something like the following: “I have escaped from the tax crocodile’s mouth with only crumbling bones and skin left intact. I am a gnawed off skeleton. Therefore you may no longer count on my help for any kind of charitable or socially beneficial activity.”
When I would travel home to Sweden several years later our Swedish well-drilling enterprise was partly phased out. It had largely accomplished its original task and could now be reduced according to plan. Two of the big drilling machines were offered for sale. Among the prospective buyers, Mr. Naidu was the only one who did not bargain over the requested price and offered to pay in cash. We were at home in our drawing room in Coimbatore when the final agreement was made. Mr. Naidu waved to his secretary who waited on the verandah, and whispered some instructions to him. The secretary set off with the boss’s car and returned shortly with a soiled and swollen shopping bag.
With continuous eager talking and a sly twinkle in his eye Mr. Naidu fished out one stack of bank-notes after the other, all consisting of tightly bundled–up ten rupee notes. We lined up the money in big stacks on the drawing room table. “You are welcome, sir, here we have a thousand rupees, and here two thousand, and so forth…”
45,000 crowns in beautiful ten rupee notes were spread out on the table, a good addition to our operating budget.
So that no one can come out and look into his business matters Mr. Naidu does not use any bank. When he buys a new car, or property or factory – and he does this with some of the nonchalance with which a spoiled child buys snacks at the kiosk – he hauls around an old suitcase full of bank-notes. Luckily however he is concerned with somewhat larger denominations than copper coins.
Imagine that the new India would succeed in making socially conscientious people out of their millionaires and winning their collaboration for reconstruction work! One would wish that the country could also get help to meet their future objectives from such men as the inexhaustible Mr. G. D. Naidu.
YOUTH IN A YOUNG CHURCH
It began when two students stole a pair of sandals.
It was a market and large trade fair in one of India’s bigger cities. Thousands of people wandered around among the colorful decorated booths, felt the goods, bargained, gesticulated and shouted in unison, exactly as it should be in an Indian market. In the milling crowds there were many students from the city’s university. In the middle of the broad boisterous tumult, two students took the opportunity to take some sandals from one of the vending stalls. They were caught red-handed. The police were called and both youngsters were taken to the nearest police station.
Within hours fights and riots broke out throughout the entire city. The message spread with lightning speed to thousands of students who were armed with bricks and empty bottles and marched through the streets with shrieks and howls. The improvised protest marched in a unified force to the police station. For hours the students teemed outside there, while their leaders demanded with violent oratory that their comrades should be released immediately. They threw stones and overturned parked vehicles. In their entourage came all kinds of troublemakers, communist agitators and hooligans who with delight took advantage of the opportunity to engage in further altercations. Without the slightest reason they smashed store windows and set fires and settled scores with old antagonists in different parts of the city.
The students’ “indiscipline” as it is so cautiously referred to, has become one of India’s most difficult problems. It is not about the western type of youth crime or curb crawling mentality. This kind of thing seems to be reserved for counties with a higher standard of living. Rather, the Indian students’ mentality of violence is an unhappy by-product of the old fight for freedom against the Englishmen. One recalls or has heard about how it was during that time. Student organisations belonged to the national freedom campaigns’ most active battle groups. One learned to automatically regard as sworn enemies authorities of all kinds, especially the police force. Demonstrations with strikes and riots were considered to be a way to express a longing for freedom and patriotism. Arrested students were acclaimed as national heroes.
This attitude has shown to be very tenacious. Although the police force now is in the service of its own people, it is still regarded by many with distrust. Therefore the students became an easy target for all sorts of agitators. With the slightest excuse they can be induced to embark in wild demonstrations. It can be some examination rule that does not meet the taste of the youngsters. Or also leaders of some political student party have flunked an exam. The rumour spreads immediately that the professors have cheated in calculating the marks to get rid of the obnoxious youngsters. Just as often the agitation concerns simple personal benefits such as reduced fees in cinemas and for general means of transport.
In the deepest sense these problems result from a very widespread maladjustment among India’s youth. The system of teaching that in its time was introduced by Englishmen was biased toward the study of the humanities. Its purpose was to educate loyal servants for the Empire’s domain in India. But still in these days, when it is clear to all that India primarily needs technicians, building contractors, doctors, engineers and social workers, the country’s higher education is still linked to the old lines of study. Millions of hopeful youths compete about the insufficient places at gigantic universities, of which Calcutta has the highest number of students in the world, or about 90 000.
In countless village schools and secondary schools over all of the huge country millions of youths are beginning their schooling with the sole ambition that they never in their lives would need to work with their hands. But many are left behind after the first or second weeding-out. The failure rate in secondary schools is fantastically high. In the high school matriculation exam often very much more than a half of the students fail. The country is crowded with maladjusted youth, who hoped to be something “nice”, at least ordinary clerks in the civil service, but who never reached this beckoning goal. For such subordinate civil service, university studies and a degree are needed, which at one time would usually be compared to the level of a Swedish bachelor’s degree candidate. But although in India the requirements for such a degree have sunk incredibly low lately, there any not many per cent of the students that even reach that far in the competition.
I once visited a class of students at a south Indian high school. Within a few months these students would write their tests in the state matriculation exam. One class was busy at that time with mathematics. The teacher gave the class a problem that was concerned with calculating the compound interest for a rounded off amount. The lecture seemed to me laughably easy although I had never been able to do much mathematics. The boys sat there for fifteen minutes, concentrating fully and sighing, and moaning, and filled out a whole sheet with tortuous fractions, divisions and abbreviations. When the result was checked there were only two of thirty matriculation candidates who could show the right solution. Even the teacher’s solution turned out to be wrong.
Overpopulation and a lack of space and competent teachers have led to a sadly low standard of teaching and a terrible crowding of places. The parents tear their hair in desperation when high schools begin and their sons do not get into the senior high schools and colleges because of a lack of space. They travel from city to city, from principal to principal. They wait for days for an audience, they try with bribes and family relationships and whatever else to get a place for their son or their daughter, most often naturally without success. And despite all the competition and weeding out in different cities there are far too many that are channeled through the enormous degree factories. Despite that the failure rate even in the higher degrees is very great, each year are produced thousands of qualified academics, of which only a lucky few have a chance to get work. It is said that a half million “intellectuals” are unemployed in India.
The authorities still have no opportunity to overcome this mass production of discouragement. Despite all the praiseworthy attempts during the last ten years, the greatest need of all is still to address the lack of technical colleges and training institutions for the professional categories of a more practical nature that today’s India needs most of all.
The uncertain future outlook for the young creates worry and difficulties in adaptation. A boy from the country that has taken the junior secondary school certificate but later has not obtained a place in any training college, will not return to his home village, when he did not get to be a teacher. He drifts around the city and becomes more and more apathetic and maladjusted. The countryside also unfortunately discourages those who barely obtained a higher degree. There are doctors and lawyers who would rather be unemployed or underpaid in big cities than to take useful employment in a backwater in the country. One hears about youths with an academic degree who are bus conductors and office messengers in Madras, at the same time as the country cries out for social workers in the countryside.
Often one reads notices in the newspapers regarding young men who have taken their life or simply disappeared because of a failed degree or chronic unemployment. They could not stand to meet their parents and witness their desperate disappointment that the family’s proud ambitions had been so bitterly thwarted.
This is an environment where communists and other subverters find it easy to recruit followers. It is a tragic irony that the southern India state of Kerala on the west coast, which because of its old Christian traditions has the highest literacy in the country, also has the largest white collar proletariat – and the highest number of communists.
It is in this environment that our Lutheran Tamil Church’s own youth movement is meant to be a light and a salt for its surroundings. During four of my first years in India I was a sort of secretary or diocesan curate for the church’s youth work. In this context I met many of the listless youth who have failed in the coveted way to have a “bright future”, most of whom just loitered around in the hope that something would happen, who lived off of relatives’ hard pressed hospitality and who had been wasting their time in cinemas and cheap cafés.
But there I also met the conscientious and reasonable ones, those who had been given a chance in grammar school and professional schools, those who wanted to make a contribution to their country and their church. They were the ones who formed the core of “Christava Shisya Sangam” or “Disciples of Christ”.
It was amusing and inspirational to plan and lead the youth movement’s annual summer meeting. Boys and girls, school children and students, clerks and workers and farm boys from different corners of South India travelled there. The most frequent meeting place was Tranquebar. For most of the participants it was the year’s big event, where they experienced a greater and deeper fellowship with Christian friends from the Church’s widespread congregations and youth circles. It was always sad when the camp broke up after four sizzling days in May in the worst summer heat and when the three hundred youths drifted away with their simple luggage loaded onto one-horse carriages on the way to the station. It was poignant because we knew how difficult it would be for them to hold onto their happy certainty of belief, when they returned to their usual everyday environment. There the fight for subsistence would begin again, the skimping with always insufficient money, the worrying about an uncertain future, squabbles and quarrels between the families in the limited isolated environment where the Christian minority feels so dishearteningly small and Hinduism is heavy and oppressive outside of the Christians’ homes.
If those youth only knew what great and exciting tasks lie in wait for them! If one could just get them to spread some of the basic Christian happiness and sense of community that their first predecessors in Jerusalem and Rome gave proof of, so that even the most distrustful pagans could not help but exclaim “See, how they love one another!”
Despite everything, there are many pious leading men and women in our church in the Tamil country who personally witness that the youth meetings in the summer in Tranquebar were of major importance in their lives. Many of the church’s best leaders have had lasting impressions from them. But how could one get the inspiration from Tranquebar to rub off on local congregations, and the small isolated youth circles? How could we stimulate them to take fresh new initiatives? How could we make them aware of their enormous responsibility for their own young church’s future and for the great numbers around them who have not been reached by Christian gospel?
The methods that we tested to inspire local congregations and to train youth leaders did not differ greatly from Christian youth work elsewhere in the world. But the experiences that made the deepest imprint and that are the most joyful of all to remember later, were achieved when we in connection with some leader course or circle convocation set out to preach about Christ in the surrounding villages or in the nearest city. It was interesting to observe the youth who for the first time were in such camps where “heathen preaching” occurred on the program. Most of them came from secondary schools, colleges or offices in the cities and had almost no experience mingling with ordinary people. When starting off in greater or smaller groups, there were probably a few who looked embarrassed and wondered how the processions would be received. But at the same time I wondered how I myself would have behaved, if I as a student in Upsala suddenly had been requested to take part in an evangelical meeting at Fyristorg square in Upsala.
Some of the groups brightened up by singing. One time we had a small orchestra in the lead, consisting of a little organ that balanced on a bicycle’s luggage carrier, a violin, a guitar and a banjo. I started when I suddenly heard the group take up a Christian song in Tamil that borrowed its melody from the old hit “Isle of Capri”.
It was also with explicable worry and awe that the little groups moved away each in different directions. Those who were there for the first time seemed a bit embarrassed. But four hours later the scattered groups came back. And then it sounded different. They were singing when they came walking. They sang so that the habitual Indian city noise petered out. When they met another group at some street crossing, they all joined in the same song and sang with twice the passion.
These youths had experienced that they were active soldiers in a bigger army, and that they were in the service of a living Lord. They had for the first time faced a listening crowd that must be reached by the Gospel. They had faced people who they themselves should be able to win for Christ. They had seen with their own eyes how the Word was sown. For many of them this was a new experience. They must have felt and understood that they were not alone but rather that their Lord stood there among them as he had promised. Therefore they came back and sang in his honor a new song that resounded in the streets where Indian youth often met to vent their ill-feeling in riots and demonstrations.
This was another kind of agitation. Our Lutheran youth movement’s favorite readings in Bible studies and meetings are quite naturally the Acts of the Apostles. There they read about Paul and Silas and the other men who were accused by their opponents of going around and agitating the whole world (Acts 17:6) to “turn upside down the world”. Around them is the overpopulated Indian youth-world, which so easily lets itself be incited to promote subversive movements of our time, listless and easily led, without ambition and hope for the future.
I wonder whether the Indian church’s youth, despite its own problems and difficulties, will get help to participate in the “incitation of the whole world” that the Acts of the Apostles talk about?
SAINTS OR HEATHENS
There was a battered grey old Ford in the courtyard. It was a prematurely aged missionaries’ car with clattering fenders and tattered hood. Its banishment to the scrap-heap had been postponed until further notice, because those governing the mission did not have any other car to give to its youngest missionary. It was during my first years in Dindigul, the old mission station with training school, boys home and lepers clinic, to which now had been added growing village work a few miles further away on the road to Pollachi.
It was still completely dark when I on this early Sunday morning woke up the loyal caretaker Abraham. Noisily coughing in the chill of the morning, he came out to help me attach the bicycle to the car’s baggage carrier. With our combined strength we got the car going, as it growled grumpily and backfired while making its way through the narrow alley, which my children called “run and shout and stink” street. There usually came hordes of naked little children rushing around the car, shouting “white man, white man! – and it always smelled awfully bad there.
I was in any case glad not to have to bicycle the whole way to my church services this Sunday. If one took the car along gently and dutifully filled the leaky radiator with water, if one did not forget to bring along various tools, wire and twine, one could get the car to give surprisingly good service – sometimes.
When the passable road ended, I left Abraham behind to guard the car while I myself got on the bicycle to bump further along over the arid farmland and sandy paths, on the way to the church service in the little village of Alagupatti. While I bicycled there I reflected again on the sorrows and the happiness which the work in the Christian missions’ so-called mass movement district usually brings.
There is a romantic view of mission work that sees in the newly converted former heathens nothing but pious and splendid saints. One wants to believe so readily that they have undergone a total transformation since they gave up heathenism and became Christians. One is persuaded that most of them live in a state of zealous passion and certainty of belief similar to that of the Apostles and the original church.
This wishful thinking is sadly seldom verified when one sees the large crowds of poor outcastes who during the last decade have joined the Christ’s Church in South India. Why did they become Christians? Was their conversion actually thorough and genuine? Was the Church right to receive them when many of them were driven perhaps by an unclear hope for material advantages? These questions have become burning for many missionaries and Indian priests during the years when the outcastes in certain areas have almost in full force requested Christian baptism instruction. It was a mass movement within certain low caste groups, especially in the Coimbatore district, that gave our Swedish church’s mission almost overwhelmingly large and new tasks. The primary motivation for the mass movement may well have been the need to shake off the Hindu caste community’s heavy yoke. But behind all of this, one thought that one could discern an unclear hunger and thirst for righteousness in its deepest meaning, a longing to come into a new sense of life. How would one decide if the motives were genuine?
But to test motives and reasons is actually foreign to the Indian nature. This is a trick of individualism, developed in western thought of the 1800s. Out there in southern India one is instead reminded that God builds his church in his own way. Perhaps it happens as often through collectivity, and the Christian congregation’s slow nurturing, as through individual conversions of a more dramatic kind.
No one should expect them to be saints, these newly baptised Christians from Indian society’s most scorned bottom layer. They are neither saints nor heathens. Rather they are like people mostly are: A big part heathen and a little part saint, and between that ordinary earthlings, mostly busy with everyday life’s cares and worries on all sides.
They have come in a group to become Christians, not because they individually have come to clarity that Jesus is more powerful than their demons and idols, but rather because their eldest, the wise and experienced old men of the village, together have figured that it may be better for body and soul if they all became Christians. Or perhaps it was simply because their caste friends in neighbouring villages have become Christians and now advise them to do the same, so there wouldn’t be trouble when one arranges marriages for the youngsters from the same low caste community. And when several parts of the village from the same low caste group make similar decisions, its effect would be like ripples on the water. There is then a mass movement within the caste. It may have happened about the same way once upon a time when many of our Swedish forefathers became Christians.
So now they are also Christians, these absurdly poor people in Alagupatti and Kamblinaickanpatti, and whatever the villages in the region may be called. Now they are members of the household of God, these scorned day labourers and latrine cleaners and tanners, who never got to learn to read and write and who even in good times often live far below the subsistence level. Their “conversion” was not so easily won as some were sometimes tempted to believe.
The time to learn the catechism was long and arduous while the large groups were prepared in the villages for the baptism. All teaching would be of course carried out orally, repeated, clarified and illustrated endlessly. Sometimes up to two years passed before the new village congregations could be baptized. And afterwards it was also necessary to fortify their Christian belief and knowledge, to lay the groundwork to provide for life in congregations and church service.
The material advantages of their conversion to Christianity were long in coming. No one could on this point accuse the Church of any shallow making of proselytes. On the contrary, the newly Christian outcastes were often subjected to bullying and persecution. The powerful farmers in the villages intimidated them with boycotts and unemployment and denied them water from their wells. Already before the baptism, those who were in heart and soul “rice Christians” had many opportunities to withdraw. But the core of the congregation remained faithful and eventually the persecution ceased.
When the village congregation after a further year or so of waiting perhaps got its own chapel, it immediately became easier to hold the faithful together. It was with infinite pride that one possession of these small chapels with white washed clay walls and brick roof that sprouted up in an increasing number of villages on the southern India countryside on the trail of the mass movement. 500 crowns was the accepted cost at that time, preferably not more. Five hundred crowns for a little church! There one sees what a regular collection at home in Sweden can accomplish – an entire little church!
All of this I consider while I pedal further on my bicycle to the chapel in Alagupatti. There lies a strange atmosphere over the desert-like landscape in the dawn’s first morning haze. The night’s frugal moisture and cool still lingers in the scrubby bushes and the solitary sprawling palmyra palm trees. The sun rises like a fiery red ball over the horizon, dominating, conscious of its power: – Just you wait, soon it will begin to burn! Out here the sun is not man’s friend. Here it is his enemy, a hard and feared tyrant.
It is necessary to reach the village before the congregation goes its different ways to carry out the day’s different chores, some to look for a few water pots, some to look for work, others to dig for roots or other edibles. When there is a drought and famine and one almost always is hungry, one cannot afford the luxury of a rest day. For there to be a church service it must be held early in the morning or late in the evening.
Now the bicycle wobbles into the stinking village lane. The concertina, the reverent little instrument with all the resources of the harmonium that I inherited from my father after he had already served out there for more than thirty years, rattles in its square case on the baggage holder. With a lot of shouting and by ringing the bicycle’s little bell I succeed in stirring life into the little village. The scabby dogs come rushing out, barking and howling. The low caste people’s ancestral slave mentality seems to have infected their emaciated dogs. They will do little more than bark wildly, and then slink away with tail between legs, scratching their many sores.
-Get up, Samuel! You who are church warden here should be on your legs when the pastor comes. Sara, take your broom with you so that the chapel may be swept! Now we are going to celebrate the Lord’s day with a service in his honour.
So they come out of their low little mud-brick houses with grass roofs, ruffled from just waking up and shivering from calorie deficiency and fatigue. The most ambitious of them try to tidy themselves up a bit. But most of them don’t have access to water for this. The last comb broke a long time ago. Samuel has with him the simple altar cloth made of cotton, which will be hung in front of the plastered altar made of clay. But first the chapel will be swept after some visiting hens have chased out noisily cackling. The dust forms a cloud when I walk into God’s house in Alagupatti and hang the white vestment and shawl over my light tropical clothing. It gets warm and sweaty and sticky however when the two little window apertures are gradually blocked by jabbering curious people who shut out both light and air.
A little boy calls the people to the church service by hitting a rusty iron rail that hangs from the roof beam. While I myself try to collect some inner stillness, the congregation comes tumbling forth with a lot of clattering and gradually organize themselves, with men on one side and women on the other and with the children far in front. They are poor, ignorant, dressed in little more than rags, hungry and bothered by all kinds of ailments. Far down in the corner sits the leper Joseph. He doesn’t have the energy to walk any more the many miles to the mission’s leper clinic to get his regular injections. He has no chance ever to be accepted into one of the all too few hospitals for lepers. His sickness has gone on so long that he no longer is considered infectious.
As so often before, it is with inner anguish over all this bodily distress that I take out the concertina to play a suitable hymn from the congregations’ limited repertoire. Here it is not like in Africa, where the congregations – according to what is said – spontaneously can burst out in beautiful sounding four-part harmony. Here one may be happy if they don’t break out in more than four different keys at the same time, penetrating and discordant. Almost immediately I must quiet down the congregation, go round with the instrument close by their ears to make them take the right note, encourage them that sing correctly and cajole those singing out of tune. Thus begins the church service and thus it continues, in a mixture of exhortations, encouraging acclamations, insistent appeals and arduously repeated instruction.
I barely have time to read the confession together with the awkwardly kneeling congregation before with strict words I must admonish the curious who are cluttering up the window holes not to disturb the service. They are Hindus of some caste and they consider themselves above entering the outcastes’ chapel, even though it may well be said that they may be just as retarded and ignorant themselves. When I stand there in front by the simple altar and read the day’s text from the gospel, a little child falls over on the floor, where it has toddled around in heavenly innocence and nakedness. In fright the kid lets out a howl. So I must interrupt the reading again to find out if the mother is in the chapel and ask her to find and comfort her child. To express sympathy for the pastor, the men in the congregation turn around like one man and shake their fists at the poor mother and noisily make known their displeasure. With further exhortations that this is God’s house and a place for calm and worship, I succeed in restoring order and continue reading the holy gospel.
When one sometimes – not to say often – becomes tired and weary and despondent, one usually asks oneself if there is actually any sense in this spiritual heavy labour. What can one “get out” of such a service? How different it was at home in Sweden! What newly arrived missionaries in the field may miss most of all is the very calm and worship that they remember from the churches in their homeland. Oh how one longs for this sometimes, the devout congregation, the restful sight of the altar’s flowers and candles, the murmuring notes from the organ under the high, clean arches of the church. Out there in India everything is so desperately different, so tiresome and poor and such heavy work.
But perhaps it is just in this meager environment that we learn seriously to reflect on the mystery that in the language of theologians is called the incarnation, God’s becoming a human being in a poor little carpenter’s son from Nazareth who was given the name Jesus. It was certainly not so high-toned and devotional there in Bethlehem, where shepherds came with their sheep to the dark stable to find out about the newborn child and greet him. The three wise men coming with stomping camels and procession was perhaps also not so moving and well directed as one thinks.
If in fact this happened, that God himself abstained from heaven’s glory to share the meager daily conditions of mankind in this imperfect world, we also don’t need to imagine that he would draw the limit for his presence somewhere between Swedish cathedrals and Indian village chapels. If he did, he would be above attending personally when an ignorant and noisy village congregation gathers to celebrate a church service in his name.
In the southern Indian village chapels, children sing with special fondness and ardor a Christmas carol with Indian rhythms and chorus where one of the verses reads: “He who has created the whole world and governs it with his might – he leans his head towards a poor woman’s bosom.” The words of the Bible that are usually most diligently spelled out in the village chapels are also the Lord’s own promise: “When two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”
If one dares to take literally the Lord’s words, and trust that he keeps his promise then there will be a wonderful calmness also at services in India’s chapels. With all the hushing and boisterousness, throughout the flawed and out of tune singing, there still emerges a glimpse of shimmering happiness and song of praise. Then we are reminded that it is God himself that has chosen to build his Church among the poor in Konganad and Coimbatore’s villages. Then there is happiness in thinking that the day’s holy gospel that I stand reading at the altar of whitewashed mud is the same holy gospel that is read and preached in Christian churches all over the world. This little flock of poor, sinful everyday people is also a little part of his church service-celebrating congregation on Earth. And the blaring song becomes a heavenly melody joining with the joyful hymns to him “who has created the whole world and governs it with his might”.
Therefore I know that the living Lord also exists in this little village congregation, for he has promised to be there always until the end of time. These poor ignorant people who have begun struggling to spell out the Christian experience’s most simple ABC, show through their bare existence right here in Alagupatti, wrestling to break with their still lingering paganism, that God lives.
And therefore they are also saints in their own way.
THE LITTLE CONGREGATION WITH THE COMPLICATED NAME
Ondivadanayakkanpatti…It took me a long time to learn to pronounce this place name without first having to think about it and take off. The little village is half sleeping in the evening darkness when I come floundering over newly ploughed clay fields together with my faithful writer-evangelist and factotum, old Njanamutti. A few longed-for autumn rains have recently fallen and loosened up the parched ground so that the farmers got their ploughing started. Let’s hope that this crop will not fail again also for the fourth year in a row! There are many people who will depend on the small seeds that have just been planted.
Unfortunately the rain has not reduced but on the contrary has increased the gruesome stench that meets us outside the village. And still just these days a “compost week” has been started, to commemorate Gandhi’s birthday and to teach village people to take advantage of all the natural fertilizers that lie and stink outside of Indian villages. Chances are that this week will be like so many other weeks with grand projects. They reach not far beyond the speakers’ chairs in Delhi and Madras. The voluntary manpower that would be needed by the thousands to clean up and rationalize social services in the distant villages does not seem to be even nearly sufficient. Instead it is usually the ever fewer missionaries trudging daily from village to village who maintain contact between the outer world and the illiterate villagers.
Now let’s see if we can wake up our sleeping little congregation. People have of course gone to bed early to try to escape through sleep the grinding hunger that has become all the more chronic during the past years’ drought and crop failures. But they must be sleeping badly, because we hardly need to cry out for the low clay huts to be emptied of their grey, bedraggled content. There they crawl out, all of these outcaste village Christians with the ringing Old Testament names given them in baptism so that they would truly be reminded of the total newness of which they could take part. There comes the leader Jaacob out of his shanty that can almost be called a house. The walls are even whitewashed. Tagging along behind him is his wife and some sleepy kids. Out of another hut comes Isaac with his Rebecca. Alone out of his little cabin creeps Daniel, the old curmudgeon. And so forth, the whole congregation, except the few younger and more energetic men who have gone away to look for work outside of the famine district.
This congregation was baptised already in the time of the missionary John Himmelstrand. One still remembers with gratitude this pioneer, who first began to preach in this quite isolated area, which because of its isolation has got the name Konganad, which is to say a place for retarded fools.
He came and went around us like an angel of God, says old Jaacob, who has a good memory. But Jaacob also remembers other times, when the little congregation with the complicated name was neglected because it had the bad luck to be on the outskirts of the mission’s area which could not always be served by a permanent missionary. Six or seven years ago the congregation got help from the missionary to begin to dig its own well. But it was not even half finished. Afterwards the congregation had to take care of itself for a couple of years again and the bodily as well as the spiritual poverty became greater, while the children became increasingly dirty and scabby because of the lack of water. On my first visit I found around twenty children and youths who had grown up without baptism. This is the fate that threatens many of our outcaste village congregations if the spiritual care is insufficient in future.
Now they have however had to brush up their knowledge notwithstanding that most of these Rebeccas and Annas and Marias giggle with embarrassment when I as a test ask them about their Christian names.
_-Ask my husband. Perhaps he knows it…
The congregation’s children that had not been baptised were made members of God’s Church in connection with a party at Christmastime in 1949. Even the well has been nearly completely dug although no one can say how this big undertaking actually came about. I have invested at my own risk here and there, because as a rule one cannot count on grants from ordinary missions’ means for such a “secondary” matter when the more central needs of the chapel and evangelists still have not been met. But I send a warm thought of gratitude to the places where youth and mission circles through “special collections” have saved a number of situations. Thanks to these suddenly arrived gifts the entire congregation could get to work in the worst time of distress to continue digging their own well. They worked gladly for half daily wages and thereby escaped from starving to death at the time. Now they have their own drinking water. To express their joy they have as part of the bargain begun to build clay walls for their future chapel. A palm leaf cover serves as a provisional roof and in this temple of gratitude we now take place, big and small.
While the evangelist Njanmuttu in his lively way tells about Abraham’s sacrifice, I think I can read the thoughts that wander around in the listeners’ sleepy brains, because they sometimes make improvised interjections and interruptions in the story.
Njanamuttu: – You will remember that there was something entirely special about Isaac. How God had promised that all the tribes on the earth would be blessed through him. But what do you know, God now tells Abraham that he must offer up this his only son in sacrifice, whom he had got in his old age. What in the world can God have meant by this?
(Isaac: Yes, it is true, the teacher from Molachatram was just here last week and told something about that Isaac. I remember it, because the name sounded like my own. Although it is quite odd with these names they give you at baptism and that sound so strange. The caste farmers call me Karuppan as before. They laugh at me if I insist on being called Isaac. His father is supposed to have been several hundred years old, Abraham or whatever he was called. How could he by the way keep track of it? I am not even sure whether I am thirty or thirtyfive years old.)
Njanamuttu: Now you see how Abraham leaves his two servants and continues alone with Isaac. What did he say when he left, actually? Yes – The boy and I shall go and pray to God up on the mountain, and later we will come back. But what now? Was not the meaning that he would come back alone? He was supposed to sacrifice Isaac, chop him into pieces, burn him on the altar. How can he say then that “we” will come back? Yes, this goes to show how steadfastly he hopes for God’s mercy ….
(Daniel: In the past, when my stomach was full of magnificent corn and my bigger son was still living, he who died before the hot time, he obviously ate something wrong from some roots to have something to chew on, which made him swell up and become so fat and big that he couldn’t move – yes at that time we enjoyed hearing such stories. Now we sit here mostly and worry about how it will go until autumn harvest is gathered and we get paid for our days’ work, perhaps in two months, perhaps later, perhaps never. Besides I can’t understand why the white man can’t give us all a loan, so that we can buy food for us. White men have money in every pocket, everybody says….)
Njanmuttu-Yes, so now you see how Isaac trudges along carrying the firewood for the burnt offering, to show how obedient he is, he does not quarrel about his having to carry the firewood himself when there were servants who could have done it. Now no one should sleep, because now you will hear something important! Several hundred years later there was someone carrying wood who went up exactly the same mountain to be sacrificed. One who was his father’s only son and who was just as obedient as Isaac was. Who can it have been? Yes, that is it! You are not so stupid, Aron! Note that the mountain named Moria was none other than the mountain Golgata where Jesus was sacrificed for our sins. There you are, I told you so: Isaac was a kind of precursor of someone else who would be sacrificed on the same mountain.
Aron mutters noisily: – It would be ok if everyone told it like this clerk from Dindigul. The teacher from Molachatram, he who should by right have taught us all this, he usually just comes and sits for a while and goes through some songs and prayers, and as soon as the sun is there – here he points with a sweeping gesture towards the west to indicate the hour – then he goes away, so that he won’t need to go home in the dark, and this is just when most of us begin to come home from work.
Njanamuttu: Keep quiet, Aron, until we are ready, because now you see, something exciting will happen. Now Abraham lets his son build the altar himself – lug this stone here, put it here, that’s it, yes, one more stone just in the corner yes, now put down the firewood – and all the time Isaac does exactly what he is told to do. And look, he does not even struggle when Abraham ties his hands and puts him on the altar. What would your boy do, Abraham, if you put him up on a stone like that and lifted the knife? Would he not struggle and shout: Ay, ay, ooh! Daddy has gone crazy, he is stabbing me, he wants to kill me, mummy help! Yes, but you see Isaac was of a different kind, he…
(Rachel: —Yes, I can promise that he would scream. What does this clerk actually have in his thoughts? I was just now going to sneak away, because I was so tired, but he made a gesture to me so I had to stay. The neighbour’s wife, who usually helps me when the time has come for childbirth, has now gone away to the plantations in the mountains. But I certainly hope that this doesn’t happen to me, when I am completely alone with the children. There will always be someone. I guess I will stay then, and hear what happens to that Isaac?…)
Njanamuttu: — So there he stands, Abraham, with his knife lifted. If he had secretly hoped that God would give him Isaac back, he can’t do this any longer. He just has to obey. What will he say to Sara when he comes home again? Just when he is about to stab, at that moment! ….Yes, you seem to remember what happened then. You see, didn’t he show through his obedience that God meant more to him that anything else, even more than his own son? Didn’t he teach us then, that we ourselves may not allow anything, wife or children, cows or pigs to be more important for us than God. Because that is called idolatry. And that doesn’t only mean to fall headlong in front of a stone and make a show. Yes, now I hope that you in the future will remember why Abraham was called the Father of Faith. Listen, Abraham, wake up for a while! Would you be able to show proof of such faith? And how about you, Jacob?
Jacob: —-Hahaha, if we had such faith then you wouldn’t need to come trudging here to continuously teach us these things that we so quickly forget again. Yes, he was a remarkable guy, this Abraham. But we believed in any event that God would give us water from this well, and you see now there is water, even though all the rich farmers’ wells are dry. I thank God every day for that water.
Now the little ones are lying down and sleeping right and left and the older ones as well begin to fight against sleep. In the stable lantern’s flickering glow I end the meeting with some words about the difficulty and blessedness in not seeing and still believing. All join loudly in the evening prayer’s closing “Our Father”. They can’ t have seen much of God’s magnificence in this poor backwater, and still their faith remains as an uncertain but hopefully flickering little flame. Thus God builds his Church in Ondivadanayakkanpatti, this dirty little village with the complicated name, unknown by most, but chosen and loved by the Lord.
ADVENT IN KONNAMPATTI
I couldn’t fall asleep on the hard stone floor where I laid out my sleeping mattress for the night.
I had held the Advent service in Konnampatti village chapel in the evening. It was a poor congregation of outcastes like so many others. They had been baptized some years ago, all the little village at once. There were about two hundred men, women and children, who lived compressed in a confined slum. After the festive baptism they had continued to have a rough time like so many others, while the difficult drought became worse every year. Now it was the first Sunday in Advent. I had preached on the day’s gospel readings. There is no pulpit in the smaller village chapels. There would not be room for it and it would hardly fill any function. Preaching must always be organized as a conversation almost like at children’s services at home in Sweden. The priest stands in front or walks around among the parishioners. He recounts, asks questions, repeats and checks that at least some of the most alert understand a little of what he wants to say. Even without a pulpit he is enthroned too high above those gathered there who sit crouched down on the floor.
This time however it was not difficult to get the people to listen. The sermon concerned a king’s entry into the city that was called Jerusalem. Festival processions were something that most had experienced, even the poor people in Konnampatti. Wouldn’t they all at some time have stood staring with large eyes during a temple festival in Palni when pictures of gods and priests for sacrifices rode by on magnificent decorated elephants? Yes, probably most had been to Palni. Pilgrims usually travel there from all corners of India to shave off their hair as an offering to the incredible handsome son of the God Shiva, whose riding animal is the peacock and whose temple crowns a gigantic pyramid shaped cliff. To Palni it is only a few days’ travel from Konnampatti, if one goes by foot.
–Oh yes, of course we have been to Palni during the time when we weren’t Christian! The old geezers nod agreeing and mumble amongst themselves. Yes, they were good-looking elephants we saw that time.
Yes, but now this is about a completely different kind of temple festival. It is about how the King Jesus rode into his country’s capital called Jerusalem and which also had a famous temple. Nowadays there are no kings in India, but what kind of animal do you think they used to ride on in the past when they had power in Madura and Tanjore and among the fortified castles around here? There are of course ruins of such a castle right here in the neighbouring village, isn’t that right?
Yes, those kings would have been riding on elephants. Or perhaps they had those big foreign horses, answers one of the younger and more alert fellows. Wouldn’t they ride in those nice cars? interjects a young boy who has gone to school for a few years and wants to be up to date.
Yes, this world’s powerful lords and kings and ministers use both elephants and horses and cars and all possible external splendour to show how rich they are. But what kind of animal did Jesus choose to ride on, he who is king of the entire world and who will continue to rule after all the world’s kings and ministers have lost their power? Yes, you see, when he made his entrance into Jerusalem he rode on a common donkey!
-A donkey! — Amazed muttering in the corners. — Imagine a king who rides on a donkey. Did he send an order with the disciples and reserve a donkey?
The donkey is an animal that not does not have much value in India. There it is used only by the low reputation washers-caste to carry dirty clothes in the pack saddle over its sunken back. At night they let the donkey out to find grass wherever it can. One often wakes up from its wheezy braying. Even the demons are said to become so afraid when they hear a donkey’s call that they in terror drop the little children they have kidnapped.
Your miserable donkey! These are bad words that these outcastes in Konnampatti quite often get thrown at them by impatient masters or by snobbish young members of upper castes.
In that case perhaps the Lord Jesus also could make use of his congregation in Konnampatti? If the Lord and King of heaven and earth could use a poor scorned donkey for his entry into Jerusalem, maybe he could so also use a handful of starving and ignorant village Christians to make his entry into their little village.
-The Lord needs you! These were the words of remembrance that the little gathering got to learn by heart and bring home to their clay huts in the evening darkness, while I set myself up for the night on the hard stone floor in my temporary night quarters outside of the village. The night was windy and a bit chilly. It was of course “wintertime”, what the Tamils call “night dew season” when one can easily catch a cold if one does not cover one’s head with a turban or a cloth of some kind.
But I could not get to sleep on my hard floor. I was disturbed by a strange plaintive sound from the darkness on the other side of the farm’s wall. Was it a person or was it an animal’s death-rattle? I could not figure out where the sound was coming from. As it did not seem to end I took the flashlight to investigate the matter.
A woman sat on a pile of ruins under the naked sky, dressed in miserable rags. On her knee she held a little boy, hardly a year old. The little one was completely naked, with a stomach unnaturally swollen from hunger. I think that no picture of human misery has made such a jarring impression on me as these two in their boundless, desperate desolation.
The odd sound came from the little child. As far as I could see this skeleton-like gaunt creature was dying of hunger. He looked like a terrifying picture from Belsen and Buchenwald – naked, shivering in the chill of the night, sick and starving to death. The mother sat with the boy on her knee, wailing in endless despair, huddling to try to give the little one some protection from the rough chill of the dew. Her howling weeping blended in with the child’s moaning.
Certainly this was of course nothing special or remarkable at the time. One saw so many similar pictures of want and despair and homelessness during those difficult years in southern India. But here, only these two and I were meeting just now in the Advent night’s solitude. Here, the distress of some little individuals became extremely tangible and intrusive. The little family was brought under a roof. They got food, and some warm garments out of my supplies and a coin to keep the starvation away for a few more days or weeks. It was almost gruesome to see the eagerness with which the little one swallowed his mashed banana. It was touching to observe how that which had sounded like a death-rattle soon changed into full and contented silence.
But for how long? What could one actually do in the long term for these two and for so many others in the same position? Our Christian aid institutions were of course overburdened and overcrowded for years to come. Were there no relatives, no “Save the children” -organisation, public nursing homes or aid centers? Everywhere they were of course full up. Everywhere resources were insufficient!
Pondering on these and similar questions, I returned to my temporary night quarters. How hard it was to live out there (in India) in the middle of so much poverty and all the time be forced to harden oneself in order not to break inwardly! To go there with one’s mostly so empty hands, constantly conscious that every little attempt to help was swallowed up like a little drop in the unending ocean of hardship. And to constantly still hear Jesus’ words in one’s concerned conscience: “Whatever ye have not done unto these smallest, ye did it not to me … ”
Was it perhaps the Lord Jesus Christ himself who had chosen to make his entry into Konnampatti in that way that evening? What if it was he who appeared there in human hardship’s very meanest form? “One of these my smallest brothers”…. Was it not he himself who sat there in the raw and chill darkness of night on the pile of ruins in Konnampatti and yelled out his hunger and thirst and nakedness in whimpering cries about the human misery which is his own misery, because he had made his own the condition of his suffering humanity?
It was Advent in Konampatti. Not an evocative candlelit Advent with hosanna songs and coffee parties. Not a beautiful and warm festival in the old traditional style. But rather a real Advent in the midst of poverty and dirt and garbage, imprinted by the concrete meaning in the words: “The Lord needs them. The Lord needs us.”
If an Indian artist has wanted to depict the Madonna and Child, he would hardly have been able to find a more apt model than the little group outside the farm’s wall in Konnampatti. It was the Lord himself who sat their hungry and naked on the mother’s knee in the rubbish of a deserted, broken down clay hut.
This is how the Lord looks, who needs us for his Advent in India.
“JUST LIKE IN HEAVEN”
It will never succeed! —-When the old codgers have been there a couple of times they lose heart. — These outcastes have of course no endurance; if any one of them gets work in the neighbouring village, he runs away with his family and does not bother any more about the confirmation course.
The air lay thick and musty in the little café by the crossroad. The kerosene lamp smoked. The host of the place stirred the coffee in brass mugs with noisy clanking. The occasional oxcart stopped outside in the darkness of the night, and the owner came in with betel juice flowing over the scruffy moustaches wanting coffee.
We have been out preaching to the heathens, some village teachers and evangelists and I. We had not reached any large multitudes of listeners this time. Smallpox was supposed to run in the villages here again, and there had been rumours about forthcoming obligatory vaccinations. My innocent concertina in its case had scared people off as they thought that it contained sharp needles.
So now we sat drinking this terrible coffee and made plans for a confirmation course. A sceptical lamentation met my proposal. It was only Joseph, the new teacher, who was full of energy and optimism. But the assignment at first consideration appeared to be virtually quite hopeless. For about five years we had worked among the outcaste new Christians in the Konganad area. They were of course almost all totally illiterate. I have spoken enough about their poverty and misery before, but conditions were certainly not improved by the rains failing again this year. The women hardly speak Tamil without using a horrible slang, a mixture of Tamil and their own ancestral mother tongue Telugu. It is doubtful whether they can even keep track of their new Christian names. If there is a break of some weeks in the village visits, they forget all that the evangelist taught them.
And still the inescapable duty remains to gradually bring these humblest of members of God’s church into a full fellowship with his congregation. The situation in this mass movement district will be seriously threatened in the long term, if a larger number than before cannot be brought to confirmation. It is impractical and expensive to arrange courses at the mission stations, in this case Dindigul. Then families must be split up, participants have to be fed and the teaching forced during all hours of the day, which the untrained senses cannot sustain. It all becomes a trifle artificial when they are taken out of their own everyday environment and brought together in a mission station within the city. So we must arrange a confirmation course out in some centrally located village, but how would this be made to happen? Views on this were divided in the little black café where the plans were made, but we decided in any event to risk a try.
On one point the teacher Joseph and I were correct: there was no risk that any participants would be drawn away from the course because of work. When the instruction began we conservatively limited the number of participants to thirty from four villages. But we were besieged soon by so many applications that the number had to be raised to forty-five. During the three weeks that the course lasted no one failed to appear, except a woman who had a baby towards the end. There she had walked back and forth to the meeting place, five km in each direction, every evening until it was time for her to give birth.
There was an almost primitive Christian spirit that prevailed out in Palakkanuthu during those autumn weeks. From six o’clock in the evening there rang out a constant buzzing and mumbling and singing from the five groups, which were each assembled around one teacher, evangelist or bible woman. These had been drummed together from the whole work area and they actually did their utmost, following a carefully fixed reading plan. I myself went around and listened, occasionally intervening if the catechism cramming appeared to be too mechanical. It was important to use gestures, stories and stringent examples to try to bring to life the content of the principal parts to be taught. In the beginning it could in fact often sound like this from any of the small old village women: – Our Father, who has ascended to heaven, sitting on the almighty creator of heaven and earth – therefore a meaningless chain of words, where words from different contexts hooked into each other so that they became complete gibberish.
But the will and eagerness to absorb the teaching shone forward in the glances and lively nods of approval of the gathered. And gradually it improved remarkably. Even the most ignorant began to get a small glimpse of the large context of redemption. They could, although in a faltering manner, recount the most important bible stories. They even began to account for the articles of faith, at least in a sufficiently clear manner for themselves to understand that it was not only a chant to be reeled off by heart. The wind whistled around the old school during these dry, dusty autumn evenings. It tore in the provisional palm leaf protection that would give protection to the gathering. The oil lamps flickered and went out, but the teachers continued tirelessly with their spelling, their narrating and their admonishing.
After two hours’ teaching there was a break for the eagerly awaited evening meal. It was the day’s only meal for most of these people who had come walking their five kilometers or more from the different villages. No wonder that the participants’ number never declined. The teacher Joseph’s capable wife had arranged everything in advance. On a long bench lay forty-five large corn-portions – a cross between porridge and bread. Each got a portion in the pottery ware that they had brought with them, together with hot sauce. There was noiseless silence while the food was eaten. But the silence contained a satisfied and happy fellowship. The border between spiritual and bodily nourishment was blurred for these original Christians with the tired brains and the endlessly empty stomachs. It was as if these common meals already gave a foretaste of Holy Communion in heaven. Someone sighed “Imagine getting enough to eat, just like in heaven!”
Now it was pitch black outside. The black clouds, that never wanted to give out their rain, usually obscured the moon. It only blew with dry, dusty wind. But did anyone now want to go home? No, now they would sing. Joseph proved to be an excellent leader for the songs. He taught them to sing in the real, Indian way, namely to follow the lead singer in chorus. My concertina helped them to keep in tune, which it was not so easy for the Indians to do, as one unfortunately hears too often. But every little farmer’s boy can keep time to the rhythm, even when it becomes pretty complicated. For hours the singing continued, and we also had the opportunity to teach the people the main liturgical elements of the Tamil service, to take part in prayers and confession of faith in uniform chorus and not in babbling confusion and disorder. When no one had the energy to sing any longer, most of them lay down flat on the ground to sleep and then headed home at first dawn.
When the confirmation finally took place before specially invited priests and missionaries, we felt we were witnessing one of God’s striking miracles. Here these otherwise so undomesticated and enslaved women sat with newly combed hair and devout appearance. Their men sat tense and wellgroomed even in their half-nakedness. The youngsters sang so that everyone was amazed, and everyone answered with eagerness and sufficient understanding to questions that one would never have dreamed of putting to them a month earlier. Those of us who got be a part of this worshipping group at morning service and holy communion that was held the next morning came to learn that even in this cumbersome poor district, where you would most often be glad if the work did not go backwards in times of famine, even there one finds God’s holy and chosen congregation.
Therefore great and unexpected things can happen even on God’s most simple plot of land.
FLAT TYRE WITH A LARGE AUDIENCE
–Oh, Oohh! Look, the white man has had an engine breakdown.
-No way, it is a flat tire. Don’t you see how the car is leaning over?
-Ooo, look at how he is getting dirty. A white man who works with his hands. Why, it is almost indecent!
-You there, help me to put down this burden so that I can watch.
-Come here everybody, just watch this! Here is a white man whose car has a flat tire…
-In a mysterious way people turn up like out of nothing in the failing light of dusk on the road between Dindigul and Tirupputtur, deserted a moment ago. I have barely had time to fix the jack in its complicated place far under the well- drilling project’s robust pick-up truck, until the onlookers stand there in a tight wall around the car, gaping, staring, sympathizing in a perplexed and helpless way. They are simple country people from the villages around Nattam, farmers on the way home from their fields with the wooden plough on their heads, old men with loads of rice bundles or sugar cane, half grown boys on rusty rattling bicycles, chattering women in the background with snotty kids on their hips.
The onlookers’ interest is not at all tinged with the envious malice one might expect and which one often encounters in similar situations in larger cities. No, to these men of honour of the villages, it is obvious that the white man is a gentleman who never sullies his hands with manual labour. They stand staring in a compact ring, reverently shocked.
I often pride myself for the quick precision with which I can change a tyre in the dust of the country road, acquired during national service at the service regiment’s car company detachment in Linköping. The onlookers’ compassion is usually quickly changed into gaping amazement. But tonight it is as if everything would get stuck, nuts resisting and spanners that do not fit. The right rear wheel with its broken tire has been taken off. There sits the customary ox shoe nail, a decimeter long, sharp thing. Thousands of these are lost every day on Indian country roads by carelessly shoed draught animals.
Why yes, you old guys, if you only knew how many hundreds of good rupees are lost through these constant deep cuts in our car tires, you would perhaps take a little better care of your oxen’s footwear I mutter, half to myself. And the onlookers agree and sententiously admonish each other. But just then the catastrophe occurs– the tyre jack collapses with a bang. It was too weak – lying there bent and useless. Such a terrible misfortune! How can we now get the spare tyre on? No helpful motor vehicles appear to be coming, and it is definitely getting dark. We will probably spend the night here.
The onlookers are full of the deepest sympathy and audible regret. Until a younger man shoulders his way to the front and suggests that they all will help to lift the car. It is loaded with heavy drilling bits and other baggage, and I am slightly doubtful. But if they want to try, so much the better for me. I get some big stones into an appropriate position, and then they lift. Hey, ho! Howls of mutual encouragement cut through the Indian darkness of night. This was fun! Much more fun than at the market! Everyone wants to join in and grab hold of whatever they can, license plates, fenders and door-handles. There is hardly any concerted effort, and I am afraid that they will let go while I try to get the biggest stone under the rear axle.
But it works finally after much ineffectual lifting. While the multitude rejoices the spare wheel comes into its place. Now the ice is broken. While the nuts are tightened and I dry my dusty hands we exchange questions and answers.
-Who is the white gentleman with his wife and his little girl? Oh, they are with the mission. It is the one that has the nice hospital in Tirupputtur. And the trade school in Dindigul, of course it is well known. Oh, they also drill wells. Imagine, is it possible, completely for free, so that people won’t have to go dirty and thirsty during the dry seasons. What is it that makes you travel such a long way to help us, we who do not ask how the neighbouring village is doing, as long as we happen to get by at the moment?….
-Yes, this Lord Jesus, I have heard of him, he teaches people to love and help one another. I have heard someone come and preach in my village about him and you know what he said: Jesus wanders around in your midst, in your villages, on your streets and alleys, and in your slums! I really never could forget that!
And everyone nods in agreement each other. Everyone feels they have entered a bigger context in a working community, proud that they have been of use to others than themselves. They awkwardly express their happiness about having been able together to return a service for some of these whites “who learned our language and speak just like we do and who do so much for us in the villages.”….
Upon a careful hint from my side that a coin for coffee to the poorest old men might be in its place as a thank you for the inconvenience caused them, there are indignant protests. They won’t hear about it. It would destroy the good feeling. It feels undeniably quite remarkable to hear this from people, whose favorite saying is: “If one mentions the word “money”, even a corpse opens its mouth.” A polite refusal of a tip is something quite special. The only thing that they ask for is a postcard from TIrupputtur to let them know that we got there without further incident.
Missionaries usually ponder how one can collect listeners, how one can find an audience for one’s message in today’s more and more industrialized and hectic India. The old violin and the evangelists’ songs scarcely gather crowds today, not even in the outlying villages, who have all got their noisy cinema tents within reasonable reach. Some of us have begun to introduce modern resources in the form of film and loudspeakers and other attractions that are all very commendable and essential.
A hearty tyre puncture seems to be a method as good as any to attract a crowd on the most deserted Indian country road.
Perhaps I should leave the jack at home from now on?…
As a missionary in southern India, Yngve Frykholm followed in the footsteps of his father Harald, whose biography “Mannen och Missionären” was published by Svenska Kyrkans Diakonistyrelsens Bokförlag in 1937. Yngve had nine siblings, including my mother Magdalena who often related to me her fond memories of their childhood in India.
I found “Bibles and Wells” on my brother Robert’s bookshelf, and having determined that the quality of writing was exceptional, decided to translate it to English. This would not have been possible without the help of my cousin Lasse, the son of Yngve Frykholm, who carefully edited the translation.