The animals: from the lizard that traverses the sanctuary wall behind the altar during worship, to the chicken who visits our training session, to the pigs honking and rooting around outside my window, the goats that pass through grazing the leafy vegetation most days, to the dogs basking in the dust (do they belong to anyone, are they fed?), to the troupe of monkeys who haven’t been quick to return for a another barage of stones from the young children at the school.
From the chapel I watch building work - a wall must be built round the government property adjacent to the Bishop’s compound - a new rule for every government property to make it secure. The trees are felled by men wielding axes, the smaller pieces are gathered in bundles and transported home on the women’s heads for use for cooking, women are generally present fetching and carrying; not something seen much in British building sites. The work is incredibly manually intensive.
The food: I’m happy with curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The variety is wide, plain rice and fried rice, curry of every description: fish, carrot, potato, beetroot, okra, brinjal (small green aubergine), beans of all types and thin dal with tomato and garlic. Every sort of flat bread: roti and chapatti, puri and vattayappam, but not a naan to be seen. Breakfast treats include upma (pronounced oopma) a comforting semolina porridge, with carrot, onion, and curry leaves and a spicy coconut and chilli pickle to heat it up, even the dosa with peanut butter has green chills with the peanuts, to give it quite a kick! I’ve been tutored by the cook ‘John’ to make afternoon snacks; chana dal bhajis with fresh chillies, onion, and coriander leaves, other bhajis and potato bondas - recipes available on request.
And best of all the Christmas decorations are still all up - each day I read again - Merry Christmas! Evidently they take them down on Ash Wednesday.
Yet in this second most populous country in the world, and by far the biggest democracy, where there is so much colour, so much vibrancy, so much laughter and smiling, there are things that are hard to take.
The diocese I am in (Nandyal) has the first woman Bishop of any diocese in the Church of South India (CSI), and yet there is no other woman pastor in the diocese, evidently there are some in other diocese but this one isn’t keen on them!
In the Deccan Chronicle (an English language paper for Andhra Pradesh) yesterday I read of the Supreme Court’s decision not to review its verdict criminalising homosexuality in the country. The penalty can be up to 10 years in jail and is a law left behind from days of Empire (1861). Quite challenging as my ‘Second Batch’ of moustachioed, motorbiking clergy, are studying the character of ‘Jonathan’ the man who loved David with ‘more than the love of a woman’ today. We discussed openly, but opinions are split; both on the nature of Jonathan and David’s relationship as describe in the Old Testament, and the place of gays in Indian society and the church!
And the papers are full of stories of gang rapes. Many in Britain will have heard of the young medical student, raped and murdered on a bus in Delhi before Christmas, and the Scandinavian woman raped near her hotel, but this doesn’t seem to be unusual. The most shocking perhaps the gang rape of a young woman that was apparently ordered by the village chief because of the woman’s ‘inappropriate’ relationship with a man from another village. This in the state I am in now. Perhaps the good thing is that this is all now getting in to the press, getting talked about, and recognised as a real problem to be dealt with, but there seems to be a long way to go!
Two weeks in and so much that was strange feels so everyday; the huge numbers attending church, the use of translator, the beautiful sunny warm days, but I’m also getting a better feel for Indian society and some of the challenges facing this nation.