Monday, April 6, 2009

You know it's April in India when...'re really excited about the weather forecast because it's only going to be 95 tomorrow. (Hey, it's a lot cooler than today, when it was 110!)

I'm slightly jealous of the snow in Oberlin. Only a little bit though--the heat is growing on me.

Religious Tolerance

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. For the first time all semester (I know, I'm a bad person!), I managed to find a church to go to. I needed it; the Gospel was the wrong reading (You don't read the Passion from Mark on Palm Sunday!), the songs were horribly cheesy, and the words were just different enough that I couldn't recite along, yet coming out of mass I had the same feeling that I always have after going to church: a kind of inner peace, and fellowship with the people around you. It doesn't matter that we came from different countries and backgrounds, or that their version of Catholicism was completely different from my version. For an hour, we sat together on the floor and worshiped, together despite our complete separateness. To me, that's one of the most powerful things about religion--it's power to bring people together and remind us that we're not alone.

One of my favorite things about India is how present God is everywhere. Religion is a huge part of people's lives, and not like it is in the US, where we go to church and then forget about it for the rest of the week. One of the first questions we're asked is what religion we are, and then a conversation invariable ensues about the similarities and differences between Hinduism and Christianity, and how there is really only one God. I have a friend here who grew up Hindu, but now proclaims his atheism, since he sees Hinduism as a way of perpetrating the caste system and he doesn't agree with yet. And yet, after I'd known him about a week and he had continued telling me about how he doesn't believe in God, he turns to me and says, "I find God in other people, and I try to show it by helping them" (ok, maybe in slightly more stilted English than that). Well...yeah...that's God. Actually, that's religion at it's best, without whatever political baggage it carries, which is what he disagrees with. The same friend wants me to tell him stories from the Bible, yet more proof of the complete religious tolerance that's present here. There is no tension between religions (well, among individuals, speak to the religions as entities and you'll find a change--take the violence in Ayodha several years ago, where Hindus attacked the mosque that was covering Rama's birthplace) and there tends to be a widespread acceptance that God is God, it is only how one chooses to worship and acknowledge the Divine that differs.

In the church I went to last Sunday St. John and Mary were both decorated like the deities in a Hindu Temple would be, with clothes and flowers and flashing lights. And a few nights ago I saw a deity being brought on procession, with music and parades--much the way that my church used to have a parade for St. Anthony on his feast day every year, when we would carry him around the block, with the whole congregation following and singing. Maybe the two aren't as different as they might seem.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I haven't updated in a while. I guess it's been a combination of no Internet and life settling down to something resembling normal. If normal is temperatures of around 105 degrees and constant power outages and continuing to get ripped off everywhere we go...

Last night I went outside to talk to a friend on the phone. When I got back, all of my friends were giving me strange looks, and kind of glancing at each other. One of them asked me if I was all right, and then didn't answer when I asked why they would possibly be asking me that (I had been talking to an Indian friend who's giving me his computer for a month). It wasn't until about 45 minutes later that I went online and heard about what happened in Binghamton. Apparently they had heard while I was outside and thought I was getting a call from someone at home.

I think what really made it hit home for me was looking at the news pictures of the Civic Association building where the shootings occurred. OK, anything happening in Binghamton is bad enough, but I parked in that parking lot every week for my violin lesson in high school. My violin teacher lives right across the street. And sometimes I go to Trinity church right next door in the other direction. This wasn't just something that happened somewhere that I was kind of familiar with, but in an area that I've driven and spent time in quite regularly since I was a teenager. In a way, the events of yesterday hit me harder than 9/11 did. Maybe because I'm older and can realize what it means better, but also simply because it was so close to home.

Everyone I know is okay (I called my mom and made her stay on the phone until she had found one of her friends--since he goes to Trinity and he was the one person I could imagine being in the area). But that doesn't really make it a lot better. I keep thinking about everyone who was killed or injured and wishing I could do something besides pray for them, which doesn't seem to be quite helpful enough. I wish I was home, although it's not like I would be doing anything more there than I am here. It made me want to tell everyone I know that I love them--that they are important to me--just in case I don't see them again. Which is silly.

I think what also hit me was the fact that I'm in India, which everyone told me would be more dangerous than home. Everyone, from my father to my advisor at Oberlin, told me that I should reconsider going to India after the bombings in Mumbai in November. And yet, I've ended up feeling safer here than many cities in the US. And look, I could have stayed home in Vestal and been more likely to be in danger. I don't if that should just persuade me that nowhere is safe and turn me into a huge pessimist, or if I should instead find some perverse comfort in the idea. I guess people are just people--which is what I kept trying to tell my dad before I left. Some people do awful things, for whatever reason. Most people, whether it be in Hyderabad or Vestal, are just people--we all have our issues, our strengths, and our weaknesses, but that doesn't make the people in any one place any more or less likely to snap.

So I guess the moral of the story is to be careful wherever you go (and maybe the US can take advantage of some of the security measures India has implemented in public places). And to put your trust in people instead of countries or states, who do, for the most part, continue to care for and love each other. Which is cheesy, but I can't help feeling a little bit true.