Sunday, 12 August 2007

India Shining

(c) Eric Gran -

Take a look at the man holding the lights.

Its a cold night in Cuttack - in December 1998. A wedding procession is out - the scion of a mining company is getting married at the cricket stadium. The band is playing the latest Bollywood hits and the guests are dancing on the street as the groom rides the white horse.

A generator perched on the back of the orchestra vehicle sets up a bass throb below the trumpets and the vibrating electronic keyboard. Linked to the gen-set are wires that go out to two rows of men - cold, thin, shivering men - and some women - who are carrying the lights. Two rows of walking lights.

I was there that night. And so was my friend Eric Gran who took this haunting picture. Eric has the unique ability to inobrusively blend in wherever he is. The invisible American. A quiet, unassuming, humble man, he is at home with beggars and kings. And his camera quietly clicks.

I remember feeling so foolish - being with the dancers - and yet being escorted by these shivering, malnourished light holders. I forgot about the experience - only reminded recently when I came across Eric's website and saw the image of the light-bearer.

Eric has been criticised for showing our country in a bad light. The crux of the matter is in the light-carrier himself. Most of us are blind to him - and the many, many others like him. For those of us who live in appartments he is just another of the many transient, migrant and likely to be alcholic losers who flit by - the men who work on construction sites and as security guards.

We are blind by volition.
I remember a class-mate of mine at Yale earnestly telling others there that "it really isn't that bad in India. I know lots of people and none are really poor." Living in his posh, gated South-Delhi community, this brilliant young man was speaking the truth - his cook, gardener, driver and sweeper were all well taken care of. The others ...

I grew up next to a family who lived on the pavement. We lived cheek-by jowl. The distance between us was the width of a brick. They were out on the street. We were enclosed by 4 walls. They were flooded every monsoon - huddling under the bus shelter when the waters rose (and it did each year). We were inside - and had the luxury of a garden with trees and a common lawn. Their arguments and bickering crossed the walls to us. Nothing is secret on the street. Did our prayer meetings and songs reach out to them?
Urban squalor eats you up.

You want to run away and shout. You get angry and frustrated. You want to take extreme steps. Most of us adopt a cold-hearted tactic. We ignore it. Though we don't want to admit it, we just put it out of our mind.

Do we see someone defecating besides the train-tracks? Blank it out. Do we see a destitute woman clearly in need of help? Don't have the time. Do we see the appalling bits of refuse that people live under and in? It's their fault - should have stopped drinking - get working...

We are about to celebrate 60 years of independence of our beloved country. On August 15th our daughter Asha will go to school and sing the national anthem. We will wave our little plastic flags. Given so much squalor and cynicism, is there much, or even anything to celebrate?

We were discussing in the youth study at our home this evening - looking at the prophetic picture spoken through Isaiah (ch. 26). A picture of a future day when justice rules. When a city is known for salvation. A holy nation.

How far we seem from that time. And yet, Isaiah saw the same squalor in his day. And our Lord said that the coming Kingdom had already begun. We live both in the now and the in future. Both in the often dispiriting picture of abject depravity - and in the complete confidence that we as adopted children to King Jesus are being transformed - and are already blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. This is not an airy-fairy kind of belief. We know that we are in a passing phase - an important one - but one which is a prelude to a time when justice will reign and righteousness will flow like a river.
Isaiah puts it this way:

Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.
He humbles those who dwell on high,
he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground and casts it down in the dust.
Feet trample it down -
the feet of the oppressed
the footsteps of the poor. (Is. 27:5-6)

Stefan has made a number of paintings on the dignity - and hope - that is there for and through the poor. These two are called Child of God 1 & 2. The dyptich is oil and gold flakes on canvas - with cut-outs and a photo in each of the figures painted of a small child. The destitute are very very precious. So precious that our Lord refused to remain in His glory - but became an orphan, refugee, homeless wanderer - was called a bastard and was executed as a criminal.
Such love...

(c) Stefan Eicher -

India Shining? A previous government tried to get re-elected on that 'feel-good' slogan. We have great hopes for our country - and know that we are privileged to live in exciting times. We know that each light-holder in Cuttack and other mofussil towns, each and every urban destitute person in Delhi and Mumbai, each and every peasant in Eastern UP is very precious in our Lord's eyes.

Oh, may we have His heart of love. And may we see our nation become a tree of healing to all nations.

Please pray for India. Jai Hind! And Jai Yeshu!

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