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December 9, 1990     Arkansas Catholic
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PAGE |0 ARKANSAS CATHOLIC DECEMBER9, 1990 By Sr. Deborah TroUlett, RSM Last summer I was privileged to be awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study Indian Culture: The Dynamics of Change. Along with 17 other U.S. "educationists," as the Indians called us, I was given a six-week, travel-and-seminar experience in a country amassing the world's second largest popu- lation, fourth largest army and boasting to be the world's largest democracy- all within a land mass one-third the size of the U.S. India leapt at me through its boldness of color, sound, smell, taste, by its extremes of poverty and splendor, sites of ancient and modern ruin. India is complex and contra- dictory. The diversity of cultures, languages, histories, philosoptfies and religions creates a rich but often suffocating environment. There are few "unpeople" places. There are few buffers to one's sensibilities and little or no adjustment time from encounters with limbless beggars on the streets to the utter extravagance, exotic grace and gentility that greets visitors of India's luxury hotels. Yet, India is also a freeing environment because it is unpretentious. All of the drama of poverty and wealth, splendor and squa- lor, the dynamism of change and the im- mutabifity of caste, life and death must be faced squarely at any given moment. And the cows - those sacred cows that Indians revere and respect, that have more freedom to just "be" than any other creatures I have ever encountered - become a gentle re- minder of the goal of every llindu: inner tranquility, a non-violent presence and the art of constant giving. The bull or cow is divine, as one tlindu told me, because it is a symbol of giving. "There is no greater sacrifice than that a cow makes." Yet the real drama of India lies not with the presence of cows in the streets but with the hordes of humanity floating around them. The vice president of India spoke candidly when he told us that India has more than 800 million people and 800 million problems. A scholar remarked, "We are poor because we are so many. We are so many because we are so poor." In pursuing the "dynamics of change" in Indian society, we often asked ourselves, "What change? The impact seems so small." swelling slums of the cities. India proudly boasts of being the largest democracy in the world, yet the issue of population control is at the core of whether or not this large scale experiment in de- mocracy will survive. As we in the U.S. know all to well, it takes a long time for systemic change to occur if one is committed to the democratic process. To compound the Sr. Deborah Troillett meets Mother Teresa. problem, India's illiteracy rate is 70 percent; 14 different languages are recognized by the Indian Constitution. Ethnic splinter groups in Punjab and Kashmir desire to secede from the Indian nation, placing the question of Indian unity at the forefront of political discussion. Reports of ethnic violence and terrorism headlined daily in the Indian newspapers salt the unhealed wounds from the partition of Pakistan in 1947. In the face of so much challenge, I was left with a deep respect for the Indian and Gandhian dream. More than once in con- versations with Ihdian high school students, I was struck by the absolute confidence in Yet the impact is being felt in some circles.. dieiryoung voices and pride in their smiles, When compared with the India at the time of independence, die amount of techno- logical, economic and educational ad- vancement has been remarkable. But the rate of progress cannot compete with the rate of population growth, and it is con- standy overshadowed by the ever-increasing numbers of unemployable, illiterate, land- less rural villagers who must flee to the when carrying every expectation that I would concur with their own excitement and hope for their nation, they would ask me, "And what do you think of my country?" Such purity was transforming. I began to believe with them that India's success was certain. It was in moments like these that I cauglat a glimpse of India's indomitable spirit. It has survived thousands of years of exploi- tation and domination from the outside. The eternal cycles Of birth and death per- meate the Indian psyche. The endless wheel of life makes rebirth inevitable and death merely the way through. One reaps exactly what one sows so that by living faithfully within the circumstances of one's karma, one will obtain release and freedom. Ulti- mate justice is built right into the scheme of things. The challenge to improve one's lot is no more valued than the challenge to accept what is and live within the boundaries of one's given lot or caste. It struck me that within this culture such "boundaries" free as much as restrict. In our own culture, we often deny such boundaries in the name of pursuing the "great Ameri- can dream." We live and breathe the cultural myth that one can be, do or have anything one wants. Yet it is in this sea of choices and futures that we often lose a sense of who we are, deny our own limits and sub- ject ourselves to a merciless measuring stick which does not allow for failure, which does not recognize reality, which does not teach us to distinguish or 'reverence the place where the unique possibilities for our own life end and diose of another begin. It appeared to me that this problem does not exist to a large degree in India. Where it does, it is being fueled by a small but grow- ing Indian "yuppie" class (Indians call them "guppies), very often educated in the U.S., and who now look, act and talk more American than Indian. Some critics say India will never assume its rightful place in the world because it lacks the basic "drive" to achieve and consume. Somehow this comment strikes me as more of a sad commentary on our culture than any "critique" on theirs. I fell in love with India - with its brutality and its beauty, its lack of pretense, the people whose eyes met mine hundreds and hundreds of times per day, with all those who offered me the reverent and simple "Namaste," with the beggars and the lepers and the children and the villagers and the brilliant men and" women scholars and statesmen who hosted us. The poverty there helped me experience my own ability to give - to bring a bit of joy in the face of such need and to discover that "tit" seemed oddly enough - enough for the moment. The poverty also forced me to face my own limits in giving. Indiawas a mirror in which I continually met myself- in the ir- ritating pleas of the beggars, in the real- nourished, abandoned child at Mother' ,r Teresa's Home whose slight smile in re. sponse to my slight touch seemed to he~ something deep in me, in the playful faceJ of the young kite-flyers in the slum bordered streets of Calcutta's "City of Joy," in the Indian women in a male-dominated society - both those who remain hidden (though protected) behind the veil as well as th0s who become doctors, lawyers, profess0rJ; entrepreneurs and cast off the veil to risk the vulnerability flint such professional ~" posure bringsS'~! ....... Almost mysteriously I met myself in b0dl the revered and the neglected. I met raY" own scarcity and abundance, my own complexity and simplicity. '" Six weeks in India did not transform ~c no matter how much i wished it had or could, but the learning that did take place had something to do with the daily'choiCe for transformation that I can make. It c# happen each time I am willing to be fronted with some truth my frailty and strength, in all my effortS ~ love, my desires to forgive and be forgiven, in all my hopes to grow. ' Through it all, India taught me sonae thing about being a creature ever sustained by moments ofjoy,'by small gifts from ~' Divine in all things, in all circumstanceS The pantheon of Ilindu gods and godeSSe! testifies to die richness of the One God whom Hindus believe can never be e~" i" pressed through one concept or image: India helped me understand that I atn ~ creature ever sustained by God. J am st0" rained in my learning by flashes of insigiat, in my loving by moments of intimacy, in#Y hoping by glimpses of purity. Obviously, not everyone has to go India to learn things like this. But some of us do. For some of us this experience becomes one of our best chances of ever accepting the truth about are. We all have different learning suspect my own demands a degree tensity and involvement that borders on violent - kind of like what goes on wball one wresfles: the same struggling, ,~rinoi~' letting go, holding on, the sarape ~i~tefl contact, the same moments of rest so as go at it again.., stress and strains endured' But for whatever woundedness like Jacob we can discover after the nigI~ through that we had in fact been head to head and heart to senger of God. Such a discovery makes erything more than "O.K." It makes thing an adventure. India was a great adventure. (Sr. Deborah TroiUett, RSM, teaches reli~ at Mt. St. Mary Academy in Little Rock.) 372-7127 or AR Watts 1-800-482-9023 Brenda Kent Terry Kent Lauraetta Edgar Gall Clayton Raymond Clayton APA.TMENTS " ! 2401La NedMRd'ccNArthM eRck ii ....... il ........ i i ....... il, -"J Convenient Location :1 Washer / Dryer Connections _-1 Spacious 1 & 2 Bedroom Garden Apartment _'1 Exercise Room, Swimming & Tennis 21 Beautiful Community Center -'1 Bay Windows & Private Patios Managed by GENERAL PROPERTI~~