Indian culture is layered. As I'm sure all cultures are. I'm unearthing new layers each day, it seems, spading off the topsoil, surprised at all that comes uncovered. Some aspects of Indian culture are immediately noticable. For instance, it doesn't take very long to notice there is no toilet paper in the bathrooms, only a spigot on the wall and a small plastic bucket. Also evident within the first few days is the backbone of Indian diet--rice holds all things together. It can also hold all things inside, but that's a different story.
For all the visibles, there are many more invisible, pieces of this country and its people which are always present, but which my Western eye is halting to notice and my biased mind slow to understand. This morning, Sheila and I were finishing breakfast as Aunty sat closeby. Through the open front door, I could see a man approaching, two large jugs in hand. "Ghee!" he yelled. Then again, the second time louder and larger. "Ghhhheeeee!" A low, rumbling train of a yell, gaining momentum and speed as it barreled from his lungs to his mouth. I have seen so many odd incidents the last seven weeks that sometimes, I just shrug and keep going. This time, Aunty provided an explanation. "The ghee man," she proclaimed. Here, ghee is the word for butter or oil or both... or maybe shortening. I haven't quite figured out its degree of precision. "He comes and takes all the oil we use then not use anymore." See? This is the kind of layer I had no idea existed in India until today. A man who comes door to door to collect everyone's used grease! My mom drains it into a rinsed-out salsa jar and stores it under the sink. When it gets full, I guess she throws it away. I've never thought about it before.
To me, America and India often appear to be two wildly different landscapes. If one is forest, then the other is desert. If one is mountainous, the other is beachy. If one is tundra, the other is...well, what's the opposite of tundra? Rainforest, perhaps. In brief moments of drama, I wonder, "Am I even on the same planet anymore?"
Yet India does not reveal her differences to me without also showing me her similarities. The human shirt and pants she wears. Flesh stretched out over bones. A heart pumping blood to veins and capillaries. Underneath, a formless soul that throbs with pain and laughs with joy.
Just like me.
After the ghee man came by today, Aunty told us about her mom. In India, the unwritten and powerful code of family tradition dictates that sons, not daughters, are responsible for the care of elderly mothers. But the "very big problem" with this system, Aunty said, is that the daughter-in-law more often than not abuses and neglects the aging mother of her husband. Such is the case with Aunty's mom, who lives with Aunty's older brother. She is a widow, and the only place for her to go in a society that prefers men is the home of her son. Or rather he came and took over her home. And now she lives in poverty and oppression inside the very walls where she raised her children. Not such a good thank-you. Aunty told us all this and of how she visits her mom once or twice a week, taking food and medicine, but beyond this, what more can be done? Despair makes it hard for a heart to rest. As we lingered over breakfast, I saw with what heavy weight this problem presses on Aunty.
Watching her cry, I felt that all the differences between us were now slight, little more than wispy feathers. Tears are an equalizer, a common bond, a reminder of the pain all of us at some time know.
I think about the force of blatant injustice, how viciously it whips across weak lives, and I am angry. Angry first at India. Then, I remember Sheila's words of prayer offered after we sat with Aunty: "Anger won't do." I remember that India is not the sole harborer of injustice, that while he is bold and cocky here, he lives in America too, a different mask, a different look, but he is there. He has homes all across the globe.
Maybe, though, the greatest common denominator in all of this is not the fragility of our human state, nor the rampant and free epidemic of injustice and sin. Maybe it is the fact that we--in all of our brokenness--are occupants of the same sphere held by the same Two Great Hands. All creatures of His making, living in a world He owns. As the psalmist says, "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." Or, as the Vacation Bible School song paraphrases, "He's got the whole world in His hands."
And in my smallness, I want nothing more than His bigness to be true.