• In the Delhi of night

    Posted by Nils

    6 March, 2012

    Leaving India at two o’clock in the morning to catch our flight to our next destination, I stopped to reflect on the past previous ten days in this fascinating country. What had we learned? What could we take away?

    India is like no place on Earth. Of course that could be said of any place, but there is something about this country that I haven't found in other countries I've visited. For instance, Western countries have a vaguely similar way of life to each other. They are capitalistic, democratic, and predicated on the notion of economic growth. India however is different. It is a mixture of ancient and modern; it is founded on deep religious principles yet is being intruded upon by the forces of Western secularism. As an Indian colleague of mine pointed out, there is a tension in the country between a fervent desire to be like or imitate the West, and at the same time a disdain for the West and its influences.

    Delhi at nightDelhi at nightDelhi at nightPerhaps it is this last reason which explains why India is - currently at least - able to maintain this tension. I wonder how long it can last though. The next decade or two will be telling. I think it is both the sheer weight of the country's population, as well as its deep religious foundations, that will enable it to maintain this tension for longer than most other countries.

    It is this influence of religion that plays by far the most significant part in Indian culture. Hinduism is thousands of years old. It forms the very fabric of society in India, and therefore is not something that secularism will eradicate any time soon. There are places of worship all over this vast land, mainly Hindu but also Muslim, and one of the most famous tourist attractions in New Delhi is the Lotus Temple, a Baha’i place of worship dedicated to the coming together of all religions. Admittedly it is famous largely for its appearance, looking very much like our own Sydney Opera House. However, at the same time, such a structure would not be built in a secular country like Australia. If it was, it would certainly not attract the same interest from tourist as the Lotus Temple does.

    Despite its largely religiously-based class distinctions, which keep the poor in their place, it is the same religious foundations that produce a deep respect for elders and for community, particularly in the vast rural regions. There is a strong sense of family in India, and I found that the most joyful people were those with the least amount of material wealth and goods. It was the people I met who were literally living on the streets, and those trying to eke out a meagre existence in the villages who were the most spontaneous and generous in their living.

    This observation of the contentment of the poor is of course a gross generalisation; there will be many poor who are not happy. Poverty does that. It strips dignity and identity from those under its curse. However, the point remains that it is the poor who generally live a more carefree life. Conversely, it is the well-to-do who live with the greatest anxiety over keeping their lifestyle secure. The irony, as well as our sheer blindness in seeing the obvious nature of this, is simply astounding. If anyone in this country could speak with authority on this issue - and millions can - it was the Father of the Nation himself - the great Mahatma Gandhi - who pointed out the joy of simple living so eloquently when he said that, "all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service, which is rendered in a spirit of joy."

    Of course Gandhi took much of his inspiration from the Sermon on the Mount, referring to it as the greatest teaching that has ever been given. He could never fathom why Christians did not take seriously Jesus’ words in that most famous of sermons. Thankfully though, the Gospel is making inroads in India. It is fighting off the consumerist plague that dictates that people can live on bread alone and not on every word that comes from the mouth of God. It is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that is giving people dignity, worth and hope in this most fascinating of lands.


    Nils von Kalm works as a resource developer with World Vision Australia (a Micah Challenge Australia Endorsing Agency). Nils is passionate about the importance of biblical theology informing our Christian worldview, and showing how Christian faith is relevant to the whole of life.