Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and one REALLY Ugly...

The GOOD:  Somebody asked me the other day (an American friend, if I remember correctly...) "What is it that you like so much about Hyderabad?"  There really is no short answer that can do justice to that question.  I guess you could say that it's the blending of the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the calm and the crazy!  It has become my belief that it is the overall gentleness of the people here and their deeply-rooted culture... truly does make it a "blending" rather than a "clashing".  More than one person here has told me that even the most seasoned "drivers" cannot keep up with the constantly changing roads and all of the new buildings going up.  And yet, amongst all of the hustle-bustle and constant change, there is a certain peace, a certain serenity beneath it all.  It's quite hard to describe.

Those who know me know that I tend to bristle when people say to me: "Oh, Father, you know I'm not religious...I'm "spiritual"!"  I always want to slip into my Dana Carvey as The Church Lady voice when I hear that and say... "Well...isn't that special!"  But, having said that... this place called India is just steeped in spirituality.  What I mean is, while we are all, of course, spiritual beings ... (and to deny so is pure folly!) - here in this place it seems that the "spiritual nature of things" is not only clearly recognized - but it is honored!  It is feels as if that spiritual depth of our lives on this planet is just so "close to the surface" here!  Especially, it seems, at the first hours of the day as dawn is breaking. 

As dawn breaks and the wide variety of birds are waking up and letting the world know that it's time to get things started: yoga practitioners are up at first light doing Sūrya namaskāra ("Sun salutation") in the park.  The Sikhs spend the first 20-minutes of every morning quietly reciting Japji Sahib. The Muslim call to prayer can be clearly heard being chanted from minarets (large and small) all over the city at around 4:35 A.M.  There are brightly-colored and incense-filled Hindu temples where devotees are making morning pooja right down the street from here at 5:30.  The bells of St. Alphonsus Catholic Church announce the morning Mass every day at 6:30 A.M.  Hmmm.  I guess we Catholics are the late-risers here!!  But you get my point!  God is actively sought by all paths, unashamedly and passionately, every single day.

As I told my friend back home - if Deloitte called us and said that there was some sort of national emergency and we had to go back home tomorrow for good, and not to return to Hyderabad...I would be very,very sad.

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Other GOOD things:  It's really something...I know that in China and many other Asian countries, just about everybody smokes.  Indians seem to be very health conscious, and smoking is almost nonexistent here.  I mentioned to our driver Krishna that not many people smoke and he said: "Yes, sir.  It is a good thing!"  I agree!! 

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On the rare mornings that I have forgotten to take our iPod into the car, we listen to the radio.  Big 92.7 FM seems to be a favorite around here.  The music is what I would call "upbeat" - - dance music mostly.  Some Bollywood movie tunes.  Sort of reminds me of Benny Lava on YouTube!  Most all of the songs are in Telugu, the local language here in Hyderabad (although most folks who speak it also speak Hindi and English)  The funny part: listening to songs and disc-jockeys who speak "Telenglish".  It's like "Spanglish" in Los Angeles...a blend of the two languages.  I can almost follow the DJ's when they slip into a Teleglish patter - I love the "birthday dedications" obviously some of them are written or e-mailed to the station in English.

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The BAD:  Well - - I don't know if it's really "bad", exactly.  Perhaps potentially "dangerous" is more like it. 

Each morning I go for a walk to the little park down by Stone Valley Apartments with the Beloved the Lhasa Apso. ALMOST every morning, there are these young girls in sarees, they look to be teenagers - and appear to be housekeepers or servant-girls of some sort for the houses and larger apartments nearby. These girls are plucking leaves and flowers from some of the local OLEANDER PLANTS!! Now, I'm 99% certain that they ARE oleander plants...we have them at home in L.A., too.

So I asked my friend, Rajan Chopra, (the man who guided Amy and I through our FRRO experience several weeks back!) - - "Hey, Rajan - what gives??  OLEANDER LEAVES ARE A DEADLY POISON!!! Do you have any idea what the girls are doing and what are they wanting oleander leaves for??? The only thing that makes sense is that they are making rat poison!!  Please advise."

Rajan got back to me with this GREAT explanation that seems to make sense:

"South Indians are more traditional and ritualistic then North Indians, follow the religious rules by the book. Its custom for the lady of the House to get up at sunrise, have a bath, get ready for Puja, (it's quite elaborate) and Flowers are a very important part of the ritual.

The time of day is important. The hours on either side of dawn are considered most auspicious for worship, for they are influenced by the quality of goodness.

They pluck fresh flowers and certain leaves, which also specifies the type of flower/leaves etc. In a typical Brahman or South Indian colony, one can see people of all ages go around with a stick and bag to collect the flowers starting early in the morning.

Hinduism is notable for its emphasis on home worship. Most Hindus have a shrine at home. For some this will be a few pictures on a shelf in the living room or kitchen. Others, particularly the more wealthy, will dedicate a whole room to worship and meditation.

The shrine will contain images of the family's chosen deity, either as a framed picture or in the form of a murti. Worship is often a scaled-down version of the elaborate puja performed in the mandir and performed by the ladies of the household, early in the mornings. Children may also be taught their tradition by actively involving them in such worship.

In some homes, all food is offered to the deities before eating. In order to keep the home pure and sanctified, Hindu people usually do not wear shoes inside. Most Hindus consider it essential to bathe at least once a day, especially before worship.

I suppose, now with more and more Housewives working , their schedules have to be time managed, so they ask the girls to help them out and they like to set out looking their best, socialising, picking flowers and leaves or whatever comes easy, do a quick Pooja and carry on with the day.

At times we Indians are very or should I say over ritualistic and try to balance both worlds with the changes happening around us, catching up with the spurt in economic / technology / income opportunities. The rapidly changing scenario , and trying to adapt ourselves , is also a very interesting Indian trend . I too am apart of it."

Wow!  Thank you, Rajan!!  That was a great explanation!!  The things we can learn here if we just keep our ears and our minds open!!

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The REALLY UGLY:  There was a rape of an American girl this week.  Right here in Banjara Hills, too.  I am so glad that we have Sangamesh, our trusty security guard who remains on duty, rain or shine, every night!  I seems that the poor girl has been in Hyderabad since 2007.  She has been renting a downstairs single bedroom with house-privileges, in a nice neighborhood, from a retired professor.  At 3:00 in the morning, young man entered her bedroom (the police do not know how and she did not know him) and held her at gun-point.  After tying her up and raping her...he took a bath and escaped.  I have not heard that the rapist has been caught.
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I cannot end this post on such a down note: 
So, as it turns out, there are these high-pressure little hoses hanging in all of our bathrooms at the house. Right next to the toilets. They each have those "pistol grip" nozzles. I thought they were for "washing your feet" or something. Until I saw one in a public "washroom" yesterday. As it turns out...they have - UHHHH... ANOTHER PURPOSE!!! (P.S. They are very cool! Every bathroom needs one!!)


  1. Wonderful post! My parents' next door neighbors were Indian and invited my parents over as guests of honor to a dinner. My mother was "allowed" (they insisted) to stay with the men and sit while the women did everything separately.

    Over their fireplace, they had a shrine with all the offerings, food, etc. with a picture of Christ in the center. The man explained that he wanted his friends to understand that Jesus lived in their home, just as the other people's "gods" lived in theirs. My parents thought it beautiful.

  2. Another wonderful post Fr Scott. I'm going to share this with Rama our IT guy (yes, originally born in India). I think might enjoy your posts too.

    Question regarding the leaves... are they really poisonous oleander leaves, and if so, what's the toll on the ladies of the house or in this case, the servant girls?

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