What are two months in a person’s life? What is less than two months’ time if you wish to become familiar with a culture so marvelously rich as the Indian? In two months, one can merely gather impressions about a country, nothing more than that. However, one can meet and befriend new people – and that is something, something wonderful!
It has been two months since I visited India. I still vividly remember the day I set off and arrived in the country. To tell the truth, I was already on the plane when I suddenly realized how unprepared I would be arriving in Delhi. Naturally, the question is whether it is possible at all to get ready for India. I believe the answer is yes and no at the same time. On the one hand, it is possible to get ready as one purchases the plane ticket, obtains the visa, gets the vaccinations, sends e-mails to sort out the details with the superior of the local Jesuit community – and in the meantime prepares for the heat with quite high levels of humidity. One accepts in advance that clean drinking water will not be available everywhere, furthermore, the locals will heavily overcharge him for the services such as taxis, tuk-tuks, admission tickets, the hairdresser etc.; the guest will pay much more than the Indians, which is completely understandable, indeed. One can be pleased in advance to be able to attend splendid lectures at the theology, even though he is a priest already – live and learn, they say, or as they put it in Hungary: a good priest learns until his death; and that he will finally understand what contextual theology is.
What one cannot see in advance is being immediately surrounded by some twenty taxi drivers as he steps out of the airport, not knowing which driver has got hold of his mobile phone, and in a couple of minutes how this phone will find its way back to him (which, of course, it did). One cannot see in advance how very kind, thoughtful, friendly and how extensively helpful the fellow members will be. And how absolutely up-to-date the professors will be when it comes to theology as well as other fields like politics, sport and public life.
It is impossible to see in advance how easily one can make friends on the train, and that it seems the best place to do so. It is impossible to get ready for the diversity of religious belief which no doubt characterizes India – the beautiful Hindu temples, the Buddhist religious centers, the Muslim houses of worship. It is hard to get ready for the poverty one can face up to in India, as one looks into the empty eyes of the people living in the street, eyes sometimes full of hopelessness. It is utterly impossible to be ready to see the eyes of children asking for help, but then their uninhibited cheerfulness (Dilbara), too.
One cannot get ready for two cultures so far apart as Hungary and India to have that many things in common: points of intersection in the shape of personalities, as for example Amrita Sher-Gil, a Hungarian-Indian painter; in the shape of families, such as the chess-player Polgár family, or in the shape of inventions, say a Rubik cube, placed on a table in the memorial room of Indira Gandhi. It is also quite unexpected that notwithstanding the general knowledge that the Hindu religion is famous for its tolerance, there are temples which Christians can never set foot in. And from our European perspective, it might also be difficult to imagine that India is going through a phase of closing up and is flirting with the idea of nationalism, which might result in the nation losing its strength and unfortunately, in the course of time it might weigh heavily on cooperation as such.
What are two months? I had this question at the beginning and went on to say that this time might be enough for gathering some rudimentary experience and impressions. Any way we look at it, two months’ time is enough to fall in love with a country (India, in this particular case), it is enough to become fond of people, and it is enough for India to keep on enticing you back.
László Petrovics SJ