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Saying Farewell to a Land of Contrasts

Monday, June 20

We said a sad farewell to the Sisters of Notre Dame on Thursday evening. Donovan and Tom presented the Sr. Mary Agnes Bosche Award to Sr. Sandhya. All of the Sisters gathered in front of a Mary statue located in the garden in front of the entrance. I spoke about the history of Sr. Bosche, her determination and her compassion, and at the end sang the hymn “Now the Day is Over.” We gathered for dinner, where I sang, “God Be With Us ‘till We Meet Again.” The Sisters said a prayer and we all retired for the evening, except we then went to the Windsor Hotel for one last night in the environs of Bangalore.

Tom McKrill and Donovan Maben have said good bye to the Sisters of Notre Dame.
Tom McKrill and Donovan Maben have said good bye to the Sisters of Notre Dame.

Friday, we flew to Delhi and were taken to a very modest but clean hotel in the middle of a local market somewhere near the city center. The streets were narrow alleys filled with merchants and people shopping for wares. For a variety of reasons, one of which was the language barrier, we opted for a better, international hotel. So much for saving money! Our comfort level immediately rose and, after spending three weeks living as the monks did in the 18th century, we treated ourselves to some 20th century luxury.

The monsoon season is barely beginning, so our afternoon plan to tour was somewhat curtailed. We visited the City Gate, a significant landmark in memory of the Indians who fought in WWI. India was not an immediate combatant, but as part of the British Empire, men were conscripted to fight.

Saturday, we travelled for six hours to Agra, the site of the Taj Majal. This great wonder of the world is everything it is said to be and more. For such a renowned landmark, it was strange and disconcerting to walk a path bordered with vendors, beggars and crowds who were just gathering around. Once on the grounds, one cannot help but be immediately impressed with the grandeur of the design and the white marble with  a crystal content, which is what makes the monument take on so many hues as the sun rises and sets. The temperature was 45 degrees Celsius, which exceeds 112 Fahrenheit. 

We then traveled to Jaipur, a very important city during the Mogul occupation of India. We toured a number of palaces and forts, and the central market which is lined with a pink colored arcade, ergo the name “Pink City.”

One last thought about the constant contrasts of beauty, wealth and poverty. There are beautiful Hindu temples throughout the land. The British established elaborate green zones and parks in the major cities. Wealthy people live in elegant high rises or private enclaves.

There are more than 600 million Indians living on about $2 a day. That leaves the second half living above that amount. Economists define middle class as the class one enters from poverty when one accumulates more than one needs to survive; that might be a simple radio or piece of furniture, or motor scooter. In spite of that definition, the visibility of poverty is undeniable. Over the generations, landholdings, which at one time were grand, have been so subdivided that they are below subsistence levels. When there are multiple sons in a family, one gets the holding and the remainder leaves to seek their “fortunes” elsewhere. Such poverty is so overwhelming that it is hard to envision a day when it will be even partially alleviated. In spite of this abysmal condition, there is a beauty of the people and a certain peacefulness that is hard to define, not to mention, believe.

- Steve Hotchkiss