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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rips and tears

There is reality and then there is REALITY. Certainly I've witnessed pieces of daily life and have seen the best of humanity in so many people I have encountered here. Undoubtedly my encounters are a part of the truth of India. They are the pieces of the tapestry that is India, so attractive; they have given me such a sense of peace.

But there are rips and tears, weaknesses in this tapestry, too. I have seen a few, as I've indicated in previous posts. The poverty accounts for some. The violence adds many more. Thankfully, I have not personally witnessed any violence, but I fear I was very close a few days ago.

We were driving from Chatra to Mokama, making pretty good time, when all of a sudden we had to stop. When Indian drivers see stopped traffic, they do not stop in orderly lines and wait for traffic to get going again. They try to maneuver around whatever is keeping them from progressing. A large truck was stopped in front of us, but it looked like we could drive around it and be on our way. Our driver moved into the other lane (though I hesitate to call it a lane as that would imply things like lane markers and a semblance of order, both of which are rarely present on Indian roads, as far as I can tell).  As the jeep started to turn, we could see a crowd gathered around the driver's side door of the truck. As we got closer, we could see several men in the crowd trying to pull the driver out of the vehicle; they didn't look too happy. There was a heated exchange going on between crowd and driver, as some continued to try to pull the driver down. As we passed the truck, we saw that  it had rear-ended a bus, so we knew the cause of the anger.

All I could think was,"Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap, please don't let me witness someone getting the snot beaten out of him (or worse)." My thoughts were a little more emphatic, but you get the idea. I wanted to scream, just to provide some distraction. We didn't get much past the truck when we saw oncoming traffic which would require us to back up, passing the truck again. As we were backing up, there was still a crowd around the truck cabin, but no one seemed to have hands on the driver anymore. I was relieved, though still worried that things would heat up again.

As I have written previously, the book Half the Sky was the impetus for my journey. There are some horrific stories of violence in the book- rapes, beatings, killings- so I knew such acts were common here. The few times I've picked up a newspaper or watched the news here, I've seen the same kinds of stories- women gang raped, someone beaten to death or near death. Just a few nights ago on the news there was film footage of crowds beating a police officer with sticks. It was a scene hard to forget. Recently I was talking to one of the sisters, who was telling me how pervasive rape is here. She also told me about several people she knows who are in jail for murder. I don't personally know multiple people in jail for murder, do you?

With all of this in my mind, I was holding my breath and praying and praying that tempers would cool enough to keep the driver safe. Certainly, I could understand the anger. The truck had been going fast enough to do some real damage to the bus and there was at least one person being tended to after the wreck.  Just as certainly, I knew that beating the driver would not change what had already happened. Maybe the mob realized this, maybe they didn't, but I am a little comforted to know that when we passed the third time, finally able to continue forward, the driver was still in his seat unharmed.

As we drove on, I was trying to process what I'd seen and what may or may not have happened after we left. As we drove through a village, we passed another scene that jarred me. I saw a man holding another man in the air. The man being held was clearly struggling to get out of the grip of the first man. Again there was a crowd assembled. I saw no more than this, as we only drove past, but I have a feeling the man struggling to get away did not fare as well as the driver (might have).

These scenes remind me that there there is a lot going on here that is not immediately apparent, lots I have yet to understand or may never understand. The  tapestry of REALITY here is complex, the peace, violence, joy, and pain all woven together, inseparably bound. It is constantly ripped and torn, sometimes with brutal force.  I hope it is also re-sewn, mended, patched, with new threads woven in, and old ones pulled out.  My hope is that the cloth becomes ever stronger and ever more beautiful as the weaving continues.

As I sit here and write, I think: by being here, I am a small piece of this tapestry, too. How will I be woven into this place? How will I make the cloth stronger and how will I weaken it? What strands will intertwine themselves so completely with me that I will rip them out when I leave?  What will be torn from me and remain woven in?

My answer to all of the above questions: I do not know.

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