Friday, February 22, 2008

Getting Perspective on The Grand Trunk Express

There is not much reason to take the train these days. If time is a part of the financial equation, then taking a two and half hour flight makes more sense than a thirty-two hour journey to the same destination. But, not everything in this world has to be gauged by dollars and cents, or maybe shouldn’t. So I boarded the Grand Trunk Express from Chennai to Delhi, knowing that the two-night one day excursion would be long but certainly more interesting than sitting on a plane just looking at the back of the head of someone sitting in front of me.

As we pulled out of the station the first evening, the weather outside was hot and humid. Inside the compartment it was so cold I had to close the overhead vents. The porter came in and made my bed while as we passed a number of people sleeping on railway platforms and on the side of the busy roads. My fellow travelers were upper middle income as we journeyed through the countryside of people who live on less than $2 a day. The contrasts in this country are so prevalent that few people even notice. Imagine, on the same train there are those who paid $100 for a first class coach, while in the back of the train, which is the largest section of travelers, they paid less than $10 for the same trip, but had to sleep on flat bench, if the are lucky, on the floor or, more likely, sitting up, leaning on others in a the overcrowded bogies.

Throughout the day I gazed outside my window and thought of this interesting country. My mind, of course, thought about the people who live in the villages along the rail lines. I watched a woman drop a bucket in a well to draw water, little children flying kites near a polluted swamp and wondered what the old man was thinking as he watched the lumbering train pass not more than 20 yards from his house? The further we traveled north I saw more Moslem mosques, big and small Hindu temples but very few churches.

I’ve been in this business a long time, perhaps too long. I no longer get emotionally sappy about the poverty or spiritual needs of the masses. The years and miles have moved me from being na├»ve idealist to a critical realist. I rejoice with every mouth that is fed, every child that is educated, every sinner who becomes a saint. But the reality of this country is that, statistically, the percentage of Christians ten years from now will be less than its present. A population steeped in superstition and whose highest goal is achieve higher status, if the Indian changes his/her faith, it will be more likely to the gods of multi-national corporations, not the God of heaven. The foreign God of Christianity may be the stated offence of Hindu’s, but the foreign god of wealth and material goods is most certainly a faith they readily embrace.

The Almighty, fortunately, is not limited by my skepticism or the hyperbole of those who think they are making an impact on the society with their uncritical outreach programs. God will do what only God does -- use the good, the bad and the silly to bring honor unto Himself. Perhaps more people should take a ride on the Grand Trunk Express to get perspective on the reality of life and to reflect on how He can best use us in the grand scheme of things.