Trip Start Jan 15, 2009
Trip End May 06, 2009

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Flag of India  , Tamil Nadu,
Monday, March 9, 2009

Trivia Question
Chennai is not regarded as a tourist city.  We went on a guided bus tour the first day and the highlight is the answer to a great trivia question.  Anybody who is interested in the history of the Christian church should find this interesting.

Of Christ's 12 apostles, the burial site of only 3 are known today.  Can you name the three apostles and the locations of their tombs?

#1 - (Easy)
Peter is buried in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

#2 - (Medium)
James is buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the town by the same name.  It is in the very northern part of Spain.

#3 - (Difficult)
Thomas is buried in the San Thome Church in Chennai, India.  The story goes that the apostles drew lots to determine where they would be stationed after the death of Christ.  Thomas was assigned to India.  He spent most of his time in the south, where he was martyred.  See the church website at

To me (and it seems that many Americans share this observation) the recurring observation about India is composed of two interdependent parts: refuse and poverty.  In my limited experience, the quality of life in India lags behind that in China. 
Today I picked up an apple core off the floor of my classroom and carried it to a trash can.  Someone had eaten an apple and discarded the core - it lay shriveled and ignored in the aisle.  Many students had noticed it (they admitted as much).  But this is uncommon.  It is unusual to discover that someone has left garbage on the floor of a classroom.  When I take my children to the beach near my house, we regularly pick up some trash as we leave the area.  It feels good to make the easy effort to carry a bottle or can from the beach to a trash can.  So maybe I am overly sensitive to garbage on the grounds of where I live.  The amount of litter on the ground in India is - I chose this word carefully - awesome.  As I rode in the bus, I wondered how this condition has become so common.  Have Indians always dropped their refuse near or within their living quarters?  Maybe this was a common habit before the British arrived.  Maybe it has always been this way here. Maybe refuse is foreign to westerners because of the dual meaning of the word "refuse" - the noun and the verb. 
Along the streets around Chennai (Madras) some piles of trash are partially burned.  So maybe refuse is kept nearby as a convenient source of fuel.  I also saw goats, dogs, and cows picking through the refuse for food.  So maybe keeping refuse nearby provides a source of food for the common animals. 
Or maybe the population has grown to overwhelm the infrastructure of the country.   Maybe the Indians deplore the refuse as much as I do, but it is a problem that is too big to solve.  Or maybe it is simply less important than finding enough money to pay for the next meal.  At the margins of starvation, I would choose to sweep a rich man's house or carry a load on my back or beg for a few rupees instead of volunteering for Greenpeace. 
Holly practices yoga regularly, mostly at a gym but sometimes at home via DVD.   Sometimes we chuckle when the instructor suggests that we should feel the energy from the earth moving up through our feet toward our "suppleness".   To promote this transmission, Yoga is always practiced barefooted.  The Hindu tradition has a real belief that touching the earth with the soles of your feet is important for health.  So it should come as no surprise that many Indians go barefoot.  And yes, their feet are really, really dirty.  Just how dirty? 
If you knew a fish who could speak, and you asked him whether he was wet, he would not be able to answer.  The fish cannot understand wetness because he has never known what it means to be dry.  He has always been wet; he cannot know anything other than being wet.  
So I guess to the Indians, their feet are not dirty.  They are feet.  But many of the feet are decorated, so they can be beautiful.  Women wear toe rings and dangly ankle bracelets (they probably have a name) so to me, the feet were incredibly dirty, calloused, mangled, rough, and ugly.  But at the same time, they were precious, adorned, and fundamental to life.  
In a letter to the editor of The Hindu (India's largest daily national newspaper) I read that 70% of Indians live on 20 rupees per day.  The author is Markandey Katju, a judge on the Supreme Court of India, so I suppose that he has access to reliable data about his country.  At the current exchange rate, twenty rupees is about forty US cents per day.  After spending 5 days in India, I am convinced that some Indians live on 20 rupees per day.  There are a lot of homeless people and beggars.  And I think that many of the people I saw working were probably day laborers, so they might work one day per week.  Life must be incredibly bleak for many of them.  But 70% of the population?  I honestly don't see how they could survive. 
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