By George Aramath
This is the slogan given to the State of Kerala. If God were to live on earth, this 15,005 sq. miles of land would be His country. It's a bold statement to make but from my travels around the state, I can only agree! I came to this realization especially when I visited my family in Coimbatore, a bordering state. The difference was like night and day. The old saying that "you only know what you have when you don't have it" came to mind. Kerala is filled with beautiful trees, greenery, cool weather, waterfalls, lakes, mountains; itís all here:
To give you an example of the natural richness of this land, look at this picture:
In my morning walk, I came across this dying tree; it receives no water so it's withering away. But as it dies, the tree still gives fruit! Thatís Kerala.
Kerala may be God's Own Country, but unfortunately man lives in it. This land that only gives is inhabited by man who takes. For one thing, man abuses this land with trash being thrown at random. Growing up in America, this type of behavior is considered disgraceful, not to mention unlawful. But itís far different here. Even at church festivals when people are done eating, they simply drop their paper plate and cup. I could not believe what I was seeing!
If you see trash like this, you know some type of function took place. As if to make the situation better, one church made this announcement: "Once you are finished eating, please be sure to throw your plates and cup a few feet away from the church ground"!
This type of behavior has basically become habitual in people's mind. While walking through a village, a middle-aged man a few feet ahead was throwing his trash into the small river in front of his house. He then sees us, turns our direction, and greets us with a pleasant smile! There's no sign of shame in what he did; it's just normal practice.
But then there are public places known for tourism that has trash cans set up.
Now this is what I'm used to. The place was well-kept and clean. For the most part, visitors used these trash cans. As I stood convinced that there needs to be overall change in Keralaís public policy on cleanliness, a professor and activist in this field gave me a whole new perspective. In Kerala, we throw our trash into the soil where itís gradually absorbed by nature. Or as itís done in the West, trash is collected and dumped all at once into a landfill. Which is the better option?
Keralites have introduced positive alternatives from this nature-rich land. Medicine for instance is far different from America. Kerala has options, many options. Ayurvedic and homeopathy medicine are common and plentiful; these are alternatives to English medicine, as it's called here. These options, unlike English medicine, have no side-affects since its natural. My eyes were opened to these options during my stay at SEERI, which I wrote about in a previous journal entry. At that time I did not mention that the director and one of the professors at this institution were heart patients who required major surgery. Both of these men chose natural options deciding to change their lifestyle completely by eating only fruits and vegetables. There I am eating my scrumptious meal, chewing on my meat, while these two skinny men are eating bananas for dinner! I laughed at first. But it's been over five years and their heart is back to normal condition. No surgery, just natural healing, according to their words. This treatment is based on the idea that our bodies are designed to heal itself if itís properly tuned. This tuning takes times and some sort of change in the person's lifestyle, thus the main reason why people choose English medicine; you simply swallow a pill.
I mentioned earlier that this land of Kerala that only gives is inhabited by man who takes. The best example of this is Kerala politics. If you asked me to rate it from one to ten, I'll give it a zero! Though itís a bit exaggerated, the point remains. Politics in Kerala is horrible, to put it mildly. This state has the highest literacy rate but if education is about building character, as Gandhi proclaimed, then these politicians have learned nothing.
Theyíre very easy to spot since most of them wear white; it's their uniform. A couple of days ago I came across one of them who wore a slightly torn white shirt. I thought he was not aware of it but later found out that his party members, a major party in Kerala, always tear their shirts as a symbol of Gandhi's simplicity. This is a perfect example of Kerala politics: it's all on the outside.
There's a strange practice in Kerala of parties changing every term. If itís the Communist part this term, then it's the Congress party next. How is this possible in a democracy? Apparently people have high expectations when its election time and once a party is elected in, a few years into their term the populace are disappointed, so the other party wins the next term. This pattern repeats itself: disappointment follows disappointment. This leads to the current situation where elected politicians have no motivation since they know they'll lose the next term. So they pursue self-interests during those five years.
If you turn on the news, listen to the radio, or read the newspaper, I guarantee that you'll come across something related to politics. They're everywhere! Streets are filled with party stickers. Political rallies are very common, further congesting the already filled roads. One party bickers about the other while making many promises. Then there are all these men who are far too lazy to work, wearing white and following their leader wherever he goes.
The current trend in politics is their efforts to reach youngsters. College campuses are aggressively recruiting party members. A few months back, a college political election turned violent leading to a death of a police officer. The educational realm is being corrupted. Corruption and violence are high in the Kerala politics. If you're elected into office, it's better than winning the lottery (no taxes and low publicity!). Low-level members are violently beaten by the rival party leading to occasional deaths. And at the funeral, their leader comes in his luxurious car, proclaims him a martyr for the party, then exits, leaving behind a family without their father.
My presentation of Kerala politics may be very gloomy. Granted itís not at the stage where its utter chaos, like other countries, but the system has turned to the point where politicianís first interest is "me, myself, and I". And Keralites have come to accept this. They love talking politics because there's always something to talk about. It starts something like this: "I can't believe . . .", "Now listen to what this politician said . . ."
Talk is plenty in the political world. These parties set up stages in public areas with loud speakers:
They preach even if no one's listening!
Though it's an awkward transition from politics to church, there is a connection. One of my pleasant surprises about our church was their annual convention at the end of December. It lasts for one week, ending midnight December 31st with Holy Eucharist. What a blessed way to begin the New Year! Attendance was high for these seven days.
Our churches are running similar conventions throughout the year in different places. Local churches have set up family units, where different areas get together each week at a nearby home. Institutions run weekly and monthly retreats. Diocese runs larger conventions. Basically if you want to hear God's Word, there are plenty of options. This trend is mainly a reaction against Pentecostal churches who initially took people through these get-togethers. So our church began offering it. Our faithful have therefore become well-versed in the Bible. In fact, thereís an excellent Bible Academy run by our church on Sundayís at the Patriarchal Center. Degrees are given for one-year and two-year courses. It teaches our faithful about the Bible within the Syriac Orthodox tradition. I was quite impressed when I attended one of these classes. This picture shows the first graduates:
They are then certified to lead prayer meetings and conventions run by our church.
Some find comfort in these get-togethers; others are healed. Last week, I attended a convention in the high range area organized for three days according to the Nineveh Lent. Over 10,000 people attend each day.
Some completely fast for these three days, staying at the beautiful church nearby:
Miracles are many: sick are healed, wives become joyful mother, employment is found, etc.
But I want to present another side. As I mentioned, in the overall state of Christianity in Kerala, preaching is everywhere. With independent people starting their own churches, the amount of preaching taking place is immense. You'll see countless advertisements on the road for Christian get-togethers, with a picture of some guy wearing a suit holding a Bible in his hand. Christ did command his disciples to go and preach the Good News; this preaching part is certainly taking place. But has it become, if I may say so, similar to Kerala politics where there's much preaching but little else? I love this quote: "The problem with Western Christianity is that we are overfed and under-exercised". Kerala is also heading in this direction. Let me end with this meaningful illustration:
Three people were discussing some recent translations of the Bible. One said, "I like the New American Version. It is so much clearer than the older versions, and is so much easier to read."
The second said, "I like the King James Bible. It's not only clearer, but it's more poetic, which makes it more suitable for us in prayer."
The third said, "I like my mother's translation best of all. She translated the Bible into actions, which makes it so much easier to apply to daily life."
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