Of Duwali, dogs and chickens

Bruce Spinney


I have lived through Duwali a number of times now and it never ceases to amaze me. It is the festival of lights and celebrates the victory of good over evil. I am amazed at the fact that this theme is acknowledged all over the world in one form of another. It is assumed that this is a fact contrary to evidence. But that is the theme of Christianity as well so I concur.

Duwali is famous of the fireworks that are let off all night. I went up on the roof of my building and watched as explosions went off all around with beautiful trails of color lighting up the sky. There is a flamboyance here in India that raises its head every now and then that takes you by surprise.

My flight this year was uneventful and I praise God for the invention of sleeping pills and understanding doctors who prescribe them. I do not sleep well on moving vehicles (an attribute that has saved my life on long trips) and flights have been brutal in the past.

I am teaching this fall near the city of Vishakhaputnam (typically shortened to Vizag), at Master’s College of Theology. The school has three large buildings and about 70 students. I have a class of only eight this semester which is much easier than the 40 that I had last spring.

The reason for this has to do with my teaching style which is largely interactive.

Discussion is not a part of student culture any more. In the old days the student would go to an ashram and learn from a guru.

They would sit in a circle and discuss topics until the mind of the guru became the mind of the student. The western education culture of the past was all about rote memory work and so getting vast amounts of information stuffed in one’s head was more important than understanding or interacting with the information.

Their ability to memorize is amazing. Their ability to understand arguments is less so.

This week classes are suspended due to a large pastor’s conference. I was asked at the last minute to give four lectures, one a day, on a biblical theme. Recently I spoke in Canada on the topic of the raising of Lazarus from the dead and so used that as a springboard. That topic has now been extended to four hours of lecture. The more I dig the more I find and so far (I have two more to go) it has gone well. I usually get asked to preach on Sunday mornings and I have done one other two hour lecture at a plenary session at the school. Busy, busy, busy.

When I arrived in Vizag there was a massive rain storm in process. It was the most rain they have had here in 80 years, and this in a lush climate. Over 30 people killed and thousands of homes wrecked or buried under mud slides in the surrounding mountains. Roads and rails were washed out and many, if not most of the students did not arrive back in time for classes. They had been on a two week ministry practicum in various parts of India. It was amazing to see a downpour like what you would see under a cumulonimbus but lasting for days.

That is past and with winter coming on the weather is pleasant and I sleep well. Day time highs are around 27 degrees. Compared to the 38-40 degree temperatures in Calcutta that I left in April, it is delightful.

I have mentioned the omnipresence of dogs in India. They are scrawny mangy things that howl and bark at night and lounge during the day. It is clear that most of them are starving and do not have the protein to maintain a proper coat of fur. They mostly have ears and tails missing from fights and are great scavengers of anything that resembles food. Inhabiting the same square yardage are the chicken population which are culled to support my diet. These chickens are free range chickens and merely strut around the campus waiting to be eaten. What amazes me is that these starving dogs do not in any way molest the chickens. They live side by side, the chickens being the equivalent of great slabs of juicy protein served up on silver platters and the dogs wave them off indicating that they are waiting for something a bit more to their liking to come along in the next course. I am not sure what keeps the dogs in check but have surmised a very deep and continuous prayer life on the part of the chickens.

Bruce Spinney is a Tumbler Ridge pastor, teacher, truck driver, troublemaker and traveler. He recently returned to India where he is training indigenous pastors.