Me, Tommy and Jesus in the New India: A Republic Day Reflection (2008)

Today, January 26th, is Republic Day in India. This year marks the 58th anniversary of Republic Day celebrations in this great nation. Days like this are not only for celebrating achievements of the past but for dreaming about the future. Here in Delhi, the nation's capital, during the days leading up to this Republic Day, the news media has featured the thoughts and reflections of various citizens on the future of the nation. As a foreigner residing in India, I offer here some of my own musings.

On a recent trip to Chandigarh, I walked through the Tommy Hilfiger store in Sector 17, and I felt a sadness in my soul. I really have nothing against that particular brand of clothing, yet in that store I found myself in a moment of mourning as I reflected on some of the negative effects of globalization.

As I perused the store’s merchandise, I realized that I could have been anywhere in the world – at least anywhere that Tommy has found a significant market. But the fact is, I wasn’t in America or Europe. I was in India – and something didn’t feel totally right about that. You see, I love India and the Indianness about India. While I was in that store, I wanted to say, This isn’t India. But in reality, I know it is – it is the New India, the product of globalization, that phenomenon which has transformed India into a place where Tommy feels at home.

I guess, in some ways, I am nostalgic about the Old India, without Tommy, McDonalds or Coca Cola. I first visited India before any of these staked their claim on the country. I loved that India. That doesn’t mean that I hate the New India. Practically speaking, my family and I are enjoying the New India very much. We like the blend of Old and New, and as residents of New Delhi we probably live more in the New. I still drink more coffee than chai, and wear more t-shirts than kurtas. We love chole and chapatis but we still eat more bread and pasta. And although we are learning Hindi we function mostly in English.

Despite this, I feel a little like India is losing something when Tommy Hilfiger becomes popular. Maybe I shouldn’t pick on Tommy, but he’s an easy target. He’s just a symbol, and only one of a myriad of examples that help to explain the pervading influence of globalization. I could easily choose any of the new global brands that are out there. Maybe it’s more offensive to me because so many of these brands, like Tommy, are American. And that’s where I’m from, not America proper, but Canada – the northernmost part of North America. Somehow it’s difficult for me to see so many Indians prefering American brands. Of course, this goes beyond clothing. There’s something about seeing Indians become more like me that doesn’t feel very good. Because some of what I see in myself reflects what I see as the negative aspects of my own culture. And as a foreigner in India, there’s so much about Indian culture that I love, everything from the strength of the family to the beauty of the textiles. It doesn’t mean that I hate my own culture, but in the global cultural market today we all have the privilege of picking and choosing from a wide variety of cultures. And when I see Indians choosing aspects of Western culture – like consumerism and individualism – that I happen to dislike and even consider unhealthy for the human soul, then that’s when this sadness sets in.

While in that same store in Chandigarh, I asked myself another question, Is the presence of Jesus in India anything like the presence of Tommy Hilfiger? As a follower of Jesus in India, I’m pretty convinced that the answer to that question is, No.

Of course, Jesus has been here for a lot longer than Tommy. There are a few different stories about how Jesus came to India, but one of the most well known is that one of his disciples, Thomas, brought him and his message to South India soon after Jesus died in the Middle East. Thomas preached the message of Jesus and a number of Indians became followers. Later, of course, the modern missionary movement brought a host of others, this time mostly from the West, who came as representatives of Jesus and his church. There is undoubtedly a host of opinions about whether or not this movement has truly benefitted India, though the fact of its impact on today’s India is not in dispute; it is an integral part of India’s history.

That is the story according to man’s historical perspective. God’s perspective is different. If one accepts the divinity of Jesus, then one must also confess that he has been lovingly present in India long before this nation was born. But whatever your perspective is on theology or history, Jesus is here in India today.

If I am able to freely contemplate the value of Tommy’s presence in India, I would also like to offer some brief and personal thoughts on the presence of Jesus here in this nation today, and how it relates to the present trend that we call globalization.

In some ways, I am in India as a product of globalization. I am here on a business visa, representing a Canadian home textiles company. This company imports carpets from India to Canada where it then distributes them to retail outlets throughout Canada and the US. In this way, I am playing a small role in helping to spread India around the globe by giving Indian suppliers a better chance to reach foreign markets.

This is, at least, a part of my identity, my official status. But there’s more to me than carpets. I am also a spiritual man and a follower of Jesus. I have a sense of calling, that God has brought me to India for a purpose. Part of that has to do with carpets, and I sincerely hope that my business dealings will benefit India’s economy, and ultimately, her people. But I also represent Jesus as I live and work here – this understanding is foundational to my identity as a follower of Jesus – and I believe that what I have to offer India in terms of my relationship with Jesus and the message of his love is far greater than what I have to offer as a business representative.

I didn’t come to India with grand ideas of saving this great nation, or changing her culture, or converting her people to my religion. I hope that I am not so arrogant to believe that I can achieve those things in my own strength and ability. But I can honestly say that I love India and I care about her future. After spending the past two years here, I feel attached to this nation and her people. India has become home for me and my family. I have already received so much from India in terms of friendships and experiences. But is it possible that I also have something to give? I believe in humanity enough to be convinced that, as a fellow human being, I do have something to contribute to India’s well being.

Does India need help? Of course, it does. Every nation does. My own nation, Canada, is in many ways a very needy place, albeit the needs may be slightly different from that of India. So, the question remains, What does India need?

There will be a wide variety of opinions on that question, but here I will share mine. And I know that I am not alone in this opinion, nor am I surrounded only by other foreigners. I live and work among the Indian Middle Class and I hear many of them press this point as well. It goes something like this: India’s greatest needs are 1) a new morality that does not accept corruption and bribery, and 2) a new leadership that lives by the new morality. These are problems not only in the government – they are in the society as a whole. They cross racial and religious boundaries. They touch every city, every village, every family and every soul. There are other problems, no doubt, everything from poverty to poor infrastructure, but these are more the result of the former problem.

It might sound strange at first, but in my estimation, India needs more servants. By that, I mean that it needs leaders who will serve, those who will see their primary duty as one of meeting the needs of others, those who will sacrifice their own dreams, even their own lives, for the sake of the nation. These servant leaders will not necessarily be found in traditional positions of authority, though this would be good. To be most effective, these leaders need to be found in every part of society, in every home, every office, every school, every market.

In this regard, I see hope in Jesus. To me, Jesus exemplifies servant leadership. Therefore, I believe that the best I am able to give to this nation would be first, to follow Jesus wholeheartedly in my own life, and second, to train leaders who similarly exhibit this kind of leadership. Jesus said this about himself, "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). He was true to this message in his life and in his death. In my experience, Jesus is the only leader who provides both a perfect example to follow in attitude and behaviour, but also provides the power to transform us into those kinds of leaders.

The latter part of Jesus' statement above defines something beyond service. Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many. Jesus died for you. He promises to transform India, but only by means of bringing salvation to your own soul through dealing with the greatest problem that plagues all humanity – the sin that lies in every human heart. This is the only path to personal salvation and national healing.

Gandhi-ji helped to transform India. He did so by a great vision and great exploits. A critical component of his approach was that he followed the teachings of Jesus, specifically the teachings on non-violence. In fact, Gandhi-ji was enamoured by Jesus. In some ways, he followed Jesus’ teachings on non-violence more honestly than many Jesus-followers. But in the end, Gandhi-ji would not trust Jesus with his soul, or with his India. And so, amazing as the transformation was at the time – the fruit of which endures to this day and is celebrated on this Republic Day – today, for the most part, the nation still chooses to keep Jesus at a distance. He may have helped them in one way, but the wounds of too many Indian souls still bleed. Though Gandhi-ji valued Jesus, I believe that Jesus has been greatly misunderstood by Indians. As a result, the healing that Jesus alone can bring to India has not yet been received. God’s greatest gift to this nation still remains unopened. I believe that Jesus needs to be heard again in India.

On this Republic Day, I am readily able to accept the idea that Tommy Hilfiger is here in India to stay, and in the grand scheme of things it is a small question of whether or not the Indian’s attire and lifestyle may be better for it. But someone greater is also here – Jesus – and in the end, the greatest question Indians will ever ask is what they will do with him – whether to keep him at a distance, or to invite him into their lives, to save their souls and heal their land.

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