A Hindu high caste wedding involves 4 to 5 big invitational events, so it helps to be wealthy. When in India recently, we stayed at a hotel that was hosting several such events – one on each night we were there. Tuesday night was a ring ceremony (aka an engagement party). There were 300+ guests decked out in formal Indian attire. The entire hotel was decorated with flowers and lights. An ornate stage was set-up for the outdoor concert that was central to the event. A singer from Indian Idol was the headliner.
There don’t seem to be any community noise control laws in Siliguri, so even in your hotel room there is no getting away from the party – you might as well be at it. We went down to the lobby to have a look at the people entering. The hotel manager asked us to join the party. We weren’t dressed for it and we weren’t invited guests, so we declined. Our host insisted so before we knew it we had gained entry to the party. The family of the groom greeted us at the door and assured us that we were welcome.
We were overwhelmed by the hospitality. There we were – two gray-haired guys from America – and we were granted full entry into a world both foreign and enchanting. The food, music, attire, traditions and decorations were so different from anything to which we were accustomed. And we also saw the familiar. There was a multi-generational dance floor that was gyrating, whooping, and not too good at dancing – they were having a blast. There was an uncle who had a bit too much to drink (who was being attended by a few brothers who had been in this position with him before). Small talk was going on everywhere. A bubble of action surrounded and moved with the future bride and groom.
There were dozens of servants at the event – all of whom are part of the low caste in India (known as the Dalit). It occurred to both Marty and me that our entry was based on perceived status. We were Americans at a nice hotel so we were thought to be on equal footing with the high caste people. However, our friends and constant companions while we are in India are all Dalit. They would have been refused entry based on their caste.
I don’t want to take away form the gracious hospitality we were shown. We had entry into the inner circle because the people throwing the party were welcoming to two strangers. They live in a society where caste differences are so ingrained as to be unremarkable. We were viewing it through American eyes. It is worth noting that the Indian government is making strides to include the Dalit – a kind of Affirmative Action – but they have a long way to go, especially in remote areas where the caste system is so much a part of the culture.
The daily indignities of the poor in India would create a lifetime of stories for an American. Yet there is also life and joy and laughter and love. The resilience of the human spirit never ceases to amaze me. I remembered something I once heard – you will truly know if you are a servant if people treat you like one. I looked at the people serving this party and saw the way they served. They didn’t exhibit any hostility. They attended to each guest in the most helpful manner. They were modeling something that Paul teaches in the Epistle to the Philippians…
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)
I am surrounded by servants in India. And I would prefer to be among them – and like them. What would be more Christlike than to be seen as a servant?