Tuesday, 31 May 2011

'Two States of Marriage'

'Indian Bride' is a sketch I did on my last trip to India, trying to capture something of Indian culture and custom.

An Indian Wedding as a celebration is the mainstay of the Indian social calendar for the whole community. Hospitality in abundance. They are colourful, lavish affairs.

And so often, it all comes together at the last minute, just like the Delhi Commonwealth Games
(I came across this poem along the same lines and some great pictures.)

The painting is based on a photograph used by an Indian NGO and it suggests something quintessentially 'Indian', indigenous. Maybe a little is 'lost in translation' but there is a sense that somehow this reflects the culture of organisation

Chetan Bhaghat's book '2 states: the story of my marriage' suggests that an Indian wedding is not so much about the coming together of 2 individuals, but more the coming together of 2 families, 2 cultures, 2 states..... As the book cover suggests:

Love marriages around the world are simple: Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. They get married.
In India, there are a few more steps: Boy loves Girl. Girl loves Boy. Girl's family has to love boy. Boy's family has to love girl. Girl's Family has to love Boy's Family. Boy's family has to love girl's family. Girl and Boy still love each other. They get married.
Welcome to 2 States, a story about Krish and Ananya. They are from two different states of India, deeply in love and want to get married. Of course, their parents don’t agree. To convert their love story into a love marriage, the couple have a tough battle in front of them. For it is easy to fight and rebel, but it is much harder to convince. Will they make it?

It feels a bit like that as we consider the future of CMS in Asia. The coming together of 2 different cultures. Socially as well as organisationally. East and West. The desire for AsiaCMS to be indigenous, culturally appropriate. Clearly Eastern in all its structures, governance, leadership, projects, programmes. But with people from different cultures. even just within India - North and South, East and West. So many languages and cultures.
Somehow it is about embracing the best of all worlds. A sort of fusion

In Monsoon Wedding (2001) the film culminates with a great dance sequence: young and old, male and female, all celebrating and dancing to the same colourful tune.. Maybe that's as good a picture as any.

And like an Indian Wedding, we plan and trust that it will all come good on the actual day. But there is an awful lot to do in the meantime....

It is often quoted: 'East is East and West is West and ne'er the twain shall meet' and it is left there ... that there is somehow an unspanable gulf between the two...

But Kipling's poem goes on to suggest the possibility of mature relationship, before God, standing face-to-face:

East is East and West is West
and ne'er the two shall meet
Til Earth and Sky stand presently
At God's great judgement seat
But there is neither East nor West
Border nor Breed, nor Birth
When two strong men stand face to face
Tho' they come from the ends of the earth

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Self Portrait - free of heart

This is a self portrait I did recently - my 'Afghan look' - an image I feel very comfortable with. It is part of my identity.

I have just been in Kabul where I chair the board of a partner NGO. I travel every May and November. It is something I enjoy immensely. There is something about Afghanistan and the Afghan people that gets inside you. It is a privilege to be involved in some small way.

The NGO work is demanding, with many projects designed to serve the people of Afghanistan. And sorting out governance and management We have just had a consultant with us helping to restructure the board governance. There was an overwhelming sense of agreement in the direction we are going. But it all takes time and is necessary. And sometimes seems a distraction form the real work.

Afghanistan is not an easy place to be. The demands are high, with constant security threats and the need to be vigilant. I recently wrote blog on the Mazar UN murders

There is a lack of infrastructure - so many basic things to do. Yet there is a sense of excitement in what some have called the Wild, Wild East.

I remember reading the classic 1960s novel set in Afghanistan - James A Mitchener's 'Caravans' with stories of play readings in Kabul and packs of wolves wandering the streets, of Nomadic Kuchi peoples wandering the Steppes on Camels, of a German engineer learning about how flexible Afghan bridges survive better than solid Western ones. There's a lesson there...

'I love Afghanistan. Who cares about the dysentery and the loneliness? For I knew that Afghanistan was the toughest assignment on record. Here was the post which sooner or later tested a man and for me the preliminaries were over. I was about to plunge into one of the world's great cauldrons' James A Mitchener: Caravans
People get romantic about Afghanistan and see enormous significance in its untamable wildness. Maybe none more so than Mohammad Iqbal (1876-1938) Pakistan's Poet laureate:

Asia is a living body, and Afghanistan is its heart.

In the ruin of the heart lies the ruin of the body;

So long as the heart is free, the body remains free;

If not it becomes a straw adrift in the wind.

A reminder to us all to be free of heart, free spirits ...

like the young woman in James Mitchener's 'Caravans' in spite of the trouble it may get us into.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

London: 'Sun breaking through fog'

I did this version of Claude Monet's Houses of Parliament, Sun breaking through fog (1904)
He used to live in Lower Norwood, not far from where we used to live in Penge. ( seperated by a couple of generations!). The Houses of Parliament were one of his favourite. He did a series of 8 painting, all on the same size canvas, since they were the same view from window. But all very different. His last, more impressionist painting is startling for its more liberal, less literal use of colour. And that certainly suits me ! Mine is but a pale reflection of a part of his picture. But it is still evocative of London and the Thames.

It also evoked T S Elliot's poem about his journey to London, part of his 'Choruses from the Rock' Collected Poems 1909-1935 (97) The poem remains a wonderful reflection on the relevance of the Church, in the City, in the suburbs and in the country ......

I journeyed to London, to the timekept City,

Where the River flows, with foreign flotations.

There I was told: we have too many churches,

And too few chop-houses. There I was told:

Let the vicars retire. Men do not need the Church

In the place where they work, but where they spend their


In the City, we need no bells:

Let them waken the suburbs.

I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told:

We toil for six days, on the seventh we must motor

To Hindhead, or Maidenhead.

If the weather is foul we stay at home and read the papers.

In industrial districts, there I was told

Of economic laws.

In the pleasant countryside, there it seemed

That the country now is only fit for picnics.

And the Church does not seem to be wanted

In country or in suburbs; and in the town

Only for important weddings.

Given the Royal Wedding this week the last line seemed particularly pertinent. And it was a Very Important Wedding. The Nation seems to want the Church then ... for State occasion and National functions. Mind you I did like the pagentry and bits of the service - the reading from Romans 12: 1-2, 9-18 and the talk by the Bishop of London

I attended another, family wedding this week in the country, in Pembrokeshire in S Wales. Whilst it took place in a URC Chapel, it was effectively a secular wedding. The singing was superb and lots of fun. With popular songs like 'I'm a Believer (The Monkeys)' and 'That's Amore' (Dean Martin) The congregation put their heart and soul into it. And a lot of imagination had gone into the poems and readings. It was a great wedding .... but God hardly got a mention. And that felt somehow empty.

I suppose it was a 'more liberal use of colour' which I enjoyed... But as in the Monet painting, I continue to look for Sun breaking though that fog.........