DCC News


Weekly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Dublin Community Church


March 7, 2008



Pune Express

The train ride took all day and half the night and the result was arriving at the Pune train station at 3 in the morning. Laura and I were traveling from Goa on India’s west coast to the large city of India of Pune where we were to visit the work of Deep Griha (Lighthouse).

Dr. Neela Onawale and her husband Rev. Baskar Onawale started deep Griha many years before. It had (still does) generous support from First Community Church and First Congregational Church in Columbus, Ohio. But we were there because a friend had recommended it to us as we journeyed throughout India on my sabbatical.

Its beauty lies in the fact that the Onawales and many others have settled a mission in the heart of some of the poorest areas of that large city of Pune. The mission is part medical, daycare, food serving, trade learning and much, much more. They go into the even poorer sections of that city for daycare, medical checkups and food distribution. Currently they are founding an orphanage outside the city and educational facilities.

It was impressive then. It is impressive now.

But, at the moment when we arrived at the Pune railway station at 3 am, none of these facts were known to us. We wouldn’t have cared much anyway. Our goal was to get out of the station and to the guest house, which the Onawales had assured us, would be ready for us, any time we arrived.

One of the key components of India rail travel is that the train will depart and arrive nearly on time. The computerized rail system is quite remarkable. One of the other components of India rail travel is that you gotta barge your way onto the train itself and back off the train at your destination. Lots of people. Typical narrow train aisles and quick timetables that makes the stops brief.

There is a bit more color to train travel in India due to having cows wandering on train platforms in certain cities. I don’t recall that in Chicago or New York. It’s also quite fun to exit a railcar and face the cab drivers at any Indian station. We arrived at 3 am. Lots of people got off but it was obvious that my daughter and I were not locals and so the cabbies sprinted through the gates (where there was a completely-ignored sign warning cab drivers to NOT come through the gate) to take our bag and assure us that they knew where the address was for our hostel for the next week.

We squeezed our luggage and ourselves into the auto-rickshaw which is about the size of a golf cart, with it whining engine and three wheels. The auto-rickshaws are great fun, lots of open air and in the warm dry season it makes for an exciting ride through the dark streets of the city. Our driver was knowledgeable and indeed, got us to the correct neighborhood of the hostel. But the streets of that part of town proved to be bewildering even to the Pune-bred cabbie. We circled a few neighborhoods and finally we spotted a gentleman on his front porch enjoying the warm (and very early morning) air. Our cabbie asked the local man for a certain street and number. The man said he knew the place (or at least I am assuming that is what was said since the man on the porch was quickly running in front of our cab leading us to our destination.) Once it was found, we unwound ourselves from the auto-rickshaw, grabbed our bags, rang the bell of the hostel and crashed in our rooms. We had arrived.


Fast-forward four years to this past weekend.

I am now serving a church in Columbus and the Onawales are in town to visit with the two Columbus churches, which gave birth to their dream of service to the people of Pune. Some of us from Dublin Community Church met with the Onawales two weeks ago and then joined hundreds of others for a fund raising event at First Community Church. The idea was to wine and dine us; entertain and educate us; then challenge us to capture the vision of the new orphanage and an educational facility outside of Pune, India.

It is an easy sell. The mission is needed and the backing is solid. All that was needed from us was to capture that vision. Dr. Neela and Rev. Baskar Onawale made certain of that with their careful planning of the institution. The good folks of First Community and First Congregational Churches were all on board. I feel quite confident of the enterprise.

But the event at First Community with its food and entertainment brought back some memories. Those of us from Dublin Community church were seated near the back of the hall. That was fine. We were served promptly and had an excellent view of the Indian Dancers who provided a lively show.

The music and its rhythms brought me back to India, but what made things even more memorable was the experience that took place there in the back of the hall for those around our table. About 30 young Indian women and girls were there for dance. With them came all their families to see their daughters and granddaughters perform.

As the performers arrived, the curtain behind me was opened and there were chairs set up and a hundred or more family members also enjoyed the show as their children danced. Suddenly we were surrounded by Indian families video taping their daughters. CNN has fewer cameras at a White House press conference. Some of the older members of the families sat at our table rather than stand. Younger brothers and sisters of the dancers milled around and chattered.

Back where I was seated, the formal dinner had turned into an Indian gathering of families filled with quiet talk, gentle laughter and silent video cameras trained on the dancers. The guests surrounded our dining space. I was reminded of the trains in India where personal-space, so highly prized by Westerners, is virtually non-existent.

The families couldn’t have been more polite. During dinner I felt like I was at a Columbus, Ohio church event (and I assure you that is not a bad thing at all). During the dance portion of the evening, I felt like I was in India once again as the families joined in to make the event truly memorable.

It was good to be seated in the back. Back there, East met West. We had the best experience of all.

Peace, Rev. Bob Tussing

p.s. I tip my hat to Dr. Neela and Rev. Baskar Onawale of Deep Griha and the dedication of First Community Church of Columbus and First Congregational Church of Columbus to that mission.