Bible college

Wow! I am exhausted. I have just finished the first semester of Bible College. Ending with 8 two hour exams in one week. (That’s been a test of endurance I can tell you!). It has been a blast. It is also why my blog has been a bit quiet of late. Study and assignments has taken up most of my time. Trying to fit all that into the daily challenges of life in Bangalore has not been easy. It has meant my time for reading and writing has been squeezed out. However, I am now on holiday until January. Time to catch up on all things.

Daily Life at College

For now, I’d like to give you a glimpse into life at Bible College in Bangalore. Obviously I have nothing to compare it to so I have no idea how it contrasts to other Bible Colleges. I am also a Day student and not a boarder. The boarders have a set daily schedule they have to adhere to from 5am (yes that’s right, 5am!) until 10pm. Their lives are literally mapped out for them whilst they are at Bible College. By comparison the handful of Day students have it easy.

This has been an amazing journey. I still can’t believe I am at Bible College. It is great and I am really enjoying it. I am learning so much and despite being there from 9:30am to 1pm Monday to Friday I feel as though I don’t have enough time to study. It’s amazing what you learn when you start studying again.

Facilities

Finding the college at first was difficult. It is in a residential area on the ground floor of a three storey multipurpose building. It is unmarked. There are no signs directing you to the college and no signs outside the college to alert people what the building is used for. I have no idea why this is as I have not asked but I do wonder if it is for safety and security reasons. This is a very nationalistic Hindu country and attacks on Christians are not rare.

The college itself is very basic. The desks are old and falling apart and our chairs are a variety of plastic garden chairs. The space is one large L shaped room, two classrooms and a book warehouse with a sink and kitchen table. The one toilet is outside around the corner. (More on that later.)

The L shaped room is used as a music area and the main area is used for daily morning meetings. The meetings are held from 8:30am and consist of praise and worship followed by one of the students delivering a sermon, in English, on a portion of the Bible. A safe place to practice for those going into the ministry.

After the morning meeting the chairs are moved into the classrooms and tables arranged in rows. We share desks, two to each desk. There’s not a lot of space. There is a white board on the wall. The windows at the rear of the classrooms have bars on them (usual in Bangalore). The classroom door has a lock on each side. (Can you see where I am going with this?) I was quite alarmed when every teacher entering the classroom locked the door behind them. Nobody else seemed alarmed. I was at the back of the classroom near the windows. My exit route was locked. I requested the door be kept open at all times. It took a few days before everyone got used to having the door open.

I open the windows and switch on the fan every morning to circulate the air. We keep the window open throughout class and whilst it is noisy (even in a residential area the noise is incredible), it is worth it to circulate the air and avoid a stuffy classroom. One of the teachers once closed the door and asked for the windows to be shut because of the noise.The small classroom quickly became hot and stuffy and we were all falling asleep in the heat. A quick break and reopening windows for the entire session afterwards solved that problem.

There were no fire exit signs, no first aid box or signs and no fire extinguishers. Considering one of the rooms was a storage area and full of books, I found this to be an incredible oversight. The safety of the students just didn’t appear to have been considered (although I am sure it had). I ordered and placed all the above in college. No one said anything directly to me but I could see that they were bemused. That’s not quite true, one lady student laughed at me thinking I was ridiculous. I ignored it.

The next thing I did was buy a welcome mat, washing up liquid and hand soap. They were drinking out of cups that were being rinsed under a cold tap before being reused. I also started supplying biscuits to go with chai (tea) at the morning break. This was a very welcome addition.

Toilets

Right, toilet facilities. When I first arrived (late in the term due to holidaying in the UK), I was directed to the ladies boarding house for the toilet. It was about 100 yards away from the college, we needed a key and one of the boarding ladies to accompany us there. Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out that with Bangalore Belly being a feature of my life that this was a very dangerous arrangement for me. The risk of having “an accident” was high and very unwelcome. The risk of total humiliation in front of my fellow students was not appealing. Nevertheless, I complied with this arrangement for weeks. I also supplied the ladies boarding house with hand soap and a towel as there wasn’t any. I was also told not to use toilet tissue as it wouldn’t flush. The crux came when I needed the loo and I had to wait for one of the boarding ladies to exit the wet room as she was having a shower (I use that word in its widest sense). As she stepped out into the bedroom, wrapped in a towel, I thought enough was enough.

I asked the class ‘Captain’ (elected student representative) where the men went to the toilet and was told that there wasn’t a toilet available for ladies on site and I had to use the boarding house. After pressing her, I was told there was a toilet on site for the men but it wasn’t suitable for the ladies. I asked why and wasn’t given an answer. The class Captain said she would have to as the college director whether I could use the men’s toilet. The incredibility of the situation was lost on her.

I asked one of my male classmates to direct me to the loo they use. It was outside around the corner at the back of the college. It had a functioning toilet and a tap, bucket, a hose / douche but no sink. The floor was a lake but it was perfectly usable. I was dumbfounded as to why I wasn’t allowed to use it.

Now, those who know me will know that I would see that as a challenge, and indeed I did. I started using the toilet. The men were bemused at first but got used to me queuing for the loo with them. I also upgraded the facilities with some easy and obvious additions. I bought a plastic three tiered veg tray stand and placed it in the toilet with hand soap, soap dish and antibacterial gel. I placed a towel on the hook and bought (a much needed) air freshener. (I wash and change the towel weekly). I also supplied mosquito spray and toilet roll. I placed a loo block in the cistern. The toilet was transformed. I now use it all the time. The other ladies still will not use it.

The Syllabus

So, enough about the facilities, what have I been studying for the last few months? The syllabus has been interesting and varied. The subjects covered in the first semester were as follows:

Minister’s Foundation – we studied a book called ‘Code of Honour’ which contained some basic guidelines about what to do and what not to do in ministry. It covered personal life, family, people, conduct, preaching, anointing, results, fellowship, money, women and fame. Yes, fame. Apparently in India this is a thing. Who knew!

Old Testament Survey – literally a gallop overview of the whole of the Old Testament in one semester. Learning about history, authors, themes, purpose etc of each book. It was a good grounding in the background to each book of the Old Testament. I did feel it was rushed though and the sheer volume of information was daunting in an exam scenario.

Praise and Worship – and the difference between the two. I found this to be the most difficult topic. I am not musically talented or gifted in any way and whilst I enjoy singing, the right note or key is an aspirational thing for me. Thankfully there was no ‘practical’ side to this. We did learn about what the worship team does mid week, about auditions and the probation period. They really have no idea how fortunate they are to have so many gifted and talented musicians and singers within the church. It’s normal to them. Rather unlike the small churches in the UK who scramble around to find anybody with the slightest musical talent to beg them to play. (Don’t take that personally, it’s not about you!).

The Holy Spirit – The person of the Holy Spirit, work of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible, baptism of the Holy Spirit, gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity etc. This was a real education and fascinating.

Who we are in Christ – understanding our union with Christ. This class was taught by Pastor Kenny who is a gifted speaker and frequently went off topic to tell us about events to illustrate points. It was very interesting.

Faith – literally everything to do with our faith and what helps and hinders faith. Very useful.

Prayer and Intercession – I found this the most enjoyable subject and was taught by Kala who is also a gifted teacher as well as an amazing prayer warrior. It really has transformed the way I pray and my prayer life. Don’t know how to pray? Start with the Lord’s Prayer folks. It’s a great way to start praying if you never have.

Soul Winning – pretty much lessons on how not to be a dick! Nobody likes a Bible Basher after all. That’s not the way to do it. There were some interesting insights into the biblical foundations of evangelism as well as some basic principles.

We had exams in all of these subjects which completed the first semester. January sees the start of a whole new bunch of subjects which, I am sure, will prove equally fascinating.

EXAM WEEK

This is the diary I kept when I took my first set of mid term exams in September:

Day One I’ve just sat the first exam in literally decades.  It was weird going into the classroom, with the desks laid out in rows and our names on the desks. First year students were sat next to second year students so that there was no temptation to copy. At the start of the exam the teacher handed out the double sided question papers and people immediately started to look at them and write on them before some of us had even received a copy of the paper. The teacher then waited a few minutes before giving out blank pieces of paper and telling everyone NOT to write on the question paper and write all the answer on the plain sheet, and no one was to start yet. A little late for that announcement!

When he said we could start there was frantic writing all around me, whilst I read through section A of the paper and turned over to section B, where I found some questions I thought I could answer. Section C was memory verses (I knew one of the eight listed – oh dear) and section D was a true or false section; so a 50/50 chance of getting them right. We were half way through the exam before I realised the time. As we were only given one piece of paper to write on I had to keep asking for more. Some students had finished 45 mins into the exam and stood up, walked to the front and handed in their paper before walking out. That was a distraction for me as in the UK people generally sit till the end of the exam and they certainly don’t get up and walk to the front – you have to raise your hand and wait for the invigilator to collect your paper.

Time up and people kept on writing. We were asked to hand in our papers at the front. As we did so some were still writing. Eventually the last lady handed in her paper. I was disorientated. This would never have happened in the U.K. In exam halls everyone has to put their pens down and wait for all papers to be collected by the invigilators and wait to be dismissed by them. It was really strange.

Final exam week

Exam week two, just completed, was pretty similar but with the exam being two hours long a lot more people got up and left early when they had finished their papers. For some exams there were only one or two individuals sat writing exams at the end whilst the rest of us enjoyed a cup of tea and biscuits. One exam, the second years finished early whilst the first years were still writing away, so they brought us all tea and biscuits to our desks. It was very welcome. Can you imagine that in a UK exam hall?!

Christmas Break

The final exam saw the end of term. We are now on a break until January. Students have returned to their villages across India, back to their families for Christmas. I have given each of the first year students an Advent Calendar (imported from the UK) together with an explanation of what it is and how to use it. They had never heard of them. I hope they all enjoy the countdown to Christmas, Our Saviour’s birth, as much as we do.

Now, time to start preparing for Christmas.

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St Mary’s Feast


What is it?



St. Mary’s Feast celebrates the birth of Mother Mary is the most important festival celebrated in St Mary’s basilica and is attended by thousands of people. 

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St. Mary’s Basilica is a basilica located in the Archdiocese of Bangalore. It is among the oldest churches in Bangalore and is the only church in the state that has been elevated to the status of a minor basilica. It really is a beautiful piece of architecture and is busy with visitors all day.

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 When is it?



The festivities go on for 10 days beginning on Tuesday 29th August and end on Friday 8th September; the day on which the Mother Mary was born. The first mass began at 5:30am with masses every 30 minutes in three different languages. At 6:30am the Archbishop offered a thanksgiving mass.

How is it celebrated?

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The festivities begin with the masses. In the evening of the first day, the first novena flag is blessed and hoisted (it’s a traditional flag). The flag with the image of “Our Lady” was blessed by Archbishop Bernard Moras and was hoisted by Sri KJ George (a former Home Minister for Karnataka state).

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A Novena ( a form of worship in the Roman Catholic Church consisting of special prayers or services on nine successive days) is held on the first nine days from Tuesday 29th August to Thursday 7th September. 

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On Friday 8th September, the day on which Mother Mary was born, a Holy feast is celebrated. Holy Mass is offered in different languages and mass marriages are conducted for those in need. A thanksgiving mass is also organized for couples who have completed 50 years of marriage. Eucharistic celebrations (mass with bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ) are held on the day of the feast. The day culminates with a grand chariot procession with a decorated chariot with the image of Mother Mary drawn by devotees along the various streets of Bangalore. 

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Afterwards food is distributed to the thousand of people who have joined in the celebrations. This throng of people consists of all religions with Hindus joining Christians in the celebrations. It is a great time of enjoyment and feasting together.

Bible College in Bangalore – my story of how it happened

This is a post I never thought I would be writing. My friends will tell you that I am the least likely person to go to Bible College. (In my opinion, I am also the most likely to get kicked out at some point!). So how did this happen? How, after 33 years of being a (pretty crap) Christian, did I end up going to Bible College? How did I get here? Obviously it’s all in God’s great plan for my life, but I can tell it from my perspective.

Becoming a Christian – my belief in God

Woodvale Chapel

I had attended Woodvale Chapel in Ainsdale, where I grew up, ever since my cousins Michelle and Carol had taken us at a very young age. I loved going. The folks were kind and accepted us (me and my twin) with all our challenges, having come from a ‘chaotic’ family childhood which made us aggressive, defensive and outspoken. (I know, not much has changed.) 

Billy Graham, Mission:England

The church took the youth group on a trip to the Billy Graham Mission:England at Anfield Stadium in 1984. I sat listening to this old American preacher saying things I had heard a thousand times before. God loved me. He loved me so much that He sent His only son to die for me so that I could go to heaven. I knew it and I believed it, only I had never said ‘the prayer’ asking for forgiveness and accepting Jesus into my life. Billy Graham did an ‘alter call’, which is asking people to make a public declaration of faith and saying ‘the prayer’. Me and my twin looked at each other in the stands and asked each other should we go down. We went down together and in front of thousands and together with thousands of others, asked for forgiveness of our sins and welcomed Jesus into our lives. I didn’t feel any different. I just knew I had done it. I was 14 years old. 

My Christian life

Now, becoming a christian doesn’t magically make your life perfect, and mine hasn’t been, but it does give you an assurance that your sins are forgiven. My Christian life has had many ups and downs. There have been some very deep downs, the biggest being when my father died of cancer in 1996. I was 26 years old and my father had been taken away from me. I was, and am, devastated by it. My life changed forever and God seemed very far from me. It took me a very long time, years in fact, to ‘forgive ‘ God for what had happened to my father and robbing me of a parent. 

Whatever happened in my life, when I drifted away from God, there was always something to bring me back. My faith has never wavered, ever. I know that God is there. It’s just sometimes in my life I wish He wasn’t. That’s quite bad really. I do get fed up, frustrated and angry. As I have got older, and hopefully wiser, I have realised that I am not alone in those feelings. I also know that I think I am the worst sinner in the world and God can’t possibly forgive me again for doing the same thing over and over and not learning. He does. Thankfully.

How did a crap Christian get into Bible College?

Faith Camp

So last year Zahra and me went to Faith Camp. It’s a family camping week at the South of England Showground and Peterborough Arena organised by Kingdom Faith Church. It’s a week of fun filled activities for the children, of all ages, and a week of lectures and seminar and praise and worship for the adults. It’s a great atmosphere and the teaching is great too. 

Last year there was a big advert (for want of a better word) for their Bible College. I was sat listening thinking I wouldn’t mind going to Bible College BUT, I thought, they would never let me in and it was on the south coast and the fees were out of my price range. As I sat there thinking this, friends surrounding me kept nudging me, winking, indicating I should apply, and laughing. I thought it was funny too. I thought they wouldn’t know what hit them if they did let me in. It WAS funny. I WAS the least likely person to go to Bible College (after all, I have been known to bring bottles of Prosecco to Bible studies!). There was absolutely no way I was going, even if I did fancy the idea.

Move to Bangalore

God, of course, had different plans. Fast forward a few years and here we are as a family in Bangalore, India. We moved here in 2015 with Rez’s work. It was a traumatic move and affected my health badly. I had to give up work. I’m not going to bore you with that long story, but it now meant that I was free to do what I liked. For the first time in my life I didn’t have a job. It is very liberating. I have never been out of work. I worked through college and university and went straight into work afterwards. No travel or inter railing for me. Now I had time to do something I wanted to do.

Volunteering

I spent most of last year working on the school PTA raising funds for the three charities they support. I baked and sold and organised and badgered sponsorship from local companies. It was all encompassing and kept me busy. When the school holidays were approaching I was considering whether I wanted to continue on the PTA or do something else. 

All People’s Church

That is when All People’s Church (APC) started advertising for applications for their Bible College. Now Zahra and I have attended APC for about 18 months now but I didn’t know they had a Bible College.

Again I thought about it and thought I might enjoy it. I also thought they wouldn’t let me in. I thought about it for several weeks before I spoke to Pastor Nancy about it. She encouraged me to apply. I finally plucked up the courage and filled in the application form and sent it in. I had done my bit and fully expected to be rejected. I mean I am 47 years old competing against 20 something’s from all over India for a college place. I didn’t rate my chances. God had a different idea obviously, and I still think this is His sense of humour coming out. I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognise. Normally I don’t answer them but this time I did. It was the Bible College asking me to come in for an interview and arranged a date. 

The interview

I was bricking it. I have not had an interview in decades, literally decades. I know nothing about modern interviews for colleges and universities. I had no idea what to expect, whether there would be a panel and how many other candidates would be around and what they would ask. I arrived at the appointed time at the church office and waited, alone. I was met by a lovely lady who led me into a small interview room and offered me tea. I was disoriented. For the next 30 mins or so, she asked me questions, none of which I can remember and all of which I answered. She then tells me about the college and what the subjects are, the teaching is in English (a relief) and timings (9.30am to 1pm), fees and that as an “elderly student” I might “nap” during lectures but not to worry, they were there to help and support me. (I try not to laugh but fail).  I am confused so I ask when will I find out if my application is successful. She tells me immediately that it is successful and I am going to Bible College. 

I’m in!

WHAT?! Wait. How did this happen? This went far too smoothly to be real. How did I just get into Bible College? It fits with school runs too. Just too surreal.

Then the spanner in the works came. Bible College started in July. I would be in the U.K. until the middle of August so I couldn’t join. No problem! What? You’re letting me start 6 weeks after the course commences? Yes indeed. I was stunned and delighted.

I returned home in a daze. It was still sinking in. I was actually going to go to Bible College. No one was going to believe me. No one was going to believe they actually let me in! How was I going to tell people and what would there reactions be. Probably similar to those I experienced when I told people I was getting married, no one believed me then!

Bible College

Anyway, here I am at Bible College and really enjoying it. I am learning so many things about history in the Old Testament as well as prayer, praise, worship, the Holy Spirit, practical christian living… load of things. It’s great. I’ve already caught up on assignments (some of which were pretty tough) and I’ve managed not to nap in lectures! I am the second oldest in the class surrounded by young men who look likely to be pastors and ministers of the future. It’s exam week next week. A whole week of exams. I’ve not even caught up on what I’ve missed yet but who cares…this is the first time I will have taken exams in over a decade too; I don’t care what my result is, it’s the experience which will be valuable. 

I am sure I will do another blogpost about Bible College itself in future, but for now you have my tale of how I got there. Lesson? Never underestimate what God has planned for you…it may well be outside your range of possibilities but it is never outside His!

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If you want to find out more…

If you want to find out more about becoming a christian take a look at CrossCheck for more information and help: http://www.crosscheck.org.uk/ 

Bakr-Id

What is it?



Id-ul-Zuha (Bakr-Id), which is also known as Eid al-Adha or Id-ul-Adha, is an important festival that many Muslims celebrate with special prayers, greetings and gifts. Eid al-Adha is called “Bakr-Id” in India due to the tradition of sacrificing a goat or “bakri”.

When is it?



It begins on the evening of Friday 1st September and ends in the evening of Saturday 2nd September. Saturday 2nd September is the holiday. The date changes every year according to the Gregorian calendar but is the same date every year in the Islamic calendar. It is usually in September, October or November. Some references state it is a four day festival. It is a gazetted holiday* in India and is also referred to as the festival of sacrifice. It is also at the end of the month of fasting during Ramadan and begins after the culmination of the holy pilgrimage ‘Hajj’ at Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

How is it celebrated? 



Id-ul-Zuha is a festival that is celebrated with traditional fervor and gaiety in India and the world. Many Muslims wear new clothes and attend an open-air prayer meeting during Id-ul-Zuha. They may sacrifice a sheep or goat and share the meat with family members, neighbours and the poor. Many Muslims feel that they have a duty to ensure that all Muslims can enjoy a meat based meal during this holiday. Large scale prayer meetings take place in areas of India with predominantly Muslim population.
National, state and local government offices, post offices and banks are closed on Eid al-Adha. Islamic stores, businesses and other organizations may be closed or have reduced opening hours. public transport operates on reduced timetables (although I’m not sure how a timetable works in Bangalore, and I have never seen one!).

Background and History



Muslims around the world believe that Allah (God) commanded Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Ibrahim followed God’s orders, but his son was replaced by a sheep at the last moment. Muslims celebrate this at Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Adha is called Id-ul-Adha in Arabic and Bakr-Id in the Indian subcontinent, because of the tradition of sacrificing a goat or “bakri” in Urdu. The word “id” derived from the Arabic “iwd” means “festival” and “zuha” comes from “uzhaiyya” which translates to “sacrifice”.

*Note: During a gazetted holiday, government offices and most businesses are closed so people have a day off work.

Holidaying in Hyderabad 

Saturday 

Arrival

We arrived at the bustling and bright Hyderabad airport in the afternoon and were met at the airport with traditional flower garlands by our friends. We hopped into a cab and chatted along the drive into Secunderabad. We checked in to the Justa Hotel on Necklace Road next to Hussain Sagar reservoir in Secunderabad. Hyderabad was so far typically Indian – rough with the smooth and filthy dirty next to pristine places – a city of contrasts like everywhere in India. The hotel was inbetween two building sites. The staff ere friendly and the room basic and clean. We dropped off our bags (and flower garlands) and headed out.

NTR Gardens and Park


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We headed out to a park called NTR Gardens. There was a small fee to get in (I think 20 rupees) and it was busy with families arriving for an evening in the park. There was plenty to do. We took the Toy Train ride around the park and people watched as we went round.  Zahra tried to break the bungi trampoline by jumping so high hopes went slack! Then there was the water slide. Sunny and Finny took Zahra on and they had fun as well as getting wet. I noticed that the were a large constituency of Muslims enjoying the park – not something often seen in Bangalore. It was a refreshing change.

Sunny, Zahra and Finny enjoying the toy train ride

Paradise Restaurant 


Getting hungry we headed over to the Paradise restaurant for the “world’s favourite biryani”. The food was good and plentiful (a take home bag was necessary) but the service was super slow which let it down. 

We went  to a local mall for a (huge) ice cream for dessert. They chop and mix the ingredients together in a display before you get your ice cream. Zahra went for ferrero rocher and there was a lot of chocolate and chocolate sauce involved!

Ice cream mixing

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Sunday 

King’s Temple Church


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Sunday involved and early start for church. We headed over to the Mahbub College Grounds for the 9am service of King’s Temple Church. The 7am service is in English, the 9am in English with immediate Telegu translation and an 11am service in Telegu. As our friends are Telegu speakers we opted for the service which suited us all at 9am.

Church traffic jam
 

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We arrived in a traffic jam. Hundreds of people were leaving the early service and hundreds of people were heading into the 9am service. The college was also a building site. The “hall” had no walls and the ceiling was under construction. Piles of building materials had to be navigated to get into the service. 

Navigating building materials at the entrance

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We were given the “elements”(communion wafer and juice), a church leaflet and a donation envelope as we walked in. We were quickly walked to plastic chairs about a third of the way from the front. The band was in full flow and the singers were giving it their all. It was a party atmosphere. There was a large stage, professional lighting and sound, a band and a blue tarpaulin covering the roof. Incredible India right here and as it is monsoon season I am glad it didn’t rain! 

The band and singers continued joyfully for some time before the pastor came on to deliver his sermon on the importance of prayer, and prayer in way that’s biblical rather than a shopping list. It was strange art first that the preacher would say a sentence or two and wait for the translator to translate his every word. The Translator also followed the preacher around the stage, keeping just a few feet away from him all the time. I quickly got used to it and settled into listening to the sermon. 

We took communion and the (many) collection buckets were circulated for tithes and donations. Then there was another sermon by video by the senior pastor, again with a translation in the recording. It ended up being rather shouty for my liking and the sound was clearly struggling with the noise and the translation became inaudible towards the end. I was quite relieved when it finished. The sermon, on prayer, was good but I had a headache from the loud shouting. The service was 2 hours long and attended by several hundred people – the congregation was huge.. I did think how many people in the U.K. would sit through a service that long. People get itchy feet when a service runs a minute over one hour in the UK!

We headed over to Cafe Coffee Day (India’s answer to Starbucks and Costa, except they don’t do soya milk) for a caffeine shot and rest. 

Salar Jung Museum

Suitably refreshed we headed over to the Salar Jung Museum. This had beautiful collections of art and objects from all over the world. The Salar Jung family were hereditary prime ministers in the Hyderabad court to the Nizams, the rulers of Hyderabad, from the middle of the 19th century. The museum was established in 1951 and moved to its current location on the banks of the river Musi in 1968. It was extended in the year 2000 when two blocks were added. Renovations to three of the galleries were in progress when we visited.


Now like most places of interest in India there is one price for Indians and one price for foreigners. In this case it was 20 rupees (25p) for an Indian and 500 rupees (£6) for a foreigner plus a 50 rupee (60p) phone camera charge. I had my FRO (Foreigner Registration Office) with me and and was going to fight my corner. We live in Bangalore and I’m not paying the extortionate foreigner rate. Purchasing the ticket wasn’t an issue. Getting passed the lady in the women’s security line was. “Madam, not Indian” greeted me when I handed over my ticket. I swiftly announced I lived here and produced copies of our visas, FRO forms, change of address – you name it I had it. The lady security guard looked flummoxed and waved over another (male) security guard who checked our documents and waved us in. Mrs security guard did not look impressed as we walked in through to the next screening (airport security style). Sometimes it is the just little things…


The collections of art and decorative objects is impressive and over the course of several hours we managed to see nearly all of it before tiredness took over. There are collections of paintings, carpets, weapons, textiles, metal work, walking sticks, furniture, jade, ivory, sculptures and much more. The statue of the “Veiled Rebecca” (by Benzoni, a 19th century Italian sculptor) and the jade collection were particular highlights. Collections are generally divided into Far East, Indian, and European spread across two floors and three wings. It’s certainly a walk to take in all the collections. There is a central hall which houses a musical clock and attracts a large crowd to watch it chime every hour. The museum also has a food court and a souvenir shop, neither of which we had time to visit. It was very busy and clearly a popular museum, which sometimes made it difficult to see or get close to some of the exhibits. The first floor exhibits were much less crowded though.

Monday

The ladies and children’s pool with water bucket

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Jalavihar Waterpark

Jalavihar (“exciting water”) waterpark. ₽250 per person admission. Own food and drink is not allowed in the park and is retained at reception until you leave. There were slides (with and without rubber rings), a wavepool (with a ladies only section), ladies and children slide and pool area and a rain disco. Dry games for kids and flocks of birds (chickens, geese, guinea fowl) wandering freely around the park. Views across the lake were stunning from the top of the slides. It was small but with lots of slides to keep a 10 year old happy for several hours until tiredness kicked in. The changing rooms were basic with toilets and showers outnumbering the four changing cubicles considerably. Lockers were available to rent at ₽100 and were small but functional. The was a food area with stalls but we didn’t eat there. It was an enjoyable day out.

Eat Street

We headed over to Eat Street afterwards for food. There are stunning views across Hussain Sagar lake. It was beautiful and peaceful. We drank our coffee and ate pizza and noodles, after all we had worked up an appetite.

Nanking Chinese Restaurant and camel ride

In the evening we headed out to the Nanking Chinese restaurant, stopping en route for a camel ride for Zahra. Two camels in the central reservation car parking with some mini fairground rides. A makeshift tourist spot. The camel ride cost ₽30 if you shared or ₽50 for a sole ride. The camels were walked about 50m away before turning round and coming back. It was short and sweet, but Zahra enjoyed it nonetheless. Camels are huge and have massive feet; just an observation.


The Nanking Chinese restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived. We ordered our food and it came promptly. We ordered small dishes and I’m glad we all didn’t order a dish each because the “small” portions were huge! One plate of “small” noodles provided three large portions. It was ridiculous. We ate as much as we could and asked for the rest of the food to be parcelled up for a takeaway. The restaurant happily obliged. 

Tuesday

Charminar 

The Charminar

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Literally means four minarets and was built by Sultan Mohamed Quli Shah between 1591 and 1612. It is in the middle of a busy market and effective operates as a roundabout, so to get to it you have to dodge traffic coming from all directions as well as market traders. It was a little hair raising! The queue was about 30 people long but we, as foreigners, were ushered to the front of the queue by a guide. Indian entry fee was 15 rupees (17p) and foreigner entry fee was 200 rupees (£2.40), children were free. I couldn’t be bothered arguing and frankly it was worth it to queue jump. We hired the guide to show us rounds (negotiated down from 300 rupees to 200 rupees) and again proved to be worth every rupee as we skipped the normal queues to go up (and down) and entered (and exited) via the restricted entry gate. We climbed the stone spiral castle like staircase to the first floor and took in the marvellous views across the busy marketplaces.

Bustling markets at the Charminar gates
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The markets on each side sell separate things. One side for lacquered bangles (mouled out of pure lac and studded with glittering cut glass), another for pearls, another for fruit and the remaining for clothes and linen. Perfume called Itar or Attar is also sold. This is traditional perfume based in sandlewood oil (rather than alcohol), and fragranced with rose or musk or jasmine.
10km underground tunnel from the Golconda Fort to the fountain under the Charminar. 

The Quabbala Shahi Dynasty was founded by Sultan Quli Qutb ul Mulk in 1518 CE.He was initially in the court of of Bahamani rulers and in due course was made The Governor of Telangana under the Bahmani Kingdom. After the death of the Bahamani Sultan he declared independence in 1518 and established the Qutb Shahi Dynasty (1518-1687 CE), which ruled over the Golkonda Kingdom comprising of Telangana, Andhra, parts of northern Karnataka, Marathwada and Berra regions for about 171 years, and by seven monarchs of the dynasty. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb conquered Golconda Fort in 1687 CE and subsequently annexed it to his empire.

Chowmalla Palace

A rather uninspiring entrance hid the opulence of the magnificent Chowmalal Place. It’s a large peaceful retreat in a busy bustling city with four garden courtyards and several palace buildings. It was the main residence of the ruling nizams in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The most opulent of these halls is the Khilwat Mubarak; a Durban hall with magnificent crystal chandeliers and a balcony. It is at the heart of the palace and the coronation of VIII Nizam was held here on 6th April, 1967.

Khilwat Mubarak
The adjoining halls had various antique collections including an armoury of the Asaf Jami Dynasty. 

Amongst the various palace buildings there was an impressive collection of antique cars, including Rolls Royces. It was a pleasant and peaceful walk with plenty to see.


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Wednesday

Today was a rest day at our friend’s home. We had mahendi done. A much needed relaxing day.


Thursday

Nehru Zoological Park was our destination today and it proved to be a good walk too. It’s a sprawling zoo in 300 acres, part of which is a ‘safari’ (aka wild) area. Most of the animals are contained within moated areas but the big cats were rather depressingly in small cages. There were additional fees to look around the very small aquarium, the nocturnal exhibits (literally too dark to see anything in places, including where you are walking) and the ‘safari’ to see the lions and tigers.  Whilst it was cleaner than most zoos we have visited in India it was still a building site in places and some of the animals displayed signs of distress by pacing or swaying on the spot. The lions and tigers in the ‘safari’ were in cages.

Unusually, there was a temple to Hunaman (the monkey god) inside the zoo.

Facilities were few as there was only one food area within the entire zoo and only one set of toilets. Both left much to be desired. 

Sign showing the way to the temple
Building works in front of the elephant enclosure
Spelling is everything
The only map of the zoo we saw, half way round

Friday

We had a trip to the Birla Science Museum and modern art gallery on Friday. Zahra had a great time in the interactive zone.

The interactive zone
Measurements are so important

Then we went to the famous 10 Downing Street (“10D”) pub for lunch. It’s inside a small shopping mall and worth finding as the lunchtime special menu was super cheap for 3 courses including a drink.

10 Downing Street pub

Boat ride to Buddha statue

Buddha
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Hussain Sagar is a large reservoir (from the 17th century!) which separates Secunderabad from Hyderabad built by Husain Shah Wali. The Buddha statue is on the island in the reservoir. Boats ferry across tourists at regular intervals for a small fee. It is the largest monolithic statue of Gautam Buddha in India. It was carved out of a single granite rock by 40 sculptors under the guidance of Ganapati Stapathi. It was transported 60kms from Raigiri on a massive carriage with 192 wheels. It was erected in December 1992 is 17m high and weighs 320 tonnnes. It was consecrated by His Holiness the Dalia Lama on 2nd January 2006.

Holidaying in Hyderabad 

There was certainly a lot to see and do in Hyderabad and we didn’t see it all in this trip. We have previously been to the Golconda Fort so didn’t visit it again this time. There were various palace hotels and mosques and temples we didn’t have time to see either. If you’re in India it’s certainly worth a trip, especially as flights and accommodation are so cheap. 

Bonalu

Front page picture from the Hyderabad Times

What is it? 

Bonalu is a folk festival celebrated in the Telangana region, Andhra Pradesh. This century-old tradition is observed with gaiety and devotional fervour. 

When is it?

It is during the month of Asadh. This is Sunday 25th June to Sunday 16th July in 2017. 

How is it celebrated?

This month long festival is marked by devotional singing and ritualistic worship of the village deities. The ‘Ghatams’ or decorated pots, filled with flowers, are the main attraction of the festival. The flower pots are carried on the heads of women in a procession. Similarly cooked rice is also carried by women on their heads to the local goddess accompanied by male drummers. Every Sunday from the end of June throughout July there are colourful celebrations ongoing.

Bonalu is celebrated chiefly in the cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad ( where we happen to be on holiday at the moment). Saree Jagadambika Temple located on the top of the Golconda Fort attracts the most devotees from the region. The state government also performs puja officially on behalf of the people. Temples are decorated. 

In Hyderabad the newspapers reported low attendance at work from female employees who were celebrating Bonalu. Some employers are allowing female staff to leave early to visit temples for puja. Office are reported to be in a festive atmosphere as ladies distribute sweets to colleagues dressed for the occasion. 

Desperately Seeking Soulmates

The Times of India , 10th April 2016

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

In the West

It is interesting how different cultures accept and address singleness and marriage. In the west there are various websites to assist people, who want to, find a partner. In the newspapers there are adverts with the headings usually along the lines of ‘men seeking women’, ‘women seeking men’, ‘men seeking men’, ‘women seeking women’ and so on.  Acronyms are plentiful e.g. GSH = good sense of humour etc. to reduce advertising costs. The adverts usually list hobbies and what they are looking for eg ‘fun, friendship and nights out’. The adverts are all placed by the people themselves who are seeking friendship or more.

In India

In India there are completely different sub categories. Today, in the Times of India, the following subheadings and categories were used for those seeking ‘Soulmates’:

  • Caste
  • Community
  • Profession
  • Religion
  • Language 
  • Nationality
  • General

It speaks volumes about the attitudes to people from different backgrounds, regions, religions and nationality. The page was separated into blue ‘Wanted Brides’ and pink ‘Wanted Grooms’, reinforcing stereotypes. There is absolutely nowhere for people to advertise for people meeting each other for friendship or relationships; this is purely for marriage only.

Included in the adverts are details of looks and width (slim!) height, skin colour (fair being preferred), date of birth, father’s occupation and asking for people with similar qualifications, background, language, caste etc. The majority of the adverts appear to be placed by the parents of sons and daughters who are seeking spouses for their children. Arranged marriages effectively. 

There are no sections for LGBT people to advertise. Sexual activity between two males is illegal in India and punishment is incarceration – a minimum of 10 years up to life in prison (although there have been no convictions for 20 years, despite arrests in 2014). Female same sex activity is not criminalised. 

Are the times changing?

The Times has placed its own advert on the bottom left of the page: 

It is said marriages are made in Heaven. It is a sacred union of soulmates who may not belong to the same colour, creed or colour.

As the social constraints imposed by the society slowly disappear, inter-caste and inter-community marriages are becoming more and more acceptable – and logical. To commemorate this changing trend, The Times of India dedicates exclusive space for inter caste and inter community marriages. A 25% discount will be offered to matrimonial advertisers who place their advert under the sub- heading “Caste No Bar”  and a 50% discount for matrimonial advertisers who place their advert under “Religion No Bar”.

In today’s paper there was not a single advert under the heading ‘religion no bar’. Under the heading ‘caste no bar’ there were only 2 adverts placed under ‘brides wanted’ and 9 under ‘grooms wanted’. 

It appears it is a triumph of hope over reality, by the Times of India, that trends and social constraints surrounding marriage are disappearing. What a shame society isn’t rising to the challenge – so much change is needed.