Sunday, April 02, 2006

Sunday Pleasures

The Hindu carried a profile of iconic lensman Gordon Parks in its Magazine today. Parks was a chronicler of the civil rights movement and captured the ironies of racism in his vivid images. He passed away on Mar 7 this year. I discovered a webpage that has a few of those pictures, including the one below.

While browsing an old Life magazine, I came upon a picture that grabbed my attention. A stylish African-American woman in high heels and glowing earstuds was standing on the curb with her little girl. Above them hung a disturbing neon signpost: "Coloured Entrance". The little girl is expectantly looking out towards the street.

Also in the Magazine, Mini Krishnan's childhood reminiscence:

In my eighth summer, I walked up to my class teacher's desk to collect a prize for Reading and Spelling. My prize was a book, a slim volume titled Illustrated Stories from the Bible.
In newly independent India, there wasn't a single full-colour magazine; and well-produced childrens' books were only for the very rich. So my prize-book, the work of American missionaries, was doubly precious.

As I read story after story some of which were already familiar, and stared at all the pictures, Jesus became more and more real to me. He was in very ordinary-looking clothes, he wasn't carrying weapons, there was no trace of jewellery or flowers on him, he looked like the other people in the pictures, he had hands and feet, and even a beard. I dreaded the last page. Would he be bleeding on the Cross? Luckily not. He was at a table with all his friends and appeared to be enjoying a meal. I hadn't yet heard the story connected with the picture of the Last Supper.
At that time, I was in III-A and felt I was no longer a child but someone who observed things, combed my hair without my mother's help, walked to school by myself in buckled shoes — not lace-ups — and took small decisions.

One such decision was how to end the daily class — prayer. My school believed in democracy so every single child in class got a chance to read a short class-prayer quite apart from the daily school assembly. It always ended with words that anyone who has studied in a Christian school will recognise: "Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."

When it was my turn, I said, "To Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen." There was a great silence and my teacher Mrs. Bettina Grant said, "It's through, child. Not to. Haven't you been listening?"
"Yes, I know that's what everyone says. But I want to go to Jesus, not through Him to someone else."

"But that's not how we are supposed to say it."

"What's wrong with saying I want to go to Jesus?" By this time, a thrill had run through the class because no one with any sense argued with Mrs. Grant. This was also something dangerous to argue about and how delicious that it was a non-Christian.

Mrs. Grant rose and pressed a bell to summon the junior school captain. I was sent off with her to the Principal: an American no one was afraid of because she was incapable of being unkind. Nevertheless when I was led into the office and had to stand listening to a narration of my rebellion, my courage vaporised.

Miss Johnson stood up and towered over both of us as she looked at me, her grey eyes expressionless. Then she wrote something on a piece of paper, gave it to the JS captain and sent us off. When we returned to class, whatever Miss Grant read on the notepaper made her look very thoughtful. "Go to your place," she said to me. What had Miss Johnson written to defuse the situation? How had I escaped without being reprimanded?

Years later my Father showed me that same note. At some time, perhaps on Parents' Day, Mrs Grant had given it to him. It said very simply in ink long faded, "Matt. 19, verse 14" followed by the signature, "Frances Johnson."

It was undated but I recognised the note Mrs. Grant had looked at silently many years ago and though I'd read the Gospels several times, I didn't know them by heart. So my hands shook as I opened the Bible to check the reference. "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them... ."

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