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Indian Narratives

Indian Narratives

Автором Paul Burkler

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Indian Narratives

Автором Paul Burkler

242 pages
3 hours
Apr 9, 2013


The motives for writing this book were manifold and the stories originate from a period of about 12 years. Maybe Paul Burkler could the long period of more than 20 years in India use to survive only because he worked volunteered as an engineer without wages. The readers get a unique insight into the life of a development worker, who landed in India more randomly.

Using these stories like Paul Burkler show readers how complex life is in India. There are sometimes uplifting, sometimes funny, but also tragic stories and experiences that make you think.

Some of them are events and experiences, for example, tourists are not visible and even less tangible. Development aid is by no means a walk. Not the technology, but the many taboos and the caste system gave it to create. Often it was hard for him to accept this millennia-old culture in all its facets.

A strong connection to the people of this country Paul Burkler have helped to sustain the diverse experiences with very poor people and also with elitist leadership people. A very special sympathy for him grew in the 'Aids orphans' who are marginalized by their families and relatives, as well as by the company and failed. The Care Centre of St. Ann's sisters in Madurai such children are accepted. He decided that his book (without reference to the book text) to illustrate it with drawings of these children. He gave the children the theme: 'Paints a picture of the thoughts and wishes that you have and loves'.
Apr 9, 2013

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Indian Narratives - Paul Burkler



1663 Liberty Drive

Bloomington, IN 47403


Phone: 1-800-839-8640

© 2013 Paul Burkler. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

Published by AuthorHouse 04/04/2013

ISBN: 978-1-4817-8439-9 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4817-8440-5 (e)

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

To all

Aids orphans in India 


In more than twenty years of working in foreign aid in India and Sri Lanka, many impressions and experiences have been stamped in my memory. Some experiences in India were edifying, others funny, and still others serious and sad. I have presented many of these experiences as short stories in this book.

Writing helped me to process many of these experiences. I wish some of them had turned out differently and others had not happened. I could not write of my worst experiences of my work in foreign aid.

As an engineer, I participated in two types of development work in India:

Technical and analytical development of systems.

Emotional development to overcome the many Indian taboos and the caste system.

To put it another way, the more technical and system-oriented developments turned out to be relatively simple and, in most cases, feasible. However, working with Indian taboos and the caste system was more difficult for me. These difficulties often aroused my partners’ emotions and slowed down my work enormously. At times, I feared that change would be accepted only with difficulty in India for the foreseeable future, impeding development and therefore progress.

Local attitudes forced me to focus my development work on more technical and scientific matters. Others with similar training will understand and accept the inevitable of this in India.

Since I often lived in the guest house of the Aids care centre during my visits to Madurai in India, I could follow the progress of the building of a home for Aids orphans. It was a long process. Most Aids orphans are abandoned, left to live in the streets, where they must beg and steal to live. Such children are usually caught by the police at some point. If a police interrogation reveals that they are Aids orphans, in the best cases, they are sent to the care centre. However, most such children are already troubled by then and find it hard to integrate themselves into a community. Unfortunately, the Aids children in the care centre are not visited by their relatives and acquaintances.

Over the years, I built relationships with these children, and they accepted me as a father figure. This was not the least thanks to the Swiss chocolate which I brought to every visit to make the children and the staff happy. My assistant, Samantha Lottenbach, and I made a photo gallery with residents of the care centre in March 2011. Archbishop Peter Fernando supported the effort with an introduction. We also asked the five- to twelve-year-old children to make drawings of things they liked or loved for this book. These works of art have been reproduced in these pages.

Many thanks to all those involved, particularly Samantha Lottenbach. Many thanks also go to Carol Marshall, who translated the book from German.

Paul Bürkler

The stories in this book are meant to stand alone. Some events may be described twice. However, this should not be an obstacle to reading.



Introduction of the Archbishop Peter Fernando

Has Christmas Changed?

The Unscheduled Meeting with Mother Teresa

The Old Midwife

The Emergency Call from South India

Where One Still Notices Poverty

At the Deathbed of a Lucerne Sister

The Bicycle Procession to the Crematorium

Rosary Nights in Hospital

Blessing and Healing

Thomaskutti Grew Up to Be a Real Rascal

The Chocolate Funeral of Sr Paula

A Visit to a 100-Year-Old Man

The Old Man and His God Jehovah

What Students and Craftsmen Actually Experience in India

How a Bishop and His Wife Fought for Toilets

Have We Lost the Fight Against Climate Change?


Disastrous Parallels between Our Former Poverty and Poverty Today in India

Survival Strategies in Developing Countries

Africans Homesick for Centuries

The Worship of Gods in India

Visit to a Centre for Lepers

Bishops and Their Ambivalence Towards the Laws of Nature

Dependence and Promises

The Lay Sermon to the Bishop’s Chapter

The Great Question: Social Products or Quality Products?

What Do Negative Sustainability and Urine Have to Do with Christian Charity?

A Fatal Mistake

Home of Peace

Locked in a Toilet Overnight

War in Sri Lanka

Is India Still a Vegetarian Country?

Who Is Actually Responsible for Poverty?

The Boy with the Eternal Memory

The Ancient Development of a National Economy

What a Teacher Can Achieve with Her Schoolchildren

Lots of Laughter Is a Proven Cure

What the Tsunami Left Behind

Small, Blind Antony

Poor Consuelo Conquers the World

Why, Why, Why? I Still Have So Many Questions

Why an Aqua Forum Preamble?

St Ann’s Care Centre in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

Has Christmas Changed?

When I came back from one of my assignments in India, the gloomy November weather reminded me of Advent and the Christmas to come. I remembered how my parents and older siblings had taught me of the secrets of the church and the religious events of Christmas when I was a child. I, in turn, have taught my own children of these mysteries. Now, another generation later, I have tried to find out what many Christmas stories mean to my grandchildren. Do not expect an analytical investigation of how much has been handed down through the three generations and in what form. I cannot and do not want to judge, so let it simply be.

When I was growing up, I used to think about the different Christmas stories in the Gospels and their different interpretations. For example, Luke’s Gospel tells an almost sweet story, whereas John’s Gospel, where and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us comes from, is rather dry and a little abstract. The two stories are enormously different! So what is it that you and I hold dear from the Christmas stories as told in the Gospels?

This is not simple to write down. I prefer to reflect on the events and facts from my own past. I am particularly interested in researching how my poor ancestors were born, lived, and died. There are many similarities between them and me.

If I take the case of Joseph in the Bible, I doubt whether he was by Mary’s side during the birth of Jesus since men did not participate in childbirth until recently. Joseph probably asked some shepherds for the names of a couple of experienced women who then helped Mary. Nobody knows for sure – all we have are hypotheses and assumptions.

I can investigate written records of baptisms and deaths from my own family history to find out who was born when and who died when. Sometimes there are comments in these documents. What particularly moves me is the huge numbers of fatalities during famines and other catastrophes. Unfortunately, the total deaths by miscarriage and stillbirth remain secret. If a child was born alive but died shortly afterwards due to respiratory problems, the birth was not registered, as the child had not been baptised. During famines, this occurred frequently, as records verify today.

I am most concerned by the reports in the news and historical documents of the deaths of many very young children from starvation. This concern has remained with me through the birth of my six children. I still feel it to this day, and as a consequence, I decided to fight in particular for the health of children in India, who have no lobby. Parents often decide what is best for the children without discussing their decisions with the children.

Many children today both in developed countries and in developing countries such as India need care from day nurseries where they feel comfortable. However, there are two main differences between such nurseries in developed countries and in India: first, the attitude towards emergencies, and second, financial constraints. Allow me to relate just one experience which I believe has a lot to do with the Christmas story. I have included names of people and villages so that you can verify for yourself that these stories are true.

This story concerns the St Ann’s Care Centre for Aids Children in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. This story is particularly relevant at the moment, as I heard on the breakfast news today that the Pope has permitted the use of condoms in special cases; condoms are of great importance in the successful prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS. Moreover, World AIDS Day took place on 1 December 2010.

As the name of the home indicates, this care centre is managed by the sisters of St Ann. The order originated in Switzerland more than 100 years ago. Aids children are orphans whose parents have both died of Aids and who have been infected by their parents. Such abandoned children have been cast out of Indian society, as people suffering from leprosy were previously. The church recognised this emergency in Madurai and, together with the sisters of St Ann, opened up a home for these Aids children. In India, HIV is spread through various means. The three most common to these children are as follows:

a) A child’s father moves away within India, for example, to Kerala, or abroad, for example, to Dubai, to earn more money to support his family than he can earn at home. While away, he goes to a brothel and unknowingly contracts HIV through unprotected sexual intercourse. Some time later, when he returns home for a holiday, he then infects his wife through sexual intercourse. The father and, in turn, the mother become ill. The children are abandoned and are often HIV positive themselves.

b) Because the father’s pay is too meagre, the mother occasionally works as a prostitute and contracts the HIV virus. The story evolves as described above.

c) The father works as the drivers of a large lorry transporting freight or people and is a member of an at-risk group. He uses his liberty to visit a prostitute while away from home and contracts HIV. This story, too, has an undignified end.

For many years, I stayed very happily at the St Ann’s Care Centre. Foreign aid workers were always made welcome and taken care of in the convent in Madurai. Moreover, we know that the modest rooms were clean, which means a lot in India. Our stay also represented a small but welcome source of income for the sisters, and the children in the centre enjoyed seeing visitors from abroad, who usually brought them Swiss chocolate. During my last visit in October and November 2010, I experienced the following event:

In the corridor on the way to the care centre’s dining room, I met a girl of approximately five years old. She was sad and sitting alone on a bench. I approached the child slowly, sat down by her side, and put my arm around her. Since I cannot speak the Tamil language, I just spoke to her in my mother tongue. She looked at me with astonishment in her black eyes. I sensed that she felt protected and that she also grasped what I said. Suddenly, three older children stormed in and stood in front of us. We could each understand a little in English, so I asked the three children in English what the name of this sad little girl was. One girl wrote the name Maha Eswari in my notebook. She also told me that Maha was new to the community of forty-three children. The three older children were on their way to eat, and I worked out that Maha was also due to go for a meal. So I took the hand of one of the older kids, put Maha’s hand in his, and said to him, Keep her hand and go! He immediately understood. He kept Maha’s hand in his hand and ran off with her. Before they left, I noticed Maha’s face light up because she had found a new friend. I thought that I had hugged the Christ child, but it was a little Hindu girl who had made me happy. So I, too, went to eat.

To my dismay, I noticed that the Aids orphans in the care centre did not receive any visitors. The mother superior, Sr Renate, confirmed that even though most children probably had grandparents, brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, that they avoided these poor children. These children had been cast aside by family members and society alike. Therefore, such children needed a nursery, and providing one was an enormous task for the staff of this centre.

Simply building the infrastructure to give these children a home was a challenge. Since the groundwater in Madurai was contaminated beyond all hope, AQUA FORUM had built a water tank some years before, and time and again the sisters thanked us for this necessary equipment.

I file away such stories as Christmas stories. I have felt how important it is that AQUA FORUM fight for children and the weak, who have no political voice. These experiences will always stay with me.

The importance of Christmas has not been lost yet. For me it is a symbolic festival which shows us the way. There are still many people who need a manger, but in countries such as India, the aid given to them is never sufficient.

Christmas is a celebration. Many people really have to make an effort to enjoy it today, as it is often missing meaning. I have often wondered what still remains from my childhood experiences. I think I have found an answer.

The Unscheduled Meeting with Mother Teresa

When I first began working in southern India, I wanted to get to know other more northerly areas. At that time, Indian Airlines were offering a four-week ticket for $600, allowing unlimited travel on scheduled flights across the length and breadth of India. I bought the ticket and set off.

After visiting Mumbai, I was heading to Kolkata, the home of Mother Teresa; however, I had other reasons to travel to Kolkata.

My first surprise occurred at the gate in Mumbai as I waited with the other passengers for the flight to board. The waiting area was full except for one chair next to me. In India, dark-skinned Indian women would usually not choose to sit next to a white man. (We can observe the opposite in European society.) The last passenger to enter the area was a bishop; he looked around the room, spotted the seat next to me, and asked if he might sit there. Of course, I replied. To start with, the bishop was chatty; he asked me where I came from, what I was doing in India, and other questions.

At that time, I was working on the project Just Trade in the diocese of Kanjirappally in Kerala. I explained this to the bishop, and he seemed interested. We exchanged business cards, and I learned that he was the Archbishop Henry D’Souza of Kolkata, president of the Asian conference of bishops. He invited me to visit him in his office the following morning and explained to discuss problems similar to what I was working on.

The bishop was tired, and gradually our conversation slowed and then stopped. He nodded off and slept the sleep of the just. He slumbered so deeply that after a while, he laid his head on my shoulder and dreamt on. This is truly an Indian custom, as anyone who has travelled by bus in India will know, but to have an archbishop lay his head on my shoulder was a new experience for me. I thought, Now I am supporting the management of the Roman Catholic Church.

Suddenly, the loudspeaker squawked and the archbishop jumped. He apologised politely for his strange sleeping position, and, somewhat embarrassed, I mumbled that it was no problem. In the meantime, a strident voice from the loudspeaker informed us that our flight would be delayed for three to four

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