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Tucked into an auto-rickshaw, the three-wheeled open-air taxis that swarm Indian cities like a plague of beetles, I survey my Sunday morning Delhi surroundings. By Indian standards the traffic is light, but it would make Manhattan seem orderly. Cars, trucks, pushcarts, pedestrians, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, bicycle-rickshaws, and bullock-carts jostle for place. And the costumes! Business suits, sarongs, turbans, saris, burhkas, and many variations of dress I cannot name, all paying no attention to each other whatsoever. For stunning displays of diversity, an Indian city street beats any place I have ever seen.

I tell my driver "St. James Church, Kashmiri Gate," and he sets off without hesitation. It is not much direction in a sprawling city of 12 million, but he inquires of pedestrians along the way. Eventually someone lights up. "Church?" He points, and I am deposited at the front gate of a spacious, apparently deserted compound.

In the center sits a domed and columned church building. Inside, I find a small Indian congregation at worship. The sanctuary is high Anglican, with marble and mahogany memorials for British colonels. A sung-and-chanted liturgy begins when a robed priest and altar boys process, accompanied by organ.

Afterward the 100 or so worshipers gather outside for tea in a frigid fog. A friendly member explains a bit of church history: St. James is the oldest church in Delhi. James Skinner, an Anglo-Indian cavalry officer, built it in fulfillment of a battlefield vow. I cannot help thinking of this place as an alien survivor, a sleepy relic of British rule that can hardly relate to the dynamic, hustling world outside its compound.

Next morning I return for conversation with the Rev. Paul Swarup, who helps ...

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In the Magazine

May 2004

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