Friday, 17 May 2019

Fr Casarotti

Today is the birthday of Fr Mauro Casarotti, one of the great Salesians I have had the fortune of meeting and interacting - though not very closely - especially during my early years of formation.  I met him for the first time while in Nashik while studying philosophy.  He was actually based in Mumbai but would occasionally come to Nashik and hear our confessions.  I don't really remember much of the confessions I went to him for but remember very clearly his joyful presence along with us along the corridors of Divyadaan.  He was already very elderly then but he was a typical grandfather to all of us. 
As if that personal experience was not enough, I also heard about a very intense and tragic incident that happened during his term as provincial of Mumbai many years ago.  Hearing it first hand from the one who was at the centre of it all and how he truly felt Fr Casarotti's support, not as a provincial, but as a very loving and understanding father, made a great impression on me. 

I got to know him more closely when I was back in Mumbai Province for my communication studies in 2005 - just two years before he passed away.  I was in Matunga, the school community and he was in the Provincial house.  He was still working in the propaganda office of the Shrine and I did meet him once at his desk in the Shrine office.  But it was mostly as my confessor that I remember him during my year at Matunga.  I met him regularly in the provincial house in his room or in the parlour.  Still the same lively smile and welcoming spirit.  Age had only managed to bend his spine, slightly.  Nothing more!  For me he was like Fr John Lens.  The same spirit of generosity, openness, a kind of understanding that made me feel completely at home.  Even if there was any hesitation or doubt about whether I should ask him or speak to him about something, the moment I would meet him, all those hurdles would just vanish.  That was his simple presence.  The same for Fr Lens.  And I didn't have to explain things in detail or at length, they just understood me perfectly. 

Consider myself truly blessed for having met and lived in the time of such stalwarts of the Spirit and Salesian life!  

Religion as personal or private?

Another note on the differences between religion as personal and religion as private.  Again, a very subjective distinction. 

In viewing religion as purely private affair, one tends to feel as one 'in charge'.  Just as in the case of property owned by an individual, 'private property', one feels that one has authority over it, so in the case of treating religion as private, one feels that one is in authority.  Unfortunately not every aspect of religion can be so 'subjugated'.  There are aspects of religion wherein one cannot be considered to be in the driving seat.  Being open to that possibility, in a sense being passive, is part of the nature of religion. 

Furthermore, any experience of the supernatural cannot be actually 'contained'.   If genuine, it naturally flows into every aspect of one's life.  Any attempt to contain it, restrict it merely to oneself, is one of the offshoots of viewing religion as private.  In the same vein, viewing religion as private tends to exclusivity (my religion and me; or my God and me) whereas when viewed as personal, there is greater openness towards inclusivity (my religion, me and all of us within a larger reality; or my God and me in the world).  

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Religion: Private or personal?

Is practice of religion, something private or personal?  I've not really studied the dictionary and the etymological meaning of the two words but feel that there can be a distinction drawn for clarity.  Most often, the developed world tends to keep religion to the private.  That's something not to be paraded about in the open.  Unfortunately I feel this should be the attitude of theistic countries!  Countries and places where the unholy mix of religion and politics breeds nothing but vice! 

I would rather look at religion as something personal.  This way, principles and convictions one lives by are something totally of the individual and not something enforced by him or her or enforced upon one - in the name of religion.  These are matters which guide and direct one in ones life.  Keeping religion private would mean something hidden and secretive.  That festers fermentation and is bound to explode sooner or later.  Treating religion as personal does not mean that it is hidden or totally out of bounds for anyone - it remains open to challenges, by the individual himself/herself, by the society, by anyone.  The concerned individual need not respond to all the challenges thrown at him or her.  But that the individual is open enough to review those challenges.  That openness is obliterated if religion is treated as purely private. 

The acid test for this is to ask if one's experience of God (one of the integral aspects of religion) is personal or private.  In both the cases, it is a one-to-one relationship.  However if the former, it shades and affects everything else the individual does.  If the latter, the affects of that experience will be buried deep within the individual and nothing of that experience will ever flow into (or from) the rest of one's living - a clear watertight inner experience!  

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Vertically challenged

In the age where every form of appearance and difficulty is sometimes exaggerated, not so often by those whom it really is about, but by those around, I came across this amusing dialogue...

Lady to her dietician: What I am worried about is my height and not my weight.
Doctor: How come?
Lady: According to my weight, my height should be 7.8 feet!


Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Urgency

Yesterday we celebrated the feast of Dominic Savio and today in the first reading of the Mass it was Stephen, the young man, who challenged the elders and priests of the times accusing them of murdering Jesus.  Both youngsters in the prime of their life.

In both of them one gets to see a sort of urgency.  A strange kind of recklessness.  No compromises. Nothing short of what is decided.  In Stephen's case, he does not resort to any diplomacy or sugar-talk in dealing with the elders of his time.  His words are direct and brave.  He is not waiting for the Romans to intervene and bring to justice those who falsely accused Jesus and put him to death.  He boldly attacks them, face to face. 

Some may call it imprudence.  Others may call it the power of the Spirit.  Whatever it be, it is a typical youth response: passionate, fearless and uncompromising. 

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Advertising vs election campaigning

Advertising of products and services is actually to 'seduce' the customer in a race against competitors who are out to outdo oneself, by way of quality and quantity. 

Election campaigning, although a form of advertising, is different.  It differs in as much as the race is not to outdo the other in quality or quantity of service.  It is basically to offer possibilities of the least corrupt of all available possibilities.  It is about downgrading the other, rather than an endorsement of evident progress.  One gets to promise the moon and advertise fake achievements. 

Advertising leads consumers to choose the most useful from the best options.  Election campaigning is all about bluffing the electorate into choosing the least corrupt of the worst options!  

Election campaign

India just witnessed a massive wave of election campaigning in view of the ongoing national elections.  In parts of UK local council elections were held yesterday.  The whole notion of campaigning before elections is a global phenomena.  Nothing new or strange about it.  Really??

I find this concept of campaigning, especially the amount of time, energy, personnel, resources, and finances spent on it, ridiculously irritating.  If only they were spent on actual progress and fulfillment of the party agendas, none would require any campaigning!  That's my simple reasoning.  That minor parties or those who haven't yet had the opportunity to show their expertise need campaigning is something I perfectly agree with and whole-heartedly support.  But others, especially those already in the limelight, the opposition and mainly the ruling party or candidates, really need not do anything other than their best during their tenure.  People who actually see the good they do, will naturally vote for them based on their past performance.  The very fact that they spend sleepless nights canvassing and advertising and doling out speeches and promises, during the election campaigning, is an obvious proof that they haven't really done their best during their time in power.  If they honestly do their best when they actually have the possibility and power to do so, all that they need to say or point to, prior to elections,(if at all) is already evident achievements! Not bloated figures or promises.  And certainly not the drawbacks or failings of others (one does that when one does not have anything good to say about oneself!).  If only politicians would work as hard and as dedicatedly as during their campaigning spree, while in office or tenure, progress and growth would automatically appeal to the voter. 

Unfortunately I think the general population is still too naive and fickle.  Politicians aware of this weakness, make the most of it, for a couple of months and then rest for years to come!  

Friday, 3 May 2019

Exam invigilation

Am truly thrilled to have applied for and got the opportunity to invigilate during the ongoing university exams.  The very feeling of being amidst young people, especially in one of their most tense and anxious moments of student life, and being there as a friend, a helper and someone who can ease all that cramping, even if it is just a little... that's great. 

Apart from the adventure this morning, it has been a thrilling experience of being exactly that helper.  It has also been a great source of amusement.  Watching them come in the hall or room, all tensed and some not even breathing and then leave the hall with a sense of achievement and relief;  seeing them break into a smile when offered with a kind suggestion or a timely help or even a simple smile;  observing the variety of ways in which they hold the pen while writing (quite a few write holding the pen straight and their wrist bent 90!);  the fear of having forgotten their ID card or their exam candidate number or messing up the adhesive slip, right in the beginning of the exam, being alleviated by a simple gentle assurance "No worry, we'll help you with that!" and the relief that floods their face;  the 'wonder' at a couple of youngsters who walked in the exam hall and coolly ask for a pen straight away, for they had forgotten to bring one!  or at that youngster who called out for me today to ask, "What's the date?"  Then there are the multiple ways in which they sit: some as stiff as an arrow, others literally with their head on the writing desk, some at a weird angle or twist of their body, some with their feet stretched to the maximum or folded or one flung over the other or under their bottom. 

The amusement only adding to the thrill of putting them at ease and making them feel comfortable...! 

Romanian mosquito

Heard a story about a Romanian mosquito today...

Invigilating an exam hall of 241 students this morning was quite an adventure!  Ultimately had to report and pull up one youngster who had notes on him all along.  Initially I made sure that he was being watched.  But he continued peeking at the notes tucked in his jacket sleeve.  Then under the pretext of the hall already being warm, got him to hand me his jacket.  He did and I was pretty sure with that move I had taken away his means of cheating.  By this time, he knew that I knew!  Within 15 minutes I again noticed him fiddling with his shoe.  Very soon I saw him with (another?) note.  Going against all instructions and regulations I went upto him and gently whispered to him, "Either you stop it or hand it to me!"  From his indication, I gathered he would not resort to it again.  By this time I had already informed the supervisor of the hall that I was suspicious of him. 

No sooner I moved away from him, he was at it again!  This time round I informed the supervisor that he certainly had notes on him and that he knew that I was aware, and that he was carrying on referring to them, in spite of my gentle verbal warning.  I was told to keep a close eye on him.  Towards the end of the two hour exam I was asked to inform him to stay back after the exam.  I left an official note on his desk to stay hack after the exam.  An official from the student administration was there by the end. She asked me what happened and I was given a form to fill up.  The student was then interviewed and she found the notes exactly where I told her he had it: in his left shoe. 

After the whole episode, it took almost an hour for me to get over it.  I was feeling bad for having done it.  Not that I regretted doing it - but just that the lad seemed so desperate to copy.  I know not what action would be taken against him.  None in the exam invigilation team or the student administration were sure.  "It was not our job," they said, "to worry about the end of the process."  They were very impressed by my work in that large hall, especially this particular case - but I told them, it was no merit!  In fact, I said I was sorry for having to do it. None-the-less I did it - and would do it again, if necessary.  My reasoning was simple: Going against regulations, I warned him twice (the latter being direct and verbal).  In spite of that if he was brazen about the act, he should also be ready for the consequences.  He needed help and I did help him - first by trying to prevent him, then by directly telling him and finally by making him accountable. 

And yes, the story he tried to tell me when I led him to the toilet, halfway through the exam... "If you saw me scratching my wrist, that was because I was recently on a trip to Romania and there a mosquito bit me.  That's what was itching me!"  Well, I hope he did not tell the Admin officer that the same Romanian mosquito wrote and put that slip of paper in his sleeve or shoe too!  

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

In the right direction?

Returning from the conference at Oxford I was wondering if I'm wrong or my thought invalid because my line of research is not in any way being reflected or considered in any of the discussions being carried out in the circles of philosophy of language.  Those who heard out my research interests understood what I was upto, a couple of them showed some excitement, but most had no response really.  So the three days there was a bit of a soul-searching or I should say, 'research-searching', as to whether I'm doing anything worthwhile at all?  Or is it that everyone is thinking in one line and I'm moving in another direction altogether? 

However, while on my way back home, on the train, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps that very 'absence' of my research is actually a very good thing.  That means nobody, at least those whom I've met so far, is thinking in line of what I'm thinking.  Well, isn't that a very positive thing for a PhD research topic! 

Some consolation... now got to start writing!  

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Digesting warm up

Games and sports were always part of the school tradition.  Especially in a Salesian school. All the more in a formation house.  However, not so long ago, games were considered a luxury by most rural folk in India.  Only those who were wealthy would indulge in such pastime activities.  

I distinctly remember a pioneer of the seminary at Kondadaba narrating the surprise and the bewilderment of the local population when the first seminarians (under the guidance of the Salesians) would spend every evening an hour, playing.  So to warm up they'd run around the seminary, do a bit of stretching in front and then start the game, mostly football or volleyball.  Initially the villagers would stop on their way back home from their fields and watch this whole 'amusing' phenomenon.  Being a totally rural setting, and literally slogging all day long in the fields, the notion of organised games, that too daily, was something too much for them to take in.  Slowly they understood the game part of it, but they never really understood the logic of the warm up sessions.  One of the early seminarians once told me, that he once overheard a conversation of farmers working in the field as the Brothers were doing the warm up.  One of the farmers asked the other, what these youngsters were up to and one replied, "తిన్నది ఆరగడానికి !" (They're running around to digest what they've eaten!)

Was reminded of this comment about warm up when we were doing our stretching exercises before and after the walks to Walsingham.  

Pavement flowers

Last year I carefully gathered the seeds of violas and pansies and planted them this year.  Not one has sprouted, yet.  On the other hand, I'm coming across these same plants peeking out in all odd places: in the centre of the lawn, under the garden gate, even one right in front of the main door growing between the tiny space between two paving slabs! 

Formation and knowledge

Reading this particular article on Aeon about walking and applying the philosophy of Gilbert Ryle to it, I was wondering if this can be applied to the whole process of formation and that particular phase of intellectual formation too.

Just a handful of us formators back in the province believe that a student discerning his vocation to priestly or religious life ought to have a rather meaningful and sensible intellectual capacity.  Lacking in which he or she will make things and life miserable for others and themselves - the exact opposite of what ministry seeks to do in service of the people! Most formators feel that intellectual capacity should not be a major factor to be considered when deciding whether a person continues being a religious or priest or not. 

Ryle seems to suggest that if self-teaching is activated, that would suffice for improving a skill. 
We can think about Ryle’s view as a middle way between the just-do-it view and intellectualism. Intellectualism claims that skilled action requires thought, and gives a picture of thought as deliberate, conscious internal activity. The just-do-it view observes that it is not plausible that skill requires this kind of conscious thinking, and concludes that thought is the enemy of skill. Ryle agrees with the just-do-it view that conscious thought is not a requirement of skill, but offers an alternative view of thinking as engaged problem solving, claiming that this kind of thought is a requirement of skilled action.
If I'm reading it right, Ryle would say that just because is a person is kind and considerate, does exempt him or her from engaging in a very intellectual exercise of thinking. Nonetheless, to actually continue being kind and considerate and develop it as a skill rather than blindly repeat certain kind actions and utterances, a particular kind of thought is essential. 

One need not be an expert in oceanography to be a priest or religious but if one is not competent to reflect on ones own ministry and willing to make sufficient effort to learn from it, even if already 'good' at it, then one certainly is not worthy of becoming a priest or religious. Openness and humility to learn, require a certain kind of thinking to actualize and bear fruit.  

Taylor and walking

Just when I thought I need to get back to my reading and writing on my research, what should I come across? A quote of Charles Taylor on the phenomenology of walking!! Just couldn't believe my eyes when I read it!  Nothing great about the quote itself, just that it connects two things uppermost in my mind, right now: walking and Taylor! Came across it in an article on Aeon, and it is about walking!
As I navigate my way along the path up the hill, my mind totally absorbed anticipating the difficult conversation I’m going to have at my destination, I treat the different features of the terrain as obstacles, supports, openings, invitations to tread more warily or run freely, and so on. Even when I’m not thinking of them, these things have those relevances for me; I know my way about among them.
Taylor surely has touched upon practically everything under the Sun!

Why walk?

One of the questions I have been asking myself regarding the walk I'd done over the last week is whether it was worthwhile to physically feel so much as to jeopardize my participation in the Paschal liturgy meaningfully? 

When at times your legs are so aching that you cannot think of anything else, prayer and divine contemplation is not something that comes easily.  You are not interested in it at all.  All you want to do is get into a comfortable posture and relax.  Prayer and worship go out of the window.

On the other side, I noticed this peculiar phenomenon, not only about myself but about practically everyone in the group.  No matter how much we were tired individually, when there was a need for something to be seen to or done, there were always people ready and willing.  Not grudgingly but with a contagious enthusiasm. 

As for prayer and connecting with the Divine, I realised that feeling of being in pain was a great leveller.  None of us participating in the liturgy or even sitting quietly in the Church or on the pavement were any better or different from one another, and most importantly from the one whom we were trying to think about.  My tiredness and aches in themselves linked me with Jesus.  I was not thinking about Jesus or praying to Him, I was feeling like Him! Even for one attempting to widen the scope of meaning and language (as part of my PhD), to include feelings and desires, this 'realization' did not come easy.  
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