Thursday, 26 April 2018

British weather

Nothing is sure about the British weather, except that it will change - most probably, even before you have concluded your first statement. 
The way to ensure summer in England is to have it framed and glazed in a comfortable room. 
Horace Walpole, English writer, in a letter to Reverend William Cole (1774). 

Just last week the temperature was 26 c and these couple of days it has been less than 16 c.  That we rational beings cannot make sense of the weather, is fine, but I hope the plants are able to make sense of it.  Because some are very confused.  Their very looks reveal! 
Cherry blossom falling off even before it has fully bloomed! 
Daffodils, flowering, not flowering, flowering, not flowering!
Tulips only half of them flowered.  The others, those still with buds, are confused if they're out in the right time! 
I think, of the whole lot of flowering plants only the Dandelions are the most certain!! 

Respect life

The ongoing case of Alfie Evans and the efforts of his parents and a few activists is quite an alarming indication of the stance of the law, the medical practice and the society as a whole.

I thought the motto of medical profession was to 'improve the quality of life', not 'ensure death'.  And if one cannot improve the quality of life, one ought to be put down.  Going by that dictum, most people even the healthy ones, should be put to sleep once and for all.  Furthermore, the standard of a society is measured by the way it looks after the marginalized, especially the weak and the disabled.  If measured by that standard, the UK would not rank high in this and related episodes.

Following the logic of the hospital and the judges, even George Young a four year old who has dementia and is expected to soon lose sight and other vital organs, should be left to die, without any further medical intervention - not even food and water!

On the one hand there is the whole celebration of the birth of a new prince, and the royals paying homage to the dead at the Anzac ceremony, and on the other a concerted effort to end one life.  Seriously, the dead are revered and the living murdered?  Wonder if the law would prevent a royal family from taking their child to another country for treatment, even if that treatment is no guarantee of better health? So if Alfie can be taken home, he can well be taken to Italy - go for a family vacation, if that be!

In Alfie's case, the doctors had initially claimed that Alfie would not survive long without the ventilator. But he has outlived their prediction and made it on his own since three days.  So there is a possibility - a very wild one - that science has got it wrong.  Yet it need not be a defeat of science.  There is nothing called good science or bad science.   The fact that science has not yet found the cure does not mean that there isn't one.  Furthermore, some remedies used today were experiments some time ago. Only when they've been proved beneficial have they become 'life-saving' today.  So even if one gives into the logic of the hospital and the judges, that Alfie's condition cannot be improved, one can at least try unexperimented modes of treatment with the sole intention of improving his health.  It is not as if healthy people are cheated into being experimented on - which is ethically wrong.  But here is a case where every possible means of available treatment has failed, so why not?

In most such cases where there is no visible sign of agency, human life is considered not worth continuing.  Actually it speaks not so much about the sick person but of those healthy and those taking decisions on behalf of the sick.  In passing judgement about the worthiness or non-worthiness of their continued existence, we are passing judgement on our own ethical and moral standard.

How can taking someone's life be for the betterment of one's life? 

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

British use of wood and ecology

The British tend to use timber a lot.  Wood is used extensively and for varied purposes.  Besides the usual furniture, both household and garden, wood is used for making shelves and racks.  The roof structures of the houses are made of wood.  So is the flooring in most houses.  Fences are all of wood. Even telephone poles are of wood.  All the pews and lecterns in the Churches are made of wood.

My first reaction when I noticed the extensive outdoor use of wood: "Thank God there are no white ants here!" The liberal use of wood only goes on to show the abundance of trees and growth in the country.  Though fiber and other materials are gaining ground, wood is still much in demand. To keep up with this great demand of wood there has to be a proportionate and planned growth of trees, for  wood certainly does not become available overnight.  It takes years for a tree to grow!

It is officially stated that (as of February 2018)
  • The area of woodland in the UK is 3.17 million hectares. This represents 13% of the total land area in the UK, 10% in England, 15% in Wales, 18% in Scotland and 8% in Northern Ireland. 
  • The total certified woodland area in the UK at 31 March 2017 is 1.39 million hectares, including all Forestry Commission/Natural Resources Wales/Forest Service woodland. Overall, 44% of the UK woodland area is certified. 
  • Seven thousand hectares of newly created woodland were reported in the UK in 2016-17, mostly with coniferous species. (Source: Forestry Commission)
Source: BBC
On the whole there is a greater appreciation and awareness of ecological concerns among the people than back in India - though not everyone shares the responsibility of doing something about it.  However, I think the Indians share a much closer bond with nature than the Europeans. 

April 24

Perhaps the only Salesian traditional devotion that I still am faithful to and do something by myself is the 24th of every month. 
Br Mateusz recently cleaned up the statue and
repotted Japanese jewel (Acer),
seems to be doing well - even after me cutting half its root! 

Mary, help of Christians... pray for us! 

Monday, 23 April 2018

The Queen and the Royals

Today on the feast of St George, the patron saint of England, is born the third child of the royal family of William and Kate.  The new born is said to be fifth in line of succession to the throne. 

Prior to my arrival here in the UK, I never thought much of the royal family or the Queen.  Never thought that they'd mean much to anyone.  However, in the time that I've been here, I've noticed how deep a bond the English share with the Royal family.  Honestly it initially appeared a bit old fashioned and odd, that too for a modern and progressive country like England to still hold onto 'kings and queens'. 

In the course of time, I've begun to notice the influence the royal family has on the nation.  Having no real knowledge about the whole story, I still do not know where exactly does the Queen and the royal family fit - but their presence means much.  Gracefully away from politics, the family beautifully serves as a moderating pivot of the English society as a whole.  With the administration and politics left to the bureaucrats and politicians, the Queen and her family represent the English society to the world.  The respect people have for the Royal family, even in today's liberal society, is something amazing.  That respect is not something merely inherited, but certainly gained.  It is something like they have the privilege, but no power (political, I mean); the respect, but no authority;  the affection and the bond, but no legal or administrative duty.  

Indian tonic water

Yesterday while at lunch in Farnborough I happened to notice a bottle on the table labelled 'Indian tonic water'.  I was told that it is added to gin.  I checked the ingredients and there seemed nothing special or different to credit the name 'Indian'.  That's when Fr Des shared his interesting experience during his visit to India.  On the plane he and his companion got a bottle of gin. Once they landed, they asked in a couple of shops for the 'Indian tonic water'. Every shop he asked, he received a queer look from the shopkeepers.  No one ever heard of that before.  Fr Des even asked Fr Arul Maran, his host to search and get one for him.  But none had ever heard of 'Indian tonic water'.  

That's when it struck us that there is nothing Indian about the 'Indian tonic water'.  

I guess it is the same with 'Brussel sprouts', 'French fries', 'English Muffins'... 

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Vocation Sunday reflection

Each of us has a vocation. Each of us belongs to the Good Shepherd's flock. Each of us has a call! I am a Salesian Brother, but that's not my primary vocation. That's merely how I live out my vocation.

Our primary vocation is to be with Him, and to bear witness to Him; to love God and love life. That's our basic vocation: to love and serve!

And so I constantly ask myself, do I find my life and the way I live it meaningful? Is this the best way that I can be useful to the most number of people? And if my life meets both these criteria, meaningful to myself and useful to others, I know I am living out my vocation well.

And since my vocation is deeply connected with God and others, I need to
constantly listen, be aware, be attentive, be open
be willing to discern, differentiate, interpret, put to test and finally,
be ready to make choices, not just comfortable choices but bold and appropriate choices.

At OLSD Church, Farnborough

I was at Our Lady and St Dominic's Church, Cove, Farnborough yesterday and today.  If I'm not mistaken this is the first time that I've preached a sermon on a Sunday in a Church - all three Masses.  Being Vocation Sunday (Good Shepherd Sunday) I was asked to speak about vocation, or my vocation, at this parish in Farnborough.  I was happy to.  The only other time I've preached during Mass is occasionally on Sunday's while at Nashik, in our Salesian community Chapel, for the staff of the house.  They were mostly telugu and tamil speaking groups and we would take turns giving a sermon. 

I did prepare my text and even typed and printed it out, just before leaving for the parish.  However, I never once looked at it.  Mostly because I knew what I wanted to say and the exact words.  Since it was not more than 12 minutes that I wanted to speak, I did not wander about or blabber. 

The parishoners were happy to hear me.  Some of them did come and congratulate and thank me for sharing my story and some thanked me for the spontaneous way I did it.  A couple of boys were keen that I come and talk at their school too!!  Anyway, I constantly reminded myself that it is a sermon that I've asked to preach, not an animation talk.  So I made sure I didn't say anything that would be there merely to impress or draw their attention.  Since I knew I wouldn't speak for long, and was confident that what I had to share was worth it, I didn't need honey and fireworks. Most important of all, I asked the Lord to let His message be conveyed - not my story. 

Besides the people of the parish, I liked the very structure of the Church - simple, functional and neat.  I think that made it very beautiful. The best part was that the altar and sanctuary is surrounded by the congregation.  Only straight behind the priest there is no seating area.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Phone addiction

Cartoon of the day (as in The Daily Mail)...
I guess this is true not just of the daughter of the gentleman here, but of most of us.  We're so lost in our gadgets that nothing else counts.  For some it is a matter of amusement; others use it for gathering information, staying updated; for some it is just work... but in all cases, addiction, none the less. 


Among the few English words I've come across for the first time since I came to the UK, is this word, 'blimey'.  Never checked the meaning of it, but gathered that it was an interjection.  Only yesterday did I come to know that 'blimey' is an abridged form of 'Cor blimey' which actually means 'God blind me'!  Well, knew that blimey is an expression of surprise and excitement, but didn't know that it has this meaning... know not if those using this phrase lavishly (some whom I know well) are aware of the original meaning.

I guess, that would not be the only word, the actual meaning of which we are blissfully ignorant of!  But as long as it is functional and useful, it works.  We don't have to know everything about a word (or for that matter, anything) to begin using it.  

To be with him...

The time is ripe now back in the Indian Salesian provinces to be talking about transfers and changes!  In the next couple of weeks the lists would be out, but till then, the gossip mills will be at their best.   Interesting time!! 

Everytime the Provincials sit for doing this jigsaw puzzle of moving confreres and distributing responsibilities, there is always these questions lurking in their heads and perhaps form the basis of the assignments listed: Will this confrere manage this job??  Will so and so be a trustworthy administrator?  Will this person manage the Parish?  Can this confrere handle the situation in the school or add to the existing confusion?  Will this person keep the community going as a rector?

However, this morning I was asking myself what was Jesus thinking when he chose the twelve? Or for that matter when he chose all those disciples and followers, later?  Saul, for example.  I don't think he chose Judas because he was a good administrator.  Nor did he choose Mathew so that he may chronicle their 'adventures'.  Luke was certainly not called because he would be a good infirmarian of the group.  Peter was not called so that he could fish and provide for the apostles.  He called them all to be primarily with him and then to bear witness to him before the world.  Well, once in the group, they took on roles and responsibilities that would further this purpose.  But they were not called to fulfill those responsibilities!

I wonder if that principle of 'being with him and becoming his witnesses' is still a worthy criteria for our transfers or new/continued responsibilities. 

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Selection, deselection and God's plan

Some Catholic dioceses in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have stopped taking any young men as candidates for priesthood.  To that effect, they have closed down their seminaries and formation houses.  Perhaps one or two are sent for formation to other diocesan formation centres - that too if the candidate is a 'highly recommended' one.  The simple reason for this closure?  Too many vocations! So say the Bishops.  They don't know what to do with those already priests, so why have more!  I've always found that logic strange and the whole process very confusing.  However, reading the conversion narrative of Saul (to Paul), planted a wild thought in my mind.

God chose Saul as his messenger at a very crucial mode.  Christianity was being suppressed.  The Apostles and the few fervent disciples were doing their best.  But perhaps God felt that a bit of extra boost at this time would do a great deal of good in the long run and hence, without discounting the great work already being done, he choose a man who would actually shift the gear of the whole work of evangelisation, not just in deed but in vision and text too.  Would Christianity have had the same rigour and accelerated growth without Paul?  Perhaps not!

So perhaps even this 'break' in accepting candidates for priesthood, could also be phase in evangelisation.  Just like Saul was chosen for that extra zeal he brought to the evangelisation process in the early days of Christianity, so too a lull could do some good for the very same evangelisation process today!  

Cuts and bruises

This is the most busy garden time of the year.  The sun has been out, full and bright, for the past couple of days and garden centres are doing brisk business. I've already had potted most of the plants and bulbs that I bought.  Today I put them all out of the Green house.  Those few plants that I had replanted are today a bit down, mostly because of the 'intense' heat yesterday and today. So I moved them to a bit more shady area till they spread or gain roots. But I'm sure they'll pick up.  And of course, began my daily share of cuts and bruises - and what's the fun in gardening if you don't have a few cuts and bruises.  I feel a bit odd when I see most people working in their own gardens wearing gloves, and glasses and wellingtons (big long rubber shoes).  Why miss out the thrill of touching and feeling the mud, the stones, cool water, leaves, soft petals, the earthworms...

It is amazing to see what just two days of sun can do... the growth in the plants has been phenomenal. Just two days of sun and one can distinctly see the accelerated growth and bloom.
The tulip outside the main door, which bloomed last year too. The colour is amazing.
The pink one in the background is one of the two tulips that I bought this year. 
The pansies I bought and planted two days ago have already look vibrant ...

British summer time

The past couple of days have been bright and sunny, with the temperatures touching 20c and beyond. Now that's really summer for the Brits.  One can see everyone making the most of this sunny weather.  Cars driven around with their windows down. Convertibles with their whole cover down.  Naturally with the windows down or top open, very many tend to blare their car stereos. Some infact many not realize how loud they are playing the music.  House windows being opened.  Great demand for window cleaners. More noise on weekends in the open backyard of houses.  Men and young boys walking around shirtless, bare bodied and in shorts.  Women and young girls walking about with short or mini shorts and open shoulder tops.  Dark glasses being worn by drivers and people walking around.  Primary school children being told to put on their hats or caps while out in the open.  Youngsters in schools and at the university lazing around in the open, in the sun, rather than herding indoors.  Sale of beers shooting up and pubs doing brisk business.  Even nature is at its best now... with fresh leaves and flowers blooming.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Remembering Sr Modesta

I can't but think of Sr Modesta today.  Not that I'm mourning her death... I'm actually happy that I've had the chance to meet and know her. 

She was not a very gifted person, from what I know.  She had no special skills or talents, leave alone a world-class education or academic qualification.  I'm sure, she never held any 'privileged posts' during her lifetime.  Am quite sure she never even made it to being appointed 'principal' to any rural school.  I know for sure that she taught hindi in schools, but that's it.  Nothing more.  Yet, she endeared herself to so many people... to me.  What she lacked for in terms of academic excellence or intellectual calibre, she made up (more than merely balancing) through her personal relational skills.  She was a 'other-centred' person.  Her heart and mind sought out what others felt and needed, much more than what she needed for herself.  She was contended with herself, no matter how little she possessed or the lack of titles she was bestowed with.  What she was blessed with, she made the most.  She was happy and that happiness she gladly and generously shared with others. 

Life is better because you are happy; but life is best when others are happy because of you.
The following quote, perfectly sums up her life:
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