Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Mary, the Consistent

The readings on the feast of the Visitation of Our Lady to her cousin Elizabeth, confirm her perseverance and consistency of life and values. The Magnificat in this context makes special significance. Whenever we are excited or thrilled we burst forth in a great 'speech' - most often of ideals and values - but not necessarily something that we consistently live out all through our life. Most often we falter in those very areas we 'proclaim'. However in the case of Mother Mary, her Magnificat was a song of praise, an offering of a consistent life and living.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Life at Kondadaba

The surprise showers last evening have changed the whole atmosphere of Kondadaba. It is so pleasant now that it is hard to believe that we are in the thick of summer - at least supposed to be! We haven't watered our garden for the past one week and more and still everything is green and fresh.

The mango yield though little is being attacked by birds and squirrels. They are really having a feast of the sweet fruit. However for the four of us here during the holidays the variety of furits on the table (all from our own garden) is something great: jack fruit, mangoes, suppotas, papayya and bananas. The cashew crop is now slowly little, but no complains, we have had a rich harvest of it - perhaps the best ever (in terms of income).

Amidst all these luxuries of nature we are slowly getting ready for the new academic year. The road is being tarred, carpenters are at work in the Chapel, the mason is to arrive in a day or two for some repair works, the gas stoves repairing is slated for next Sunday, the auditors arrive this weekend, the final purchase of provisions and necessary things from Vizag is next week.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Ken Robinson on Education

Here's a great video about Ken Robinson's proposal of a remodelling of our educational method. The animation work adds depth to the already great content. Robinson calls for a shift from the old 'factory-ready' model of schooling and calls for a focus (and encouragement) of divergent thinking and greater use of creativity. He calls for a changeover of the economic and cultural based education to one that is more universal, collective and non-linear.

Doing one's best

Life in Kondadaba is already on the swing... in full flow (as is the sweat) and gusto. This morning we had the tractor to plough the fields around the house. We need to repeat it once again a while later. Hope to make the most of the farm land available. This will be my first-time direct trial at farming. God save the farm and the effort! However, my gamble with the cashew crop paid rich dividends. From an annual income of mere Rs 3,500 when given on lease to outsiders, this year without giving on lease, I already have earned Rs 13,600/- (Of course, due thanks to our staff members who did most of the hard work of collecting the fruit).

Speaking of this anxiety of whether this attempt will be fruitful (literally) or an utter failure, the post on Open Culture was quite encouraging. It was about failure and the measures needed to transcend fear and attain success. Paulo Coelho states that the best means of overcoming fear is to do our best and not be perturbed of the result (quite like the nishkamakarma of the Bhagavad Gita). But I do agree with him fully. When I sincerely do my job well, the best I can, I really need have no fear of success or failure... for what I do is the best I can. Need not be the best for the world or for others, but that's the 'best-me'. Reminds me of another of my favourite quote:
I feared people's opinion till I realised that people will have opinions about me anyway!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Thanks and all ready ...

So I'm back in Kondadaba! Done with all the meetings, holidays and rest, now for some live action. Except for the perspiration, which I'll soon get used to, I was totally at home. This evening after bath as I walked along the drive, reciting my rosary and having a look at the campus, I almost felt that I was here all through. Now that's already feeling at home.

This day too was special... for its simplicity. Though it was the solemnity of Mary Help of Christians and all that goes along with it, no big fanfare. We had a nice simple Mass before lunch, just the three of us: Frs KT, Wilson and myself. Normal meals (thanks to Fr KT who forgot to order for chicken) for lunch and supper. The rest of the day was cleaning, tidying, accounting and settling down. I have to pull out my 'to-do list' tomorrow to start the real work before the Brothers arrive.

And most important of all: CONGRATULATIONS to Papa and Mummy on their wedding anniversary. Though tempted, or rather frightened and anxious, to pray for myself yesterday and today, I just spent the two days in sincere thanksgiving to Mother Mary for the past one year, more so the past two weeks of holidays and most specially for the gift of Papa and Mummy.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Visit to Chowmahalla Palace

Yesterday we, as a family, went to see the Chowmahalla Palace near Charminar. It was the first time I even heard that name, even though I was in Hyderabad for so many years. It is said to have been the official palace of Nizam where all the official meetings and interactions of the dynasty would be held. The place was good, neatly kept and speaks for its own elegance. Spread over 15 acres (once 25 acres) the palace is nice monument of history and it grace. Today the whole place is turned into a sort of museum of private collection only. I am told that the last Nizam is still alive and is the one who really modified the place into a public tourist spot.

As we walked around, each one interested in some aspect or the other, Chris (my nephew) was fascinated by two things: the bulb and the rotating fan.

Corruption and me

Today's The Hindu had this article on corruption on its Open Page (p. 12) It tries to trace the root of corruption back to our own family upbringing and I could not but agree with the author. The author states that corruption has a broad spectrum consisting of major and minor activities. And no matter how much of input is given in school and college, the basics given at home (or rather, picked up from home, consciously and unconsciously lived out by parents and elders) stick for life.
The lessons include not telling lies, mustering the courage to tell the truth and maintain it; being watchful of misinformation and manipulation; awareness about corruption and the ways to fight it at the individual level; knowledge of government and corporate ethics and avoiding the temptation thrown in the way to become corrupt. (emphasis mine)
Another article on Corruption (Open Page, The Hindu, p. 12) rightly challenges each one of us to review our own life and ask "Am I corrupt?"; the related and often asked other questions like "Is he?" or "Are they?" will soon take care of themselves in the light of the answer that we sincerely give to the first question. (Something like let the one who has not sinned cast the first stone, diktat of Jesus?)

Feel good about English Mass

The past two Sundays Masses brought back memories of old... those old English hymns were lovely. I loved to hear and sing along those hymns and it felt good, for once not worried about the next note of the choir being right or off. English hymns at Kondadaba are a real disaster, almost always. Telugu hymns are excellent, only that they are too long with every note being played up and down as prelude, interlude and what not!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Perpetuating caste system

The Centre Government's decision to collect details about religion and caste details during its census with regard to the Economic situation of the Indian citizen is in a way one of the most idiotic thing that it could decide upon. After a string of refreshing and empowering decisions arrived at, this present directive will certainly lead to regress. For years, the whole curse of caste has been gnawing at the Indian society especially the marginailsed. Today when young people are no more concerned or divided along caste lines, but are willing to see life as it comes, they are now again reminded about this dark past. Just the other day, Fr Louis proposed quite a remarkable proposal to get rid of this caste discrimination: let no school ask for which caste the child belongs to. According to his estimation, caste will, by itself die out in this way within 25 years. I fully agree with him.

The centre's decision now to collect details is another direct hint that we are not ready to give up this scourge but want to only perpetuate its tyranny over ourselves. So be it! But I pray and hope that the younger generation will not let this unnecessary 'detail' of our past will not darken our future.

My God and me

Late last night I had an intense discussion with Willy. It centred on God and our relationship with Him. It was quite elaborate and intense. During the discussion, I got to clarify my concept of God and my relationship with Him. It was good to spell clearly that the God whom I believe in is one who empowers me. He is one who is with me, who challenges me to greater heights and growth. All this while being with me. He is not one who gives me crutches and lets me be stuck to them for the rest of my life. He is one who shows me the direction, gives me guidance and then lets me find my way out. For I am convinced that He has already given me the potential great and gracious enough to do things by myself, rather than pester Him every now and then for every little thing.

And precisely for this, that I get in touch with Him, not to ask Him for this or that, but as a loving son or friend who is grateful to Him for giving me the raw materials and challenging to make my own resources.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

State of inertia

Lazing around at home I get to do nothing except eat and sleep. So that's what I'm specialising in at present. It has also been my maiden steps in getting used to Linux which I installed in the beginning of the month, while at Tiruchy. Though I'm yet to use it regularly, I wish to do so once I get back to Kondadaba. The only reason is that I cannot access the net through the linux mode wireless. And I do not want to disturb my brother asking him to share the cable with me while he is busy with his office work. Yesterday I asked him for some free time of his to access his computer (with net) to fix up my linux OS. I managed to set the net, with the cable, right. I'm yet to rectify the wireless network.

Back at Kondadaba there are quite a few things awaiting me which I dread. Hence I just am enjoying this 'state of inertia' for as long as it lasts - May 24.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Hindi serials and viewers

It's been about a week since I'm home... mostly lazing around, eating and sleeping. Besides watching the antics of my nephew, Chris, I also end up watching a couple of TV serials everyday ... not because I'm fond of them, but because practically everyone else is! One of them is as old as I... (exaggeration, but almost)! I only watch it for a week or so when I come home for my annual holidays and believe me, I can very well follow the story. It hardly moves (neither the heart nor the plot)! But something that I've noticed of practically all the hindi serials that I've scanned so far: all of them have the upper class for their theme. The plot is always around the rich families. And who is it that watches them most? Those of the lower class or the middle class! There is hardly a thing that they can relate their lives with in those serials but all the same, they would never miss even the turn of a head. The only possible explanation I can think of for this is the theory that we aspire for what we do not have, mostly to forget the fact that we never get all that we dream.

Wind beneath my wings

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Easy way out?

While here at Gunadala for the prenovices, I also was asked to address the vocation camp boys about the vocation of a Salesian Brother. There were 47 boys, as usual, all excited and typical monkeys on hot bricks. The afternoon session that I spent with them was quite alive and interactive. I first spoke of myself and then briefly narrated how the concept of the Salesian Brother evolved in the life and mission of Don Bosco. Then, I opened up the discussion for their questions and queries. Oh, boy, they were quite free and frank about their doubts. And I preferred it that way too. I believe it is better to be clear of things right from the beginning than give them false hopes or show them mirages. Most of their questions were the normal ones that I have to face everytime I speak of the Salesian Brotherhood. But one was a novel one!
Of the two ways, Priesthood and Brotherhood, which is the easiest way to quit the congregation?
Well that really caught me off guard. However, I along with the others laughed it out and responded, "Well, in that case why at all to enter the congregation?"

On the whole, the interaction was quite healthy. I also get the impression that quite a few of the boys come to the Camp/Congregation as a last resort of survival. A few also come with the intention of using the congregation for going abroad. I only hope that this is only their 'motivation' to enter and not the motivation to continue being in the congregation!

Still with Communications...

I just concluded a two day session on the basics of Communication for our prenovices at Gunadala. It was an interesting exercise. Every time I conduct this course, there is something new and interesting emerging. For the past two years at least, I've been dealing with the basic elements of communication rather than give the boys an overall preview of the whole of communication and media. This year, for sure, I was following the Salesian Communication manual, Shepherds for an Information Age.

Though it is basically the same content that I deal with, every year I end up highlighting certain aspect of the content and it is hardly the one that I come prepared with. Reminds me of Lonergan's concept of Insight (which I'm sure I got it wrong!). This time it was the unique and the special role of four of the basic elements that are involved in a communication process: sender, receiver, message and the channel. I could successfully weave together the various sessions, presentations, excercises and examples to convincingly challenge the boys - would-be Salesians - about ...
  • the need to have a message of our own,
  • the importance to make that message convincing and sure,
  • to be clear/specific about the message,
  • to have our receiver clear in mind and
  • finally choose the best of channels available (rather than mourn and groan about those unavailable).

Monday, 9 May 2011

Communication as an underlying principle

One of the most significant questions raised up during the Social Communications meeting was the one raised by Fr Robert Simon. For me it was one of the most profound moments of the meeting. He merely presented his view of the whole proceedings. As the only 'non-communication member', hailing from the Youth Ministry apostolate, he stated that while the communication commission was doing great with a plethora of activities and initiatives, he feared that we were attempting to build our own empire. He directly questioned the real motive of all that we were planning and executing. Where and how is it all helping the main apostolate of the congregation, he asked. For me, he had hit the nail on the head with that simple query.

Just a day before he had voiced his fear, I had in fact, half in jest and half in earnest proposed that the communication commission be disband. The commission does not have an identity totally independent or in competition against the main mission of the apostolate. The communication commission ought to be at the assistance of the other commissions in enhancing the mission of the Church as undertook by Don Bosco. Anything else, or any other way, may be great work, but not Salesian, not communitarian, not as Don Bosco would have wanted it.

In the preface to the Salesian Social Communication System (second edition) Fr Filiberto rightly points out that social communication is a dimension that prevails all our human actions and thoughts. Thus rather than being a separate entity all by itself, it is the cementing material that links, binds, builds all our varied approaches for the single Salesian Mission.

Lighter side of the meeting

During the Social Communications' meeting at Tiruchy there were some interesting moments of fun and laughter besides the serious thoughts! During the presentations, there was one who stated that the tasks of the Communication commission were like the game of snakes and ladders. A while later, another Sister presenting her province report states, "In our Province Communication sector there are only snakes, no ladders!"

A senior confrere at the end of the meeting, during the final group meeting, to be specific, raised a question to which the rest of us in the group did not know what to say (or to say anything at all!). His 'simple' question: "What has the Social Communication to do with Mission?" And that was the central theme we were debating and discussing all along for four days! It was like after the whole of Ramayana, who is Sita?

Monday, 2 May 2011

Setting priorities right

Answering a question as to why is there a large number of Salesians trained in the communication field leaving the congregation, Fr Filiberto made a very simple but direct comment. I suppose this answers all departures of the so-called 'qualified' Salesians from the Congregation. He attributed it primarily to three reasons:
  1. Communication for such confreres was reduced to me and myself. God, young people and the mission was thrown over board.
  2. These confreres, most of them, had given up on their community. They, either deliberately or for their own reasons, distanced themselves from the community.
  3. They had become more of administrators than animators or pastors.

Now that was direct and clear enough for all to understand where and what should our priorities be. Once again a reiteration of what we as communicators or educators ought to be: experts in God and young people using communication; not experts in communication!

Salesians in the new 'playgrounds'

While discussing about the whole issue of personal media and the rampant growth of technology and media, an analogy came to my mind which I shared with the group this afternoon. When we were Brothers about to begin our Practical Training, one of the guidelines given to us was how to go about in the playground. We were clearly told, that during games it is our prime duty to ensure that the boys learn and enjoy the game. It is certainly no time or place to dominate the game or show off our skills.

I think there is something similar happening with communication technology and the Salesians today. There are those who shy away from all modern things (those who never reach to the playground itself - that's quite bad in itself, and Don Bosco would certainly not approve of it either). Then there are those who are present in the 'playground' but all the while dominating the game. They use the gadgets and the 'means' available to showcase their own talents and skills. The others in and around the 'playground' are just left to watch you. Unfortunately this mode too is quite idiotic for the following reason: earlier there was only one football and if the Salesian is all the while owning it, the boys can do nothing but watch him. However, if a Salesian does the same in the new 'playground', he will soon find himself all alone since the boys would have created a new 'playground' for themselves elsewhere. Today each one has a 'ball'!

Ultimately what is required of a Salesian with respect to the emerging 'playgrounds'? His meaningful presence, just like before! He may not be the best footballer but all the same he is with the boys, encouraging them, guiding them and making sure that all enjoy and learn the game, especially those who are normally left out by the boys themselves.

Principles vs Rules

One of the points that Fr Julian Fox stated during the meeting and interactions today caught my attention. While undertaking new initiatives or ventures, he said it is good to start with principles, not rules. I think that makes a lot of sense, especially from a formation perspective. Most often we set a structure or lay down a list of rules and regulations that we insist on adhering to for the smooth running and growth of the venture. Slowly in the bargain we lose track of the ultimate goal and get stuck to those structures or rules alone. This is what perhaps differentiates charismatic ventures and organised structures.

An evening in and around Trichy

This evening we had an interesting prayer service animated by the Salesian Sisters. It was a good and refreshing break from the highly intellectual and formal prayers that we men, are used to! Like Joaquim said after the prayers, it was good to once feel your prayer! Of course, the Sisters were thoroughly fooled during and much later too for their creativity and methodology. But being part of the family they took it all well and are quite comfortable with us.

Earlier during the day we had the fortune of visiting one of the communities of this Province, AMSAM. It is a Parish and a technical school with nearly 80 boys. Besides the beautiful church they have, which Fr Albert Johnson, the Provincial told me over supper is being slowly promoted as a Shrine, we also visited the Province cemetery which has the remains of five (of the six) of their deceased Salesians. Most of those who passed away were quite young confreres and had tragic ends. We said a short prayer, had tea and then thanked the community to return to our session, back in the Provincial house.

One of the things I've been trying to find out is the correct spelling of the place where I presently am: Tiruchy or Trichy? Well no one seems to have the right answer, except for the fact that the former is a Tamil abbreviation of the full name (Tiruchirapalli) and the latter the Angliced form of the former! So much for the name!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Networking and envisioning

One strong point emerging from the various interventions made by the confreres of different Provinces stemming from their practical and long-standing experience working in the Communication sector - besides the ruing that there ought to be a full-timer as the delegate for the Social Communication Commission) - is that there is hardly any real networking between the various commissions/departments/sectors (call it whatever one might). Each department does lot of work (if at all is functional). But in a direction it considers best. Another department too which does well, achieves lot but not necessarily in the same direction. Now, each department doing well in its own field is a great achievement, but what if all of these departments were to be coordinated so as to collectively, as a Province, move towards a common goal. That would be a real miracle, given our present working style (perhaps, Bl. John Paul II could help us with this in exchange for his canonisation!).

As far as my understanding goes, this is the task of the Youth Pastoral Team... coordinate the various commissions and departments to ensure that the common mission is worked out in each specific field, so that we grow as a Province. Perhaps if it does a little more than cut-and-paste the commission plans into one file, some good is bound to be done! Furthermore, a clear vision as to what is it that we are working towards will help a long way in fructifying our efforts.

Delegate as the soul of the team

The new edition of the SSCS, among the many things it draws our attention to, focusses on the person of the Communication Delegate. Fr Fili calls him the 'soul' of the team. If I understand him properly, he is to be the chief animator of the Communication team. He is the life and driving force which propels the team to greener pastures and new horizons for the good of the common mission. Unlike our present working system, he is not to be the 'donkey' carrying the burden of the commission. He is not the 'doer' of every and all activities listed in the Communication Plan for the year. He is to be the animator and the chief pilot. The team (hopefully men and women of God and competent in the media field, if not experts) rallies round him and gets the whole Province to move in a common direction.

Experts of what?

During all our group sharing and interactions, Fr Filiberto stated one important feature which I feel is often forgotten. He called us to be not experts of communication but experts of the Salesian spirit using communications. He was very sure of this. And I believe that's where our thrust ought to be too. Too often our focus is on gaining mastery over the means of communication, with the least thought of the content of communication or worse still having no clue whatsoever as to the motive of our whole communication exercise or process is.

Sectors, departments, commissions, dimensions???

We commenced the South Asia Social Communications' delegates meeting this morning. Thanks to Thathi whose absence has facilitated my presence here. It was good to see and meet very many familiar faces, especially that of Fr Filiberto and Fr Julian Fox. The morning was a rather extended session on sharing of Province strengths and challenges. What began as a single point, soon got elaborated and stretched to a long list. However, neither Fr Fili nor Fr Julian objected or intervened. I think they prefer to go with the stream than impose the schedule. They really get to feel the pulse of the region then. The afternoon session was a bit heavy - atleast for me! It was the presentation of the new edition of the Salesian Social Communication System (SSCS). However the group discussion and sharing that ensued was interesting. Reminded me of trying to get to the root of issues rather than getting lost in petty matters.

One of the points that I raised in my small group and which Fr Julian Fox later tried to address was the same point that we have been debating about in the Province during all meetings, thanks to Fr TD John's attempt to clarify the point: the whole network and system of commissions, departments, sectors and dimensions.

Fr Julian did try to clarify matters but I think he was also being shrewd as to not get entangled with this, since it is a matter which needs to be clarified from the Rector Major downwards! The sectors (a bad translation of the Italian word, according to Fr Julian) are like charisms or liturgically speaking sacraments. They ought to be for the congregation to be what it is meant to be. But departments are mere functional modes of these charisms. These may come and go, the modality may change and so may the structure of it, but the charism remains.

(What about the commissions and dimensions? Well, they were not mentioned at all!)

Enjoying Hyderabad in Trichy!

I'm at present in Trichy attending the Social Communications meeting for the South Asia region. It was good coming here to this southern tip of Indian Provinces. Moreover meeting old friends and some new ones too is always refreshing, even if the weather isn't! As usual, there were the introductions made prior to the meeting proper with those whom I've not met before and here are some of the reactions of theirs when they heard that I'm from Hyderabad Province / Andhra:
  • Ah, Benji's place (that was the most common phrase today)
  • Oh, it must be very hot now!
  • Wow, I love that spicy food.
  • I still remember the lovely curds we enjoyed at the Provincial House.
  • The hospitality was great at Hyderabad.
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