Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Winter days

Yesterday was the first time I had to de-ice my car screen! Back in India, getting into a 'heated' Sumo - because it was parked in the sun - and driving around the town, drenched in sweat and dust, is a usual experience. And I would not put on the a/c either and that speed up reaching the boiling point of those travelling with me all the more. But this hard opaque sheet of ice on the glass??

One of my neighbours had put on the heating in the car - he was no where seen near the car!  So I did likewise, but that wasn't helping much.  Then a confrere of mine offered me a bottle of de-ice spray and showed me how to use it. Thanks to him, I managed to get moving in 15 minutes. But that time was enough and more to get me frozen!!  My hands and feet were numb with the cold. Every part of the car that I then touched was like holding some frozen metal.

Only yesterday did I see a layer of frost on everything outdoors: on the grass, plants, foot-over-bridge, walls, and every vehicle. It was not just some soft snow but hard ice!!  At some parts in the college they had even scattered rock salt on the floor.

Winter is here! One of the thoughts that trouble me most about this climate was about those homeless.  With no outdoor spot remotely hospitable, where would the homeless spend the night?  Or for that matter those without proper or any central heating system?  

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Transparency

Yesterday was the second death anniversary of Fr John Lens. I know not if his autobiography is being considered for publication or not.  Most probably with all the excitement of the visit of the Rector Major to the Province, this would have got shelved for another year.

Anyway, as I thanked God for this person, especially his role in my life, I could not think of a better description of him than this short verse from Thomas A Kempis, as quoted in Waymarks:
The purer the eye of the intention is, the more strength the soul finds within itself... but it is very rare to find a soul entirely free, whose purity is not at all sullied by some stain of a secret searching for itself... Work, therefore, to purify the eye of your intention in order that it might be single and upright.
Somehow Fr Lens, even in his weakness and shortcomings, made Salesian sanctity more appealing. He was not a perfect man.  He too knew that all too well and didn't in any way try to hide or camouflage it.  Neither did he take pride in his shortcomings.  But he did possess a great inner strength. He derived it from his transparent effort at being kind and loving. More than the love, it is this constant and transparent effort at being lovable, that I recall with great joy.

Prayer (Dag Hammarskjold)

Here's a lovely prayer from Waymarks penned by Dag Hammarskjold:
You who are over us,
You who are one of us,
You whoh are -- also in us,
may all see you -- also in me,
may I prepare the way for you,
may I be grateful for all that then befalls me.
May I at the same time not forget the needs of others,
Keep me in your love
as you would that all should remain in mine.
May everything in my being be directed to your glory and
may I never despair.
For I am under your hand,
and in your is all power and goodness. 
Give me a pure heart -- that I may see you,
a humble heart --  that I may hear you,
a loving heart -- that I may serve you,
a believing heart -- that I may remain in you. 

Monday, 28 November 2016

Human obligation

From Waymarks (Dag Hammarskjold):
Your obligation is "to --."
You can never save yourself through "not to --."
The closest interpretation of this would stand to say that human obligation must be defined in positive terms.  Being good does not necessarily mean, avoiding evil.  Goodness demands more than abstention, or merely being good; it has to have beneficial acts, doing good.

It is indeed a good lesson for this Advent, as we prepare for the coming of our Lord, who choose 'to' and not 'not to'.

Debating truth

Matter of truth?

The geo/helio centric theory:
  • Earth is the centre, said Ptolemy. Kepler put sun at the centre.  The thing-in-itself is there all the time. (Taylor)
  • This is not a matter of truth but of simplicity (due to the relativity of motion) (Russell)
  • There is a distinction to be drawn between causality and description of it (Rorty)
So is there an objective fact? or a social consensus?  or neither?  or something in between?  When does one or the other become true?

Even if one is talking of the conflicting beliefs of the real world: abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment... and about matters of fact: existence of god, after-life... where does truth lie?

(some points from the book Truth and Progress by Richard Rorty)

"What is truth?"
Never dared attempt that question during my entrance exam for M.Ph. at Nashik (in 1998) nor do I do now! 

Something to live/die for...

From Dag Hammarskjold's Markings:
Pray that your loneliness may spur you to find something to live for, great enough to die for. 
Know not if he found this prayer answered or not during his lifetime, but for others who knew him it certainly did. Know not if this going to be true of me...

The unmarked grave

Only the other day, while talking about funeral Mass and other related things with Fr John, did I come to know that Mamma Margaret did not have a tomb of her own.  And that is one of the impediments to her canonization.  Well, leaving the latter matter aside, what struck me was Don Bosco's practical sense. It was a time when private or personal tombs were not very common. Yet considered respectable.  That instead of choosing to 'possess' a private tomb for his mother, he opted for the common burial - just piled up with the rest of the corpses in a large pit - says much about Don Bosco. He had mouths to feed and many to educate. He certainly could not afford to spend money on non-essentials.  The funeral of his mother fell into one of the 'non-essentials'.  Mamma Margaret would certainly have endorsed his decision!

I don't think Don Bosco regretted this or felt ashamed of this.  Considering the fact that the common folk of his times resorted to this kind of a funeral, for lack of funds, he was merely associating himself with this common category of people.  I wonder how many of us religious would dare do that today. That people do not consider us as belonging to the 'middle class' or less, is no surprise.  We too would not like to give that impression!

On November 25 we remembered the birth anniversary of Mamma Margaret. Canonized or not, she did what was best for her times.  With a marble stone tomb or not, her virtues continue to outlive her death.

At Chertsey meads

Out of sheer boredom, I took a walk upto the Chertsey meadows - called 'meads' here - and the bank of Thames this afternoon.  Sat there for a couple of minutes and watched the birds, the Chertsey bridge, the dogs, some small children...

As soon as I reached there the birds came a bit close but once they realized that I had nothing to offer them, they went their way.  I suppose they can't afford to sit and cry 'foul' if no one offers them some crumbs. They have got to find something to survive on by themselves!



Saturday, 26 November 2016

Contentment

An excerpt from Dag Hammarskjokld's Markings
He came with his little girl. She was wearing her best clothes.
You saw how careful she was with her fine coat.
Others saw also -- saw, with indifference, that it had been
another little girls' fine coat,
which had been fine another year. 
In the morning it had been festive in the sunshine.
Now most people had already gone home.
The balloon sellers were counting the day's receipts.
Even the sun had kept abreast with the others and gone to rest behind a cloud.
So it was quite bleak and deserted when he came with his little girl
to taste the joy of spring and to be warmed in a newly polished Easter sun. 
But she was satisfied.
They were both of them satisfied.
For they had learned a humility which you have yet to grasp.
A humility which never compares, which does not reject
that which is for 'something else' or for 'more'. 

An Advent prayer

My advent prayer...

Exalted impotence

There is so much of advertisement these days,  especially in the newspapers, by way of pamphlets and even booklets, for Christmas.  It is all about household goods, gifts, and much for food and drink!  I'm now a bit nauseated at the amount of "propaganda" being done to get people to spend and that too on food and drink!?  Certainly this amount of spending would not be done on advertising, if there was no real possibility of earning it back by way of sale.  That means, people really splurge... that much on such trivial things as food and drink?

On the other hand, there are also appeals on behalf of the suffering children of Syria, the drowning refugees in the Mediterranean, the aged and terminally ill.  I guess they are feeble attempts of a few noble souls to offset the above phenomena.

What pains me most is the lack of will and malicious ignorance to tackle root causes.  Everyone knows that what is going on is not good for humanity yet those powers-to-be, go about totally unaware of it, leave alone speak about/against it.

And I ask myself, what the -- am I doing here? 

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

For the first time today, I picked up a book from our own community library to read. It was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.  

I knew that this book was made into a movie too, but somehow never got myself to see it for it has something to do with the Holocaust.  This morning I said to myself, I will read the book and then watch the movie to see which is better.

The book is the poignant story of two 9-year olds on either side of the fence of a concentration camp in Poland.  One the son of a German officer and the other a Jew in the camp.  The book is narrated from the eyes and mind of the German boy, Bruno.

In spite of the tragedy and gloom all around, the story is lively and the child's innocence keeps it heart-warming - even through and to the extent of death.  There were times in the book, when I wanted to intervene, especially towards the end.  But found myself too stunned and lost for words. I still feel the hair on my hands stand up - watching helplessly as the two boys march on. The fact that those boys go through death, without being aware of it, makes it consoling; yet offers no comfort at all.

Few points that stand out for me:

  • How children grow up - or to be precise, fed with - prejudices and theories which are totally contrary to their own world-view.  But still children grow up to believe in the 'theories' or 'rules' set before them because they are done by the ones they love most - their parents.  Their initial innocence is over-ridden by the 'truth' they are told, which they then retell others, even if it meant they do not understand or even do not accept them.  
  • How right the children are and as an adult reading the book, you cannot but see it; yet in reality we act as adults! 
  • As one reading it I could not but feel the pain and agony, but how much more would the ones who were in that context have gone through.  Not just the victims (Shmuel and the Jews) but even those who stood by helpless but vocal (the grandmother); the silent trying to make sense (Maria); the utterly helpless (Pavel). 
  • How harsh realities of life make one mature way beyond ones years. Shmuel knows more of life than Bruno.  His occasional silences are an added confirmation of this fact, besides the times he shares about his life.  

Makes me question, more than wonder, the worth of my own life.

I will never get myself to watch the movie. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

To leave something behind (Sean Rowe)

Came across this particular song, which is the closing song of the movie 'The Accountant'.  Loved the song, especially the lyrics.  It is said to be the parting message of a father to his son.  Lovely words...


I cannot say that I know you well 
But you can't lie to me with all these books that you sell 
I'm not trying to follow you to the end of the world 
I'm just trying to leave something behind 

Words have come from men and mouse 
But I can't help thinking that I've heard the wrong crowd 
When all the water is gone my job will be too 
And I'm trying to leave something behind 

Oh money is free but love costs more than our bread 
And the ceiling is hard to reach 
Oh the future ahead is broken and red 
But I'm trying to leave something behind 

This whole world is a foreign land 
We swallow the moon but we don't know our own hand 
We're running with the case but we ain't got the gold 
Yet we're trying to leave something behind 

My friends I believe we are at the wrong fight 
And I cannot read what I did not write 
I've been to His house, but the master is gone 
But I'd like to leave something behind 

There is a beast who has taken my blame 
You can put me to bed but you can't feel my pain
When the machine has taken the soul from the man
It's time to leave something behind 

Oh money is free but love costs more than our bread 
And the ceiling is hard to reach 
Oh the future ahead is already dead 
So I'm trying to leave something behind 

I got this feeling that I'm still at the shore 
And pockets don't know what it means to be poor 
I can get through the wall if you give me a door 
So I can leave something behind 

Oh wisdom is lost in the trees somewhere 
You're not going to find it in some mental gray hair 
It's locked up from those who hurry ahead 
And it's time to leave something behind 

Oh money is free but love costs more than our bread 
And the ceiling is hard to reach 
When my son is a man he will know what I meant 
I was just trying to leave something behind 
I was just trying to leave something behind

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Discriminating abnormality

Discrimination based on difference, merely because one is different from oneself or unfamiliar, seems absurd logically but in reality is an accepted norm of how it is to be!

Richard Rorty, while offering a critique of 'common grounds' for knowledge, calls for philosophy to be descriptive and see descriptions of ourselves on par with descriptions of others (poets, mystics, sculptors, novelists...); not a privileged representation, over and above others.  He strongly advocates prevention of abnormality being viewed suspiciously because of its abnormality. (Abnormal is anything outside the agreed set of rules).

I guess, it sounds quite convincing on paper but human nature and group (or cultural) reasoning proves this an uphill task.  In real life, what is different catches the eye.  It stands out.  It is a sore in the eye and therefore needs to be normalized or brushed under the carpet.

I'm thinking of our boys in Navajeevan or in Karunapuram.  What's our take on those who appear 'different'?  Those who stick out from among the group?... our zeal for uniformity? If only we view the situation from their perspective...

Knowledge as essentially true?

This concept that 'knowledge is essentially true' is something that keeps cropping up in our classroom discussions.  Though none of us have ever given this a deeper thought or engaged ourselves in a discussion on this, it seems to be a factual statement.

I am presuming it means that all that we know is held to be true... to me.  If it were not true, I would not be still clinging to it.  So somehow we have an inherent assumption that, all what we know is true (or right?).

Or is it that it is the vestiges of viewing knowledge as perception. Therein we cannot really ever call any perception untrue or false - as something that did not happen. Different perception, may be; but not untrue or false.  

You know...

Every place and every person has their/his/her own vocabulary.  Some of these are so often used that they unconsciously become repetitive and unnecessary.  I discovered the predominant phrase of the Brits: 'You know...'

They say British English is the model for English language. From first hand experience I beg to differ. Or perhaps, I've met and interacted with the 'not-really-English'. One thing is certain, most use this phrase so often without even actually saying what they intend to say, that I now am beginning to feel the itch to interrupt and say "No, I don't!"

Another annoying thing about most conversations is the amount of clatter in every statement.  It looks as if they wish to make their point with as many words as possible and that will automatically make it look grand. May be it is the problem of philosophers - or those who claim to be aspiring to become one... to use 1000 words where just 100 would suffice. However, my years of teaching in the formation houses has helped me appreciate and strive for a language which expresses itself (and me) in clear, precise and short sentences.  Only when one is not clear of what is on one's mind, then all the words keep rolling, tumbling, falling and bouncing. The sentence may be there but to know what is being said, most of the words need to be jettisoned!

Sehwag on Demonetisation

Virender Sehwag's humourous take on demonetisation in India, brought about by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi:
I believe that a bachelor brings about a change, while a married man brings vegetables home, or takes the dog for a walk. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Truth claims

Have been reading, wrestling - and to a great extent understanding - Richard Rorty this whole day.  I liked particularly one thing that he is quite strong about: the craze for claiming to 'know it all' and thereby the pedestal of authority one sets oneself on.  Pre-Enlightenment era, religion did it and since then it is science which has been seen as 'the authority'.  So he basically calls for a 'conversation', a discussion, rather than a 'race to solve problems'. And that he says is what philosophy should be doing; not establishing 'another order of truth and knowledge'.

This makes sense, especially in the field of education and reminds me of the following quote of Albert Einstein:

Have been jotting down very many thoughts and ideas these days to complete an assignment on Rorty.  As I almost finished re-reading his book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, I find myself laughing, that initially when I began reading the book, I wanted to throw it out of the window - luckily it is only the pdf version and I certainly do not wish to part with my laptop! And now here I am, taking notes and making my own notes of the same book, with great zeal.  

God knows

We are in the last week of the liturgical year.  Everyday readings are all from the book of the Apocalypse, speaking of the end times.

Here's a poem titled 'God knows' by Minnie Louise Haskins

I said to the man
who stood at the gate of the year, 
'Give me a light that I may tread safely
into the unknown!'
And he replied: 'Go out into the darkness
and put your hand into the hand of God. 
That shall be to you better than light
and safer than a known way.

Time and competence

This quote from Markings, surely reflects my own life.
Time passes, reputation increases and competence decreases. 
Looking back there was a time when I was involved in much and barely had time for myself. I certainly did achieve much. Looking back over the immediate past few years, with all the added years of experience, I certainly seemed to have achieved far less. Perhaps the outward production is way much less than earlier, but may be have sobered down and become a more settled person now ... may be

Not that I would like to swing the balance now but certainly strike a balance.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Doing good

From the book of Dag Hammarskjold, Markings:
A modest wish: that our doings should have a somewhat greater significance for life than a man's dinner jacket has for his digestion. And yet a good deal of what we describe as our achievement is surely only a garment with which we seek on festive occasions to hide our nakedness. 
This is not the first time I've come across this analogy of the dinner jacket and digestion. I remember reading a passage from one of Anthony D'Mello's books and him speaking of religion.  Can't remember it exactly but something to the effect that 'Religion does to a man, as much a dinner jacket does to one's digestion.' 

Making sense

Digging deep into Rorty for the past couple of days. Here's a quote from his book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature wherein he recalls T.S. Kuhn and his take on science.  The context is the distinction he makes between 'normal' science and 'revolutionary science'.
When reading the works of an important thinker, look first for the apparent absurdities in the text and ask yourself how a sensible person could have written them. When you find an answer, .... when these passages make sense, then you may find that more central passages, ones you previously thought you understood, have changed their meaning. 
Makes sense. But certainly not when you are in that 'un-understandable phase of reading'!  

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Pre-advent Christmas

In India, there was this repeated reminder by some, not to cut-short Advent and begin Christmas celebrations half-way through Advent.  However, here in UK, even before Advent has commenced, the marketing, advertising and shopping for Christmas has already begun!  For the last two weeks, practically every newspaper, TV, radio and internet channel has ads for Christmas gifts and purchases.  Odd, but true!




... of the Kingdom; not of a king

For n number of times I've witnessed Priests struggle to give a sermon on the feast of Christ the King.  In the process of justifying or exalting the 'kingship' of Christ in a modern world, they end up offering some pious thoughts which neither moves nor convinces anyone in the congregation, least of all the Priest himself (one might ask, which sermon ever does that!). Even in UK, which has the monarchic tradition, there seems to be the same difficulty. Strange!

However, it struck me during the Mass today that we are really missing the point.  My basic premise is that Jesus never claimed to be a King! He always preached about the Kingdom but never claimed to be the king of it.  And 'his' Kingdom was one where everyone had an equal place.  The need for a 'king' figure is that of us mortals.  The first reading clearly tells us that it was the people who anointed David king.  Biblical history tells us, Yahweh did not appoint the king, it was the people who was adamant to have one.

The gospel too affirms the focus on the Kingdom when Jesus' last words to the thief states: "You shall be in paradise with me."  He never said, "You shall be in my paradise." Jesus never exalted and made himself King, rather made himself as one among (with) all.  A sensible understanding of the second reading reiterates this fact. Jesus always preached the Kingdom, but not himself as the king.  This feast really calls our attention to the Kingdom.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The Kingdom

The gospel of tomorrow's Mass, on the solemnity of Christ the King, speaks of the conversation between the three crucified on Calvary.  The content of their conversation offers one a glimpse into their life and character.  The gospel describes them as 'thieves' and perhaps they indeed were. However, I have an inkling that the former was indeed a vagabond, a seasoned criminal who had no remorse whatsoever for the things he had done.  All that he wanted was an escape route to continue, perhaps the wayward but luxurious life he was living.

The other was perhaps a good man who had fallen on bad times.  He must have been a thief but not one who chose to be a thief for its luxury or selfish benefits.  His heart was still tender and understanding.

What makes me say so?  Death is a great leveller.  However, great or wealthy or famous a person may be, it weakens the knees and the very thought of it makes one uncomfortable.  Much worse is for those on deathbed.  At that point, one cannot but be true to oneself.  However, competent an actor, at that threshold, what one is really made up of, is revealed.  For the second thief to hold back from passing judgement on Jesus or on the other thief, and acknowledge one's own mistake and view the present as a just consequence of that, is no easy task.... unless one has been practicing this art of genuine self-assessment.

Jesus too does not condemn the thief - neither of them.  He merely assures the latter a place with him in His Kingdom.  This certainly offers us an insight into the Kingdom itself: a place where no one judges the other but everyone is eager to see goodness in the other and place the other before oneself. 

Uncompromising Commitment

You cannot play with the animal within you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting the right to the truth, play with cruelty without losing sensitivity of mind. He who would keep his garden clean does not reserve a plot for weeds. 
- Waymarks by Dag Hammarskjold

Better than others...

Somehow am drawn by fascination to Dag Hammarskjold.  The more I read about him, the more I feel surprised by the depth of his character.  Today I began reading his journal, titled Markings or Waymarks.  More than a chronicle it is a collection of his poetry and writings.  Couldn't get the original publication, but have with me a translation and a commentary of the same.
Here's one of the early quotes from his book. This was written sometime when he was still a student and in his early twenties.  It is good to have a right understanding of oneself.  Realizing one's potential is good. Taking pride in it, too. But letting it get to your head is dangerous!
"Better than others." Sometimes: I am that in any case.
More often: Why should I be?
You either are or not what you can be -
like the others. 

Evangelisation

Several times during our community moments of prayer and in the Parish I hear this fervent prayer for 'persecuted Christians' across the globe and places where the proclamation of the Word of God is prohibited.  But looking at the actual situation here in the country makes me also see a sort of similarity in contexts.  In places like Syria and Afghanistan, Christians are persecuted and there is barely anyone to really stand by them.  It is more a struggle for survival and yet people retain their faith.  Here in the UK, the ambiance is perfectly peaceful; there are several churches; rather sufficient clergymen (though not as before) and the whole system is indeed very Christian... but most people don't want to listen!  They are happy living their lives totally disconnected from the Church or the faith.  I do not say that they are living immoral lives, certainly no, but the Church has no say in their living.

A weird situation: in one place they cannot speak and even if someone dares to, he or she is silenced; in another they can but no one is willing to listen!  No wonder, it is said that evangelization is primarily the work of the Spirit! 

Process vs Event

By now, all the celebrations of the Province Jubilee and the visit of the Rector Major would have concluded in the Province.  All, especially those in the Provincial house, coordinating the events would surely let out a big sigh of relief.  I also hope that all the planned events went on smoothly and will do some good too.

My fear is that these events remain as mere 'shows' and not as valuable moments of animation.  The 'celebration' takes over and not the preparation and the follow up later.  The visit of the Rector Major tends to be the big event, rather than one of the main events in a process.  I guess we are basically programmed that way.  We move from event to event, rather than through a series of well connected and meaningful processes. A simple analysis of the time, resources (especially financial), energy and personnel we spend in making events spectacular in contrast to initiating and sustaining meaningful processes, will prove this point.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Lefty?

Another thing that's caught my attention of things different from India (I'm glad I'm still seeing things) is this: there are proportionately more left-handed people here in UK than in India.  Now that may seem a bit of an exaggeration but I firmly think my observation is right.

Trying to understand this fact, I feel it has something to do with our cultures.  In India there is the stigma that is associated with the left hand.  Since tidying up after your nature calls (with water) is done with the left hand, the left is considered 'dirty'.  Naturally, any child showing any signs of being left-handed is forcefully tailored to change by the parents, at least most parents.  Here in the UK, I don't think that stigma exists and therefore no child 'changes hands' - or is forced to!

The art of reflection

One of the good things about being at Royal Holloway is that information about the various activities is really broadcasted (on the Facebook, on noticeboards and through e-mails). Most of these events are free and anyone is welcome.  Of the many possibilities I attend some of the seminars or talks by different people in different departments - not all, though.  Interesting thing is that these talks are often about very strange things. Last week there was one about 'walls' and their role in exclusion. The one I attended today was about swearing.

What's most interesting is to note that there are already extensive researches or study being done about these seemingly innocuous or "simple" topics, which otherwise one would never give a second thought.  Secondly the ability of people to reflect upon such themes, and read up stuff related to them. This indepth reflection or 'philosophical content', if not explicit usage of philosophical ideas, shows that philosophy is not treated as a subject, but more as a system of thought.

For some it may seem as an unnecessary "intellectualization" of life, and in a way it is, but I'm actually happy about the love and the ability to reflect and fuel one's interest by wide reading.

I'm also told that in most schools children are taught philosophy!  One teacher already told me that it is something of philosophy of religion, mostly.  But honestly would like to know what exactly is taught to children under the topic of philosophy!

Of squirrels and cats

Here in UK the squirrels that I've come across in the countryside of Surrey are quite big, in comparison with those back in India.  They are almost as big as the bandicoots.  In comparison to the Indian squirrels, these are almost three to four times their size.

If only they were of this size growing in India, they'd have been extinct by now!  When I first stated about the size of the creatures to Saju, the first thing he too said was this, "They'd all be hunted and eaten by now!"

Even the cats here appear bigger. They surely are more fluffy and thus appear fatter than their Indian counterparts.  I suppose it is the climate that makes the difference.  To combat the cold, every creature is to have certain amount of body fat. I don't think food, or rather the amount of food intake, affects the body size of these animals.  If that were the case, there should be some bloated ones and others famished, anywhere. 

Purpose of Philosophy

Yesterday in class we had an interesting discussion.  I finally got off my chest one question which has been nagging me for quite some time now. Not that I got any satisfactory answers but I now have some clarity for myself about what's been troubling me.

Reading Edmund Husserl, I came across the introductory part of his book The Crisis wherein he states that philosophers somewhere got muddled up with the process of philosophy and lost the very purpose of philosophy as envisaged by the ancient Greeks. So I was curious to know what according to him was the purpose of philosophy.  To my relief I found it the same as I always thought it to be: enhance the quality of life and living, through self-knowledge.  Of course, Husserl would put it as 'gain self-knowledge through the theoretical attitude, to find out what the best way to lead a life is'.

So at last it hit me that perhaps philosophers have so immersed themselves in this attainment of 'self-knowledge' that they've forgotten about living the best way.  Or atleast cross checking that knowledge with real living - rather than cross checking with another thought.  So much so, made philosophy totally bereft of life, literally and metaphorically!

I know I'm still to get my head around this issue, but one thing I'm sure of: If my study of philosophy does not make me a better person, then I might as well be grazing cows! During my meditation this morning, it struck me that going by the original purpose of philosophy, a philosopher is supposed to be the ideal or model of authentic living!

Blood donation

Last evening I went to the Chertsey community hall for the blood donation drive. I had already registered myself online.  However, after initial filling in the forms and a couple of layers of interviews, I was politely told that I cannot donate blood... at least for another five months (six months from date of arrival in UK).  Reason: I come from Hyderabad which is in a "slightly malaria prone area" in their official medical map of the world. With nothing else to do, I said 'Thank you' and returned home.

Honestly felt very disappointed and a bit angry too.  Tried consoling myself saying that perhaps those who eventually receive blood from me may be susceptible to malaria or something like that.  However, the thought that back in India, I had to get people (while at Warangal) with great difficulty to donate blood every time the Red Cross team would come asking for blood and the present situation where I was willing and ready but not accepted, was not very comforting.  In India, there is constantly shortage of blood and there are not many willing to donate, and here, there are people willing but the screening is so stringent that very few really get to donate!

Well if the system does take care of medical emergencies then good.  No one needs to be anxious about not receiving blood in time for any emergency.  I can always find other ways of doing good.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

On either side of the phone

One commonly observed phenomena of UK and India:
Young people are most often on the phone both in UK and in India. The only difference is that in India they are chatting away and in UK they are texting away!

Another feature related to this but reflecting a more profound reality:
Here in UK people purposely use the phone to block out others.  Meaning to say, interaction with others is not something they look forward to or encourage.  While in India, being on the phone is another way of getting closer to someone.  Rather than an escape from people, it is a tool that connects people - though, mostly a distance away.  But Indians surely are not shy of interacting with one another, even if the other is a total stranger.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Childrens' Day

Today in India we commemorate Childrens' day, in loving remembrance of our first prime minister, Shri Jawaharlal Nehru.  It is a day celebrated across the country and children are really excited about the day - besides the fact that it is a holiday from classes!

I also read of something similar in Japan through the following link on austraLasia 4199.  Though it is not exactly the same celebration which is actually held on May 5 in Japan but something akin.  It is called the Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3).  It is celebrated as rite of passage to middle childhood, an ancient ritual with roots in the Heian period (AD 794-1185) in the royal court.
austraLasia 4199

Philosophy as a method

As I am plucking my hair - the few strands I still have - reading the books of philosophers (Hegel, Husserl and the like), I am beginning to wonder if philosophy is to be treated as a subject at all.  Well certainly to distinguish it from other branches of study, you call it by its name.  But as a separate entity?  Not so sure of that.

However, of this I'm sure: philosophy, for what it is intended, for priests-in-training, is to be a method of thought rather than a subject.  As of now, it is visualised, both by students and professors, as a subject to be taught rather than an art to be nurtured.  Many question the very need of philosophy in the formation curriculum of priests and religious. Rightly so!  What the  post-novitiate phase of formation ends up doing is study of the history of philosophy rather than the method of philosophizing.  The history part could very much be a part of the study, but cannot really lead to a critical reflection, unless the ultimate goal is such.

Humility from others' faith

Was reading some memorable quotes of Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary-General of the UN and here's one that really caught my attention:

I found this quote quite confusing. In fact, a bit contradictory too. However, reading his life and his thoughts, I realized that it only those with a depth of character can state so.  For every common or mean person, others having faith in you is a dangerous position.  Elevated to that level of trust, one either feels above others or suppressed by their expectations.  Rarely does one feel humbled and strengthened, unless very balanced.
Dag Hammarskjold

Cooking

Yesterday morning when I returned from the Parish Mass, I was all by myself in the house and I said to myself, perhaps I could try my hand at some cooking.  I didn't try much of an adventure and settled to make some noodles.  I did 'cook' noodles ultimately - of course, those who really cook can always contend that noodles doesn't qualify under cooked-items. Anyway, it was good - why wouldn't it be!

The only time I ever cooked was during my first year of Practical training, in 2000 while at Kondadaba.  It was the Christmas holidays and I was the only staff member in the house and I generously granted all the domestic helpers some holidays.  Only after this act of generosity, was I told that a handful of boys would come and stay for a sort of vocation camp!  Rather than send word for the cooks, I tried the first day.  I started with something in mind, but it turned out to be a brand new dish!  The boys didn't know who the cook was and since I was the only 'authority' in the house, they asked me what was the dish they had for supper.  We all survived the day.  However, I did not want to experiment on the boys and called back the cooks for the next few days.  

Friday, 11 November 2016

Social sins

A very comprehensive quote (by Gandhiji) summing up our modern attitudes:

Political sanctity?

The recent turn of events like the US elections, the change of currency back in India by the PM, the prolonged war in Syria, the constant flow of refugees into Europe from across the Mediterranean, the whole politics of Brexit and more especially all that goes behind these apparent policy changes got me thinking this morning of one particular fact: Could sanctity and politics ever go hand in hand?

It is then that it occurred to me that perhaps there is no politician in the history of the world who has been canonized as a saint.  The closest who came to this was Thomas Moore, but then if he were to continue being a real politician he would never have been made a saint!  Politicians have never been canonized!  Perhaps only Dag Hammarskjold, Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela I'd consider as noble politicians (Gandhiji was more a leader and neatly resisted politics). But alas, none of them were Catholic!

So what's it with politics that makes it incompatible with Christian sanctity?  I guess it has something to do with the inherent system failure of politics.  Honestly, if politicians were true to their calling, the liturgical calendar would be most filled with their names - with the prefix St. That's one profession which truly facilitates the service of fellow human beings legally and literally. Unfortunately that's the only thing that never happens.

To be a politician one has to kill one's conscience.  No one can continue to have an altruistic attitude while being a politician.  Such is the state of political affairs - everywhere!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Salesian Mission in India, 100 years from now

Back in India, most of our mission centres or modes of apostolate are exclusive.  I mean, run by us Salesians and Salesians alone.  At the most there are members of the Salesian Family collaborating with the Salesians, but otherwise it is a single congregation show piece.  Whether it be schools, parishes, technical institutions, formation houses or navajeevans (street-children homes), most of them are run by Salesians alone.  There is hardly any venture where there are other religious or priests involved as equal partners  (perhaps a kind of exception are the girls' homes in Vijayawada and Hyderabad).

Understanding the present mission-mode of the Great Britain province, it becomes clear that there is hardly any apostolate that is exclusively Salesian. Parishes, perhaps could be an exception to this 'rule'.  For the rest, Salesians are one among the many involved in a particular apostolate.  I'm not sure if there is any apostolate carried out by Salesians exclusively.  What were schools once run exclusively by Salesians are today run by a board of trustees. Salesians are present on the board (not always though), and as chaplains.  There are no technical institutes. Youth centres, I doubt. One of the reasons that led to the 'inclusive' forms of apostolate has been the paucity of personnel, the decline in vocations - but not the only reason.

I wonder if this would be the same with India a few years down the line, when number of vocations decrease there - which eventually it will.  Would we too follow this apostolate module of the GBR province or for that matter of the European scenario?  Would we be ready for that shift?  I guess, pre-planned voluntary shift would serve better than circumstantially forced abrupt changes!

Easier said than done!

The elusive 'now'

We really cannot talk of 'now'. The moment we start speaking, the moment has already passed away.  So we'd be talking of 'was' not of 'now'!  Cannot speak of the future because it is not yet 'now'.  Therefore can honestly speak only of the past (was) and probably of the future (will be)... but never of the present now.

No wonder people advice to 'live in the present' ... gather that's the best we could do.

Or you may just get on with whatever you were doing, dismissing all this as mere play of words! Even then you'd be doing exactly what the statement means! 

Variety of passions

Sitting in the library beside students from the various departments of the college, and when tired of reading, I sometimes glance at what they are studying. Some are pouring over some mathematical equations for hours.  Someone else is scratching her head over some economic theory. Sometime it is a physics student trying to figure out an equation and at other times it is a stats guy trying to get his graphs and curves right.  Each and everyone serious and involved.  Looking at some of them,  I wonder what on earth is so appealing about a chemical formula or a graph?  Some of them staring away at a renaissance painting, of which I can make no head or tail.
The place where I study in the college, Bedford library
The place on the right is my spot! Since I come early there is hardly anyone at all.
Other days when I come after class, it is a real treasure hunt to get a place! 
The answer, I remind myself, is the look that I get when I tell people that I'm studying philosophy!  "Didn't you find anything else to study?" "Oh, gosh, what a headache to even hold a decent conversation with someone studying philosophy. They just seem to be trying to figure of meaning and synthesis and what not.  Couldn't they just chat normal matters?"

I guess, if I were to have tasted something of history or chemistry, I too would have been studying history or chemistry and certainly not philosophy.  The point however, is that each one of us has our own passions, something that we are deeply in love with and the rest is all gooblegookdeek, at least mostly! 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Pioneers of 're-creation'

This one is for most religious or priests who think, they're the one, the first one, to bring about a change!
from Beware of the Abbot by Hugh Burnett

Praying's cheating

Here's a nice take on prayer:
from the book Beware of the Abbot by Hugh Burnett

Speak your words

The other day I overheard a conversation about how important and necessary is the gospel reading during the Holy Mass.  More than the reading, the emphasis was on that it should be read by the Priest, from the ambo and blah, blah...

While not discounting the value of the gospel, to focus on everything else except the Word, that too as inspired, was something very odd. Last night came across this particular book titled Beware of the Abbot by Hugh Burnett in which I saw this cartoon.

One of the things that caught my attention the first time I heard the Rev. Cate, the Anglican priestess preside over the evening service at college a month ago, was her prayer before she commenced her sermon.
... that I may speak Your words. 
She then went on to read, yes read, her sermon. But that was enough proof that she had spent precious time, reading, reflecting and typing it out prior to her actual delivery.  That's the commitment, that's being open to the Spirit. Not doing no preparation, least of all knowing the readings, and yet speaking for hours.  

On air...

For the first time, I was on air/radio today. Fr John invited me, in the place of a friend of his who didn't show up, to be the guest of the day.  He asked me to speak about six special moments of my life along with some songs that best describe these moments.

Though the script (basic content) was there, I was a bit anxious because you never know which direction it would take once the conversation begins.  However I was quite relaxed too, for I said, I'm not going to say things which I do not know about. Those things I know, I know.  And what's the fear in speaking about things I know well.  Moreover the one sitting opposite to me leading me into conversation is a confrere, why fear!

As I went through it, I also realized things of my own, my own deep convictions and ideas.  Because when live on air and with questions or topics you're not really fully scripted and ready, and with the basic practice that you'd not lie, you hear yourself say what's strongest or uppermost in your mind.  It is not tension or fear but sincere thoughts clearly expressed.

So we spoke of how I became a Salesian Brother, my work with street children, days at school, bollywood, Hyderabad...
Speaking to John later, I realised how great this ministry is.  You never know whom you reach out to, (besides the one with you in the studio), how deep your impact is going to be and on whom.  But still with this kind of possibility, every effort is worthwhile.  Of course, you bring to it your own inescapable flavour of being a religious.  

Monday, 7 November 2016

Need for standards/absolute

Every sphere of life demands and is guided by standards or absolutes.  Measurements that make things right or wrong, good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.  Bereft of these set, decided and accepted standards, language itself is difficult.  Anti-establishment or anti-structuralists have long fought this 'standardization' of some aspects, at the cost of exclusion of the other; by some over and above others; for now vs forever.  It is also interesting to note that those criticizing the very notion of standards or absolutes, cannot then propose alternatives!

While set benchmarks help in one way, they also restrict in another sense.  Just like the compound wall around a house, prevents others from coming in, it also 'imprisons' those within!  That without these standards, nothing really moves, is perhaps not entirely false.  We just cannot do without them - even if one demolishes an existing one, it can be done only by erecting another (unconsciously, mostly).

The eternal debate and all dissension is then a result of deciding who, by what criteria, for what purpose, sets the standards, the absolutes.

Torn between...

Two subjects or disciplines that really have had a sway on Philosophy - Western philosophy - right since the beginning are science and art.  While the ancient Greek pioneers were all scientists and mathematicians, the later breed were artists.  On the one hand there is this innate desire to systematize philosophy as a well organised structure, as science is (all black and white, logical, clear cut, definite, understandable...).  People like Descartes, Kant and Heidegger have done their bit quite heroically.

On the other hand there is the attempt to liberate philosophy and make it creative and free... like art or poetry.  Wherein rules are not the most important but the content of what is said.  Not everything needs to be clear-cut or well within grasp. Not necessary that there are set standards to which anything and everything must abide by.  Artists, mystics, poets, have in their own way shown the path.

Now which of these two paths is the way forward? Thinking otherwise, why should philosophy be like science or art at all?

Sacrifice God

Am reading Nietzsche for my lectures this week.  He really is spitting venom against Christianity - really!  Must have had something really terribly gone wrong with his relationship with the Church or the understanding of Christianity, to speak so bitterly of the whole religion.  Of course, he is entitled to express his opinion.  Just because I feel upset or strange about it does not make him right or me right!

He critiques practically every aspect of Christianity: priesthood, vows, ideals proposed, The Bible, tradition, faith, doctrines, sanctity, ... God himself.

There is certainly an element of truth in his critique. Historically the Church did stand out for its emphasis on the external and used doctrine to strangle people, maintain its supreme power, rather than empower people. Furthermore he is basically a reflection of the modern philosophical trend which was basically anti-Christian.  But Nietzsche seems to have ruled out the non-spiritual element of religion altogether.  With that gone, there is really no 'tangible' or arguable proof or point. However, to still sensibly propose Nietzsche with arguments without 'invoking the Spirit' is a challenge in itself.

Most importantly, without having read and understood all of his works, it will certainly be unfair to offer a critique to Nietzsche. Most certainly not merely on likes or dislike.  For one steeped so deeply in 'Christian thought/tradition' it is quite a task to look fairly upon Nietzsche, much less look 'objectively' at one's own faith.  

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Woman marrying 7 brothers

A comical take on the Gospel reading of tomorrow (Lk 20: 27 ff)
It is about the woman marrying the seven brothers, beginning with the eldest...
Of course, highly feminist groups would take offense at this part of the gospel - and rightly so.  However, the real point intended is very different from what is apparent.  This happens often in the Bible:  the apparent is something and the message is totally something else.  Sometimes we get stuck with the apparent, very rarely reach the real meaning and most often create our own meaning.  

Kids are kids...

One fact that I'm beginning to realize is that kids are kids, anywhere! While adults behave differently in different places and certainly in different countries, children are the same wherever they are! They be Chris and Anet back at home, or kids here in Britain.  Exchanging family news with Katie, our cook, and witnessing first hand the way children (especially all those aged around 4) behave it is all the same!  They are mischievous, full of life and never angelic (the only exception is when they are fast asleep). They just cannot keep quiet or stay idle.  They have to be doing something or the other, mostly getting in the way of the grown ups.

All said and done, none of us can disagree that with kids around, there is no dearth of entertainment and life!  Though they drain every bit of your energy, they also make us aware that we too are still alive and have energy.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

British journalism

Here in Britain there are several newspapers in circulation. Most of those I saw are all tabloids.  And true to their character they mostly contain gossip and opinion. There is hardly any real hard facts or news, as such. For that matter, our English newspapers back in India (The Hindu, Times of India... ) are of a very very high standard.  Looks like the people here expect nothing more than gossip, opinion, celebrity news, sports and the like from their daily newspapers.  The radio and TV journalism seems to carry the torch for the print too.  There is hardly any real news or issues related to the major happenings around the world in black and white. Even when present the space allocated to these is negligible compared to the rest of the junk that fills the papers.

And the number of pages each tabloid contains, gosh! Real ecological waste!

Small things...

When you are in a new country and things are done differently than you are normally used to, then every move becomes significant, though not without some anxiety and tension. Today I went to the post office to send my passport and biometric residence permit (BRP) to the Driving and Licensing agency as part of my application for a provisional driving license.

Here in Britain they have a sort of varied mail service.  Not very complicated but cannot claim to be so when you are dabbling with it the first time.  Since it was my passport and BRP I did not want to take any risks of losing or misplacing these important original documents. So sent them by special/recorded delivery.  Costly, though.

Sharing this exciting experience of finding out the nearest post office, getting to know the procedure, filling out the different forms and addresses, collecting the receipt, finding out the tracking code and then making it back home, with someone who has lived here all his life is a funny experience.  However kind and concerned they may be, the look on their face "Dude, it's just the post office you went to!" makes you then realize that it is after all the post office you went upto, not the Queen's chamber!

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

I'll see you again... (Westlife)



Always you will be part of me 
And I will forever feel your strength 
When I need it most 
You're gone now, gone but not forgotten 
I can't say this to your face 
But I know you hear 

I'll see you again 
You never really left 
I feel you walk beside me 
I know I'll see you again

Poor souls...

This afternoon, Fr Sean and I took a walk to the Chertsey cemetery. Knowing all too well that today is 'All Souls Day' we were not really expecting a big crowd, given the culture of the place. But I was rather surprised to see that there was none!  Not even one person visiting the dead.  There literally was no life in the cemetery!

Anyway we visited the Salesians buried there - a dozen of them. Most of them Fr Sean knew or had some memory of.  But I could see it pained him to see the state of the tombs - though he didn't want to show it.  The Salesian Sisters tombs were very neat and well kept. That of the Salesians was a real mess.  He took consolation in the fact that Fr John is already in negotiation with the Economer to get the tombs redone.  I felt a bit ashamed to see the overgrowth on the tombs. It was not so just two weeks ago when I went in there.
Later at supper I asked Fr John if they would redo the whole area or just the epitaph. He said the whole place, at which Fr Sean's eyes lit up a bit. I had already decided that if they weren't going to, I would at least clean up the area tomorrow itself. 

Remembering those no more

Remembered the few departed whom I know specially today:

  • Getrude Pinto (grandma-maternal)
  • Raymond Pinto (grandpa-maternal)
  • Charles D'Souza (uncle)
  • Charles Castilino (grandpa-paternal)
  • Anthony Castilino (uncle)
  • Elias Castilino (uncle)
  • Fr John Lens
  • Fr Benjamin Puthota
  • Fr Mauro Casaroti
  • Fr C. Thomas
  • Br Gabriel Fernandez
  • Fr Ronald Menezes (my Rector while at Matunga)
  • Br P.M. Thomas (while at Nashik)
  • Fr Varricatt John (confessor while at Karunapuram)
  • Fr P.E. Abraham
  • Fr M.D. Jacob
  • Inna Reddy (novitiate companion)
  • Fr Pasala Jojappa (novitiate companion)
  • T. Anand (novitiate companion)
These are the only two photos (hard copies) I have with me - the only ones I've ever had for a long long time... and all three of them have left an indelible mark on me as a person. Am really thankful to God for them!
Grandpa (Aab) and Grandma (Odlimai)

Fr John Lens

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

What makes us happy?

Here's the kids bulletin for the 32nd Sunday (courtesy: The Kids' Bulletin)
and one for the feast of St Martin of Tours...

Happy b'day Anet!

Today is my niece, Anet's b'day. She turned three today!
Remembering her fondly and praying for her!

Holiness is for everyone

On the occasion of the feast of All Saints, here's an important fact that most of us conveniently forget or are happy to do without:
To be a saint is not a privilege of a few... all of us in baptism have the inheritance of being able to become saints. Sanctity is a vocation for everyone. (Pope Francis)
... and that's why the Gospel of the day speaks of the Beatitudes. 
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