Thursday, 29 December 2016

Online Trolls

Reading news online has been a habit since long.  Earlier I used to read also the comments that would be posted below the news article. This was a continued habit from reading the 'letters to the editor' which appeared in the print version.  However, I stopped reading the comments a few years since.  Purely for the venom they spit and for the hatred with which they utter words.  I've long been convinced that these comments were purposely posted by appointed people, just to tarnish the image of anything worthwhile.  Most often there would not be any rhyme or reason for their hateful tirade.

Yesterday there was an article in The Times (UK) by a person describing the online (malign) campaign of the ruling party BJP in India.  A similar one appeared in The Guardian on Dec. 27, 2016. Firstpost (dated Dec. 28, 2016) begins thus
It's something that will eventually catch up with you. From disparaging and vituperative remarks to disgusting sexual innuendos, rape and death threats, hateful memes and an unapologetic and arrogant attitude, trolling is a routine affair these days. There is hardly any originality in it anymore. 
But when the ruling government of a democracy carefully constructs, contrives and calibrates a social media culture where dissent towards a leader or an ideology or even a party is reciprocated in the worst possible manner, it is a matter of extreme worry and it becomes obligatory to initiate a dialogue and debate and especially when it becomes part of our daily existence.
It confirms my view that there is a systematic hijacking of the social media and the internet open polls by political parties for backing their sinister motives and worse, silencing the democratic voice of dissent. A clever move indeed but a very dangerous one.  No opinion contrary to the ruling party is spared.  If the person speaking against any policy or decision of the party is a woman, the text is at times very nasty.  Every news or incident, political or not, is somehow commented upon to praise the party of choice and shower abuses on anyone dissenting.

People of India are still very gullible when it comes to having convictions and forming opinions. They'd rather go with the majority than stand alone or take a stand against.  In such a context to sway one's opinion in someone's favour, such smear campaigns work extremely well.

Punishment for hoarding scrap

With just one more day for December 30, the last day for handing in all old currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000, there is rather ridiculous 'threat' doing the rounds.  Namely that those holding back these old notes will be punished!

Well the Times of India, is conducting an online poll for the same with the question
Is it fair to punish people for holding old Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes after Dec 30? 
The options given: Yes or No.
As of Dec. 29, 1800 hrs (GMT), the percentage reads: Yes: 59% and No: 41%
Really???

It is akin to asking 'Is it fair to punish people for hoarding old newspaper?' And people responding, yes they are liable to punishment! For what? Hoarding scrap? 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Lunch and Breakfast

It is almost three months since I landed in UK. I'm yet to grow used to the style of eating here. Not that the food is a problem or that I have difficulties adjusting to the food. Absolutely no!  I'm actually enjoying the food here. However, what some in my community find odd is how come I feel comfortable eating what is meant for supper for b'fast or the other way round!

For me food is just food. Whether you eat now or later, it is basically for survival. Having seen hunger and its pain from close quarters, other than satisfying hunger, food has no great virtue for me.

Was amused when I came across this ad...

Treasure hunt in the church

At St Nicholas Church, Compton I found a pad with a pen and a sort of printed paper with the map of the Church.  Then each section of the Church had an interesting question or a drawing to made or something to be found, which was meant to be discovered. It was aimed for children and I thought it was a nice way of helping children notice salient features of the Church.

One section asked them to make a drawing of the arch. Another blank space was meant to be filled with the colour of Jesus's clothing in a particular stained glass. Another one was to find out the text written below the figures.  One particular blank was expected to be filled with what one gets to see by standing at a particular point behind the pulpit.  

Angel on a tomb

This one was outside the Watts Cemetry chapel and was bathed in bright sunlight.  It was one of the figures on a tomb.
For want of good lighting, most of the photos (especially those indoors of the churches) are all of darkness than of that what I wanted to click. 

St Peter's, Hascombe

The last church we visited was St Peter's, Hascombe. It has a nice lake in front of it. There is a cute 'tunnel entrance' to the compound made of conifers, I think. This one too has coloured stained glass as in St Nicholas, Compton.  The sanctuary of this one is really decorated well.

 The central heating of this place is along the aisle. That's the first of its kind that I've seen.

(Unfortunately in all these places, the lighting is very low. In general too, the English are allergic to bright lights, I think!  Fr Maliekal would certainly not like this aspect, I'm sure!)

In all these places, you really feel you're entering some old antique place. You tread tenderly for fear that some part of it may fall away, if you are not careful. But these things are all sturdy. Much more than modern architecture creations.  

Watts Cemetry Chapel

The Watts Cemetry Chapel is on a hill with tombs all around.  The description that I first read about the place fits it right: as though squeezed through a funnel!  It is said that the paintings and design inside this "enlarged chimney" chapel was all by the local residents of that time.  The tile designs on the outside are really good and lovely.



Missing Santas

Found this note outside a house in Compton.  Had a very good laugh!

St Nicholas Church, Compton

Fr John invited me to join him if I was interested in visiting some old churches in Surrey. I gladly went along. We visited three churches. The first one was that of St Nicholas in Compton.  It is a small village. Not very many houses but looked nice.  Learnt something also of the whole system of villages in early England... Lord of the manor and all that stuff.
 Interestingly this is one of the few churches (of England) which has an altar above the altar!! Earlier it was a gallery, perhaps for the musicians or singers... but right above the altar.
These plants are common in the cemetries and churches around. The prime reason: they were part of the anglo-saxon tradition and the wood was used for several purposes. Besides, the cattle would not eat the leaves of these bushes.  

Most of the old churches have the cemetry around the church itself. 

The war memorial just at the entrance of the Church.  
One thing I've begun to notice: in practically all the churches there is a sort of creche in some part of the church. Meant for keeping children busy during the service I guess is the purpose of these places.  There are some Biblical comic books, some toys and all that stuff in these places.
The grand pulpit of the Church

Odd speed breakers

Here in England, some of the speed breakers are not all along the road. They are like square blocks of elevated road, two on each side. They look and feel odd, but I suppose do the same work of slowing traffic down.  Luckily they are all marked in white.

One good thing about the road system here: every bit is marked.  Where one should go, which turn to take, where not to go, where to stop and where not to... all of it and much more is marked out. As I prepare myself for taking the theory test, I realize there are more rules than one can actually remember!  But I suppose they would not be in place if not for ensuring safety of everyone on the road.

Last point: No charity on the road. Wait for professional help to arrive.  That seems to be the mantra in case of any accident. One is not expected to carry out evacuation or relief work as a civilian. No moving of injured people. No helping people out of an accident vehicle.  No jumping in the river in case someone is drowning (call for help).

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

When I'm week...

I came across the following quote on the whatsApp profile of someone I know:
When I am week, then I am strong. 
I wonder what would he be if he were a month or a year? Superhero?
And what if he were just a day or an hour?
Perhaps he'd then be weak!

Complete the joy

"...so that our joy may be complete" (1 Jn 1: 4).
That's the last line of the Reading on the feast of St John, the Evangelist.  John is not forcing down the throat of anyone his experience or convictions. He is merely sharing it with anyone who is willing to hear. His thrill of this experience of union with the Father, through His Son is so great, that he cannot but share it.  It is sheer joy that makes him speak up.
"... what we have seen and heard, we now proclaim to you..." 
What if he himself had not heard or seen or believed?  I'm sure he would have shut up and sat idle! Is the reverse of this possible? Do all who proclaim, have an experience of Him?  In short, is it possible to preach without experience?  Possible, unfortunately! So what then distinguishes this bogus show from the sincere expression? Sheer joy! Not for oneself, but one that is contagious and empowering.

No wonder, Pope Francis calls religious, people of joy!

Monday, 26 December 2016

Creative ads

Two lovely creative ads I came across while surfing the net today...
It's sugar free! (Chupa Chups)

Precision Parking (Park assist by Volkswagen)

Christmas rounds

While we were small, one of the annual rituals my brother and I were put through on Christmas morning was that of visiting the neighbours with some Christmas goodies.  Soon after returning from Mass, we were not permitted to take off our 'Sunday best'. We were then to begin a round of the neighbourhood (not all houses though) distributing snacks which Mummy had prepared earlier for the feast.

Somehow it was not something I enjoyed.  I know not why but I felt odd, going to people's houses on the day of the feast, in all shining clothes. Neighbours, of course, would be delighted and in turn give us something to eat or take back home. But somehow the whole experience was not something I looked forward to.

Yesterday when I returned from Mass, I was wondering and laughing to myself if Chris and Anet are put through the same grill now!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Demonetisation

The demonetisation process still rages on in India. So do the various jokes on it. Today I received one which had me in splits.
Gabbar: Kitne aadmi the?
Kalia: Sirf do aadmi Sardar.
Gabbar dropped everything ... and ran to the ATM! 

Speaking the truth

Thought for the day...
To write anything more would be an annulment of the veracity of the above quote!

Change

From the time I began my study of philosophy, almost 20 years ago, I heard and read the following quote of Heraclitus:
You can never step into the same river twice. 
However, today is the first time I came across a course that says the actual quote is the following
Upon those who step into the same rivers different and again different waters flow. 
Now honestly cannot really make out the difference from the statement itself.  Moreover the latter one is really baffling in its construction.

However, if one is to understand Heraclitus' whole philosophy, where in he speaks of the theory of the unity of opposites, then one is bound to see the connection.  What he actually meant was that things keep changing but there is an underlying unity in all of it.  In the case of the above quote, the waters in the river keep changing, but the river is the same. If the flowing waters stopped, then it is no more a river!

As if this confusion were not enough, here's another form of the same quote...

At this rate, I may soon end up saying that I really do not know the history of philosophy rather than know more of it!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

God in one's image

After a really long and boring self-proclaimed holiday, sat up to read something. That's when I remembered that besides the assignments due in the second week of January when the Spring term commences, I had also signed up for a course on Coursera.  Commenced the latter today to start off my study with.

Reading the suggested text for the same, I came across the following quote
But if cattle or lions had hands, so as to paint with their hands and produce works of art as men do, they would paint their gods and give them bodies in form like their own - horses likes horses, cattle like cattle. (Clement, Miscellanies 5.110)
True indeed. Surely the ox would have a Christmas with a little ox at the centre in the crib. The sheep would have a kid at the centre of the crib; just like we humans have a baby at the centre of the crib.

Punished for working

Came across the following news item on Daily Mail today.
A construction worker was photographed working at a site 90 feet in the air, without protective gear.  He was eventually photographed by those working in the neighbouring high-rise offices and health and security officials notified. Not only was he reprimanded, he was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months and fined £ 1,400 and ordered to pay costs of £ 2,939.18.  But why did he dare do that? Because he wanted to speed up the work, since the project was three weeks behind schedule. And what was the point of accusation? He could kill or injure himself and/or others, if he fell.

Wow!  Contrast this with the numerous workers around the globe outside the Western world.  Involved in hazardous tasks day in and day out, if they were to be penalized as this young man, they'd be imprisoned for generations to come!!

We really live in different worlds!

Planning

...am very much in the latter category!

Sunday morning

"Sunday morning" is the name of all good tidings for my 3 year old niece, Anet.  All good things, happy moments are 'Sunday morning' for her. It is enough to merely say that we'd go to such and such a place on Sunday morning and she is ready.  It is her most auspicious time.  To postpone her mischief or her demand to another time, it suffices to assure her that we'd see to it on 'Sunday morning' and she is 'OK' with it. Instantly!

I remember when we were small, Sundays were typical holidays. Days of rest and relaxation.  Watch TV the previous night (The sword of Tipu Sultan, is one serial we loved to watch).  Sleep longer. Wake up just in time for Mass in the Church. Invariably reach late to Church.  Do some shopping for the week (including vegetables and meat for the day). Reach back home put on the TV and relax.  Have a relaxed late lunch. Then have a good siesta. Wake up and watch the Sunday evening movie on Doordarshan (that was the only channel available).  Have supper and sleep off to wake up to a usually grumpy Monday morning!  Sunday is the only day we'd all be together at home.  Rest of the days only for supper we'd be together, that too if Papa's work would not get delayed.  

Water

One surprising feature of the English homes is that there is no overhead water tank on any of the houses!  How then does each household receive water?

Well a rather simple explanation is offered here. Basically it is the same process as in most places of the world: from the natural or man-made resources to the treatment plant through pipes, from there to storage tanks and from there to homes. However, the process of treatment is rather good. So much so, that one can drink water from any tap in the house.  There need not be another water purifier installed to purify water because it is already done.

However, that does not explain the force with which water flows from the taps, even if on an upper floor.  Given the fact that there are no overhead tanks anywhere around the place where I live, how does water get such a force, unless pumped from below the ground? I did some research and found out that there are pumps with pressure gauges that regulate the pressure.  Most modern water heating systems have this possibility. Read it here.

This presupposes two things: there is plenty of water available and what is available and used is also recycled with proper treatment.  That's worth emulating. 

Monday, 19 December 2016

Food

There was this news titled 'Secret suppliers handed billions in foreign aid' in The Times of UK on December 19, 2016 under the News-Investigation section.

What caught my eye was the photo accompanying the article. I had just helped Katie, with the provisions in the kitchen and along with Fr Sean were discussing the amount of things people were buying this time of the year, in the name of Christmas.

From my stay here in the UK I've seen how very many are very particular about the date printed on the food packets as 'date before'!  That even if the product is a day old than the date printed, it is often thrown out, makes it difficult for me to digest.  While so many across the globe and even here in the UK itself, go hungry for lack of sufficient food, to thrown some food is a real crime, a sin.

The photo below from the news article says it all about hunger.  We can literally read it in their eyes. While we are so particular about which dish to serve and which plate to use at our table and in the kitchen, these people are desperate to get something in the container (some have bowls, some plates, one has a can, one a bucket and the man in the green shirt is using his shirt itself to gather some food).

We just cannot afford to waste food! We do not have that privilege, even if we are billionaires! Every morsel thrown is someone deprived of a whole meal for a day, not counting the labour and love of the ones who have worked (farmers, labourers, distributors, transporters...) for that morsel of food. 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

At a church

On my way to the Natural History Museum I was amazed at the long line of buildings.  I was told that they are all the houses of the richest in town.  They looked alike in every sense of the word.  If not for the numbers painted on the pillars they looked identical.

That's one thing I realized of England: most houses are similar looking.  I mean, they are more or less the same structure, height and design (the outdoors, and the facade in particular).  If not for the street names, one might easily get lost in England.

Well, amidst those long lanes of 'rich-buildings' I suddenly spotted on old one. It turned out to be a church!  Couldn't go in though.

As I returned home, I saw another very old looking church and walked it, since I saw the door open. I realized there was a rehearsal of a wedding going on. Nonetheless I sat there for sometime, watched the whole practice and the jovial instructions of the Anglican priest and then as I left the church prayed for the couple. It was the Chelsea Old Church, just near the Chelsea bridge, across the road beside the Thames. 

A Lebanese meal

Last night, Fr Gerry, the Parish priest at Battersea invited me to join a meal at a Lebanese hotel in the famous Oxford Street of London. He was taking the catechists of the two churches of Sacred Heart and Our Lady for a meal out. So I joined him and the three clerics at Battersea, Joe, Greg and Ste.  The meal was long, of course most of the was talking and the travelling to reach there! But I really liked it all.

The meal itself was lovely. Ate some cooked spicy food for the first time after coming to England! The staff was very cordial and efficient.  Of course, after hearing that of the three floors, the basement also offered live music and belly dancers, Joe would have preferred to have been eating there.  There was a good amount of food for starters and then the non-veg meal itself.  The English were particularly amused at the way the dishes were served: in small bowls.

Most of all, I loved the company of the Brothers and, the catechists. Got to meet and interact with atleast four of them (Roxy, Diane, Hugo and Sherley) for more than two hours.  

Rich content of RE

A couple of days ago I was happy to join an RE (Religious Education) class of year 13 at the Salesian school in Chertsey.  Though the new syllabus is yet to be formulated and finalized, I was quite surprised at the content of the course.  It had basically most of what I was teaching as part of the  course on Philosophy of God for our students in Karunapuram and Kondadaba.

I found it very surprising that the content of the course was so rich and intense and students were very much involved - at least half of them!  Moreover this forms part of their final results.  As I sat in class, I was trying to recollect getting our Brothers to show some interest in the class for Philosophy of God, with not much of success. And here were school-going kids reading stuff, coming up with challenges and critiques, questioning like mature adults, presenting sound arguments and filled with zeal.  

Salesians in UK

While at Battersea I had the opportunity to have a small chat with Fr David O'Malley. I had come across several books of his, mostly on Salesian matters. Very compact and comprehensive in his writing.  From him I learnt that the Salesians were invited to England by the Bishops in the late 19th century to start quality education for young people. Till then the Catholics did not have much freedom.  So when the Salesians arrived on the scene, they were asked to solely look after the education of the young, meaning schools.

When the early Salesians tried to diversify trying to cater to other needs like the technical education and social work, they were told to stay off!  Not only by the Bishops but more specially by those already doing it!  The Technical education was offered by some 'guilds' I was told, which is still the case.  They strictly considered their privilege to offer technical education in the country. They are a sort of union and highly qualified, I am told.  The only other ministry the Salesians took on were the pastoral ministry in/of the Parishes.

So it came about that Salesians mostly stuck to the schools... and perhaps remained so.  Now when the vocations decreased the school structure too changed.  We still do have a couple of schools - having given up or closed down several. Even in these handful of schools, the Salesians are no more the ones calling the shots.  Most places, Salesians are only on the governors board and serve as school chaplains.

Well, that explains much of - or lack of - the types of apostolates Salesians are engaged in.  

Kids on a leash

One of the bizarre things that I witnessed first time was while at the Natural History Museum. It certainly was not about the artifacts displayed there but about those visiting these artifacts. I'd seen people walking their dogs on leash.  Very rarely did I find any dog walking beside their owner free, without a leash.  Imagine my shock when I saw a small boy, aged 6, on a similar leash!!  I was appalled.  The boy was really a restless bundle of energy and would not stop running and jumping. It was a treat to see him ... but on a leash!!??  I thought this was a one-of-a-kind parent who had a hard time keeping up with the kid. But as the day progressed, I saw a couple of other kids too, on a leash! Though not as hyper as the first one, they were really lively. I figured it must be to get them from getting lost in the crowd of the place.  But still, on a leash?

I wanted to click a pic of these but then desisted feeling sensitive (the one below is from the net).

Kaki fruit

While at the Battersea community, I saw Joe take this tomato after meal. Having seen all new kinds of food habits I was not very surprised to see him eat a tomato after meals. I said to myself, these people must be really treating tomato as a fruit!  But was surprised when he offered me a slice saying that it is not a tomato!  I wasn't sure.  But when did taste it, it was lovely.  Something like our Indian suppota.  Saju then told me it is the kaki fruit.

The real name of this is Perssimon and is widely cultivated in China.  Surprisingly it does not have seeds!  The fruit looks exactly like a large Bangalore tomato.  

Natural History Museum

Yesterday I spent the whole day at the Natural History Museum of London.  I was there before it opened and was glad to leisurely go through all the different kinds of exhibits. There is the whole section on human life. A rather amusing dinosaur section (which is where you'll find the most number of children, of course!). The large size moving T-Rex is the main attraction, besides the other smaller versions, in the same section.

The following skeleton of a dino, in the entrance lobby is a real eye-catcher.

The whole gallery on the mammals, fishes, reptiles, birds...


Then the whole large section about geology. Great display of different things.  Highly informative and interesting too.  (Of course, most children were not put through this wing and those that were were being dragged about by the parents!).

I liked the very structure of the building itself.  Lovely architecture.  Moreover it is being used also as a research and study centre.  School children, if they make arrangements early, get a very special tour and presentation, I was told.


The ice-rink outside the museum was a big attraction especially for children.  The early birds got a fairly free rink all for themselves. In the evening by the time I came out, there was hardly any space in the rink to move about.  

Battersea Park

The last two days I was away in London city. I stayed at our Salesian community in Battersea and did quite a bit of walking around the place.  One whole afternoon I spent exploring the Battersea park which is huge!

Something that stands out of all public places in London is the neatness and the freshness of each place. Though such a huge place, the park had no sweepers or maintenance personnel running from corner to corner - at least I didn't see any.

At every opportunity I got, I'd slow down or sit to watch kids.  Reminded me very much of Chris and Anet. Besides, it's entertainment guaranteed.

 Being Christmas season, there was this large sale of Christmas trees. I walked into the plot and was amazed to see the variety of pine trees on sale.  More specially the way they were packed for transportation. I clicked a picture of the process (see below): the lower end of the tree put through a sort of funnel, at the end of which is a netted synthetic mesh which keeps the whole tree tight and compact.  I'm sure the guy doing the job must have thought I'm taking a pic of him in the kilts!.
 Then there is the really large structure of Buddhist tradition in the park. Built beautifully it is quite a treat to the eye (and the soul).


A view of the Battersea bridge from the park
 A view of the Thames from the Park.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Pelli Choopulu

Last night watched the telugu movie Pelli Choopulu directed by Tharun Bascker (his debut directorial venture).  A nice movie about matchmaking in the Telugu context.  No celebrities. No big banners. No mega budget. No action dhamaka. Just plain 'slice of life'.  Of course, targeted for an upscale urban market. Nonetheless, decently portrayed and very realistically presented. It also challenges some of the superstitions and traditional values that have stereotyped men and women into certain moulds and roles.  

I'd heard of this movie long time ago when it was released.  There was no big release or publicity done. It was basically through social media that this movie was announced and advertised. Good creative youtube snippets.  

A perfect mix of what media can (be made to) do and be: value-based, cheap, highly creative, offer opportunities to enthusiastic talent, humourous, new avenues of advertising on existing free platforms...
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