Sunday, 17 December 2017

Unreported episode of the nativity event

Did you know that Mother Mary had to fight off a sheep who was keen to take baby Jesus with it?  Watch this...

Children will be children!  Poor baby Jesus... perhaps that'd be the first time there were people fighting for him ... rather than against him or in his name!

Santa paws?

Call it ridiculous or obscene or whatever... but here are some ads for Christmas presents for pets!  Yes, for animals!

Last month there was a whole page ad in the papers for cat-proof Christmas tree!
Now that's going to the dogs, literally!

Friday, 15 December 2017

Winning by losing

There is a beautiful scene towards the end of the movie The birth of the dragon.  The two great Kung Fu masters Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man have fought one another.  But after a while of fighting both stop, thank one another and end the fight.  Those watching the fight cannot say who won.  When they ask both of them who won, they do not respond.  It is later when an avid student approaches Wong asking him to state who among them won, so that he could declare it to the world (and gain freedom for the girl whom he loves), does the following conversation take place.
Wong: My intention was to teach Lee Jun that his attitude was irreverent and his style inadequate.  If in defeating him I've driven him further in that direction then I have lost.  If in losing to him, I've changed his direction, then I have won.  
Mac: We're not in a monastery in China.  This is America.  In America we have winners and losers.  
Wong: Life is not always that easy.  
Not always is there a clear line dividing everything in the world into good or bad, white or black, win or lose, this or that, secular or holy...  The Western mind does not know or does not want to acknowledge ambiguity.  It seeks precise definite answers, even when there cannot be answers or when answers are not that simple.

Does Charles Taylor's understanding of reasoning (and faith) and his whole exposition of language pointing us to move towards this Oriental perspective?  Jesus' teachings too contain similar paradoxes: those who want to save one's life will lose it and those giving it up will save it;  last shall be first and first, last;  when you're weak then you are strong...

Elsewhere in the movie, Master Wong tells Mac, 
Knowing you opponent and knowing yourself are the two things Kung Fu is all about. The rest is eternity
A western mind would clearly state: 'The rest is irrelevant'... but eternity?  Now how does one understand and explain that.  Certainly not in any easy terms! 

Chertsey meads

Some pics of the Chertsey meads ...
 

Mixed prayers

This morning as I entered the Chapel for morning prayer and Mass, I was quite excited, happy, thrilled and relieved... all at the same time.  Thanks to the information I received the previous day regarding my research proposal.

As we began morning prayer, I found it weird that I was reciting Psalm 50 (Have mercy on me God in your kindness...) today being Friday.  My present state of mind and heart was anything but in that mood!  And for the first time in years I realised that what I truly felt and the sentiments I was uttering as I recited the psalm had no connection.  In my heart I was truly happy but here I was praying for mercy and forgiveness.

And I've been praying these psalms for donkeys years, everyday - twice!  Certainly I was only reciting, never really conscious of whether the psalm or canticle I was reading embodied my true feelings and state of being.

I'm aware that the compiled psalms in our breviaries are the 'hand-downs' of centuries of prayer and reflection.  And I can't imagine the confusion if the 7 of us in the community were to have the same mood and to choose the same psalm and then recite it together. But ...

Anyway am happy that at least for one day, on one occasion I was conscious of what I was reciting while praying! 

Unholy religion?

From The Times (Dec. 11, 2017) ... 
Religions have brought great things to civilization: schools, hospitals, learning, science, social organisation, art, altruism.  Yet they can also bring horrors, persecutions, and injustices, contemptuous exploitation of those they consider unsaved.  Religions still protect thousands of irrational and sometimes rules that have nothing to do with spirituality or even their own founding scriptures.  
Muhammad did not demand the burka or the suicide bomber.  Christ expressed no views on whether to eat meat on Friday, keep women out of the priesthood, give cardinals red hats or condemn same-sex love.  There is no evidence that the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, ordered uncut hair and turbans; that came over a century later, for social and distinctive reasons.  Buddha certainly did not recommend the murder of the Rohinghya in Burma.  
Human beings, self-seeking and irresistibly drawn to bureaucratic dogmatism, hung all that stuff on the hook of religion.  Some of it is harmless, some terrible.  Most of all, human like to seize on the mysterious sense of the "holy" that raises an echo in every heart and gleefully use it to shore up systems of unquestioned authority.  ... Human beings have weaponised holiness, made a sword and shield of it. 
The title of the article is "Putting priests on pedestals has abetted abuse" by Libby Purves

Language as the key

Am learning a new way of looking at reasoning and language.  Have always learnt and taught that language follows the process of reasoning.  That after the mind or the brain has done with the process of abstraction and reasoning does language chip in to label the concept or the notion the mind has now conceived.  Even to the describe the process of what and how the concept was arrived at, language helps.  However, a slightly different perspective is to see language as more than the end process or a labelling tool.  Language can be viewed as the one that actually collaborates with the process of reasoning.  It actually creates reality (not the physical one).  Without language one does not make any sensible headway in the process of reasoning.

This view of language is propagated by Charles Taylor in his latest volume The Language Animal.  Given that I'll be spending most of the coming two years (atleast) dabbling with this theme and the thoughts of Taylor, I feel a sort of contentment at having to work on a topic that always has been close to my heart:  meaning and religion.  My basic premise is that if language is constitutive of reasoning (or even the other way round), then so is belief.  The initial steps would be to see the divide between reasoning and belief - whether at all there is such a divide.  Or is it something that has been projected and debated while the underlying processes and core principles have always been the same?  Hope the endeavour to make sense of the meaning-making process helps me see myself and everything else in a better light.

Deuce

The 1961 women's final at Wimbledon was the last time that Wimbledon witnessed an all British competition.  Both the finalists were British: Angela Mortimer and Christine Truman.  The commentator wanted to be fair to both of them.  However, after the match he received 34 letters of outcry from the general public accusing him of being partial.  Of those 17 accused him of siding Mortimer and the other 17 accused him of being partial to Truman!

Such is life and human thinking.  No matter what you do, people will have an opinion.  If one were driven by what others say, one can never ever be happy or make any conclusive decisions.  While having an open attitude is healthy, one also needs to rely on one's own prudence and judgement in the final analysis.  

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Dehumanisation and violence

What drives people to torture and kill scores of people as in genocides or ethnic cleansing?  The easiest answer to that is that those perpetuating these crimes have lost their humanity.  They do not recognise the other as a human being.  But if one does not regard the other as a person, worth respecting and whose life ought to be safeguarded, then it only leads one to indifference.  Not desire or thrill in killing, at least not consistently and in such great numbers.  Just like we see mosquitoes.  We don't go about smashing every mosquito in the house.  We protect ourselves against them.  We carry on our work and only when they disturb us do we chase or kill them.  The same with lizards and even pests.  No sane person kills them en masse just for the heck of it, for no particular reason.  Most often these are outside our observation radar. They just don't exist!

One opinion is that the roots of mass violence is to be found not in dehumanisation but in human morality.
We find that moral violence emerges only when perpetrators see victims as capable of thinking, experiencing sensations and having moral emotions. In other words, when perpetrators perceive their victims as human.
.... dehumanising victims predicts support for instrumental violence, but not for moral violence. (Source: click here)
Does that mean dehumanisation has no role in killings of any sort?  Not necessarily.  Most often it is a deficit in humanity that lets one not do anything positively to prevent violence or murder. 

The early morning of the soul

Today is the feast of St John of the Cross.  He was a man who stood firm in times of extreme criticism, that too from those closest to his heart.  But he knew that what he was doing was for the good of the very same people whom he was determined to show a better way.  Thus today he is renowned for rejuvenating the Carmelite way of life.  His autobiographical work titled The dark night of the soul, contains his endeavours at the reformation of the order and his guiding principles.  It also speaks of his trials and tribulations along this herculian enterprise.
Fr Sean who was the main celebrant of this morning's Mass spoke in brief about the life of St John of the Cross.  When he mentioned about the book, I was amused because somehow the thought of what-if Fr Sean were to write a book along the lines of St John would be like.  The title of which was the cause of my amusement.  Given Fr Sean's habit of going to bed early and rising early, it occurred to me that the apt title for his book would be 'The early morning of the soul'! 

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Time and railways

Today we commenced the winter time here in England.  I do not know of any other country that adjusts its clock twice a year.

Only last week did I learn that for quite some time in England, people did not have a national time or clock.  They only had local time or regional time.  It was only with the railways becoming a means of national transport that people felt the need to have a time followed across the country.  That's how the history of having a unified system of calculating time across the country began.  And it is only after 1807, when horse-drawn carriages were used on tramlines, which eventually led to the evolution of railways, that England began to follow one clock.

This once again proves the theory that time is nothing but a record of motion.  If not for the national rail network, people would have followed their own respective time and no one would have had serious difficulties.  More than transport, I think it has all to do with network.  I guess, if the internet were discovered before the establishment of the railways, even then there would have been the notion of a single clock being followed.  However, in this case there would have been some wider consensus on following a particular clock than mere national boundaries.  

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Eat here!

Came across this particular signboard during one of my tumbling around on youtube videos!  Found the caption quite amusing!

Religion: Public or private?

A youngster at the University described herself as a 'Catlim' when sharing about her religion.  She said, her father was a Catholic and her mother a Muslim and she grew up in both the religions and therefore, 'Catlim'.

In a recent survey at the place where I did my Master's here in UK, it was found that only 50% of the students fill in their religion while filling up the application form for the studies.  The rest prefer not to mention.  Of those, only 18% are Christian, and the rest are of various religions.  But even of those 18% not all are practicing believers.  Now there is a strong move to drop the optional question of religion in the census forms for the UK in the coming years.

More than ever, here in the UK, I see how religion is a private matter.  Though England claims to be a very Christian country in its civil and political structure - and it certainly is - the fact that practice of the religion is totally a private matter.  On the collective front there is a tussle between being called Christian, on the basis of its historical past, and being called by no religious affiliation, on the basis of its progressive future.  All the while practice of religion is purely a matter of conscience, even the choice of a child - each one for oneself.


We got pepper here

Fr Sean was narrating to us, how in the 1950's when he finished his novitiate and came to England for his post-novitiate, one of the first things a senior told him about the new place was, "They have pepper here!"  In the novitiate, they only had salt at the table but no pepper. But the post-novitiate was an 'improvement': they had pepper besides salt, at table!

How times change!  And how differently at different time across the globe!  

Battling belief and truth

I don't remember a word of what the sermon this morning was!  Not because the priest was not speaking sense, but because my mind was battling some overflow of my meditation.

What would be the basic difference between belief and truth?  Now that's what I intend to research for my further studies. But it occurred to me this morning that belief is a matter of the heart. Truth a matter of the mind.  Not that they are compartmentalised but still predominantly, it is the heart that kicks in when it comes to matters of belief and faith.  I believe in something not because it makes complete sense or because it is true.  I honestly don't have logical explanations and rational proofs for most of what I believe in.  I feel.  I believe.

Now what is true (if it means abiding by the correspondence theory - that itself needs to be justified... or else how does one explain the concept of truth), need not always be the foundation of my belief or  what makes meaning.  And most often it is the mind that is most concerned with the truth (or falsity) of a reality. Now if I know something is the truth, then I cannot contest it.  Does that also mean, I'm bound to believe in it?  If not, what is the worth of calling something truthful?  In other words, can I have reasons for belief and heart for the truth?

But this whole idea of dividing the heart and mind is again Cartesian!  Can there be any other way of relating the two, without one merging into the other, each retaining its identity yet making sense to both.  I sense meaning has much to do with all of this. Yet am unable to lay my finger on it.

On the other hand, why should I be worried if there is a conflict between the two?  Isn't that a good thing?  Perhaps it is the conflict between belief and truth, between the heart and the mind that keeps me alive and going.  If not for this I'd be doing nothing, thinking nothing, striving for nothing.  But again fear this state as well: because it is a luxury only religious like me can afford.  Who else would have the time and space for sitting and thinking?!  Most of humanity is up and about working for their livelihood and some for basic survival.

Christian Resource Exhibition, Esher

Last week, on October 18, I attended the Christian Resource Exhibition at Esher along with Brian and Pat.  It was kind of them to inform and invite me to join them for this trip.

More than anything else, I was keen and interested in the way it is organised and planned.  Unlike most of what I have seen, there is more confusion and disorder and last minute rushing in most of such events involving hundreds of people.  None of it here!! Honestly I could not find one single person who was part of the organising team - or perhaps I was too dumb to identify them among the crowd.  But no one running around, trying to fix things, or arrange things or sort out confusion.  Not one in the whole crowd with a worried face!! Wish I could reach that stage of tranquility and organisational capacity!

So besides the usual stalls from the various denominations of the Church there were talks (some spontaneous, some serious and lengthy), prayer sessions, interviews, performances, sale, and possibility for one-to-one chats with individuals for various Church related themes... all of these going on simultaneously without one causing interference with anything else!  Luckily I had gone through their website earlier and had picked and chosen where I wanted to be and when.  That way, I made the most of the day.  So I attended two talks, one on the 'Green Church' - which was really good - and another on the Celtic tradition in modern Christianity - wasn't what I thought it would be.  Then a couple of youth speakers sharing (in short duration of 5-10 mins) their experience and learning in running youth groups.

Also sat through a Ukrainian dance troupe performance titled, Zozulenka.  I liked it very much.  A team of 8 youngsters (all aged between 14-20) led by their music and arts teacher.  A 45-minute performance of song and dance, perfectly synchornised, without even a minute of delay or confusion.

Walked around viewing every stall, their exhibits, seeing how each stall had the little space arranged, decorated, designed... really amazing!   The exhibition was held at Sandown park, the racecourse of Surrey.  That way got to see a racecourse in person too!

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Go on your way...

Jesus sends out his disciples two-by-two (Luke 10: 1-9).  As he sees them off, he instructs them to carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals... From an Indian context this would not be a very very difficult task.  However for an Englishman, it would be quite impossible.  As Fr John during his introduction to the Mass stated, "He'd not get much further than the main door!"

Thanks to the cold of England, it would not be possible to travel outside one's home without sufficient warm clothes, and certainly not without some protective footwear.  So for an Englishman to try to live the gospel in its call to set off for evangelisation as per this passage would indeed be a radical choice.  Very well aware of the danger of reading the Bible as solitary passages, this call of Jesus certainly challenges the Englishman much more than an Indian.

Perhaps, if this Gospel passage were to be written in an English context, it would read:
Go on your way; behold I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
Carry no wallet, no picnic, take not your car, walk through the bylanes, greet every person you meet...

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Altar buds

Thanks to the cool weather of England, the flowers on the altar last longer than in the Indian subcontinent.  In our chapel we change flowers once a week.  Mostly gladiolas, asiatic lilies, bedonna lillies and tulips when available.  There are a couple of other flowers which we use when available cheap.  They remain quite fresh for that duration, some even for two weeks at a stretch (asters, for example).  However, one weird thing is that most often the flowers are yet to fully bloom.  So most often we have buds instead of flowers!  By the time they have fully bloomed, all on the stem, they are discarded!  Partly because the first flower on the stem has almost withered!  Left to me, I'd keep them a little longer.  But I suppose the Lord understands!

Monday, 16 October 2017

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Another Salesian residence

Another piece of history that I learnt about today is that the house adjacent to the Salesian school was once the Salesian residence.  It perfectly makes sense as it is the connecting plot between the pavement beside the cemetery and the school compound.

I'm told that it presently is the residence of the Cor et Lumen Christi, one of the few lay communities of England.  They had bought that house from the Salesians when we had moved to the present location.  Fr Eric Donnell, himself a Salesian, who was then the parish priest of St Anne's Church was instrumental in mediating this purchase of property.  It was also because he had been in touch with the societies of laity living together in a community and one of them was looking for a residential plot.  He negotiated this deal between the lay group and the Salesians.

It was interesting to know something about this particular lay group which lives together as a community, something akin to religious living together.  Brian has volunteered to put me in touch with one of them who is an active parishoner.  The Hungarian priest, Fr Thomas who occasionally appears in the parish for Masses is said to be their current Chaplain.  Look forward to know more about this particular group.  

Neighbourhood history

Only this morning did I come to know that the house two doors from our present residence was once upon a time a police station.  I've walked past that house a thousand times over the last year and always found it a bit fascinating in comparison to the others in the street but it never occurred to me that it has this bit of historical significance.  The house even today has an emblem of the queen, the crown, on its walls

The houses behind the same were once the courthouse.

The house where Brian and Pat live was of one who owned many horses.  His stable was behind his house - part of which is still intact!  And all around was grass cultivated for the horses.  Including the plot where we presently live.  As years went by, he sold bits and pieces off and that's when the police station was built adjacent to it.  To its left is the house which now belongs to our immediate neighbours.  

Teddy from the attic

And whom did I find in the attic?...

Also learnt the name of the little boy who comes every Sunday for Mass with his mother and his little teddy and a handful of small cars, Jacob.  He is always so full of questions! It is a great joy to see him every Sunday. 

Saturday, 14 October 2017

At Sean Devereux's grave

In the morning, on our way to Farnborough, Fr John and I visited the cemetery.  Fr John wanted to pay homage to some of the Salesians buried there.  He later told me that he did his first year of practical training at Farnborough and there were about 20 Salesians in the community then, most of whom were buried at Farnborough.

As we just walked around the part where the Salesians were buried, we were also looking for the grave of Sean Devereux, the past pupil from the place who was killed in Somalia where he was working as a volunteer with the UN.  We found it along the Salesians graves.

Have to admit I was more fascinated by the small flower pot someone had placed on his tombstone rather than the epitaph itself! Am told it is the heather flower. 

Adults at risk

Today was the Safeguarding Policy day for half of the GBR Province.  We were at Farnborough for the animation and presentation.  It was good again to meet many of the confreres of the south, especially those at Farnborough.

What I found most interesting of the animation today was the morning session which focused on 'adults at risk'!  Well all these years I had heard and very much been part of the discussion on 'young at risk', but never once did I ever hear of 'adults at risk' (except when Thathi was elected as provincial someone was pulling his leg and saying, now we have TaR - Thathi at risk!).  But having lived in the English context especially the present state of the GBR Province and its outreach, it made sense to me.  Taking care of those vulnerable - whatever the age group.  Mostly it was about vulnerability regarding physical ill-health and mental well-being.  The second half of the day was about the dangers faced by children in the digital world.  The latest report on children and internet states that 98% of 7-16 year olds have access to internet across the UK.  And most of these are active users of the latest apps.  Messaging and sharing information, pictures and whereabouts seem to be the most engaged activity.

Another thing that caught my attention: The stark difference in our approach to dealing issues with young people and children between the 'western' mindset and the 'eastern' mindset was visible to me in our discussions. There were a couple of us non-Europeans and in our response to certain case studies we found it most important for the family to take to first step with regard to teenagers and growing children.  In our own groups we found ourselves stating the same possible immediate responses: a calm dialogue with the teenager, asking the youngster to invite his or her friends home for a party together with the family, sitting and talking together as a family... Others felt the school and existing systems/structures needed to be initiated or approached for handling the issues.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Jonah is 'religiously' upset

Jonah goes and preaches to the people of Nineveh and he does a great job.  He delivers God's message to the best of his ability.  He understands what it means and communicates it effectively to all the people.

Unfortunately he appropriates the job and the message as his own!  It is a familiar scenario.  When one gets so involved in a task, even though it is not of one's own responsibility, one is likely to treat the task and everything involved in it personally.  So naturally when God changes his mind and does not bring about the destruction he has promised, Jonah is upset.  Perhaps if I were in his place, I too would have felt the same.

Take the unlikely scenario of God carrying out what he initially planned to do to Nineveh.  Destroy it.  Then naturally Jonah would go about saying, "See, I told them so!"  He would have happily taken the credit. That's how we humans normally work: quick to take credit for success but reluctant to acknowledge failure.

What Jonah suffers from is a typical sickness of religious and priests.  Taking God's work as one's own, leaving nothing to God!  The former part of the process is good, not the latter.  We need to realise that God is incharge.  It is primarily his work that we are upto.  

Thursday, 5 October 2017

They understood...

The first reading of the Mass today is from the book of Nehemiah.  Reading it was as if it was a description of the Holy Mass, at least the first part of it.  Ezra, the priest and scribe, reading from the book of the Law.  The Levites explaining the text.  Nehemiah, presiding over the whole animation.  The people, listening to the whole reading with great reverence.  Conclusively the people are very moved by the whole reading, listening and understanding of it and are exhorted by the animators to go back home and rejoice... and share their food and drink with those who haven't anything to eat or drink.  The last sentence of the reading reads thus:
And all the people went off to eat and drink and give their shares away and begin to enjoy themselves since they had understood the meaning of what had been proclaimed to them. 
What struck me most was the last line... they understood the meaning of what had been explained to them... and I wish this could be said of every Mass and every sermon preached in every Church!

Cyclamens

Cyclamens in bloom at the Salesian Gardens...

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Extending the boundary

When I was small and along with friends about to play a cricket match, one of the first things we collectively would decide is the boundary line.  If the place was limited or inaccessible, then certain spots would be declared 2-runs by default.

We grown ups do the same with our relationships too.  There are people and I mean certain groups as a whole, certain sections of humanity as such which are either within or without the boundary.  I distinctly remember one of the first conversations I had with someone in Kondadaba when I reached the place for my first year of practical training, way back in 2000.  It was the one who regularly supplied the seminary with the chicken.  Since the Brothers had not yet arrived, I went to shop (as directed by the cooks) and introduced myself.  Since my name wasn't revealing any "affiliation" they gently stated that very many of the Brothers in the seminary were "their" people.  I had no clue of what he was talking! After repeated and creative attempts and only when he realised that I wasn't getting what he wanted to know did he bluntly ask me, "What's your caste?"

The further the boundary we set by which we consciously or unconsciously exclude people is the better human beings we will be.  Some set nationality, colour of the skin, or religion as the boundary.  Greater are the souls who have extended the boundary beyond human beings to include animals (if not all, at least most) within one's relationship circle.  I'm not talking of those who love animals more than human beings, but of those who love animals as much as all human beings!  The greatest see no boundary at all.

We celebrate today the feast of St Francis of Assissi, one of the rare gems of humanity who saw no boundaries at all in relating to the world.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Happy anniversary!

It is exactly one year since I landed in the UK.  I reached here on this very day in 2016.  It is hard to say whether the year has flown by or dragged on.  However the only thing sure is that it has been the most relaxed (can read it as lethargic too) year of my whole Salesian life!

The other thing that strikes me today as I reflect on how same or different am I from the day I left India is that the things that I initially found weird or strange are no more so.  I guess living the life makes one accustomed to the different aspects that make up life.  I was more than aware of this last Sunday when I met a couple of Indian Salesian Sisters from the Province of Tiruchy.  They were here along with a couple of their relatives and other nuns for a month long holiday in Europe (that Salesian Sisters in India were permitted to a foreign trip for a month was in itself shocking!).  After Mass as we introduced one another outside the Parish, I found them asking the same questions that I had when I first began to see things.  Their follow-on questions to my replies were all the more revealing of the differences, both between the Indian context and the English context and most importantly, my ways of explaining to them (in as close an Indian context as I could) and their grasp of the same.  As I walked back home, I was laughing to myself!

Katie wanted to make today's meal special to commemorate this event!  So we had yellow rice, potato curry, egg and chicken curry, dal, chapati, bhajjis and some masala curry.  God bless her!  Ultimately, cannot but ultimately thank God for the year that has gone by and all that He has graciously blessed me with.  Feel so strange thinking, where is Sulthan Nagar, Hyderabad and where is Chertsey, UK - and all the places and experiences I've been through in between!!  

God is with you

The readings of the day and the responsorial psalm offer a very simple yet necessary challenge to all who claim to be close to God.  In the first reading we see people of other nation and places demand the Israelites to lead them to Jerusalem because they believe that God is up there.  They would have gone there themselves but they are aware that the Israelites are 'God-specialists'.

And that is what each one who believes in God is supposed to be: one who reflects God's presence in everyday life.  All the more applicable to priests and religious who claim that God has called us specifically for this purpose!  

Monday, 2 October 2017

Bullet train and the cow

Nothing describes the latest 'developments' in India better than this cartoon...

End of summer

Winter is setting in and the signs are clear and present!
The leaves of the maple tree in front of the house have already begun to change colour and quite a
few have already dropped.

Last week one morning the field across the road had a thick mist in the morning.  

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Phenomenon

It's been more than two weeks since I posted anything.  Not that I was busy.  Rather, was totally free!  Once again prove the age old dictum: Give work only to those who are busy; they will find time to do the additional job too.  To those who have none, don't give any!

Well, last night I watched a decent movie, Phenomenon.  Am surprised I never came across it earlier.  (By now, I must have watched practically most movies which seemed to appear on the IMDb list!).  I liked this movie in particular for the acting of John Travolta.  Never thought such role would be done any justice by an actor of Travolta's type (action, macho, rough type).  The movie is fantasy drama about a man named George Malley who suddenly becomes very bright and intelligent, after he sees a bright light on his 37th birthday.  He then begins to surprise everyone, himself included, with his vast knowledge, increased hunger for reading, psychokinesis skills and lots more.  Only later it is revealed to him that he has a sort of brain tumour that accelerates his brain's potential rather than impede it, but none the less fatal.
Two instances stand out from the movie for me.  The first is when he is angry that the townsfolk are not anymore paying attention to what he has to say but carry on probing him for what they think him to be (in touch with aliens!).  Trying to calm himself he works in his patch of the garden and at one point looks up to the gently swaying of the branches of a tree.  Honestly couldn't make out what exactly was the director hinting at through that scene which results in him becoming more calm and serene.  But one comment from a viewer that it is the realisation that only he is at rage with the rest of creation for not wanting to listen to him. The awareness that the rest of reality, in spite of knowing things and being aware of far greater truths, is still peaceful is a very humbling experience.

The second scene is when a renowned doctor wants to perform a surgery on him just for the advancement of science.  George denies him saying that he is missing out the whole point of exploring the human spirit and is instead focusing on only his brain.
Here's the scene where George explains to the children his imminent death...
A funny scene when the questioner states that he will be specific!

On another lighter note, cannot but mention one of the online viewer comments: 
Someone was diagnosed with a brain tumour and on being told this, asked his doctor if he would now have some superhuman powers.  The doctor replied, "You are not John Travolta and neither is this a movie!"

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Weird captions

Having to do a bit of cooking in the past few days, I've noticed some queer things printed on the edible products.  Today I came across two such weird descriptions... couldn't really make sense of what actually did they mean!

The following was on the beef burger pack... "Made with 95% British beef."  The rest 5% of what?  Indian beef??

Then there was this caption on the double cream container I served for desert... 'lasts longer once opened'?  Does it mean that it will stay fresh longer, if opened?  Or that it tastes so bad that it would never be used again?

Helping strangers

I reached the airport this afternoon on time but the flight was delayed and hence spent time walking around.  At one moment two ladies emerged from the international arrivals wing and were frantically looking around.  One of them had her phone in hand and constantly looking at it.  They tried to ask a couple of commuters but none seemed to be interested in stopping at all.  By then I realised they wanted to go to the car park.  I volunteered to help.  On the lady's phone were the details of the car park.  I showed them the direction to take to reach there.  But then realised myself that in their state of anxiety they'd lose their way, so I volunteered to guide them to the spot.  They were grateful.  Once at the spot we looked for the car.  Finding none, they told me that it was a uber taxi.  Glancing at the app I noticed that the vehicle was still on its way.  I assured them that it would arrive exactly where they were and left.  I could notice that they were quite at ease by then.  Perhaps they would have sorted out the whole thing by themselves, if only they were a bit more relaxed from the beginning.  But such confusion and anxiety is common during journeys and that too if it is the maiden trip to a new place.

I did not know much of the airport or the logistics, but felt great to be of some assistance to those two ladies in their moment of anxiety.  Perhaps the feeling was special because it is after a long gap that I've had some interaction with people other my confreres or those whom I regularly meet on Sundays.

Children and displays

I was at the airport this evening to pick up Fr Sean. And his inbound flight was delayed by almost 2 hrs. So? Another opportunity to walk and watch people, especially children.

Among the other amusing antics was the difficulty of parents keeping their children's eyes and hands from the displayed racks of chocolates and other colourful things at the shops. The smaller they are the greater the danger. The risk is all the more greater if there are more than two kids to handle - besides the luggage. The best chances are to keep the kids as far as possible from any of these displays. If they somehow do reach close beware of the hand shooting out!  Then the mad scramble to get the object out of the child's hand before it opens up the wrapper or decides to get rid of it and in the process break it!

Love your neighbour

The leader of a church music group practiced his trombone almost daily late into the night and sometimes in the early hours of the morning.  Someone complained this to his parish priest and asked, if such a man could be called a good christian at all.  "It's possible for the musician," replied the priest, "but not so easy for the neighbours!"

The Master destroyer

Jesus is described as the worst funeral director: He sabotaged every funeral he attended, including his own!

Children

My niece, all of three years, is all mischief.  She claims to be 'big'.  So she stands beside something and makes sure the other person or the object is below her shoulder level... all to confirm her claim that she is 'big'.  Not to be outdone by her elder brother, who is four years elder to her, she is adamant that she too is seven years old.

During my last conversation with my people at home, Mum was reporting that one morning she was tired of being "harassed" by the little one and she said to my brother (her father) as he was getting in the car to go to office, "Shall we give away Anet to someone because she is becoming too naughty?"  All of this within her earshot.  Pat came the reply, "Give me to Mai (that's how she addresses my mother!)"

Was reminded of someone reporting something similar about their grandson who was being stubborn about eating something.  So the grandma asked the boy, "You do know which kind of children go to heaven, don't you?"  The reply was quick, "Yeah, all the dead ones!"

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Differently abled

In some sense I like the phrase 'differently-abled'... of course, not as a label for those physically or mentally challenged but as to what it conveys.  I certainly am not for the phrase being used as a sort of gradation of people with 'normal' being the standard of measurement.

The phrase 'differently-abled' conveys the fact that just because a child or a person has a different set of thought pattern or does not think or act in the way that most people do, is not less than others.  It is just that the child is different.  In a sense, each one of us is different!  In fact, it can be viewed as meaning that the 'normal' people have not yet found out ways and means of comprehending this 'different' thought or guiding principle.  For all one knows, those labelled 'differently-abled' may be far more gifted that most people, only not recognised and acknowledged.  What if the existing standard measuring unit of 'normalcy' is itself flawed?  What if the goalposts set up by the society and the times are themselves off mark?

Intelligence is not something that can be graded merely on the basis of doing things 'right' or getting reality right - least of all, scoring high marks.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Murder, most brutal

Everytime I dig out a grown up plant in the garden, I feel a bit bad.  Not because the plant is a rare variety or that it is a 'good' plant for the garden but because it has taken more than a year to grow to the stature it is.  And my act of 15 minutes is going to undo all of that year's slow painstaking effort of the plant to keep growing.

The same logic is applicable to people as well.  Whenever someone is killed, however or for whatever reason, that single act of an instant negates years of growth.  Not only of that person but of all those involved in the life of that person, right since infancy.  Surviving all those years of childhood's vulnerabilities mostly riding on the gracious and generous sacrifice of parents, the risks and dangers of youth, dodging those viruses and fatal bacteria, carving out a life, building up relationships and a worldview... all of it, everything is destroyed by one senseless act of someone.  And most often why does one murder?  Merely because something the person said or wrote is not to my liking, or because the other person's belief structure is different from that of mine... If only one would weigh all what goes into making a life against that one particular differing aspect, just for one silent minute, may be several lives would be spared.  

Life goes on...

For the past two weeks news channels and newspapers, regional or international, have had no dearth of 'sensational' events to report.
US vs North Korea
Ethnic violence in Mynamar
Harvey and Irma in the Carribbean
Brexit negotiations
Floods in Assam, and other parts of South Asia
Baba Ram Rahim

Amidst all of these seemingly life-defining moments, one thing that carries on for an ordinary person is his or her daily life.  Whether flooded or safe, whether running away from home or to work, one continues to live hoping for a better tomorrow.  In spite of all the death, gloom and destruction that is reported and experienced, life goes on.  Even for me, sitting in the safe and luxurious confines of my room, life goes on! 

The power of words

Prior to Trump's election as the president of the US, it was the tension between the US and Russia.  Now it is the US vs North Korea.  And I still don't know why is it that there is the tension?  Did the US invade any part of North Korea?  Or did the North Koreans attack any part of the US?  The tension seems to spring and get escalated merely on the exchange of words... far more than the experimentation or military drills and tests.

No doubt words of provocation work so efficiently.  Wonder if words of peace and harmony too work with such finesse and effect.  Our sensitivities are so heightened that any small slip of tongue or gesture is enough to thrust us into war.  But the same sensitivities remain callous when it comes to discussing matters concerning the well being of the suffering, poor, marginalised and struggling folks within our circle of daily experience.  Even with enough and evident reasons and arguments for eradicating social evils and suffering, we still don't see the point.  We need Harvey and Irma and Jose to get our attention to more important and deeper issues than frivolous things like war and military exercises.  

Viewing the world

If anyone were to list the most defining moments of modern history, the events of 9/11 would certainly feature in it.  Since that particular man-made catastrophe the world has never been the same.  One could still debate the whole logistic and rationale behind it all, but one can never say that the present time is better or worse for it.

However, over the years, there is one aspect which has changed since the first 9/11 commemoration.  It is the need to consider wider ramifications of every deed.  Though the habit of seeing the world through the others' viewpoint, prior to taking decisions or making judgements about the other, is yet to mature, this reflection too has gained some momentum.  In the face of evil and suffering, it is hard to guide emotions and feelings.  Decisions born out of such strong emotions are not always the best.  Yet they are real emotions and feelings.  One can never really doctor one's own true feelings.  Hence the need to grow in a habit of constantly putting oneself in others' shoes prior to making decisions affecting all. This constant practice does not change the past but will go a long way in making the future a little more pleasant and worth gladly remembering.  

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Sanitized thrills

One of the popular relaxation sites in UK, especially for children, is the Go Ape.  This is something like a maze among the trees and wooden bridges in the air.  Those making their way through this adventure will be tied secure with a string and a harness, just in case!  I've seen the one in Battersea park.  I found this whole concept very amusing.  Back in India we have trees and children, especially boys, cannot resist them.  In the rural setting, there'll hardly be a tree that a growing boy would not have climbed!  Of course, there'd be no harness or rope.  If only a child would try to climb a tree here in UK, I'm sure he'd get a good spanking (most probably, no!) and a long lecture in 'health and safety' measures.  It is like people prefer the bottled fruit juice to a fresh fruit. They trust more the 'safety' of the processed juice, than the natural original fruit!  You take something so natural and fresh, then take away all its naturality and then reproduce it in such a 'natural' setting.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Living records

I laughed my head off when I glanced through an article in the newspaper today proudly speaking of a 'record' number of people in a VW cooper: 50.  Really?  A record?  That too it being stationary all the while.

I'm sure none of those in the van or those reporting have ever heard, leave alone been to some parts of India.  There still are some parts of India where a jeep contains as many as 50 people in it and is driven for long stretches.  I'm sure there are still plying some roads in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Till a few years ago, I've not only seen but travelled in person, in one such jeeps.  There used to be these jeeps plying between Hyderabad and Kazipet, a distance of 100 kms.  In the driver's seat there'd be one or two seated. And where would the driver be?  Sitting on the edge of his seat, with two-third of his body out of the vehicle.  His hands would be firm on the steering and his feet on the clutch and accelerator (brakes would seldom be used!).  Not only did these vehicles 'contain' 3 to 4 dozen people within, they'd be fast!  Fast meaning really fast.  Some of those which ended up in an accident, there was barely anything left, of the vehicle and of those within! Such would be the speed at which they'd fly.  More than a thrill it was a fight for survival.  The more passengers they pick up, the more income they earn. Moreover, more trips per day meant more income.

Being conscious of time

Paulo Coelho's short stories 'The Four Forces'
As soon as he died, Juan found himself in a very beautiful place, surrounded by all the comfort and beauty that he had dreamed of.  A figure dressed in white came up to him and said, "You are entitled to anything you want."
Enchanted, Juan did everything he had dreamed of during life.  After many years of pleasure, he sought out the figure in white. He said that he had experienced everything and that now he needed a little work to make him feel useful.  "That's the only thing I cannot get for you," said the figure in white."  "But I'll spend eternity dying of boredom! I'd much rather be in hell!"  "And where do you think you are?" 
I could say that this was my feeling a couple of months ago.  However, for the past month, life has been quite hectic... or rather I've chosen to be active! 

Britain: A Christian country?

There was a time when Europe was considered 'Christian'.  The Brits certainly claimed themselves to be a Christian country.  However, the reality of today is very different.  The rest of the world may still look upon England as a Christian country, but the fact of the matter is totally different.  A recent survey revealed that 53% of the English population said that they did not follow any religion.  The state Church of England has only 20% of the remaining population.  More and more, people prefer not to drag in Church or anything related to religion into the public domain.  In one sense it is good. Because it does not add another cause of division in a society already in turmoil.  Very many are keen to build a secular and non-biased society.  Hence adherence or preference to one particular religion or another is seen as unhealthy and detrimental for the common growth of all.  So much so, some call Britain, a post-Christian nation.

However, none can also deny that Christianity has to a large extent shaped England for centuries and Christian tradition has indeed played a major role in its growth.  The question then is how best does one live the present without denying the past and without compromising the future.  It is a tricky balance but not impossible.  As long as the good keep standing up for what is right and just, the handful who seek to sow discord will be kept at bay.  
A graph of 2014

Kitchen feat

Yesterday was the first time that I prepared meal for the whole community, all by myself.  Well, I cannot honestly claim that I 'cooked' it all, but at least 'assembled' it.  And by all standards, given that there was Mass right before the supper, the meal turned out good.  Everyone was up for morning prayers and meditation this morning and all seem well!!

Luckily setting up a meal here in the UK is no big hassle.  Since practically everything comes packaged, one just needs to follow the instructions on the label to prepare it for consumption.  Moreover, there are quite a few tit-bits that Katie has left in the deep-freeze.  So it is only a matter of having the right mixture of things and serving it out in some 'design'.  And all the left overs serve good enough for me to have for breakfast and lunch the next day.

Initially I thought gender is not a criteria for division of labour here in the UK.  But from my little interaction with the few whom I've come to know, it is not so.  But certainly kitchen and the frying pan are not among those in contention!  Good for everyone!
Representation only... would not risk the lamb! 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

'Limited' Cooperation

Came across a weird article trying to explain the process of increasing cooperation and decreasing non-cooperation (leading to destruction), using mathematical language.  Well, know not about the mathematical implications, given the author's acknowledgement that some facts look great on paper but prove an utter failure in practice.  However, the main point of the article does make some sense.  The author seems to suggest that cooperation when reciprocal between like-minded individuals is more influential than cooperation across everyone in the society.
Cooperation flourishes best when each individual has strong, reciprocated connections to a small number of others. In this case, cooperation spreads locally, along these connections, leading to clusters of cooperators who share benefits with each other. In contrast, if all individuals are equally connected to all others, the benefits of cooperation become diluted in the sea of non-cooperators, and the behaviour cannot spread. Thus, for cooperation to thrive, a few strong ties are better than a myriad weak ones.
Read the full article on Aeon.
C standing for cooperation and N for non-cooperation

Monday, 4 September 2017

The hearing

There was a charismatic convention going on and the during the healing session, the animator invited those who wished to have the grace of healing to come down the aisle in a single file. When one particular man reached the animator, the latter asked him what he would like to pray for, the man replied, "The hearing."  So the animator fervently prayed and then a while later asked the man, "Is the hearing better now?"  The man replied, "How would I know now?  The hearing is on Tuesday."

Education

I came across the following poster today while reading something on education... It honestly has some truth about it.  Has real implications also for our formation, or more specifically, what we is taught, the attitude with which education is perceived (both by the students and teachers) and the whole purpose of education.

One stark difference I notice between students back in India and here is the perspective on education.  While most graduates in India study - if at all, one can still use the term - merely for the marks or in obedience to their parents, students in the UK do so out of their own accord and for experience and knowledge.  Hence their investment level is very high.  Not that they are all saints and bookworms.  Far from it.  But they do study and take education seriously - students and teachers alike.

Students go to college, to study!  This statement may seem odd, but is very true in the UK context.  All the more true in the case of those attending university for their post-graduation or higher courses.  

'Pet'ty investments

Love for animals is rather good thing.  It makes us more humane!  However, very many here in Europe stretch that affection for animals a bit too far.  I've heard several young people or elderly people say about young couples: Oh, they decided to get a dog instead of start a family!  Some of them say it as a joke, some don't!

Practically everyday I come across ads in the newspaper appealing for funds for protection of animals.  But today I came across a quarter page ad for insurance of pets! Well, if cars can be insured, why not pets!  But here's a list of other things which certainly go overboard:

  • A four-day automatic pet feeder (£ 35.99)
  • Wood house for the dog (£119.99)... really?  At that cost one could rent a house for a large family, a family of human beings, for one full month in any part of two-third of the world!
  • Cat activity tree (£ 44.99)... must be a joke!  A plaything for the cat?  Does even the cat know that it is meant for its play?  
  • Union Jack Bow tie (£ 18.74) a tie for the dog?  That too the national flag?  Best explains 'a nation gone to the dogs!' 
  • Travel water bottle to give your dog water wherever you go (£ 11.20) ...comes with the assurance that this cup sort of thing fits standard car and stroller cup holders, backpacks and bike bottle holders.  

These are only a few of the bizarre things contained in full one-page ad of a newspaper!  And I'm sure unless there is a clientele for these things, there'd neither be the ad nor the product!  From experience I can very well say, the dogs here are no more faithful or attached to their respective owners than any household dog that I've seen or raised back in India.  
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