Monday, 14 August 2017

Celebrating Indian independence day in England!

Tomorrow is the Independence day of India.  I feel ironic that I commemorate it in England!  Not very sure how the Indian press is marking the event, but the press here in UK, especially The Times and BBC have long been publishing articles and running programmes related to the event of Indian independence and the partition.  And of course in none of these programmes or articles that I've read, did I ever come across any indication of justification of the colonising of South Asia.  Most of the articles speak of the pain and the confusion of partition and attribute it to the improper planning and lack of sensitivity of the then British administration.

In fact, thanks to the historical documentation preserved by the British, at least what they wish to make public, I'm coming to know of things I'd never come across in any newspapers or magazines in India.  Of course, I do admit, I'm not a 'history' person to really have moved my butt to know about it either.  Like, the person who really drew the line dividing India and Pakistan, Cyril Radcliffe, had actually never been to India!  That the Rowlatt act was indeed one of the last nail in the coffin of the patience of the Indian diaspora.

Of course, the common Britisher is not very much bothered today about India (or any other part of the world, for that matter).  But most would not like to speak of the bygone era of 'empire'.  More than pride in once being a 'super power' ruling much of the world, there is somewhere hidden a sense of guilt and shame for the deeds of the past.  

The bell

Practically in every Salesian house I've been I've come across a tiny bell somewhere or the other in the house.  I came across one even here in Chertsey.

This small bell always brings back a fond memory of childhood.  As kids, Willy and I used to attend the daily morning Mass in the Salesian house chapel of the school (Motinagar).  And we'd always help out with the arranging for Mass and then after Mass putting things back in the cupboard.  There also used to be a small bell which Mummy had presented to the Chapel and we'd invariably take turns ringing it during the consecration time.  When the new Chapel was built and things shifted, the bell got lost.  One day she accidentally noticed the bell in the school administration office (Mummy was still teaching in the school).  She was furious.  She grabbed it immediately and marched straight upto the Salesian community Chapel to restore it back to its place.  Most probably it is still there!

Another picture which I still hope is present in the community Chapel is the picture of the Holy Family which we as a family had presented to the Salesian community many many years ago.  

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Competence vs trust

Peter was a fisherman, right? He wasn't one of the tax collectors or physicians.  So naturally he should be the one most used to and at home with water, the sea and all that.  However, it struck me that when he asked to walk on water and begins to sink, he calls out to Jesus to 'save him'.  Really?  Being a fisherman he would surely know to swim.  Furthermore the boat was not too far away. He certainly could have made it to the boat.  Why then did he call out for help?  That too from Jesus, a carpenter?

I guess, it has something to do with trust.  Profession or competence does not count. What does matter in moments of great trouble is the trust that I have in the other person.  It is the same trust that makes a frightened child reach out for its mother or father, in case of a fire, rather than a fire-fighter.  Peter's plea for help is typically one of a frightened child.  At that moment of anguish, the child knows not how competent or incompetent the parent is.  All that the child knows is that the parent will not abandon him or her, no matter what.  And that's all that matters.

The trouble with most of us, especially those of us who claim to be close to God and working for His cause, is that we are surely working for His Kingdom but we often forget him.  We work for God but fail to see God and subsequently grow in trust and faith.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Confirmation bias

In my reading during the day, I came across this phrase 'Confirmation bias' meaning, actively looking for things that help your argument and dismissing things that don't.

This is a tendency we find in everyone.  It is often the same bias that prevents us from admitting that we were wrong.  But there is another side of this as well.  Far from acknowledging mistake or error, we go to great lengths to devise strategies that affirm an outright error.  The author of the book Being Wrong, Kathryn Schulz points out five responses people offer to defend their mistake rather than admit them:

  1. time-frame defence: just got the calculations a bit mixed up... but not wrong.
  2. near-miss defence: it almost happened as I said it would 
  3. out-of-left defence: it was almost going to happen as I said, but for that unexpected incident...
  4. I was wrong, but it is your fault: not my doing... if I hadn't listened to your advice, it would have been as I said
  5. better-safe-than-sorry defence: thinking and doing what I did, it would have been wrong for me to act otherwise... 

In all these there is a sort of 'mental accommodation' into which we ease ourselves to justify that what we think, hold, and believe is right, even if we know it is wrong!

McFarland, USA

Last night I watched the movie McFarland, USA.  Am surprised I never heard of it before (given the fact that I have seen more movies in the past three years than I've seen my whole life).  The fact that it is based on a true story is what makes it really inspirational.

The movie is about a group of young boys and their coach in the neglected state of McFarland who train and go on to become the best in cross country race.  What touched me was the ease with which these youngsters could take pressure, especially of work.  Not only did they work, they studied and they trained (which is equally grueling)... all at the same time.  And they did it all with a sense of determination and joy.  Liked the movie for it portrays the value of family, of a team, of belonging, of unity, hard work, of enjoying the little things of life, prejudices and values we hold dear...

There is a truth in the quality of life lived by those who do strenuous manual labour.  I do believe that hard manual labour, especially directly in touch with nature, is a great learning experience.  The following clip is a neat summary of my sentiments too (about all those who slog it out, day in and day out, )
Loved also the amusing clips wherein this coach, used to a posh and comfortable lifestyle and setting, finds the ways of his boys used to the hard life of labour strange.  There is one particular scene wherein after being invited to join the family meal of his team, he wishes to thank the father.  Assuming that he does not know English, he asks one of his sons to tell him that he felt honoured to being invited to his house.  The son repeats the same in English!  And the father tells the son, "Tell him, that he is welcome!" ... in English!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Dating God can be a nightmare!

A couple of days ago, the incident of a group of priests being asked to leave the pub because the doorman assumed them to be members of a stag party, wearing clerical habit, hit the news and has since become quite a sensation.  However, what surprised me more than the event itself was the news article published in the Daily Mail a few days ago.  Now the Daily Mail is anything but serious news is known to everyone.  Most often it is sleaze and gossip.  But for it to run an article stating why these men chose to be priests was quite amazing and really stood out for me.  I only happened to by chance come upon the article for I rarely pick up this particular newspaper, except for the daily sudoku, crossword and scrabble.

Here are a few points that stood out for me, most significantly about the recruitment and formation of priests:
  • The expense of training a young man to be a priest is enormous and lengthy.  Is the person we have after ordination, really worth the expense and time and energy spent all along?  For the time, money and energy invested, what sort of person should this be?  What quality and mettle would this person be made of by the time of his ordination?  
  • These men are different but not totally ignorant of the world in which they live and work.  They are people totally immersed in its everyday life.  Now that includes movies, TV shows, popular celebrities, trending talks and videos, ... they may not be huge fans of any but they certainly know it all.  They are not ignorant 'saints' who live in some fantasy world.  They've seen the world - they continue to know the world.  
  • The influence of inspirational models ... (in the case of most of these priests, the life and death of John Paul II) it is enormous.  They may not be perpetual models of inspiration, but the trigger they offer in knowing more of Christ and the Church is sufficient enough to 'seduce' them for life. 
  • When scandal and mistakes of past haunt the present it is easy to become depressed or even totally avoid or even label the whole church as 'bad'.  The alternative, choose to become 'good'. 
  • All of these young men had great opportunities for a career in the world.  They did have high-paying jobs.  Yet they gave it up for they truly felt called for something other than career and money.  Now as priests earning a pittance compared to what they earlier earned, they have no regrets about the money.  The contentment is evident in what you have at hand.  
  • What we give up as priests and religious are essential elements of human nature.  But everyone makes sacrifices - even married people.  And are happy to do so.  So it is not what we give up that matters most, but with what attitude we give up what we sacrifice that counts. 
  • Liked the comment of one of the priests: We are dating God, building a relationship.  And God can be a nightmare! 

Read the whole article here.


Have been grappling with the idea of what it means to be 'normal'.  How does one define normal?  Honestly there cannot be a universal 'normal' about anything at all.  Each place, person, context, region and time in history will have something called 'normal' but not necessarily the same for everyone.

More fuchsias

More fuchsias and gladiolas in bloom...

Hidden pitfalls of ministry

Moses as the leader of the Israelites, leading them from Egypt to the Promised land, is a typical pastor, the parish priest, the minister, the religious!  He feels called by the Lord, empowered by Him to take charge of the people, even though he is no better than any other of those who is being led by him, has his own cupboard full of skeletons and memories which he has to constantly battle, sandwiched between Yahweh and the people, at the receiving end of the people's ire and moaning... and of course, he is human.

However, he also typically suffers the same drawback that most of us priests and religious suffer from.  He feels the burden of being the leader.  He pleads Yahweh to let him go or let him die because he cannot take it anymore.  He feels crushed under the complaints of the people and feels that he has not done enough.  He thinks he has failed them.  He easily forgets that it is God who is in-charge.  He is called to lead the people, not to be their saviour.  Quite comfortably he gets into the saddle to think that he is the one who is to do everything and that if he didn't or couldn't, the whole work is going to fail.

Human nature

In the Israelites journey 'back' from Egypt to the Israel does sketch an interesting portrait of human nature.  While in Egypt they were moaning and grumbling but under their breath, for fear of Pharoah and his soldiers whips.  But in the desert they openly grumbled.  They knew Moses did not have a whip.  While as slaves in Egypt they had no freedom, had to slog it out the whole day;  but in the desert all that they can complain about is food!  They had no work, no hard labour but all that they can think of is 'onions and food of Egypt'!!  Really?

Basic premise: we grumble, even if we have everything;  even if we have to grumble of nothing!  

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Garden in bloom

Two shots of the Salesian Gardens in bloom.

The first and only gladiola... In the background are the numerous Clematis Princess Diana and in the basket hanging above are some pink Petunia flowers - I actually found a small stem of it on the pavement in Chertsey about two weeks ago!  I planted the stem and not only has it taken root, it has started flowering!

The Heartsease too has multiplied.  In the backdrop is the blue balloon flower and the pink flower is called the Himalayan Jasmine (which I'm sure is not the real name!).  But I'm glad for the 'unknown' plant/flower because when I first saw it, it was almost dead.  Even after replanting it and taking great care it never showed any sings of growth. Was stagnant!  Since it did not deteriorate, I was hopeful.  And now it has started to flower!  Great!
Am happy to see all the work in the garden bloom into such fantastic colours and lively plants.  But then I also realize that most of these are all growing by themselves.  I really didn't plant them, nor did I take any extra care.  So will gladly settle for being a co-creator than the master of the garden!  Photograph them? Yes, that's me!  

Flashes of radiance

Our relationship with those around is quite strange, especially with those we relate most and intimately.  Most often their presence and their role in our life is taken for granted.  It seems that it is normal or the way it is supposed to be.  However, when that person is no more present in our life then we begin to see the huge crater left in our life and we realize that what was 'normal' or 'usual' was not so.  It was because of the other person's presence and constant support.  Some are lucky to realize this in their lifetime and begin to value the other person more than before.  Not that the person is now exalted to the heavens but we then slowly get used to a higher level of relationship, at a deeper level. Soon even this becomes 'normal'.  That's how things work with us mortals.  And every once in a way there is a sudden glimmer of light and we see things differently.

Today is the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.  The apostles were with Jesus all along, listening to his teachings and living with him.  However, the event on the mountain shows Jesus in a new light.  The apostles now see something more special in Jesus.  But soon even that 'special' becomes 'normal'.  Nothing bad or evil in it.  All that we can really hope and look forward to is those quick moments of insight.  Those flashes of radiance which transform all we ever know of those around us.... and they abound!

May we more willingly and often see the radiance of God shine through those around us.
Painting by Raphael

Friday, 4 August 2017

Devil in a bush

A strange name for a lovely flower... 'Love in a mist' or 'Devil in a bush' (Nigella damascene)

One more at Chertsey

Today Fr Kevin joined our community as a new member for the year ahead.  Most probably there will also be another confrere joining us in another month.  That would make our community grow upto 7 (plus the two at Cowley).  Fr Kevin is going to be the chaplain at the school for the sixth form.

Use less

A creative advert...

Thursday, 3 August 2017

As it was...

Fr George Williams, one of the former provincials of GBR and the Regional of the earlier, English speaking region, used to say this at the end of the retreats.
After this whole week of retreat you all will say 'Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit' and the following week it will be 'as it was in the beginning!'
Interesting summary of a typical retreat and the thereafter! 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

In a pub

Imagine a priest in his cassock going to a bar or a even a restaurant in India...!  Any burglar can loot the whole place because everyone would be staring at the priest!  Not so in Europe.  Pubs are a place of socialising and even priests and religious visit it often, sometimes in their clerical dress.  And everyone is fine, beginning with the priests themselves.

I personally still find it odd.  That's certainly because I have a totally different image of pubs and drinking, even if it is 'just beer'.  So when I read this following trending news article on BBC, I almost fell off my chair laughing: Apology to Cardiff priests...

Pehli taarikh (First of the month)

It suddenly occurred to me that years ago when we were kids at home, Papa used to very faithfully tune into the radio on the first of every month at 7 am to listen to this particular song or jingle (I don't remember if they played the whole song or only part of it) on All India Radio.  One of those lovely old tunes and old memories!

Invariably there was great excitement on the first of every month, in anticipation of the salary...
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