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 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


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!"
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