Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Flowers

In our community chapel, we always have flowers.  Katie makes sure there are fresh flowers every week. Since the climate is rather favourable, the flowers last for a full week.  Sometimes they are too good and distract my attention from the altar. And I do indulge myself once in a way!

They say, the ones who really appreciate the fragrance of flowers, besides the bees, are the wild animals.  Strange, but true!  Look forward to the summer break to work in the garden. Have already pictures of flowers I want to plant.  Hope to gather some from the neighbours or parishoners.

Received a set of photos of flowers by someone named Marina Filatova... found two of the photos quite eye-catching


Pancake Tuesday

Pancakes.  I had always thought of them and eaten them as breakfast or an evening snack. Today is the first time I came to know that the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is commemorated as Pancake day!  I thought it was some sort of tradition for celebration and all that.  However, I'm told that the tradition began with people using up the remaining sugar before Lent began!  So finish up all the remaining sugar, eggs and all the ingredients that goes in to make delicacies before Lent.  Wow!

In hindi there is a saying, ना रहेंगी बांस, ना बजेगी बांसुरी! 'Na rahegi baas, na bhajegi baasuri' ... No bamboo, then no flute either.  Take off the cause of temptation, and prevent temptation itself!

Another thing I saw was that pancakes being eaten with lemon juice.  That's an odd combination - at least for me!

Personalised greetings

Most people think that with an advancement in the means of communication, communion grows. That's not always true.  At times the danger is that instead of bring people together, the means of communication, distances people from one another or makes relationship superfluous.

I'm reminded of days, not too long ago, when b'day cards were sent out to loved ones to greet them on the occasion of their birthday.  Now these cards had to be timed in order to reach the person just before the day. That meant thinking about the person much before the actual day itself.  So there was a list of people close to us and their dates and addresses.  This list or diary was regularly looked at and invariably people remembered.  The greeting itself meant writing something worthwhile and good for the person.  Taking the trouble of going to the postoffice to get a stamp and then post it. Then came b'day cards which replaced the letter. But even then, one had to think of the person, in advance (and till the actual day).

With the internet, the e-mails made things "easier". One had to think of the person just the previous day or on the day itself.  Today, most people merely remember on the day and send a whatsapp message or a facebook post.  Gone are the personalised greetings. Wishes are now broadcasted not conveyed! What's more one need not even remember any date, they are all digitally recorded and reminded!

Lawsuits

When the parish priest was sharing about his pain of clearing the drive of snow or ice, especially on Sunday mornings, not for fear of people falling but for fear of the lawsuits they'd be filing if they fall in the drive, I was laughing.  Today while listening to the different cases that have come up for hearing, and the bizarre reasons for they being heard and judged upon, I understood his 'pain'.  And we were dealing with only the cases involving freedom of religion or belief, and that too the prominent ones!!

Here are two examples
Grainger v. Nicholson (2009). The latter was terminated from his post in a property firm by his boss (the former) after he refused to board a plane merely to hand over his boss his forgotten mobile phone. The reason: Climate change.  He argued that his principles went against the use of flights for such a silly thing as merely handing over a forgotten phone.  He won. 
Noah v. Desrosiers (2008).  A would be hair stylist successfully claimed indirect discrimination after she refused to remover her headscarf, contrary to the hair saloon's policy that stylists should display their own hairstyles to customers.  
I was thinking, in India even for serious crimes people do not approach the court. For it would take ages for it to come for hearing and even if it did, it would prolong or get so mauled that one would question one's own sanity.  Here in UK, the legal system is quite strict and lethal, so no one dares play games with it.  In India people resist approaching the legal system because it is more crooked and corrupted than the crime one wishes to report!

No pillars

Most English houses do not have pillars. Even those which are double or triple storied.  Our house has three floors, and yet has not one single pillar!  It is all about architecture and style of building.  If I'm not mistaken, our Salesian house in Punganur (India) too is built without pillars - that too in stone!

Here in England the rooms are small and of low ceiling - that's to preserve heat.  The walls, made of bricks, are thicker too.  The outsides of the house are mostly not plastered.  So, much is saved on steel and cement.

I wonder why this formula is not practiced back in India.  Perhaps it would be interesting to see how constructions are done here in UK.  I've only come across renovations so far. Never seen a house being constructed from the foundations.
My Salesian residence (Chertsey)

Monday, 27 February 2017

Contemporary Need

I remember two weeks ago when I had accompanied Fr John and a group of youngsters for a retreat to Battersea.  After Steve explained the basic fire drill of the house and the keys and timings of the main door and all that stuff, he gave out the wifi password.  At that moment there was a sudden spurt of life in the group.  Till then they were there, passively listening.  The moment the wifi was mentioned it was 'aggressive listening'!

Contemporary individuals constantly rewrite the definition and chart of human needs.  Here's an amusing example (reworked Maslow's hierarchy of human needs):

Needs vs fulfillment of needs

With regard to human rights there is always this dilemma: are we asking for too much?  Is the ideal so high, that the real is unable to live up to it?  Like in the case of some African country which I'm told has the best child-protection policy, really superb.  Unfortunately there is no infrastructure to realize this policy. Hence the very policy meant for protection, turns out to trap children and cause harm!  But 'how much' is 'too much'?

So there is the idea of minimalism: human rights for sustenance and not for good or luxury.  They set the least standards to be met, rather than the highest goals to be achieved.  Makes sense. "It is one thing to establish a need, another to show that there are serious grounds for doubting whether that need can be met" (Price 2013, p. 11).

What's surprising is that I'm beginning to see very close links between the human rights discussions and the philosophy of the neo-pragmatists.  It is as if, they are speaking the same thing, from either end of the platform.

Strategic Planning

Tomorrow the Team Visit of the Rector Major with the SPCSA council and others commences in Chennai, India.  One of the major points on the agenda is the presentation of the study of Strategic Planning, which commenced almost a year ago.

Being part of it in some way, at some point of it, I know how great an enterprise it was.  Yet I am also aware of the different motivations that initiated it and the various expectations of confreres from this study.  Most wish to rework our working style and format, based on the findings of this study.

However, I wish that this exercise which will be presented in the days to come, will teach us more about who we are than what we should do.  If the former is clarified, the latter will eventually flow.  But if the latter is all that we aim for, then we might end up doing very well but doing someone else's work.

Talking in the Church

One strange thing that I find in all the Churches here is the talking that goes on before and after the liturgical celebrations.  Initially I found it very disturbing, to enter the Church and find everyone wishing and greeting one another, exchanging pleasantries and all that stuff.  Now I settle down more silently by myself when I enter a church.

One Anglican church that I visited was having a tea party in one part of the Church!  Inside the Church!  In the newspapers I read, some Churches being 'renovated' to accommodate rock concerts, banquets, and social gatherings!!  That's basically to cover the costs of keeping the 'church' alive!

However, during the liturgical celebrations, there is perfect silence and participation.  There is no distraction of any sort.  Most churches even have a 'children's corner' where there are books and some toys to keep the children busy!  Other places, like our parish, the children have some activity, in the adjoining room, related to the gospel of the Sunday, during the Gospel reading and sermon.  So everyone is attentive to what is being said and done.  The sanctuary is the only focal point.

On the whole, it is as if, the Church is sacred and holy only during the liturgical service.  The presence of the Blessed Sacrament, does not really inspire reverence and respect.  Perhaps this is because the climate outside is at times so cold or wet that it is not possible to wish/greet one another.

and as always, I suppose the Lord understands! 

Disturb us, Lord

While in the church yesterday, I came across this particular prayer on a leaflet reminding the parishoners about the jubilee of the church...
Disturb us Lord when we are too pleased with ourselves, 
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little, 
when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore. 
We ask you to push back the horizons of our hope. 
Amen.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

A wedding

Yesterday's wedding at Battersea was a bit odd.  First of all that it was in the church entrusted to the Salesians was quite encouraging.  I said to myself, like Roshni my sister-in-law saying, 'tick'... another place visited!

Fr John later told me that this was the Church - and of course, the Salesian presence in Battersea itself - which was built during the time when Don Rua (late 19th century) was the Rector Major. And he had a huge contribution, especially financial in this venture.  

There were a few bouquets at the first few pews, one big one on the altar, and a couple more on the first two pillars from the altar.  There was a service sheet printed, containing the hymns.  However, half way through, I realized that it wasn't the Mass. It was a service.  Neither was there any audible response from the congregation at any time.  Only later I was told that only the girl was Catholic and the boy did not practice any religion.  So much so, his parents had refused to come to the Church altogether. They relented only in the morning!! Whew! 

Then the whole "half-hearted" service made sense.  I realized, it was a delicate event.  One part of the marriage wanted to make it spiritually solemn, the other wanted to have nothing of it.  Therefore to gain a balance was a real tight-rope walk. To make it meaningful and special, after all it is their wedding, and yet not make it so pious and 'spiritual' that it leaves a bitter taste.  

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Fueled by imagination

In philosophy there is now an ongoing debate whether its main task is to describe or explain reality.  Others ask if philosophy is altogether redundant given the growth of science.  Therefore some claim that it is needed to justify.  However, most of it can truly be called a pure mind-game.  One needs philosophy not for survival but for meaning.

Am thinking, all of this is something we adults engage ourselves with. Children on the other hand, are happy with what they have at hand - at least most of them.  Simple reasoning and even lies told convincingly satisfy them immensely.  They are not too worried about logic or reason.  In fact, they don't care about it at all, and are even attracted to the most illogical and irrational of things!  I guess that's because they prefer to let their imagination add up the rest.

And in their own world, they have a perfect understanding of things between them - their signs, language, actions, thoughts, behaviour... But as we grow old, we feel the need to understand 'perfectly' everything around us.  Everything has to be orderly, neat, organised and systematic.  Perhaps the child also goes by the same principles of order, hierarchy, organisation and system... only that it defies all logic.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Death. Birth. Wedding.

I think this is the first time in my life that I get to attend three different events, in quick succession.  Yesterday was the funeral of the mother of one of our confreres. Today was the birthday of a confrere.  Tomorrow I'd be driving Fr John to London to help him preside at a nuptial Mass.  Death. Birth. Wedding.

Perhaps a priest would have many of such events, but as a Brother this is the first time I'm experiencing this series of events in succession.  Honestly, find a distinct reflection on each of these aspects possible - and in a way meanigful too, though not always perfectly intelligible or complementary.  Yet to see them as all as one, as life itself, is getting too complicated.

Perhaps that's what life is all about: great and interesting in its diversity, complicated in its totality! 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

A funeral

I attended a funeral Mass today. It was the mother of one of our confreres.  She had died almost a month ago.  Unfortunately here in the UK the funeral is much later than the death itself.  Even though she was cremated, I know not why this prolonged preservation of the body.  Anyway, the funeral was quite different from the ones I've attended earlier in India... hence was a bit odd.

Apart from the coffin being brought in, a prayer before the Mass and one towards the end of the Mass, was all that was additional to the Mass itself.  The confrere himself preached the homily, which was very meaningful and truly emotional.

The coffin was totally sealed all along. So none 'paid' their respects.  The pall bearers brought in the coffin before Mass and carried it out soon after the Mass. No one even went close to it and prayed or anything of that sort.  Except for most gently touching the coffin as we went in to receive communion, there was no other possibility of offering flowers or saying a prayer or anything of that kind, which I felt was a bit odd.

Later on our way back home, I asked when do people pay respects to the deceased.  They don't!!!  Soon after death the body is taken to the funeral home. Only the nearest of the family visit.  No one else!  And then from the funeral home to the Church right in time for Mass and then straight to the crematorium.

That the delay of weeks and months between the death and funeral itself is weird.  The family in a way has to 're-mourn' after weeks.  Then there is this weird practice of no one paying respects to the deceased. Then the cremation, not burial.

Anyway, prayed for the deceased and the bereaved family members too. Remembered the deceased mother of Fr Johnny too. 

English weather

The English weather, at least in the south of England, as I have experienced it over the past five months is quite erratic.  There actually is no rainy season as such (I think, because there are another 7 months to complete the year).  It  rains anytime!  Except for the indication from the trees which were all very colourful when I first landed (in October) and which are now (February) all sticks and barren, the weather as such is never constant.

Today storm Dorris is supposed to pass through.  It seems exactly the English weather, except at very quick pace!  So there are strong gusts of wind and the very next minute everything is still.  Then there is bright sunshine and the next instant a heavy downpour.  It becomes cloudy and within no time, the clouds all clear up.  All of these changes happen within minutes. Exactly what would happen in a prolonged span of hours and days is today being repeated in minutes - that's all.

Remember this particular amusing dialogue from the movie 'Robinhood: Prince of thieves', uttered by Azeem (Morgan Freeman) when he is not accorded the same treatment as Robin, merely because his skin is of a different colour: "The hospitality in this country is as warm as the weather!" Of course, I would not endorse that statement. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Growing in knowledge

Plato has this interesting thing to say about knowledge and growing in knowledge.
Isn’t it by learning and study, which are motions, that the soul gains knowledge and is preserved and becomes a better thing? Whereas in a state of rest, that is, when it will not study or learn, it not only fails to acquire knowledge but forgets what it has already learned? [Plato, Theaetetus, 153c]
No wonder he was called wise!

Treated as equals, but not equally

Came across the following concept in an article that I was reading on the relation between morals and etiquette.
According to Ronald Dworkin, the duty to treat people as equals is not the duty to treat them equally.
(Ronald Dworkin, ‘‘DeFunis v. Sweatt,’’ in Equality and Preferential Treatment, ed. Marshall Cohen et al. [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977], pp. 67– 68).

At first could not make any sense of it! Then after some mind-wrestling, especially in the context of what I was reading, it occurred to me that perhaps it is to mean that each person is due the respect he or she deserves as a human being.  The other is another human being just as I am.  Equal in that respect.  However, I cannot treat everyone the same way.  I can stand at the entrance to a hall and greet and welcome the guests, each and everyone, with the same courtesy and politeness; nonetheless I cannot accommodate everyone on the front row of the hall! Some will have to occupy the last chairs and some the front seats, even without me allotting the seats.

There could very well a more meaningful understanding of this notion.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Of equity and equality

I had an interesting conversation with someone this afternoon about the British being more fond of equity than equality.  Equity is understood as fairness, being impartial.  Whereas equality is considered as something similar and akin.  The point of the discussion was justice.  In the light of this, the notion of equity makes more sense than equality.

I have to acknowledge, that my "Indian historical background" - the euphemistic phrase for 'British colonizing India' - didn't let me really listen well to the British fondness for fairness and equity.  Nonetheless, I did find the argument persuasive and relevant.  Moreover I was told that equity is a constitutional goal found in the official documents of the country, especially the Magna Carta.

We can never be all equal.  We can talk of equal opportunities and possibilities, but that's more about equity than equality.  Each of us is unique and different from the other. On no account can any group be said to be equal with another.  Of course, that does not give any one or any group ascendancy/superiority over another.

However, here's a nice pictorial presentation with a different message...


These pics say a lot about how we think - or are used to thinking!  

The sacrosanct soldier

For quite sometime now, I've wanted to confront the notion of the 'super great' British soldier that I've come across in the media and in group discussions back in the college.  A few months ago there was a large debate in media about some British soldiers being tried for violations of human rights while on duty on foreign soil.  There was a huge outcry against the trial itself. The basic argument was that they are men who braved all odds and circumstances, fought on behalf of us all, faced life-threats, were known for their gallantry... The same reasons even in college groups.

Today I got my chance!! In class there was a case study about a group of protesters being prosecuted because they shouted spiteful slogans during a march of British soldiers.  The protesters had sought permission earlier to protest and were all legal, except for going overboard in shouting inflammatory slogans in public.  I was for the prosecution. Others too were, but their main argument was that they shouted against 'British soldiers'!!  Even the professor spoke of how esteemed the profession of a soldier is and all that stuff!  I objected!  I said the act itself was unhealthy, irrespective of against whom it was carried out. And then I added...

The esteem and respect rightly accorded to a soldier for his bravery in battlefield is not to be treated as a license to do anything or get away with any offence.  While on the battle ground, he follows orders, and he is culpable only to the degree that he followed the orders.  However when he attacks a group of militants - that is the view from this side; for those on the other side, they are 'freedom fighters' - he is still right.  Kills them. All that is right and even justified.  But the ill-treatment he metes out to the residents or family members of the 'militants' of the place after the event is in no way justified.  He ought to give account and take responsibility for his misdeeds, no matter how great and bravely he fought the 'militants'.

There was no more discussion on that point! 

So shape conscious

Here in UK and I figure, in most of Europe and the US, everything, practically everything is sold in neat packets, which are labelled.  From costly computers to cheap vegetables and meat.  Everything is processed and packed.  However, the society is so obsessed with neatness that it also expects everything to be in perfect shape!  So one hardly finds any vegetables which are 'out of shape'. Every fruit packed and sold is 'beautiful'.  There are no crooked carrots, no weird looking capsicum, no 'odd' shaped onion...

So I wonder what happens to all those vegetables and fruits that do not fit the 'size' and 'shape'?  Naturally no farmer, however talented he or she is can cultivate the 'shape' of his produce.  Perhaps not even genetically modified vegetables grow in 'perfect' 'neat' sizes!

Perhaps the whole craze for the 'perfect' body shape too is a continuum of this obsession.  Therefore the demand for 'healthy diet', beauty cosmetics, surgeries to 'fix' body parts... 

Salesians in the world

Last week the map of the Salesian presences in the world was released.  AustraLasia 4293 conveyed this piece of information along with some historical data and the persons involved in preparing this.

As per the latest statistical data (Dec. 31, 2016), Salesians in the world number 14,777 in all (10103 priests, 1658 brothers, 2584 students, and 432 novices).  We are present in 132 countries of the world, in 88 provinces and have 1892 houses.

India has the largest number of Salesians, in comparison with other countries with 2692 Salesians and with most number of houses, 362.  Followed by Italy: 2072 SDBs.

While the number of Salesians is quite encouraging, the number of Salesians per house is not. Mathematically it is approximately 7. But that's not the true picture as most confreres are in the formation houses.  Regular communities most often have just three or even less - that's not the ideal!

The Seville Province in Spain has the highest number of Salesians: 575.  Turin province in Italy has the next highest with 466. I guess that's because of the unification of some provinces in Spain and Italy in the recent past.  In India, Madras Province (INM) has the highest number, 399. 

Peace

Soon after the attack on a Berlin shopping street by a man who ploughed through the public in a truck during the Christmas season, there was unprecedented security everywhere. If that dampened the shopping spree of people (didn't, according to me), is debated. However, one of those days there was a photo in the newspaper showing gun wielding policemen in front of a large crib at display in a market area.
 The title read: 'So much for peace and goodwill to all men...!' 

Dreams and logic

The other day at table someone was sharing his dream.  In his dream he saw the construction site of the new Students' Services and Library of the college.  Just beside it is the old Founder's wing of the college, the best historical building in the campus.  He then narrated that he saw the old building collapse as they were digging in between the two sites for an open area.  The excavation was too close to the old building he said.  I immediately interjected, 'but there is a road there'.  Someone then reminded me, "Dreams don't have to be logical."

True, dreams have no logic or rational sequence.  That's what makes them so different and at times strange.  While plans have to be rational and 'smart', dreams abound with the illogical and the nonsensical.  Yet it is dreams that we always prefer and cherish.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Respect

Know not if this distinction is sensible or unnecessary but speaking of respect, there can be of two kinds: appraisal and recognition.  While the former is something that I accord (or deny) to someone on the basis of their actions, virtues, words and so on.  In short, it is esteem. The latter is something that I accord to all persons irrespective of what they do or say or not.  It is recognizing their personhood and acknowledging that aspect.

While there can be a very limited number of persons in the 'appraisal' category but none can be exempted from the 'recognition' category.

Or is this basically a classification similar to love-like? That I'm called to love everyone but then I can like or dislike people for various reasons.  Anyway, makes some sense.  But there is something that tells me that all is not well with this distinction.  

Working under deadlines

The past one week was reading week/half-term.  Honestly had plenty of time at hand to read but I basically wanted to only complete my paper for the Political Philosophy.  The deadline for submitting was today morning 10 am - though it was pushed back 48 hours.  And I really worked on the paper only yesterday!

So simple lesson learnt: more work is done when there is no time!  Deadlines serve better than time when it comes to accomplishing tasks. I may have time but with no deadline, I'll never really complete it. But with deadline, I'll 'create' time to meet that deadline!

Of course, am conveniently sidelining, the will!

Be holy

Be holy!
The theme of the readings of Sunday (wk 7, year A).

I have been grappling Heidegger and his notion of the human person in his whole discourse on technology for the past one week.

Everytime I reach a point of pinning down his understanding, I feel myself inadequately prepared because Heidegger is speaking of a larger context of 'being' while I'm trying to figure out 'human being' within that - that too without grasping to any minimal degree the former.

At one moment I thought I got a glimpse of the meaning of what Heidegger meant by the following text.  A while later it was gone!
Only from the truth of Being can the essence of the holy be thought. Only from the essence of the holy is the essence of divinity be thought. Only in the light of the essence of divinity can it be thought or said what the word "God" is to signify.  ... How can man at the present stage of world history ask at all seriously and rigorously whether the god nears or withdraws, when he has above all neglected to think into the dimension in which alone that question can be asked? But this is the dimension of the holy, which indeed remains closed as a dimension if the open region of Being is not cleared and in its clearing is near man. (pp. 253-254)
[Heidegger, M. (1992) ‘Letter on humanism’, in Krell, D.F. (ed.) Martin Heidegger: Basic writings. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, pp. 213–266.]

Friday, 17 February 2017

Twist of fate

Interesting turn of events and facts...

Two years ago, when India's space agency ISRO put the Mangalyaan robotic probe into orbit around Mars -- and did so at one of the lowest budgets to date -- the New York Times published an opinion piece on the development with an arguably distasteful cartoon. The cartoon, which showed a farmer with a cow knocking at the door of a room marked Elite Space Club, drew immediate complaints from Indians as well as people from elsewhere. The NYT op-ed editor at the time had to issue an apology, clarifying that the message the cartoon tried to convey was how space exploration is "no longer the exclusive domain of rich, Western countries."

Two years later, ISRO has created yet another world record, this time sending 104 satellites with one rocket in one go. On the occasion, local newspaper Times of India has run a similar cartoon, this time with the Indian man and his cow inside the room, with people from foreign nations knocking the door with their rockets. Of the 104 rockets ISRO launched to the orbit, 101 of them were of other countries, including 96 from USA.
[Source: http://www.alifunny.com/g/BwAnk]

Sensitivity dented

While on our way to Battersea by the school minibus for the weekend retreat/pilgrimage, just as we rounded the last corner to reach the Salesian house, Fr John scraped the rear end of a stationary BMW.  After dropping us off at the house, I led the group in and Fr John walked back to the car.  He assessed the damage but could not locate the owner. He returned and then wrote out a note of apology with his name and number on the note.  I volunteered to go and leave the note on the car.  I too assessed the damage and honestly it was hardly a scratch.  Not even the paint had scraped off, leave alone anything being broken or dented.  If I were the owner, I would not even have noticed it right away.  Yet the note of apology was duly placed on the windscreen.  Fr John was visibly upset but this whole event.

Back in India where no one holds anyone accountable to anything at all, is the way it is.  So I'm not very sure if I'd do this if I were to scrape a stationary car back at home.  But I suppose that element of courtesy and honesty is inbuilt in the cultural system of the people here. 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

In the open region

Aristotle reports a story about Heraclitus, which Heidegger recounts in his 'Letter on Humanism'.
The story is told of something Heraclitus said to some strangers who wanted to come visit him. Having arrived, they saw him warming himself at a stove.  Surprised, they stood there in consternation - above all because he encouraged them, the astounded ones, and called for them to come in, with the words, "For here too the gods are present" (Heidegger, 1992, pp. 256).
Heidegger highlights a few aspects of this story saying how the strangers are shocked at the mundane and disappointing spectacle they witness at Heraclitus' place. Thinking him to be a thinker of repute they expect something noble and great of him. But here he is warming himself by the stove... something any one could be found doing.
... "even here," at the stove, in that ordinary place where every thing and every condition, each deed and thought is intimate and commonplace, that is familiar [geheuer], "even there" in the sphere of the familiar, einai theous, it is the case that "the gods come to presence." 
Heraclitus himself says, ... "The (familiar) abode of man is the open region for the presencing of god (the unfamiliar one)" (Heidegger, 1992, pp. 258).
[Heidegger, M. (1992) 'Letter on humanism', in Krell, D.F. (ed.) Martin Heidegger: Basic writings. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, pp. 213-266.]

Monday, 13 February 2017

Of electricity and buildings

While in London I witnessed from far, the Strata tower or the Razor.  It is a building completed in 2010 and the peculiarity of this 1,000 resident, 408 flats building is that it has 3 wind turbines on top of it.  They were supposed to produce 8% of the power consumption of the buildings usage.  However, am told that it has not been the case since long.  Moreover the noise and disturbance caused has raised a few eyebrows. (Read about some of the drawbacks of most famous buildings in London, here).


However, I liked the idea of a wind turbine atop the building.  Being one of the tallest buildings it would lack no wind at anytime.  But was surprised to hear that it could generate only 8%.  But given the amount of electricity consumption of UK, even that 8% would be much.  Here in practically every part of UK, be it offices or institutions or houses, some parts are lit all through the day and night.  And most often with that eerie yellow light.  The reason is that the climate is so unsteady that it could move from sunny to cloudy in no time.  Street lights come on by 4 pm in winter and stay on almost till 7 in the morning.  Offices and common places or educational institutions have their lights on, all round the clock.

One clever invention is the sensor.  Everytime there is a movement, the light comes on. So there is no need for someone to put on the switch, any movement switches the light on and after a while if no movement is sensed it goes off by itself.  That is some invention.  

Southwark Cathedral, London

We also visited the Southwark Cathedral. Quite a prayerful and silent place in comparison to the other places that I've visited.  I also happened to meet one of the priests of the place and he told me that they have prayers every hour - just to emphasize the fact that it is a basically a Church and not a museum where tourists can come and stroll around.  I thought that was a good idea.  We stayed back at this place and joined the Even Song, sung by a choir from Oxford.


I later learnt from Br John that the community of priests at this place are truly amazing in their inclusive approach to all Christians.  They have very cordial relations and are highly praised for keeping their Church and services truly universal.

The backdrop to the altar of the Church contained about one dozen or more figures.  It looked magnificent.  Then there was another small place of worship behind this backdrop with several altars.  It has some great connection with Shakespeare and his family too.

One of the peculiar things we found in this church was a cat!  It looks like it really stays in the Church all the while. I first discovered some small bowls with food in them at the back of the Church.  Later we found the cat sleeping along one of its walls and surprisingly found a note stuck to the radiator beside it, saying 'Don't disturb me, I'm just having a cat nap!' Looked like of all the places in the church the cat would sleep only in that busy spot!  Named as Doorkins Magnificat, it has its own story.  Must be one of the former Bishops or builders of the Church - reborn! 

St Paul's Cathedral, London

We wanted to visit St Paul's Cathedral, London but couldn't as we were early for the Even Song and we'd have to wait for more than an hour.  Moreover, I'm told we had to paid to enter!!  Anyway the structure looks grand and huge.  But the lighting system is the same as elsewhere - those pale yellow bulbs! I wonder what and why is this English obsession with the pale yellow bulbs!

Anyway, also on route we saw The Monument, the grand pillar erected in commemoration of the great fire which destroyed much of London.  It was designed by Christopher Wren, the same person who also designed St Paul's Cathedral.


Beside the Cathedral there stands St Paul with his cross on a high pole - all in bright gold.  It is believed to be the place where most of the sermons were delivered.  Everyone considered a great orator had to begin by preaching at the Cross of St Paul, outside the Cathedral.  Another practical reason was that within the Church it was inaudible.  

All Hallows by the Tower

While in London, we visited the Church near the Tower Hill, the latter being the place where two of the queens were executed and so were St Thomas More and Bp John Fisher.
The Tower Hill Castle and the London Bridge in the background (right side)
The All Hallows by the Tower is said to be the oldest Church in the city of London.  That also adds to the historical significance of the place.  It also contains the remains of Bp Fisher, the one executed for not signing the King's declaration of himself as the head of the Church, while all the other 36 Bishops signed.  It is said that he was beheaded and his body thrown into into the sewer - something appalling in those days, all the more because he was a highly respected man in the society and was the private tutor of the King himself.  It was the city officials who approached the King and pleaded that he be given a decent burial and that was when he was brought to this Church and laid to rest.
The painting depicting Bp Fisher right at the entrance. 
 The wall on which this painting is hung is of the old Church.  During the war, the two walls on either side and the tower is all that was left of this Church, The renovated Church was built within these walls.  The walls still bear the signs of destruction and age - but is as strong as ever.
The altar backdrop - a modernized version of the Last Supper


With the young

The past two days, Saturday and Sunday I accompanied Fr John and a group of my college students for a retreat/pilgrimage in London.  We drove down together to Battersea and spent the morning in prayer and sharing.  In the afternoon we visited two historical churches (both Anglican) and then joined for Even Song at one.  Returning home we had Mass of the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.  Long time was spent at the table sharing and talking. On Sunday we had b'fast and a meaningful Mass.  We then sat for a brief round of evaluation and then started back home.

More than a full-fledged retreat, it was more of an outing. But given the varied mixture of the group - 13 students from different nationalities and backgrounds - anything one emphasis would have been an extreme for the others.  Hence Fr John was right in trying to strike a balance - this being the first time he is trying this.

I like being with the group, most of whom I already knew through my earlier interactions with them.  Each one is very very different from the others.  Most often their outward talk and behaviour camouflages their inner depth.  In comparison with the youth of India, these youngsters are far more sociable and ready to interact with others and that too without much delay.  Moreover the content of their conversations is often rich and intense.  Of course, they do gossip about friends but it never has a negative tone or content.  

Friday, 10 February 2017

Paradox of cleanliness

The other day listening to the gospel about what causes a person to be defiled, I remembered Fr Paul Vadakkumpadan speaking of cleanliness.  He was speaking of it in the context of our travels, especially by train.  Very often vendors pass by selling boiled groundnuts.  Passengers buy these groundnuts and then chat away with co-passengers happily peeling the groundnuts and munching on the nuts.  But the peels are just dropped on the floor!  They are left there till someone comes sweeping the floor.  And usually it is the poor people, those with disability and children who come along with a small broom or piece of rag.  As soon as the passengers see them, they fold their legs upon the seat, so as not be touched by 'those' cleaners.

That's where Fr Paul says the paradox lies: Those who dirty the place are considered clean and those who clean the place as dirty.

The tale of two trees

It is interesting to note that in the book of Genesis, especially in the creation narrative, God mentions of two trees in the garden of Eden.  There is the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Both are in the middle of the garden. However, while informing Adam of his new residence, God forbids him from eating the fruit only of one tree: the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  He does not exclude the fruit of the tree of life from his menu.

Why would that be?  Is it because Adam already had life and therefore didn't need that?  But then that would mean that Adam didn't have knowledge.  Or is it that he did have some knowledge but not the one needed to distinguish good from evil?  But then it is exactly that 'ignorance' of distinguishing good from evil that did him in.  For if he knew that what the serpent was telling him was 'not good' then he would not have tried it.  In his innocence he listens to the serpent.  Even to say that he was ambitious - and therefore wanted to be equal to God - would not be right, because he did not have the knowledge of good and evil.  So why knowledge?

Most importantly why not the tree of life?  Or could there be a story about how a monkey tricked him into climbing the tree and gulping the fruit before Adam could eat it?  And Adam never got to eat of that tree before he was expelled from the garden?

Or that he did eat from the tree and nothing happened, because God did not forbid him from eating of that fruit?  But then why did God mention it, if it did not matter? God certainly did not speak of a tree of freedom in the middle of Eden - at least it is not mentioned in the Genesis.

Understanding the unintelligible

Most of us agree to the notion that there are things which are beyond conceptualization. There will always be things which we can never fix into words and meaning.  They will always elude intellectual grasp.

Theologians and believers would call that the realm of faith. Philosophers would mostly not agree to this fact and try all the same.  For the latter, this exercise is what keeps alive the inquisitiveness of human life. Thus in a way it is healthy, for the mind and for life.

In an effort to conceptualize the unintelligible, most often we think of what harm we would be doing to the reality itself.  By trying to fit it into our mental categories we somehow distort it, at times beyond recognition.  But today it struck me that there is something else that is harmed too: the tools by which we try to conceptualize the yet-to-be-conceptualized.  By tools I mainly mean language.  No wonder, the first thing that goes for a toss in philosophy and mystic talk is language.

And how does one grasp that which is beyond language?  Primarily without language one cannot think; even to name a sentiment we need language; even to express what is felt, one needs a medium/language...

Set me like a seal...

This morning's reading from the Song of Songs (on the occasion of the memorial of St Scholastica) opens with these words, 'Set me like a seal on your heart...'

I have very fond memories of these words, or rather of a hymn that has the same words.  It was in The Retreat at Yercaud that I first heard of this hymn and I liked it very much.  So when I began to practice playing the guitar, this is the first hymn that I learnt to play.  It was Ernest under whose guidance some of us played this hymn on the guitar for a prayer service.

The second one, related to the same hymn, brings back to my mind, Edi.  One afternoon we were in the Chapel (at Yercaud) and practising, just for the fun of it.  I was at the piano (I never knew/know how to play the piano) and he was at the drums.  I was playing this particular hymn - or better still, trying to play this hymn. He was accompanying me on the drums.  Somehow, I could not proceed beyond the chorus.  So I'd end up playing the chorus over and over again. After my third or fourth repetition, Edi called out, "Hey Casti, how long will you 'set your heart'? Move on man!"

Oh those lovely days of Yercaud!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Dynamics of a call

Fr Sebastian used to say that one never knows for what reasons a youngster joins the aspirantate and says that he wants to be a priest or a brother.  The reasons could be varied and at times even idiotic - that is to us, grown ups.  But for the boy it means everything. Fr Sebastian would then ask us to recall and see what exactly brought us to the aspirantate before we rubbish or trivialize the motivation of a youngster.

I still remember my brother's great craze for riding the 'red bike' of Fr Jacob, the Parish Priest.  The only problem was my brother was only 8 or 10!  So his eagerness to grow up was that he could ride the bike.  It was a red yezdi and for him it was nothing short of a wonder.  (Somehow I don't even remember having looked at it a second time!)  His fascination for the bike went on for quite sometime.  Then Fr Jacob met with a series of accidents within a short time while riding the bike.  It was during one of these days that we visited him in the hospital.  He was badly wound up.  My brother's sole plan for future evaporated even before we left the hospital premises!

I know of someone who openly admitted that he joined the aspirantate knowing well that he could eat better breakfast than the one he rarely got at home.  Another confessed that he joined because he liked his parish priests car and one day wanted to drive a similar one.  Then there is Fr Ajay, a newly ordained priest for the Province of Mumbai who spoke of his dream of one day seeing the actor Aamir Khan and Rani Mukherji who were in Lonavla (as per a song in the movie, Ghulam).  And when he heard that the Salesian aspirantate was in Lonavla, there was no doubt, where he wanted to be!! Read about him and the story about others who were ordained with him recently here.

Looking back we laugh at those reasons.  However, if we were asked when those reasons were replaced with others, we would not know.  What exactly were those latter reasons, not all of us could spell out.  But that some of us continued to stay on and professed as religious or priests is nothing short of an interesting tale.

True indeed, every call is mysterious and different.

Of spaces

One more significant difference between the West and the East, something that struck me as I sat at my window facing the street down below.

The houses here in the UK have all straight entry into the street.  The main door is hardly a few steps away from the pavement and the street.  One can almost literally jump from the main door onto the pavement.  Most often the space is at the back.  That's why the 'backyard'.  Whereas in India, most houses have their 'backyard' in front of the house.  The house would normally be constructed at the far end of the property, far from the street, with as much space dividing the street and the house.  In Kerala and sounding areas, the house would be located more or less in the centre of the property.

Of course, these days houses are all about the building rather than any vacant space. So no gardens, no lawns, no space for children to run about, except within the four walls of the house.

I wonder why is this difference in style of construction.
View of the house from infront... just off the street

... an English backyard

Learning from the past, remembering ourselves

That what we hate most in others is often what is most distasteful in us, is a fact of psychology.

This fact can offer some valuable lessons for us while engaging ourselves in the whole debate of immigration and migrants.  Very often those who strongly denounce and protest migrants entering one's own space, are themselves migrants. Those who actually are of the place, from time immemorial have a more considerate and welcoming attitude.  Read the following insightful post titled 'Taking a chance on each other' by Maria K. on her blog Simple Moodlings.

The Americans who today claim the land as their own were once upon a time themselves migrants from other parts of the world in search of a living. The actual natives, the Red Indians, hardly get to say anything.  The paradox is that when denouncing migrants and chasing out the immigrants, people conveniently forget that they too were once immigrants.  The same is true of/in Australia and Europe.

What most people forget is that given a choice, most people would like to get back to their own country, their own place.  Like someone recently stated, 'The journey of every immigrant is always the same: back home'.  No one wants to leave the warmth of his own home unless it becomes too unbearable, inhospitable.  Only when survival itself is threatened does a person uproot himself or herself.  Imagine showing such a person, the affluence of his neighbour... Naturally anyone would want to share in that 'luxury', but what he or she is actually craving for is dignified living.
History repeats itself, but our learning from history rarely does - even if it does, it is too slow! 

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Spilling optmism

Making the most of even the worst in life is the quality of an optimist.  Not everyone, and certainly not everytime one is capable of this attitude. Yet one is often inspired to undertake this optimistic risk.

I remember back in India, even scrap has value.  Before I proceed I need to define scrap... anything that can never ever be used in any way further by anyone at anytime... that's scrap, according to Indian standards.  But even such a material is bought and sold.  However, here in the UK, also one comes across scrap.  But the definition is entirely different: anything not functioning.  When something goes wrong, people here prefer to purchase a new one rather than repair or get it repaired.  Perhaps repairing it is more costlier than buying a new one or may be there are not interested people nowadays repairing stuff.  Either way, it is just dumped in the garbage bin and discarded for recycling.

Sometimes the thought crosses my mind: most of the street children whom I knew in Hyderabad would become very very rich if they were to come to UK! I know it is an idiotic and nasty thought, but just to make the point about the amount of things here that go as scrap...

Received this funny list of anagrams today from a friend of mine.  The last one was split and spilt. The text following read thus: Don't cry over split milk. Make paneer.  Don't cry over spilt milk either. Feed the cat! 

Stinging remarks - hilarious!

Every time I read a news bit online, I cannot but resist the temptation to read also the comments posted below.

There was one particular news bit today about a particular politician in India.  It mainly spoke about the reaction of one against another politician of the same party - someone with whom the former was quite friendly, at least till a couple of days ago!  Naturally the news item contained several harsh and insulting words against the accused.

Well, here's the best part.  The comments below the news article, in support of the one being accused:
She should be paraded on a donkey, subject to the donkey agreeing, on every street of _________.  Shameless creature.  
The following response to the comment above was better!
don't insult the donkey. we will protest.

Structured system

After one has taken an initiative and set off a new pattern of work or thought, it tends to get structured and institutionalized.  As years go by, these become more and more defined and set.  The West and UK in particular, have in a way, set up systems for practically everything.  There is a hardly any aspect of life, work, or anything else that is ad hoc or unstructured.  Everything is neatly ordered and packaged, down to vegetables and flowers!

In such a context working 'outside' the structure is something that does not happen. There is no such sphere that is not covered by the social administration. I'm not saying that everything is working. But to find work, that is beyond any structure is difficult.  Even to help people who are not within the structure or list of 'known identifiable' there is a system, a structure!  So in a sense, unless you tailor yourself to suit the needs of these existing structures, you can be a ball of wool, rolling around doing nothing.

In contrast, in a country like India, with much of life and living unstructured, the possibilities of making a living are plenty.  With no skill and expertise or any knowledge of the system, one can still find oneself 'working'.

Both these ways of living have their own advantages and disadvantages.  

A reading culture

One of the good things of UK that I've noticed over the past couple of months is the willingness and zeal to read.  In a way the sense of reading and gaining information is very much part of the culture.  Perhaps the presence of community libraries in most city centres has much do with this or at least reflects this.  I'm told that not all cities have these common libraries, but most do.  These libraries are places of social gathering and sharing of knowledge.  Of course, in today's internet era, these may seem a bit obsolete, but imagine their value and worth about 50 years ago.  For any person interested in reading and learning, these libraries provided an excellent opportunity to get information and knowledge.  In earlier days when school was all most could afford or in the absence of universities, these libraries became centres of learning.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Divergent thoughts

There are different perspectives one comes across when one starts interacting with people.  A classroom which facilitates discussion and debate is one fertile ground for hearing different and sometimes divergent views.  There are those who have similar views as oneself.  Then there are those who agree to most of what you hold but differ on some points.  There are those who agree with your point of view theoretically but practically believe that it cannot be so.  Then there are a few who have no view at all (God alone knows how... or perhaps give them the benefit of doubt and say that they do not wish to express their view).  Then there are those who hold a radically contradictory view to oneself.  In an environment of healthy discussion and exchange of ideas, this is very enriching.

However, what if the other does not want to see your viewpoint at all!  What if he or she thinks that what you hold as real and something you are very much convinced about, is utter nonsense and totally illogical?  

Of rituals

The Gospel of today speaks of the place of rites and rituals.  Fr Sean during his homily spoke of the Jewish Rabbi who had to be rushed to the hospital because the little water that he had he had been carefully using for his rites of purification (washing his fingers and wrists) rather than for drinking. And soon after that during the offertory he muttered something while washing his hands.  I didn't get what he said but I noticed that he was bit amused about something.  After Mass he said aloud, that he had just finished preaching about being fixated with rituals and there he was being particular about using the purificator for the chalice and the finger towel for wiping his hands!  We all had a good laugh.

It was nice of him to notice this in himself while speaking about the same in others.  Good lesson to look within or at oneself before laughing or pointing at others. 

It was good

The first reading of the day is about the creation narrative from the book of Genesis, where we read how God created the fish, the birds, all the animals, reptiles, cattle and finally the human beings.  After each phase of creation we find the author state that 'it was good'.

As I read this passage, it made me appreciate the goodness of nature.  The beauty, the grandeur, the intricacies and the magnanimity of creation. We breathe, eat, drink, move about and live every moment of our lives in the cradle of nature and hardly do we even bother to step back and see the whole picture.

It is refreshing to feel this goodness.  It is great to be part of this goodness.

Money and fluidity

This morning as I sat for meditation, my thoughts were all about money! I myself found it weird but after a while I let myself go along the flow.  It was not about sustenance or profit but analogies of money and finance that kept coming to my mind.

I felt money was fluidity, like liquid.  Only in this form it could lubricate the state machinery.  Everytime it stagnated, there was a sort of lurch in the machine.  Because everytime, instead of flowing if it was static, it began to solidify and hinder the smooth movement of the machine.  That I felt was corruption or hoarding of black money.  Then if there was a leak in the machine (not in the fluid container but in the machine itself) then that was someone siphoning off someone else's money. At times this leak was due to a sabotage which was then used as an excuse by politicians to get in the technician and prescribe repair which was not really necessary.  That's corrupt bureaucracy.

The last thought:  when there is a overhauling and the whole oil is changed and replaced - that's demonetization (of Modi).

For once I felt like a student of economics rather than philosophy!

Monday, 6 February 2017

Pre-requisites

Not sure how true or false this attribution to Shakespeare is but all the same, the message is worth a thought.
Before you speak listen.
Before you write, think.
Before you spend, earn.
Before you pray, forgive.
Before you hurt, feel.
Before you hate, love.
Before you quit, try.
Before you die, live. 
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