Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Time and eternity

Augustine sees ordinary time as dispersal, distensio, losing the unity, being cut off from our past and out of touch with our future. We get lost in our little parcel of time. But we have an irrepressible craving for eternity, and so we strive to go beyond this. Unfortunately, this all too often takes the form of our trying to invest our little parcel with eternal significance, and therefore divinising things, and therefore falling deeper into sin. 
[Taylor, C. (2007) A secular age p. 57]

An enchanted world

One of the reasons cited by Charles Taylor (A Secular Age, p. 25) for the transition in people's belief system, from being almost impossible not to believe in God in 1500 to easily not believing in God in the year 2000, is
People lived in an "enchanted" world. 
Rather than explain the term, he then clarifies the meaning of the opposite of it, 'disenchantment'.  And he says, the modern era lives in a disenchanted mode.  Hence in comparison to this, he uses the term 'enchanted' to describe the bygone era.

Taylor is right in this diagnosis.  Today we are far less struck by wonder and amazement than the olden days.  Honestly speaking it is not because we know more or better but we think we know better.  It is not knowledge that throttles a sense of wonder but the pride or false self-esteem of 'owning' knowledge that stifles wonder. 

Just yesterday night did I learn that in Europe the use of wooden or porcelain plates for meals is a little more than a century old.  Prior to that people used bread as the base. And rich households would then throw this 'plate' to the poor or slaves! 

The more one learns, the more one realises how little one knows! 

Parental love

The readings of the day speak of parental love.  While in the first one there is Absalom being killed and David, his father, mourning his death, in the Gospel we hear the anguish of Jairus as he pleads with Jesus to heal his daughter.  It is interesting to note that while one begins with life and ends in death (of Absalom) the other begins with grave illness, then death and ends in life (regarding Jairus' daughter). 

David is actually in hiding, afraid of his son Absalom.  However instead of rejoicing at his death, he mourns.  The first question David asks the messenger when he utters that his enemies have been vanquished, is the well being of young Absalom.  And when he comes to know that he is no more, David weeps and mourns.  "If only I had died instead of you...."  In the case of Jairus, he is a synagogue official, a Jew of high standing. Yet for love of his daughter he does not hesitate to approach Jesus a 'rebel', a mendicant, a wanderer. 

These readings remind me of the ancient fable narrated about the young man who, out of greed agrees to kill his own mother.  While he is riding back with the head of his mother, whom he beheaded, he stumbles and as he falls, the 'mother' asks him with great concern if he is fine and has not hurt himself.  Rather than curse or be happy, she even in death, murdered by her own son, still is concerned for his well-being. 

Those of us blessed and nurtured in such a strong parental love, understanding God as the Father comes easy.  For those not so fortunate, these episodes offer a glimpse of what love of parents most often is.  

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Don Bosco without the young

Attending the (anticipated) feastday Mass of Don Bosco in the Salesian parish today was very ironical for me.  There was already the announcement in the Parish last week of this day being the feastday Mass.  However, there were only the cooperators present for the occasion.  In all we were about 30 people.  But looking around I noticed that I was one of the youngest of those present in the church!  The only two who were younger than me were small children (less than 8 years old).  In a sense it was a very weird feeling that I could not shake off - celebrating the feast of the father of youngsters without any youngster! 

What I consoled myself with - or tried to - is the fact that this is true of every Sunday.  If there are no young people on any given day, expecting them to appear on the feast of Don Bosco is most illogical.  At one moment I was asking myself if Don Bosco were to have appeared on the scene today, rather than in 1815, if he would do the work he then initiated.  Perhaps not!  He certainly wouldn't feel the need for a religious congregation, perhaps an NGO. 

Building on the existing good

The Parish celebrated the feast of Don Bosco today. During the Mass the parish priest spoke of the life of Don Bosco. When he spoke of Don Bosco first meeting with Barthalomeo Garelli, it struck me that Don Bosco started with what was good in the boys.  The only thing Garelli could do was whistle - Don Bosco is happy with that for the first meeting!  He slowly builds on that rather than straight away infuse in them some of those virtues or qualities that he thinks they ought to have.  The starting point is not the intention of the educator or the formator but the existing good or virtue in the beneficiary.

Seeing this from my perspective as a formator, I was wondering how justified am I in demanding a level of intellectual calibre in the formees.  Whatever and however great and noble my intentions and motivations, if I do not start from what the students are already good at, then I will be riding against the tide all the time.  The student will see himself facing an insurmountable task without seeing the qualities he already has as an investment.  Now that's a challenge for the formator, especially if the number is large and the pupil of diverse backgrounds.  To understand each individual, find out his or her strength and then help them use them as a launching pad, is indeed a tall order.  But if I have a personal rapport with each of them, then helping them in their intellectual struggle will be easy.  On the other hand, judging them on the basis of their intellectual standard alone will be my short coming as a formator.  

Friday, 26 January 2018

The Cartoon Museum

I visited the Cartoon museum today in London.  Just near the British museum it is a small structure, just two floors.  But an interesting place to know the history and development of British cartoon drawings. It does not boast of the comic history as such but its beginning and evolution on the British soil. The fees is very minimal (being a student I was charged only GBP 3). Then there is a cartoon shop from where one can purchase cards, posters, drawing materials/things and books related to comics and cartoons. 

I was keen to find something about my favourite Dennis the menace.  Learnt two interesting facts today.  That the comic strip Dennis the Menace has a British and an American version.  Both of which originated in the same week in the year 1951.  The museum claims that the illustrated comic strip appeared first Britain in 'The Beano' and a week later in the US.  Well, I realised my favourite single frame comic is perhaps a later American edition. 

The second fact I learnt was that John Leech (1817 - 1864) was the one who first used the word 'cartoon' in the year 1843.  Till then, cartoons were normally referred to as comics or caricatures (Italian origin).  The word 'cartoon' was coined by John Leech as a title of one of his drawings. 

For legal purposes, photography of individual drawings is not permitted.  Otherwise I'd have clicked some amusing ones.  Certainly a place worth visiting! 

Senate house and resources

Today for the first time I visited the Senate house and the library therein, at London.  Part of it is the extension of Royal Holloway and houses the library of the University of London.  I did not explore the whole library because I knew that I'd be going there again. Philosophy section is on the 6th floor, up the spire!  However, I did get a membership (through my student ID at Royal Holloway).  There was also a lecture that I'd signed up for at the Senate house today.

The lecture was about 'approaching the thesis' which covered some of the general guidelines with regard to PhD and writing the thesis.  I've now realised that most of the common aspects spoken of with regard to methodology, ethics, research skills and analysis are most useful to everyone except those doing in the field of philosophy and perhaps mathematics!!  With nothing more than concepts to wrestle with, those of us doing a PhD in philosophy have merely books and articles to tackle.  Unless doing some interdisciplinary topic or theme, we have no interviews, surveys, field work, tabulation, protecting data and sources...

However, the lecture which was very informal and eliciting a discussion from the dozen of us who signed up for it, was quite useful.  I learnt of some resources which could be used for note-taking and planning and referencing... Aired my experiment of using a blog for note-taking, which the lecturer found very interesting and novel!  Heard some of the 'seniors' and the lecturer speak highly of 'zotero' - need to experiment with that.  Remembered the need to have a back up system in place, just in case my laptop conks off!  Am thinking of trying out Greenstone for that (heard of it years ago from Fr Julian Fox and the whole SDL section of the international online resource of the Salesians is based on it).  All in all, a very useful day. 

Then of course, the rest of the afternoon, roamed around London city! 

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Freedom of the press

One of the aspect of the British press and in a way of the political system, I admire is the openness and freedom the press enjoys in discussing political issues.  None of its leaders, save the Queen and the Royals to some extent, are spared!  The worst attack I've come across is on the Prime Minister, Theresa May herself!  Some of the cartoons printed (and sold) are appalling.  Take for example, the following cartoon and the following article in today's The Times:

I guess that is what keeps the politicians on their toes most often.  With the press enjoying such freedom, there is little room for politicians or any public figure to make mistakes.  If discovered, they'd be skinned alive - on paper! 

To think of such a freedom in the Indian press is certainly a distant dream.  Can you imagine a similar cartoon and any article with such a brazen title appearing in any of the Indian dailies?  Even if one it did see the light of the day, one can only imagine the paper henceforth, for neither the paper, nor the author would ever be heard from/of!  Yet in democracy freedom of the press is considered most vital! 

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Belief-reason rift

My basic theory that the ancient Greek philosophers did not really have a direct role in seeing belief and reason as different, least of all, as opposites, has been verified.
Philosophers from the earliest times in Greece tried to distill metaphysical issues out of these mythological claims. Once these principles were located and excised, these philosophers purified them from the esoteric speculation and superstition of their religious origins. They also decried the proclivities to gnosticism and elitism found in the religious culture whence the religious myths developed. None of these philosophers, however, was particularly interested in the issue of willed assent to or faith in these religious beliefs as such (From the IEP; emphasis added). 
The second assumption is that the elevation of one against the other happened much before the Enlightenment. Much before Descartes arrives on the scene, belief and reason are arch-rivals.  The earliest I can think of, to whom I can 'credit' the juxtaposing of one as the rival of the other, is St Paul.  But is he?  Who else? and most importantly why?

Being grateful

Today I received a short video in which I heard a Hindu sadhu speak of a book titled Five Questions for Champions by Ron Kurtus.  The author states that before going to bed one should ask oneself the following five questions:
  1. What am I grateful for?
  2. Where did I do a good job?
  3. Where did I help somebody? 
  4. What did I learn today? 
  5. How did I take care of myself? 
Indeed a good recipe for a healthy and peaceful life.  Even just the first question itself (being grateful) is sufficient to help one see the positive side of life and become an optimist.  

Monday, 22 January 2018

Dying of boredom

Know not for what reason but a particular story we studied while at school keeps cropping up in my mind. Don't remember the exact title or the details.  It is a very amusing tale of a youngster who is given to laziness or thinks he is about to die or that he is already dead (I think it is the latter).  No amount of persuasion or medical checks to prove him wrong helped.  Ultimately a plan was devised.  One particular part of the house was isolated and redesigned.  It was painted white and beautifully decorated, all in white.  The youngster wakes up to find himself in this particular place all by himself.  Two persons dressed as angels appear to him and tell him that he is in heaven.  The youngster is quite happy.  However, as days go by he realizes there is nothing to do!  He can't go to visit anyone because the others live in similarly beautiful mansions quite a distance away.  As to when next he could see his family, he is told that it could take many years for them to die and reach the heavenly mansion.  A few days later he is desperate out of boredom!  He longs for some work, something to do.  When those observing him feel he has learnt his lesson, the drama is revealed. 

Lesson:  Imaginary demons are far more lethal than any actually existing ones! 
Greater lesson: Boredom is a greater curse than over-work!

Openness

Another aspect of my 'conviction bank' being brought into the docks in recent times is the notion of openness.  While I understand that having an open attitude in life is more beneficial than a closed or rigid attitude.  However, is it really possible to be open-minded all through?  I used to chuckle at the quote I came across many years ago
Don't be so open-minded that your brains fall out!  
But the point is that at sometime or the other we form a view and then stick to it. One cannot always be open to all and every different opinion or view on any matter.  Once we have taken a stand, we then can be open minded by letting it stand the test of ... whatever.  If it stands, good. If not, adopt a new stand?  If so, we'd go on changing views and convictions to no end.  So we have something fixed and other aspects flexible?  On the spectrum of fundamentalism at one end, and openness at the other, where does the middle lie? 
Or perhaps, I'm confused! 

Reason-belief rift

Only today did I commence my reading directly pertaining to my doctoral research.  Among the very many things I need to initially sort out, is this question of reason and belief. I've always considered that philosophy, at least of the modern and contemporary era, distanced itself from faith or belief.  Perhaps in the same way or as a revolt against the medieval era wherein philosophy was faith-based.  So does this mean that the ancient Greek philosophy did not have this divide of reason and belief?  Was it something that did not differentiate the two, if not juxtapose one as the antidote or opposite of the other? 

I'm now aware (though not clear how and why) that Charles Taylor in a way redefined reason in his earlier writings.  His emphasis on Plato and Augustine throws open understandings of which I've not really come across. For me those two were always a sort of 'villains' and predecessors of the Cartesian dichotomy.  In comparison to Aristotle and Aquinas, they not only maintained the divide but advocated one as better and against the other: soul better than the body, faith greater than reason... At least that's the pattern of thought I came across so far.  Perhaps our 'religious philosophy' (philosophy taught and promulgated in our formation settings) is responsible for this outlook. However over the past year, listening to the various philosophies and professors, now makes me question this.  The reading and understanding of Plato and Augustine is very different in the college circles. 

So am wondering if Plato and Augustine had much more to contribute to the discussion between reason and belief, than I preferred to read or hear about?  Charles Taylor in one of his interviews challenges, the conviction that faith does not question.  He states that we have presupposed that faith does not raise questions.  That believing means not questioning.  While I grant him that, his arguments points to something much more than mere doubts and initial curiosity.  Fides et Ratio, the encyclical of John Paul II states
Faith unmoored from reason wanders into fideism and superstition.  Reason emptied of faith, collapses into skepticism and relativism. 
But this only goes to prove that reason and belief are complementary.  But when actually did belief and reason part?  At which point did belief and reason begin to be different, leave alone opposed to each other?  

Sunday, 21 January 2018

On repentance

The story of Jonah and Nineveh is always gripping. What disturbed me today was the response or differing response of Jonah and the people of Nineveh.  Jonah is a Jew and his addressed by Yahweh himself. As a Jew he knows all too well the greatness of Yahweh and his commandments.  Knowing all of this he still makes his choice - not to comply.  So he tries to escape, is 'cornered' and then finally relents. 

On the other hand, are the people of Nineveh.  They were not Jews.  They did not know Yahweh, even if they did, it would not be as well as Jonah or the Jews. Yet when a Jew, a prophet not of their god, neither of their country, comes and calls for repentance, they immediately repent. No one, not even the king, questions Jonah's authority or identity.  They resolve to change. 

During the sermon as I reflected on this dichotomy, it occurred to me that there is more to this story than mere repentance at God's command.  Repentance is our responsibility.  God cannot make us repent!  He only brings our attention to it.  So in the case of the Ninevites, they were well aware of their wrongdoings.  They only needs a gentle word-in-the-ear.  It wouldn't have mattered if that reminder came from God or from the devil himself.  They would have repented.  Jonah on the other hand is acting stubborn.  He certainly has the right to.  He could still have been stubborn after the whale vomits him on the shore.  Perhaps he could have been stubborn all his life, denying Yahweh's command to go to Nineveh.  I don't think God would have held it against him.  However, it is interesting that when Jonah agrees to go to Nineveh, he brings about a change in the lifestyle of a whole country!  That's quite a reward for a small act of obedience.  

Friday, 19 January 2018

Of twins

In the British Salesian Province (GBR) there is a set of twins who are both Salesian priests: Francis and Hugh Preston.  Salesians from the Province know them well and can identify one from the other.  Others who know one or the other or those who have not seen them for long, are most likely to mistake one for the other.  It is said that when they were in the aspirantate, the school PET was once heard saying, "That Preston chap is of no use, but he does get around the field fast."  What he did not know was that there were two of them! 

Fr Tony Sultana, who is presently at Farnborough, is also said to have an identical twin brother.  However he is not a Salesian.  So Fr Tony is sometimes heard telling his parishioners, "If you ever see me coming out of a car with a woman, it is my twin brother!" 

Elliptical work structure

The past few days I have been visiting and interacting with different departments and sections of the university with regard to the admission, application of my visa, registration, submission of documents, application for the railcard and so on...

Looking at the number of people involved in the university, it feels like there are more staff than students (exaggerating it though). For each and every task there is a person, then a supervisor, then a head, then a coordinator, then a team and what not. However this structure is not really vertically hierarchical, rather elliptical and crisscrossing.  Compared to how we work in India, even in our Salesian circles, one-man army or at the most one-boss and just a couple of others who do everything else, this working style is just so complex. Besides everyone is very polite, willing to help or direct you to the proper person/place and efficient. No task is seen as high or low. Everyone is respected equally and no one is looked down upon. Coming from a very hierarchical structure and dominance, that's truly amazing to notice and appreciate.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Poetry

Here are some insights from the talk by Rev. Mark Oakley who spoke of poetry as the true language of religion.
  • Poetry is more about meaning than words. 
  • Poetry is not a better way of saying truth but truth is found in poetry. 
  • It is a language that hovers, rather than being logical or grounded. It is not something that can be beaten down to extract the precise meaning.  Just like story telling which commences with "Once upon a time..." poetry arrives at meaning without summarizing.  The contrast to poetry is not exactly prose but 'here is the news' attitude.  People now-a-days prefer to have 'news ears' where things are all very definite and clear, rather than live with ambiguity and openness, characteristics of poetry. 
  • Poetry is what arrives at your intellect by way of the heart. 
  • Metrophobia: fear of poetry

One of the last things he mentioned was the quote that captured his attention during one of the protests in the US: 
He stated that this is popularly considered a Mexican proverb but was originally by a gay Greek poet who wrote it as a sign of his rebellion against his companions who excluded him from the literary community for his sexual orientation.  

Hilarious invitations

The other day while listening to a lecture on Poetry being the true language of religion, the priest recalled seeing a particular church poster, put out as a means of enticing people into the church.  He said it read, "Tired of sin? Then come in!"  He then went on to say that below that poster someone had scribbled, "If not, call 4979****." 

Looking for that funny poster online, I came across a few other equally hilarious ones!


I do believe that the Church needs to make the most of advertising or advertising techniques, but these displays are hilarious!  Know not if any of these actually led anyone into a church, but it certainly would have led many closer to the Kingdom through a good laugh!

Identity and conflict

Why and when do we enter into conflict with another?  In a broader sense, why war? Among the many reasons, one prominent one is the narrowing of identity.  When we human beings reduce or narrow down our identity to something specific and identify our whole selves to just that aspect, and if that aspect is questioned or perceived as under threat, then we are bound to enter into violence or conflict.  The problem is not with trying to get a clear and specific aspect of our identity.  The narrowing down of our identity to something definite or small is not the real issue.  It is the exclusion or failure to recognise and acknowledge the possibility of other aspects that make up our complex identity that really is the problem.  As human beings we carve our identity at various levels, in different ways and through diverse situations.  We belong to a family, have a certain social or economic standing, have a set of beliefs, affiliate ourselves to different groups (age, interests, work...), hold some convictions.... To convince ourselves that among all of these one of it or some of it exclusively creates our identity is the pitfall.  While one of these or some of these could influence us more than others, there is no exclusivity.  Identity formed through association is far more healthy and helpful than when done through isolation!

Davison building at Royal Holloway

Have been back at the university since January 8, that's when I officially commenced my doctoral research studies at Royal Holloway. The new thing at the university is the completed and operational Davison building, which houses the library of the university and a couple of other offices.  The place is a real sight to behold.  The outer structure looks a bit odd but the interior is so well designed and looks grand.  There is also a special section in the library for students like me engaged in postgraduate research (of course, no fun, there! I prefer to sit with the common regular folks! But in the silent section, not the cafeteria-library). 

With the anxiety about what next and 'whether next' behind me, am all set to plunge headlong into my studies. That singular clarity and evaporation of any doubts has been a great boon and source of motivation.  

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Wittgenstein and silence

Extracts from Paul Engelman, Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein with a memoir, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1967, p. 97

For Wittgenstein
... what goes beyond the clearly empirical cannot be spoken of (whereof one cannot speak thereof one much remain silent), but this does not mean that what is unsayable is insignificant, or worthless. 
For the positivists what we can speak of is all that matters in life.  Whereas for Wittgenstein all that really matters in life, is precisely what we must be silent about.  
When he nevertheless takes immense pains to delimit the unimportant, it is not the coastline of that island which he is bent on surveying with multicolour accuracy, but the boundary of the ocean.  

On p. 121...
Wittgenstein account lays great stress, not on the features of the world itself, but on how it is viewed. 
He really does seem to hold the view that there is something outside language and outside the facts of the world which is of fundamental spiritual significance.
However propositions can only handle the humdrum states of affairs.  They cannot express 'what is higher'.  Words will only hold facts, just as Wittgenstein says, 'a teacup will only hold a teacup full of water even if I were to pour out a gallon over it'.  Expressing anything higher will only end up talking nonsense, but it is important nonsense (p. 121). 

God's failure

God always does the right thing. His choice is never wrong.  Therefore he always succeeds.  Wrong!  Just because He does the right thing and his choice is for the good, does not mean that God always succeeds.  He does fail.  

The choice of Saul is a perfect example.  Yahweh chooses him from among all the Israelites to be the first king of the Jews.  Yet he does not complete his life-long tenure.  Within a dozen years (biblically and historically there is no definitive proof of the exact period of his reign) he is ousted by David, again chosen by Yahweh himself.  Saul a chosen protege of God does not live up to His standards and is therefore replaced by David.  One might state that it is Saul who failed, not God.  But couldn't have God chosen a better person, someone who would not fail so quick?  After all, when God did choose Saul, he was the best in the whole of Israel.  But was he? 

We often think that God chooses the best.  Therefore they are not bound to fail or fall.  The truth is far from it.  He actually chooses the most unlikely of all people.  His choice is based not on who they will be, but who they are at that moment.  And most certainly, his measurement of 'best' is way  different our human standards.  Moses was not a real prince.  Daniel a commoner.  Saul was an obedient son.  David was a simple shepherd.  John the baptist, a mendicant.  Mary, a nobody.  His choice and assignment of responsibilities empowers them with greater possibilities of actualising their potential.  God lets them be.  He does not circumvent situations and manipulate events to prove his choice right and best all the time.  He lets the one chosen chalk out his or her way, merely assuring them His abiding presence:  "The Lord is with him/you!"

Vulnerability and community building

People often say that trust is the bonding factor in a relationship.  In religious life too trust plays a very important role in building communities and lasting bonds.  However,  I also believe that prior to trust it is vulnerability that plays a crucial role.  Not just being vulnerable but recognising and having the courage to acknowledge that vulnerability to those whom I live with.  That indeed is risky and dangerous.  But there are no short cuts to forming real relationships.

Very often we as religious are reluctant to share our vulnerabilities.  No one feels great or is pleased to share one's own weaknesses.  All our achievements and strengths are broadcast but the weaknesses and failures we keep them private.  That is natural.  But in order to gain someone's trust the best way is to share with the person something personal, so that the person feels that the other is not just mouthing good things but sharing something of his or her own self.  What often keeps us from sharing our weaknesses from one another is the fear that the other may use them against me or make them public.  Genuine fears but mostly prejudiced. 

I've seen myself the strength of confreres working together once they have bonded well.  Individually they may not be exceptionally talented or gifted but once they learn to trust each other, we complement one another and the tasks at hand become adventures.  Communities that are willing to sit and share, talk, exchange not just plans and ideas but feelings, emotions and requests for help, have a greater degree of strength and effectiveness in apostolate.  The element of witness is truly inspirational. 

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Darkest hour

Last night some of us from the community watched the movie Darkest hour.  It is a fine make by Joe Wright about Winston Churchill.  It is a one-man performance and a remarkable one at that too.  It is more a character sketch than a historical drama involving several characters and many twists and turns.  Seen as such, very many historical inaccuracies (such as Britain being the only one who stands up against Hitler, other countries falling like a pack of cards without any real resistance, the whole British population against surrender while only the politicians, at least those in the ruling party, seeking negotiations...) can be overlooked. 

The performance by Gary Oldman as Churchill is great.  Honestly a wonderful and remarkable transformation from Commissioner Gordon (of The Dark Knight series) to Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  You simply cannot recognise that it is the same person. 

One of the most interesting dialogues that I personally liked is stated towards the end of the movie.  When the whole parliament supports Churchill's decision to stand up against Nazi invasion rather than negotiate peace with them, there are some who are very skeptical.  One of them amazed at the response Churchill's emotional speech evokes, asks the other, "What just happened?" to which Lord Halifax replies, "He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle!"

Google chrome not launching

This afternoon spent a good bit of time trying to resuscitate my google chrome browser.  For long there was this instruction flashing on the top stating that my browser needs updating.  So I downloaded the file and ran it using GDebi Package installer (I have a linux OS).  But after that the browser would not launch.  Click on the icon but nothing happens.  I carried out all popular and recommended measures cited (uninstall, reinstall, upgrade, restart computer...).  Even tried uninstalling and reinstalling through Terminal.  Nothing happened... till I did this (in terminal):
sudo apt-get install --reinstall libnss3

Found here
And lo and behold, chrome was up and about!  Writing this, not because I'm a computer technical geek but just as a reminder for myself and for anyone else whom it may help! Thanks to Kartik Agarwal who offered this solution. 

Jugaad - the art of getting along

In earlier days, much before the internet casts its web over the population, everyone did everything.  Only when one could not really manage the task at hand, did one approach an 'expert'. Slowly expertise itself became highly focused and technology made things impossible for one to do all things (or the vice-versa).  I remember days when I was a kid, that Dad used to repair the tape-recorder, the cycle, electrical goods and what not, at home.  We never called in painters to paint the home - Mum did it all!  We never ever employed a housemaid.  All the daily work of the house was done by us (mostly Mum!).  Of course, even the products of those days were sturdy.  Dad's wrist watch saw the small glass-encased cubicle of a technician only once or twice its lifetime of 50 years!

However, now-a-days even the minutest task requires a technician.  The task is so complicated. With the availability of information on the internet it should have been the other way round.  DIY should have become more a possibility than an impossibility.  Products are such that it is easier to buy a new one than repair the existing one.  Then there is always the argument about time - or lack of it.  The concept of jugaad - hindi word, meaning 'making it work and getting along' - is actually now used to denote incompetence or utter misery!  The word originally and actually means low-cost creative engineering to solve a problem.

Call it progress or advancement, I still prefer the days of old when one could dismantle a water pump, do the needful repairs and then reassemble it all by oneself.  Or replace every bit of the archaic air cooler - fan blades, belt, switch, cable, motor winding, hose pipe - even if it meant running to the market more than twice to replace required parts of the exact measurement.  And if it still did not work with its exact parts, tweak things around to get it to work - the additional noise it made or the occasional leak was not a big issue!  

Benefits of stealing

Ever thought that instead of getting punished you might end up getting paid, that too for hurting yourself in the process?  Well, in Europe such possibilities are very high.  Read this short news article from The Times of today.
People forget what a taxing, stressful occupation burglary is.  Take the chap in Cavan, Ireland, who tried to rob a shop during the small hours. Pitch black. And then the cops turn up. Frantic to make his escape, the burglar cut his scrotum on the sharp edge of a shelf. Quite rightly, the burglar is now suing the shop owner for genital trauma. The owner, called Kevin, has been told by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board that it will cost him £600 to contest the case. Hopefully he will be forced to sand down those edges and fit them with rubber or plastic moulding so the next time a burglar robs his store he can do so without sacrificing a testicle.  

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Every change is 'bad'

Speaking of change and progress, there is always the risk of stepping out of set standards and going beyond accepted norms.  All discoveries and inventions have a streak of 'mistake'.  If Columbus had taken the known route, he'd never have discovered new land.  If the astronomers never dared beyond the visible limits of the sky, they'd never have landed on the moon or explored the outer galaxies. If Jesus were to have been 'faithful' to the Jewish laws as taught in his times, there'd be no Christianity  today.  If Mother Teresa were 'obedient' to the RNDM regulations and practices, there'd never be the Missionaries of Charity today.  While every change may not necessarily be an improvement, every improvement is initially looked with suspicion and normally considered 'not good'.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Silence

Experiencing silence is akin to floating in outer space.  The legs which are so accustomed to supporting the body to be upright have nothing to stand on.  In normal circumstances, the hands 'kick in'.  When the feet are not able to find a hold, we start seeking support using our hands.  However there is nothing to hold on to.  It is something that makes us feel odd.  It is not something we are ready for or honestly long for - perhaps a rare brief moment is all that we ask for.

A moment of silence can be more educative than a large book or a lengthy discourse.  In silence, to learn is not to stabilise or gain control but to surrender.  It is a very humbling and enriching terrain and experience, but very few willing to learn first hand, leave alone explore.

Trump and the absent other self

Ever since the name Donald Trump started doing the rounds in the elections leading up for the presidency of the United States of America, not a day has gone by with people feeling bad, uncomfortable - if not shocked and 'disgraced'.  Every time he says something, official or unofficial, which is mostly through twitter, the media all over the world goes abuzz with speculation and analysis.

Perhaps the main reason for this sort of distaste for Trump rises from our personal preference of a 'public mask' - a sort of refined self that we put on and expect others to do likewise, when in public and especially if holding some demanding and challenging responsibility.  We feel we need to dress in a particular way, speak in a polite and refined manner, behave courteously, not let anything that upsets others surface even if it means putting on a smile when under our breath we use the most degrading profanity.  Well, Donald Trump does not have such a self!  He is blatantly his one self, even in public.  What he feels he says, he does not polish his language to 'suit' the world taste.  What he is thinks is important is carried out, irrespective of whether other world leaders agree with him or not.  More than his words and actions, it is his care a two hoots about accepted and established norms of the president of the USA that irks most people.  The former is only a bonus!

Obedience and rebellion

A couple of days ago in the Gospel reading there was this exclamation made by some who witnessed Jesus calming the sea and the wind, "... who is this?  Even the wind and the seas obey him!"

When I came across this particular statement I was wondering what could the person mean by 'even' the wind and seas?  For all practical purposes there was hardly anyone who 'obeyed' Jesus.  Perhaps the twelve whom he called to be his apostles.  But not sure if there were others whom he called and turned down his invitation.  Just because it is not recorded does not mean that there weren't any.  But for the rest there was hardly anyone who really followed his orders.  The religious and political authorities of his times were in no mood of taking instructions from a carpenter.  All the crowds that came to listen to Jesus heard him speak but follow his directives?  Doubtful.  The one cured of his leprosy, in the reading of yesterday was ordered strictly not to tell anyone of his cure and what did he do? He went about shouting!

In the recently released booklet on the life of Sean Devereux, the opening chapter is the testimony of his mother Maureen Devereux.  In the first para itself she writes
...ever since he was put into my arms, his mind was made up.  If I wanted him to go right, he went left.
There is something in human nature that makes following commands and orders distasteful.  The rebellious streak in the human DNA is something that makes obedience a real challenge.  No wonder it is one of the three vows of religious life - on par with poverty and chastity.  But it is also true that all inventions and discoveries were actually the result of breaking set norms and regulations.  No new knowledge or discovery is possible if everyone faithfully follows trodden path.  Among the religious it is those who refuse to be bound by rules and regulations and authorities that go on to make history.  However there is a fine line between being rebellious and being disobedient. Only those who have trod that fine line go on to positively impact the world; the rest, leave no good behind. 

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Children and Discernment

"... in those days, the Lord did not speak often..."  Those are the words in the opening para of today's first reading from the book of Samuel.  Really?  The Lord did not speak?  Perhaps a better way of putting it or understanding it would be to say, 'People were not used to listening' or 'It was not common to hear people say that the Lord spoke to them'.

What makes this episode of the call of Samuel is that the Lord is 'speaking' to a child!  How often would an adult tell a child to be open to listen to God speaking? Worse still, acknowledge the testimony of a child stating that the Lord has appeared or addressed him or her.  We expect and teach the children to listen to us, and no one else.  We ourselves are not atuned or open to anything beyond what we want to listen.

Another related aspect that struck me today is that the whole notion of discernment, which is now the vogue term in Salesian circles (and rightly should be so), is not something that we grow up with.  It is only after we become 'adults' that this process of discernment is introduced into our life and living.  Some may say that children are intellectually incapable of discerning, especially matters beyond the physical.  But if they don't get a taste of what it means to discern and are thereby assisted meaningfully (as in the case of Samuel, by Eli), how will they ever acquire the habit of discernment, especially spiritual discernment?  Perhaps it is we adults who are not really willing to undergo the process of discernment and in turn, prevent children and not trust them enough.  

Luxury of plenty

Some confreres still get surprised when they see me eat breakfast (for quite sometime now it is only brunch!)... just anything that is there in the fridge.  I mostly eat what is most likely to go in the bin the first!  No one in the community really eats anything that's left over of the previous meals.  Meals containing fish is a perfect 'no-repeat'!  However, with me, there is no expiry date for any food!  This morning someone asked me, "How can you take that for breakfast?"  I replied, "Why not? It is food.  For those who have the luxury of plenty and choice, there is 'breakfast', 'lunch' and 'dinner'.  For the many who hardly have enough to eat, it is just food!"

Coming from a culture where I food is valued with great respect and having grown up in a habit of not wasting any food, I now cannot stomach food being thrown.  There is also the respect for the farmer who slogs for months or years to grow the produce, be that a vegetable or an animal.  Then there is the animal or the fish that is slain purely for consumption.  If that sole purpose is so easily and fanatically discarded, then life itself is treated so. Here in the UK, sometimes 'health and safety' does cross the threshold of paranoia.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Self-taught faith journey

The feast of the three kings, that Epiphany celebrated, post-Christmas has a very different touch to it than the rest of the Biblical history preceding it.  In a way it is a foretaste of the Acts of the Apostles, wherein the message of Christ is not restricted to the Jews or the land of Judah but begins to spread across the whole world.  (Or is it?  There have always been non-Jewish 'interpolations' in the Biblical history, right since the origin of the Jewish race. The story of Ruth, for example.)

Of the many things interesting in the narrative of the three kings the one that caught my attention yesterday was the part where the kings come to know of the birth of the messiah from their knowledge of astronomy.  There is no mention of an angel appearing to them and announcing the birth of Jesus, as in the case of Mary, or the shepherds.  There is no 'God-telling-them' as such!  However, they read the signs of nature and infer and based on this knowledge they come to experience the child Jesus.

This has an important lesson for us all: one's faith journey need not necessarily be strewn with divine revelation!  If one is open to the other, and willing to be led by signs other than ones approved by men, there is a great possibility that one encounters the divine along the way.

There is no mention of the kings prior to the event nor after their visit to the child Jesus.  Some wish to believe that they went back as different men, just as they took a 'different route' back home - I doubt it!  They would not have been very different from what they initially were.  They already were good, they only continued working on their goodness.  

Getting paid with the same coin

One of the many reasons Britishers voted for Brexit was the felt need of the local population to have a complete say in who enters the country.  England did not want to be let the EU decide as to who would enter the country and stay on, especially as immigrants.  The EU policy of 2015 agrees that those who enter the European soil as immigrants will be given shelter in Europe and all the countries in the Schengen and European region will share those who come in.  This did not go well with the British population - at least those who voted for the Brexit. Of course, things may not be as cut and right as this.  However, this slogan of 'we want our country back' has a very ironic tone.

Not so long ago, it was the British who had colonies all across the globe.  There were very many countries who yearned to have their own freedom and sovereignty.  Coming from one such country I can sense what that meant to those people living under a foreign rule - that too not of their liking.  So now with a more closed border, the British feel that they can regain more of their sovereignty.  And it certainly has a right to demand so... just like all those countries under the British rule once craved for.
Well I am also aware of the fact that one cannot hold the present population accountable or guilty of past regimes.  One cannot punish the child for an offense committed by the parent.  What is of the past is bygone, none can undo it.  Only learn lessons for the future.  But one thing is certain:  No matter what the British policies and political rulings decide in the near future, the process of 'reverse colonisation' is already a reality! Just as the countries which were once colonies of foreign rule, are finding their feet and growing on the basis of the merits and demerits of their colonial past, the colonisers too cannot escape the good and the not so good of their past!  

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Cave paintings and emojis

Mankind took centuries and ages of painstaking effort to evolve communication and language from the earliest animalistic grunts and cave paintings.  Years of study and research has seen the development of syntax, grammar, spelling, dictionaries, translations and what not... all to polish language and make it more sophisticated.  In such a context it is amazing to see the use of language on social media, especially the ones most in use (twitter, facebook, whatsapp...).  Grammar has gone for a toss.  So have spellings. Words are shortened and abbreviated (euphemism for murdered and butchered!).  And most often there are hardly any words or letters... only emoji.  So much so, the word 'emoji' was announced as the word of the year in 2015 by Oxford dictionary!  Back to the age of cave paintings! But I guess pictures have always been a more powerful means of communication than words.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Chertsey kings

The three kings arrived at the crib in the parish this morning... not only because the post epiphany period is hardly a day-long, but also because the parish priest is taking a two-day holiday tomorrow onwards!

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Prevention vs cure

Two days preceding the first day of the new year, the newspapers were abuzz predicting a sharp rise in medical emergencies arising due to heavy drinking.  The NHS rolled out the 'drunk tanks' to cater those engaging in the new year revelry rather than burden the A & E services.  There were some suggesting that such party goers who booze too much, to then be a burden to themselves and others, should be made to pay at such drunk tanks.  The whole focus was on cleaning up, but nowhere did I read anything about prevention.  No one really questioned the very act of getting drunk beyond one's capacity!  It's new year! So what??  So is it for those who are then forced to take care of the dazed.  So is it for the families and friends of such 'zombies' who have to then spend the days to come helping the person recover, besides doing their own tasks... leave alone celebrate the new year themselves!  While rolling out 'drunk tanks' is a measure of 'taking the hospital to the sick', preventing people from falling sick is also necessary.  When one is very well capable of addressing the cause of an illness, and thereby preventing it altogether, one should not take pride merely in doling out the balm which can be applied after falling ill.

This morning was greatly amused by the following group of Kiwis who 'built' an island off the shore to defy the ban on drinking in public places - claiming that they were drinking in international waters.  I'm sure none of them went beyond the limit or else they'd have been carried off by the waves to Australia!  But a very creative idea indeed!
On high! Read the news here

Free speech

For quite some time now, here in the UK there is a growing debate about 'free speech' and right to freedom of expression.  There are different takes on this issue.  Drawing the line between hate speech and free speech is one.  Between racism and tolerance on the other.  Of late there is another tendency that is noticed - something not very common in the West, at least not so apparent - the blunt shutting down of voices that differ or express a different opinion than one's own.

I remember Fr T.D. John sharing his secret criteria to know who among the debaters is losing the argument: the one shouting louder!!  And I have to agree that has always been the case: the one shouting higher and higher has run out of arguments and is therefore employing another tactic to win: shutting the other off, rather than proving his point.
Offensiveness or wrong-headedness hurt no one. The claim that they do is designed to shut down legitimate debate. 
The proper antidote to speech that offends is other speech.  Opinion anchored in reason can be countered by other opinion. Lies can be exposed by factual evidence. Truth emerges from debate and disagreement.  
The only sort of speech that deserves to be banned, on campus or elsewhere, is that which peddles true prejudice. This means speech that attacks people on the basis of an irrational hatred which by definition is immune to reasoned argument.
...
An opinion can be contested.  Irrational hatred cannot. Drawing the line between the two is to balance on a high wire. 
[From an article titled 'Where to draw the line on true free speech' by Melanie Phillips The Times January 2, 2018]

Monday, 1 January 2018

New year resolutions

Here's a funny take on new year resolutions...
I stopped this 'high-celebration resolution' long long ago.  Have been more realistic and need based rather than one special event or occasion based with regard to taking resolutions.  The best and most amusing take on resolutions I've come across is the following... a video I received last year around this time and I perfectly agree with her...

Celebrating the mortal new year

Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year.  Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bless and fire off pistols. 
Thomas Mann, German Novelist, in the The Magic Mountain (1924)
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