Wednesday, 28 February 2018

More snow!

Woke up this morning and the first thing I did was look out of the window.  Lo, there was more snow.  Looks like it snowed during the night as well.  Now even the road was all white!  Walked to Chertsey town early in the morning and couldn't but resist click a few photos...
Guildford street

My own footprints beside the Bourne health centre
I was the first to walk that path this morning!

However at some point the fox beat me to it!
If it were in India, I would have thought it was a dog but solitary paw-prints here in England cannot but be that of a fox!
A dog would never be alone!

Opposite Eastworth building

Eastworth road

Passage leading to our maindoor

The Salesian ETV ... extra terrestrial vehicle!
The car I was using last year.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018


Snowfall!  My maiden experience of a snowfall and touching snow... today!  Since the time I came here to the UK this is the first time it has snowed.  Last year it was almost nothing.  This time round the year, the temperatures have dipped below 0 and today it snowed! 
And I was not the only one overjoyed and thrilled all day long... practically every kid I saw, either through my window or while out with Fr Sean was highly excited.  Two boys in the evening were sprawled on the pavement, just outside our house... on the pavement!   I wonder what happened to 'health and safety'!  I guess with kids it almost goes out the window! 

I clicked some photos just for memory...

Monday, 26 February 2018

Salesian presence in Cowley, Oxford

While at Cowley, near Oxford, we visited our Salesian parish of Our Lady of Help of Christians. Fr Peter was ill and hence could not meet him.  Fr Graham was kind enough to show me around the Parish church and describe its history to me.  He is almost doing a PhD on the historical origin and growth of the Church.  Listening to him, and his enthusiasm of constructing the past from all the bits and pieces of correspondence and plaques and local news and oral memory of Salesians and the local population, was almost like viewing the whole past on a screen before the eyes.  More of its history is here.

A couple of facts that still linger in my mind:
  • Cowley housed the Provincial house and the post-novitiate of the GBR province for several years.  That was mainly because it was in Oxford and students could study at the famous college.  Though the original building, with all its structures, is no more - what remains is the Parish church, which came to be much after the other structures were closed - the influence of Salesians in the locality is still strong.  Add to that the fact that the Salesian Sisters ran the primary school just down the road from the present location of the Parish, meant a very strong Salesian presence.  
  • Perhaps the social context of the place too played a major role in the dynamic growth of the Salesians: the mini-cooper car factory was a great attraction for workers.  I learnt that there were many who came from Ireland to work in the car factory.  These fervent Irish catholics found in the Salesians a great support and vice-versa. 
  • Much was said about Fr Thomas McKenna, the second Salesian parish priest, and the astute administrator of funds and manager of people who almost single-handedly built the Parish and the existing structures. 
  • Interesting to note was that the Parish is today existing not because of the existence and functioning of the Provincial house but mainly because of the Dominic Savio club that was started close to the present location of the parish.  The club was for years the centre of life and activity of the local Catholic population.  

A few pics of the Church interior...
This plaque is all that is to commemorate the memory of Fr McKenna. 
Most beautiful aspect of this: it was planned and placed by the Parishoners. 
 I'm thinking of the numerous plaques and inauguration slabs all over the Province that are ordered and placed by the Salesians, inserting our own names on it!! It speaks of how frightened we are of being forgotten in time.  But if we genuinely do good, we continue to live in the hearts and minds of people and in their goodness, on a small plaque like this.  No self-decoration!

Being helpless once again

Last weekend I visited the Salesian Sisters home at Cowley which houses nearly 15 of their elderly Sisters.  This was my second visit to their place since I came to the UK.  Of the 15, three are quite badly off.  Fr John wanted to visit and pray for one of them specially and hence we made the visit.  We first met the three Sisters and then sat for long with the rest of the community happily remembering past events and recalling history!! 

Meeting those three Sisters who were quite ill and aged, it struck me how feeble they were.  I'm sure, once they would have been full of life, running around doing a hundred and one things all at once.  They'd have been bulldozers and jet planes for all one knew, driving people and things around them.  Yet here they were so drained of all energy and strength.  They hardly spoke and had no memory of people.  Wonder what was going on in their minds.  They seemed exactly like babies - only the light in their eyes missing and the bodies too weak to show their dynamism. 

All those of us who claim to be active and working, full of energy and in 'power' need to visit people in their final stages of life - to merely remind ourselves that whatever we do or say now, we will one day come to be like these helpless and dependent individuals.  No matter how great a person I am today, no matter how many people I am 'head of', I too was once weak and feeble and so will once again be!  

Friday, 23 February 2018

Teachers and guns: a nauseating combo

Recently Donald Trump, the US president strongly advocated arming the teachers to combat shootouts in schools!  At first I thought it was a joke!  But he was serious and sure about it producing better results: preventing any further shoot outs. His logic: any intruder will not dare step into a place where he knows he is going to be shot at.  However I realised I needed to put down my thoughts as to why this idea is not only bizarre, absurd but nauseating.  Apart from the evident political gain of upsetting the pro-gun lobby, why is this proposal wrong...

Education is meant to equip students with a sense of meaning and purpose for their life.  It is meant to help them form not just their heads but their hearts and hands as well.  If one overseeing such an endeavour is carrying a firearm what message does it carry for the students?? 

  • That violence is normal.  Rather than advocate and work towards peace, the teacher becomes a living symbol of violence and fear.  In an era when physical punishment is seen as detrimental to the growth of the child, how can carrying a gun be seen as helpful?  
  • Imagine the trauma of a child watch a teacher kill a student, a fellow classmate - however wrong the latter may be!  
  • A teacher is not a soldier.  He or she is not moulded to take lives but build lives. Those teachers who laid down their lives saving their students from bullets are hailed as heroes.  That's what teachers do - save and help grow.  Not shoot and kill! 
  • What if a disgruntled teacher decides to open fire in his or her classroom?  
  • How does having more guns prevent shootouts?  The only thing it would lead to is an increase in the possibility of a shootout.  
  • Rather than see how troubled children and youngsters can be helped to grow up healthy, the proposal suggests to eliminate them! 
While I sympathize with the parents, relatives and friends of those children and staff killed in the recent Florida school shootout, my heart also goes out to the youngster who carried out the brutal attack and his family.  The larger question that needs to be addressed is how does one ensure that young people do not end up so depressed that they have no other means than the gun to resort to? 

Being human before being religious

A couple of days ago I listened to a young man from the Royal army speak about his Christian faith and his career as an army nurse.  He attributed his present career to a volunteering trip he accepted, helping disabled people on a pilgrimage.  He said, that was what defined his future life.  While firm and convinced of his own call to be a Catholic, he was quite critical of many catholics who do not live up to their vocation.  He narrated that in his short life he had encountered many people, especially those without any beliefs but exceptionally great human beings.

One of things he spoke of was the two classes of people in any religion, especially Christianity: there those who live a good life and then there are those who want others see them live good lives.  In his experience, he said, for the first group of people, religion was an added incentive and help.  As for the second group, I guess, in their attempt to be seen as great religious, they actually end up being neither religious nor human! 

Don Bosco and the sacrament of reconciliation

In my reading in preparation for the talk on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I came across this book by Gianni Asti (translated by Fr Ian Doulton) titled Don Bosco the Confessor of his boys.  It is an interesting book chronicling the dynamics that showed the bond of Don Bosco and his boys, especially around the confessional. 

As part of my reading also realised that of the three lives that Don Bosco wrote during his lifetime, that of Dominic Savio, Mickey Magone and Francis Besucco, one common feature in all those biographies was a chapter dedicated to Confession and the sacrament of Reconciliation. 

The most striking thing among all these narrations from the life of Don Bosco is the familiarity that the boys felt with Don Bosco.  For most of these boys there was no one in the world.  For some they were far away and most often not in good terms with. Just like those in our navajeevans, the home for street children.  Yet in Don Bosco, they found one whom they could trust.  They were at home with him.  That feeling of having someone in whom one can fully trust, can confide, be oneself, is truly empowering.  No wonder, Mother Teresa used to refer to loneliness as the worst disease.  

Feeling bad about doing good

This season of Lent so far has been a very nourishing time by way of reflection on my own relationship with God.  One of the most "haunting" thing that I've been meditating on these days is my own actions and their connection with my relationship with God. 

I grew up in a Catholic ambiance all through my life.  I was told by my parents, teachers, priests and religious that if I did 'this and this' it would show that I loved God.  All of these prescribed actions were good.  Going for Mass, doing penance doing Lent, being king and good to others, helping those in need, not being violent... Engaging in these activities meant that I loved God.  However, over the years I've discovered that merely doing all of these, while being beneficial, really did not help me know or come close to God!  I felt good about myself.  I was appreciated by others.  But within me it did not always help me develop my relationship with God.  Perhaps these activities had become an end in themselves. 

I slowly began to discover that if I inverse the equation: not, activities and therefore God but love God and from there flow activities, it was very liberating.  However, there is at times a sense of vacuum, a gap.  A time comes when you give up certain activities you have been doing all your life and are in the process of thinking what would flow from my personal relationship with God.  That gap period is a sort of uneasiness.  An uncomfortable phase.  You are no more doing the old activities that made you feel good. Neither do you want to do them because they really don't stem from your love for God but out of a habit, ending in itself.  Am I doing the right thing?? 

On the other hand, it is also a liberating feeling when you do things for love of God and not merely continue tradition to make oneself feel good - however good or noble they may be.  Perhaps that's the meaning of Lent being a season of spring, new life!

The Father knows!

Last night I was asked to give a talk to the Salesian Cooperators of Chertsey.  They were about 20 of them present.  I was asked to speak about Don Bosco and the Sacrament of reconciliation.  I shared of how my personal insight changed my understanding of Don Bosco's notion of confession. 

The sacrament of reconciliation was always a kind of obligation that I felt needed to be fulfilled, earlier as a baptised member of the Church and then much more later as a professed Salesian.  However, it was only a few years ago that I began to really appreciate the sacrament for its great value.  And it was mostly the person of the confessor that made a whole difference in this aspect.  Have seen ample confessors who were so strict and abiding by the rule that confession was a real act of pain and suffering.  After the confession it a sense of relief that a 'job' is done, rather than savouring the grace of being blessed! 

What changed for me was the simple insight that the "Father knows!" So it was not something new that I was speaking to him about. There was nothing that would surprise Him, given the fact that I'm living in His presence.  So what's the whole confession about if He already knows? It is basically an acknowledgement of my present state of life, coupled with a genuine desire to be better.  This realisation helped me change my attitude towards confession and I really began to cherish this sacrament. 

Don Bosco's own writings and goodnights are rife with hell, sin, death, and all that stuff usually related to the sacrament of reconciliation, as was the trend of his times.  However, from my reading of his teachings, he never advocated confession to his boys as a fulfilment of an ecclesial obligation. He always recommended it as a means of personal experience, for growth and progress.  Boys loved going to confession to him. He personally gained and learned much about this sacrament from his own confessor, Joseph Cafasso.  It was from all that reading and especially observing the following photo of Don Bosco (one of the earliest original photos of DB) that it struck me that the boys not only were convinced of the fact that the "Father knows", but also felt greatly reassured by the knowledge that even "Don Bosco knows!" So it was a double, "Father knows!"
Notice the faces of the boys.  They are so serene.
No one's distracted or curious about the photograph itself - given this is the earliest history of photography
(at least in the oratory)
Confession was not restricted to the confessional anymore.  It was a continued relationship. It is in this light that Don Bosco's quote made great sense to me:
Want to be saints?  Here's the secret: Confession is the lock; the confidence in the confessor is the key.  This is how you open heaven's gates. 
Confession is the lock.  Confidence in the confessor is the key!  My earliest experience of shame and fear and guilt were replaced by a sense of love and comfort.  Mostly thanks to some of my confessors, especially Fr Lens. With him, I was at home. I did not have to be different.  I did not have to sift and mince words.  There was no fear or shame.  He knew me well enough that there was no need of a confession at all; but me confessing was me taking responsibility for my growth and him assuring his - and God's - continued support! 

As I was putting down these thoughts for the talk, it then occurred to me why Don Rua felt greatly pained when in 1908, the Vatican forbid the Rector to be the regular confessor of inmates.  I always thought he should have felt happy that he could focus more on being with the boys rather than being confined to the confessional.  But like Don Bosco, he had grown so intimately with his boys that not being with them in the confessional was like cutting out one important portion of their lives.  I realized how difficult it would have been for his boys!  That is not recorded anywhere!  In my years in the formation commission, I had neatly collapsed the distinct roles of the rector, as best non-compatible.  But I also understood my predicament why there should be such a fuss about Rector also being the confessor (and final authority on voting).  If I've been open to him, in and out of the confessional, I should have nothing to fear.  And if it in confidence that I have opened up to him, then I am also convinced that what he says and does is for my own good - even if it meant him asking me to pack up and go home!  Of course, in all of this the person of the rector or confessor does make a huge difference!  

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

God saw their efforts

The reading from the book of Jonah wherein he preaches God's wrath to the people of Nineveh and they repent, ends with this particular phrase.
God saw their efforts and relented. He did not destroy the city as he had threatened. 
In our Christian teaching and preaching not much is said about efforts.  Most often, as in the competitive society, we focus on results.  Only a result which is a successful or profitable is considered good and worthy.  The efforts alone do not count for anything much.  But for one on a journey, the effort itself is valuable.  The experience and the learning from the journey is as important, if not more, than reaching the destination.

God certainly counts our genuine efforts, irrespective of the outcome.  Like in all matters of education and evangelisation, to do our best is what we are called to.  Whether someone does actually become a scholar or gets converted to the faith is the job of the Holy Spirit. 

Monday, 19 February 2018

He saw it all (song)

I received this particular video song a while ago.  Loved the calm, sure voice of the singer (Booth Brothers) and the lyrics too are quite engaging!  Based on the miracles of Jesus, the song is an invitation to do one's best and learn to trust, have faith in Jesus...
I was trying to catch the crippled man. 
Did he run this way?
He was rushing home to tell everyone 
what Jesus did today.
And the mute man was telling myself and the deaf girl
he's leaving to answer God's call. 
It's hard to believe.
But if you don't trust me, ask the blind man, he saw it all. 
Ask the blind man, he saw it all!

My friend if the troubles and burdens you carry 
are heavy and dragging you down
You tried everything you can possibly think of 
there's no relief to be found
the very same Jesus who altered the future 
of a blind man, the deaf and the lame
is still reaching out in your hour of trouble. 
One touch and you're never the same! 

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Among beasts and angels

Yet another proof of the way we need to see the whole world and not just bits of it and pass judgement about the whole.  The gospel of today speaks of the abridged version of the temptation of Jesus, from the gospel of Mark. In the short passage, there is one simple sentence which caught my attention this morning.
He was among the wild beasts and the angels were with him. 
My first thought was why have the wild beasts if they are unable to do any harm because the angels are protecting him.  Best would be to do away with the wild beasts and there would be no need of angels at all.  But then it struck me that Jesus would be all alone.  Nobody or nothing with him.  Taking away the beasts would mean taking away the angels too. 

Good cannot exist all by itself.  So does evil.  Taking away all evil would mean elimination of all goodness too.  That does not mean, evil ceases to be evil. We live our lives surrounded and intertwined with the goodness and evil.  What sometimes is good could actually be evil in the long run and what seems evil may turn out to be good.  At times what was seen as good would itself be seen as evil.  In all of this what's common is that one does not exist by itself.  

Friday, 16 February 2018

Salesian beginnings at Battersea, London

Last night Fr John delivered a talk at Battersea about the Salesian roots at Battersea.  Sacred Heart Parish at Battersea was the first Salesian presence in England, way back in 1877.

A few interesting points and insights from the talk...
  • Salesians were invited to England not really by a Bishop but by a Countess, Georgiana de Stacpoole.  She was a formidable woman who divided her time between France, London and Rome.  She had quite a few high connections given her title and active social role.  The Parish at Battersea was in fact her 'creation' - when she fell out with the parish authority of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, she decided to start another Catholic community in the neighbourhood.  
  • Right since the beginning of his historical origins, Battersea was an economically backward region.  The building of the railway line worsened the situation.  The railway line on one side and the Thames on the other, isolated the place and was considered the slum dwelling of London.  
  • Fr Francis Dalmazzo, the first Salesian to set foot on the English soil, who came to 'inspect' the place, following the directions of Don Bosco was first enamoured by the fact that there was a railway station (Clapham Junction) close at hand! (Honestly it never struck me before: the connection between early Salesians and railways - Italians had a thing for technology!  Only knew that our navajeevans were started and still continue close to the railway stations, for apparent reasons. But other than that was not aware of this particular early Salesian 'criteria'!) 
  • There were three Salesians who formed the first Salesian community on English soil: Fr Edward McKiernan, an Irishman and two Italians: Fr Giovanile Bounavier and Br Rossaro.  
  • Fr McKiernan died within a year, having contacted TB, and the climatic condition of Battersea speeding his death.  Fr Macey, who by then, had arrived from Italy along with Br Ribaldone, was made the Rector of the community.  (Fr John Dickson is firmly convinced that Fr Macey was not part of the first delegation that set foot in England).  Br Rossaro went back to Italy within a few months of his arrival, unable to cope with the climate.  
    The handwritten note by Don Bosco to Fr Macey dated 17 November 1887.
    This note was handed over to Fr Michael Hynes, the Parish priest at Chertsey. a few days ago by a relative of a fellow Salesian who worked with Fr Macey at Chertsey in the early 1900s.
    It is basing on this note that Fr John Dickson confirms that Fr Macey was in Italy, with Don Bosco,
    when the first batch of Salesians reached the English shore (on November 16, 1887). 
  • If my intuition is right, perhaps this was the first Salesian mission to be opened without the Italian slant.  Most other missions were primarily targeted - though not exclusively - to cater to the Italian immigrants. Fr John's reading of this is that Don Bosco - master strategist, that he was - reasoned that if he was to expand his work for young people far and beyond, needed personnel who could speak more than Italian.  Furthermore which was the most expansive empire in the late 20th century?  Having confreres who could speak English would give him access to all the colonies wherever the British were.  
  • Years later when the present Church of Sacred Heart was completed at Battersea, in 1893 Don Rua came for the blessing and inauguration.  He brought with him a vestment used by Don Bosco, a monstance decked with the jewels of the mother of late Augustus Czartoryski and a special chausible he wore for the day (all of which are still preserved at Battersea church).
    The vestment of Don Rua for the special occasion of the blessing and inauguration of the new Church at Battersea.
    The centrepiece is a representation from the book of Revelation, of the lamb on the book with the seven seals.

    A vestment used by Don Bosco (must have been one that was gifted to him on some special occasion)
    The brass monstrance decked with the ornaments which were passed on to the Salesians when the mother of late Augustus Czartoryski passed away.

    Fr John Dickson, after his talk at Battersea

Etiological challenges

To be born in a Catholic family and to grow up as a believer has its own 'conditions'.  Everyone who believes, or does not, has a particular historical origin, an etiology.  An etiological challenge is when one sees some aspect of the causal origins his or her belief as problematic. 

Different spheres have different names: in religious circles it may be called a 'faith crisis'.  However, these etiological challenges help one to cultivate intellectual humility.  A necessary ingredient to avoid fundamentalism.  To be able to see that the other holds beliefs (even contrary to yours) for exactly the same reasons you hold what you believe in.

Etiological challenges also help one to constantly revise ones beliefs.  The possibility of totally giving up of ones beliefs too is not to be ruled out.  However, when done with sincerity and openness, it helps one to render ones initial beliefs more meaningful and inclusive than total abandonment. 

Another advantage is that they help one to move a state of indoctrination to and through experience.  While self-reflection is of great value, social interaction is not to be discounted.  None can avoid an etiology; but to remain ignorant or worse, deny it, is no merit - neither to ourselves, nor to others, least to our belief system itself!  

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Who's pregnant?

As I glanced through the news just before I called it a day, I came across this particular news article which said
Tom Daley announces baby news with husband
The one line description below it read
The British Olympic diver and his husband Dustin Lance Black shared the news on social media.
I thought BBC had its grammar wrong. Then when I opened the link and started reading the news I realised it was a gay couple.  Fine.

I guess in today's world coming across gay couples is a fact of life.  So it could be that they are adopting a child.  But no.  The news article carried the photo of the two of them holding the picture of a baby scan and it spoke of 'pregnancy', 'expecting their first child...'. 

Am wondering who is pregnant?  Honestly it is a quite baffling! 

Directionless Growth?

Does growth involve direction?

If it does then come judgements, gradation, hierarchy, standards...
If not, then every change is growth. 

But the point in a spiritual journey is not where I should be but what path should I take. So when I realize that I am living a selfish narcissistic ego-centric life, I wish to grow out of it.  That does not mean that I will aim for a totally non-emotional impassionate existence.  Even if I do, and at some point of my life attain it, I will realize that this present state is also not really helpful.  The journey then begins again.  Most often we aim for the other extreme but find or strike a balance somewhere halfway.  Now at that moment of beginning the change, the 'growth', I do not have a definite idea of where that 'halfway' is.  All I have is an insight that the present state is not it! 

However, isn't that 'other extreme' a direction?  Perhaps in one sense but no different than reaching a place covered with thick fog, having a sort of momentary black out and then setting off in the 'opposite' direction.  Are you really sure that it is the opposite direction?

Perhaps in these moments it all boils down to what is it that is important for me.  

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Table manners

In comparison to our Indian culture, the English culture has very many table manners.  While official dinners are a rite in themselves, even everyday meals at home are bound by some etiquette.  Back in India, we do follow some basic manners, mostly out of reverence for the food that is prepared, but we're not as strict as the English.  So even without tables we do follow some table manners!

I distinctly remember the rule about folding the plate, either a banana leaf or woven with leaves, after a meal.  It was during one of the rare visits to Mangalore that we made and during one marriage (it was mostly for marriages that I visited Mangalore as a child) being told that after meal, the indicator of having had  enough is to fold one's plate.  However if one folded it towards oneself, it indicated that the meal was good and appreciated.  If one folded the plate away from oneself then it was a sign that the meal was not good.  Another lesson I learnt while I volunteered to serve at one such meal was not to scrape the serving bowl.  It indicated scarcity of cooked meal - that we were running short of food! 
Back then, as a child, I dreaded those visits to Mangalore because we had to meet and greet like a million people, all of whom would know us but we'd know no one!  It was all too much of a crowd for me.  However,  I guess the pendulum now has swung to the other extreme.  One hardly knows anyone else!  It's ten years since I last visited Mangalore.  

Mass without the Bishop

During supper I came to know that today was the funeral of one of the diocesan priests'.  The Bishop who was to preside over the funeral Mass, was caught up in traffic.  Know not how long they waited or how they decided but they began the Mass without him!  He eventually arrived just before sermon and he sat with the priests for the Mass. 

When I heard this I was really amazed. The first thing that came to my mind was how impossible this would have been if it were in India - at least most parts of the country!  They would have waited for hours long, for the Bishop to arrive and then he'd preside over the Mass, give a lengthy sermon, without as much as a profound and sincere apology for being late!  If by chance they'd start the Mass without him... (which in the first place, none would dare!)  Woe to the Priest who would preside. Woe to the Parish priest. Woe to all who concelebrate!  Gosh! What a huge hue and cry that would be, if at all such a thing would take place. 

Surely we've got to learn a lot from the clergy here with regard to humility and working with others, especially the baptized.  

Road signs and Margaret Calvert

Interesting piece of British history...
The Daily Mail today ran an article about the lady who designed the road signs for the British transport.  In all honesty, I should say, they are very instructive and precise.  For a newcomer it may look too much of a confusion. But once you get a hang of the driving discipline and understand the signs, it is pretty much a joy to see these signs.  They're practically everywhere! 

The lady credited with creating the colour combination, font, size and some of the signs is Margaret Calvert.  She was ably helped in this endeavour by her graphic designer teacher, Jock Kinneir. 
A few other interesting facts:
  • Together they designed the signs for Britain's first motorway, the Preston By-pass, in 1958. The Italians and Germans had their grand autostradas and autobahns since before the war. 
  • From the start, their creations were modern, clear and colour-coded (blue and white for motorways, green and yellow for dual-carriageways...)
  • The 70mph speed limit was introduced in 1967 by the transport minister, Barbara Castle
  • The use of upper and lower cases, was a clear defiance of convention, as they found reading block capitals harder. 
  • Neither of them could drive! 
  • In 1963, their designs were extended beyond the motorways to all British roads. 
  • More than their font, colour and text contribution, it was their pictures that made a distinctive mark on Britain. 
  • Cow (for farm animals crossing) was based on Patience, a cow Calvert had seen on a relative's farm
  • Children crossing (a girl leading her younger brother by the hand) was designed on her own photograph - though she did not have a brother
  • Workmen (man with a shovel)

Initially her designs were mocked by critics as 'common'.  Yet that is what their magic and unique legacy is - common and understandable by everyone! While practically everything else has changed in the country over the past 60 years, the road signs, incredibly, have not.  Because they were perfect in the first place. True indeed, the most unappreciated facts of life are the ones that we use most often! 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Popular action song

Years ago when I was animating some groups I'd, at some point or the other, teach them the popular action song 'When you're happy and you know it...' It has a simple tune and children and young people love it.  However, a few days ago I came across a conversation discussing the historical origin of this particular song.  Someone in the group stated that this was actually a parody of the highly ritualistic Eucharistic celebration.  Someone in the modern era who attended the Mass tried his best to describe what was going on at the altar through this song.  I checked the wikipedia to see if that was true.  Its narration had nothing close to it.  However, some oral tradition here in Britain holds the former view about the origin of the song.

In this context remember Fr Maliekal and Fr Palli expressing their displeasure with us Salesians going around singing all these action songs.  Their basic critique was that rather than use precious animation moments to pass on values and principles we were merely entertaining them with song and dance.  At the end of the day, the participants return home happy and having enjoyed the day but nothing really substantive.  They constantly appealed that we use songs which conveyed a message and not merely nice tunes.  A valid point indeed.  I've always used games in all my animations, especially with young people.  However, not one of them is merely for entertainment.  Every game or story or riddle would be the basis of driving home a message or conveying a value.  

Jesus, the leper and me

The gospel reading of tomorrow is that of Jesus healing the leper (Mark 1: 40-45).  In fact the theme running through all the readings of the day is that of healing by touch. 
As I prepared for a meditation for the university students on this particular gospel passage, I tried to get involved in this particular event by viewing it from the perspective of one individual present in the narration.  So I chose to be one of the spectators watching the leper cry out to Jesus and the latter healing him.  In a way I felt jealous of this leper because he got what he wanted.  There were many things I could have asked the Lord but I just stood there waiting for something to happen to think, to act.  This leper really needed something and he did not feel ashamed or embarrassed to beg Jesus for the same.  Perhaps my needs were not really needs but merely wants! 

Another insight that one of the youngsters shared was that he felt irritated that the leper, after being healed did the opposite of what Jesus had asked him to do.  Instead of appearing before the priest quietly, he went about the whole town shouting about his cure!  How disrespectful of him to do so!  Disobey the explicit command of the one who granted him his only request!  But then he said, perhaps I too am the same: doing what I want to do rather than what Jesus asks me to do, especially after I've been blessed with something!  

The silent retreat

Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. They began with enthusiasm and no one said a word the whole day.

By nightfall of the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out. The first monk blurted out, "Oh, no! The candle is out." The second monk said, "Hey! We are not supposed to speak!" The third monk said in an irritated voice, "What is this? Why did you two break the silence?" The fourth monk smiled and said, "Wow! I'm the only one who hasn't spoken."

Each monk broke the silence for a different reason, each of which is a common stumbling block in our inner journey. The first monk got distracted by one aspect of his experience (the candle) and forgot what was more important - the practice of witnessing without reacting. The second monk was more worried about others following the rules than in actually practicing himself. The third monk let his anger towards the first two monks affect him. And the fourth monk lost his way because of pride. 

Why did the fourth monk speak at all? He could have simply maintained his silence and he would have been successful in his endeavor. But if he had, chances are, the other three might have continued to argue and not even noticed his silence. Some people are like this. Their motto is "If I'm doing something good, but no one notices, I might as well not be doing it at all." They believe that the reward is not in the effort, but in the recognition.

There is a beautiful quote, "It is the prudence​ of knowledge to speak; it is the privilege of wisdom to listen." As we learn to truly listen, witness and observe without impulsively reacting with distraction, judgement, anger and pride, then we understand the true meaning of silence. 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Sound vs Word

Today in one of the seminars that I attended, I came across the distinction between a 'cry' or a 'yelp' and a 'word'.  In other words, Aristotle seems to use two different words and with purpose: logos and phrene (not sure if I got the word right). While the latter is a cry, a sound, logos is an articulated sound.  So while one may claim that what counts is the logos, another may claim that unless you have the basic 'cry', you cannot articulate it.  The articulation does not happen without the basic sound. 

The discussion was as part of a political theory.  When in a public sphere what matters is only logos. If it is basically a 'cry' then it does not find a place in the public sphere. Even if it does find a place it is not really understood and thereby does not make an impact.  But on the other hand, it is basically the 'cry' that gives rise to the 'word'.  Perhaps an exaggerated example, but makes the point nonetheless.  At an international conference on world hunger, one would expect a well documented, scientific paper on hunger and means of addressing it rather than a hungry person's plea for food.  Even if a hungry person reaches the place and pleads for food, it is not going to get translated into a policy, affecting the political, at least not until someone 'articulates' the hungry mans cries into an 'international language'.  Strange but true! 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018


Last night I watched the movie Wonder.  A simple but well narrated story of a boy Auggie Pullman with facial deformities joining the school and facing all odds that come with his facial deformity.  What I liked beside the mainline story is how the movie narrates in parallel the lives of other children around him. There is his own sister who feels left out because all the attention and care is directed towards her brother. She knows too well that this focus of attention on her brother is not malicious or against her, but she also realizes that her own need for warmth and affection is at stake.  Then there is her best friend struggling with similar issues.  There are the bunch of friends of Auggie back in school, each of them has his or her own story running in the background. In all these instances what comes out is the presence of one or some individuals who assure the person struggling that he or she is not alone.  That mere presence and assurance makes the whole difference between making and breaking a life.

The influence of parents is vividly seen in the life of children.  Contrast the attitude of the mother of Jack Hill with that of the parents of Julian... worlds apart.  Children usually grow up to be what their parents in fact are.  The constant love and support that Auggie receives from his own parents is truly noteworthy.

I liked in particular one of the opening quotes of the movie:
Another quote that struck me is the one uttered by the Principal of the school, when interacting with the parents of school bully;
Auggie cannot change the way he looks. But we can change the way we see!
It's a good movie to watch, but both children and caregivers (in our Salesian context) ought to watch it together.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Expressions: Indian vs British

There are some words or expressions typical of the British English, as spoken in London.  I do not claim to collate them all here but thought it might be good to identify some of these before I get so used to them that I do not notice the difference:

  • 08.30 am: back in India it would be 'eight thirty', but here it is 'half eight'.
  • 'pavement' here and in India we call the same as 'footpath'. But certainly in India there is hardly any place where we don't tread! 
  • Most people here use the expression 'you know' quite too liberally.  Initially I was tempted at times to interject, "No, I don't!' Though redundant, it is very much part of any conversation or talk.  In India, I've come across people who use the word, 'no?' quite often in their talks. 
  • A tall building housing many occupants is called a 'towerblock' here.  In India we'd call it plainly a building. 
  • 'Headmaster' or 'Principal' in India would be the 'head teacher' here in the UK. 
  • Everyone here is addressed by their first name.  No matter who or what he or she is, no matter who is addressing, everyone calls everyone by their first name.  At the university, the professors are addressed by their first name by the students.  Not once have I ever heard the word 'sir' or 'madam'.  Only when addressing someone officially will one use the prefix 'Mr' or 'Mrs', but then it is followed not by the first name but the surname.  The name of the head teacher is James Kibble.  For all, staff and friends, he is James.  For the students, he would be Mr Kibble.  But even that, only while at school.  Otherwise it is James! 

I will seek other shores...

A few days ago heard this particular hymn, and was immediately struck by the chorus:
O Lord with your eyes set upon me gently smiling, 
You have spoken my name. 
All I longed for I have found by the water 
at your side, I will seek other shores. 
A hymn with a strong vocational dimension.  The call.  The invitation and the response!

Lord you have come to the seashore,
Neither searching for the rich nor the wise
desiring only that I should follow.

The tension Paul expresses in his letter to the Corinthians, read yesterday for the second reading, wherein he speaks of being 'compelled' to proclaim the Gospel, is not something everyone can grasp.  How can one be free when one feels compelled?  How can one feel happy and thrilled when cannot but obey?  In a way, only one who has gone through such an experience can understand it.  The mental logic cannot really set to rest the tension such a compelling call creates. 

A dream

Last night I had a dream; one after long!  All in the dream were my students (I think so; at least they seemed so, even though I did not really notice their faces).  Those whom I noticed (vaguely though) were those who were mostly in the shadows and off the centre stage - certainly not the bright or the smart ones.  Three of them coordinated a sort of tableau or something of that kind.  What struck me was that all those involved (I didn't notice their faces) were quite good at their role. Neither overacting nor being too casual.  A very sober presentation but a very heartfelt one.  The place (hall?) seemed familiar but it wasn't any place I've been.

Walking in the campus I noticed a group of them playing a strange game, kicking off what I thought was a ball but was indeed a kite.  The game was to get it flying once they kicked it.  Somehow thought they were the Mill Hills.  Again the drive seemed familiar but nothing like any of the places I've lived at so far.  Of all those whom I saw, I really don't remember anyone, but only one of the three (why three? I don't know) who coordinated the presentation.  Given his nature, that he could pull off such a presentation, was indeed most surprising.  He left the Salesians long ago but his was the only face that I remember.  Forget his name though.

Said a prayer for him and for the Mill Hills! 

Friday, 2 February 2018

Only a prayer away

Came across the following prayer, I found in a photocopied piece of paper in my breviary... 
Rainbows appear after mighty storms,
When things look their very worst.
Just when the skies are darkest grey,
Look for the rainbow first. 
The rainbow is a sign of God's promise,
That He will guide us through any storm.
That He will see us through all our troubles,
No matter what their form. 
When you feel battered by life's storms,
And you are filled with doubt and dismay;
Just remember, a rainbow is coming -
It's only a prayer away. 

Thursday, 1 February 2018

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