Monday, 30 April 2018

Tree line in time

For quite sometime now, I've spent some time almost every other day admiring the growth of foliage on the trees right outside my window.  From bare twigs to fully grown branches and leaves, the view  has been really humbling and inspiring.  On the whole there has been a very smooth and even growth over the past month of April, since I began to take snaps of it at regular periods.  However, the most phenomenal and rapid growth was during the couple of days that we had the bright sunshine and warm weather.  Those days I could really 'see' the growth!
April 8

April 11

April 16

April 19

April 21

April 24

April 25

April 30
The only downside of this natural transformation: I can no more view the open field across the road.  Will miss watching children gleefully run or glide on their scooters, ahead of their parents, or learn to ride a bike, all fitted with the protective gear;  the dogs frolicking in the grass and shooting off to retrieve the ball (I guess it must be a great thrill for the dogs which barely have some open space back at home!);  some elderly sitting on the bench lost in thought... nonetheless, a prayer for them all!

The cartoon link

This particular sketch neatly and succinctly links the recent Windrush immigration scandal that has hit the UK and the birth of the royal prince...  I guess only comedy and cartoons can achieve this unique blend of reality and bitter truth, without initiating a war! 
I guess this also portrays a sense of 'urgency' and the degree to which one can get paranoid when one is hell bent on achieving success at any rate!  

The fallen soldier

Here's the monument at the Chertsey town centre dedicated to the fallen soldiers from Chertsey, especially those who fought in the Great war (1914-1919)...
In the backdrop is St Peter's Anglican Church. 

I think practically every town and village in this whole country has a monument dedicated to the memory of those killed as soldiers during the World Wars.  There would be hardly any part of the country that did not have some of its residents enlist and fight during the past wars.  

In good times...

We invariably remember (or curse) God in bad times.  We barely acknowledge him in our good times.  And human psychology and behaviour has proved that the painful and troubled times are the ones we often tend to remember for long, in comparison to the good things that come our way.

The first reading gives us a hint of the good times the Lord offers us, even though not directly present himself...
...in bestowing his goodness, he did not leave himself without witness, for he gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filled you with nourishment and gladness for your hearts.
These are so often and so wide spread that we take them for granted and expect that everytime, everyday and everywhere it 'should' be so.  Hence any disruption to this 'good cycle' stands out and in turn tends to be most remembered. 

(Even this note is written in 'good times'... but I guess, when the going gets tough, I don't think this passage would make much sense then!)

Commemorating Don Bosco

I'm yet to find out the name of this plant or the flower, but placed beside the statue of Don Bosco, it is in time to remind me of the commemoration and dedication of the last day of the month to Don Bosco!

Sunday, 29 April 2018

The Father and I are one

Yesterday's gospel bears witness to Jesus saying that anyone who believes in the Father will not only do good works but will do greater works than himself.  Today we hear him say 'without me you can do nothing'.  Appears paradoxical! 
On the one hand, there is the assurance that trust in God is all that is expected.  On the other is the demand to take the side of Jesus...

Looks confusing, but only if we miss another important lesson of the gospel:  The Father and I are one! Furthermore there is the assurance of Jesus: Remain in me, as I remain in you.

Best interests of the child

The English law going by the policy of 'best interest of the child' in deciding matters concerning children and their welfare.  The policy has been in place following the abuse of parents and guardians of their own wards and hence seeks to protect the children from any and every sort of abuse.  However, the recent deaths of two infants in a span of one year, which also generated a lot of debate in the media and in real life, hint at a loophole in this otherwise efficient policy. 

The question one needs to ask when seeking the best interests of the child is, who decides what is best for the child?  Unfortunately this is where the law falters.  It certainly does not consider the child itself as the best 'interpretor' of its own welfare.  So who is the ultimate adjudicator? The law 'assumes' that it is the one.  However, this self-claim is not without a double-face.  In reality it takes on this role only in 'controversial cases'.  Any normal person will understand that the parents of the child are the ones who'd be the first in interpreting what is best for the child.  Hence this right is of the parents. The law should intervene only and only in cases where the parents have repeatedly proved themselves incapable of making sound judgements towards the wellbeing of their child.  Not once in a way mistakes but repeated lapses. 

If parents are not awarded this right to be the primary interpretors of the best interests of the child then the law should take it upon itself the welfare of every child; each and every one, not just one stray or 'controversial' case.  Thus the law should makes sure the child gets the best education - that would imply there that there is only one school in the whole neighbourhood - only the best.  Because it cannot be partial to some by sending them to some lesser standard source of education and favourable to others by getting them into some 'grammar school'.  So too in each and every decision involving the well being of the child, the law should have a say - not the parents. 

(In the English culture, that the child itself is not considered capable of making 'right' decisions for itself, is not a surprising fact... but the fact that it gradually is given the skills to learn the criteria and that potential respected, is better placed than in some other parts of the world.)

Friday, 27 April 2018

Grinding bouquet!

Salesian community life never has its dull moments.  There is always something or the other happening and most often viewed individually these instances are nothing but chaos and confusion.  Yet they complement one another - just as confreres do! 

Last night someone left a bouquet on the kitchen table.  This morning someone else had the good sense of putting them in water.  Only that the closest available container, beside the tap, was a grinder!! 

Thursday, 26 April 2018

British weather

Nothing is sure about the British weather, except that it will change - most probably, even before you have concluded your first statement. 
The way to ensure summer in England is to have it framed and glazed in a comfortable room. 
Horace Walpole, English writer, in a letter to Reverend William Cole (1774). 

Just last week the temperature was 26 c and these couple of days it has been less than 16 c.  That we rational beings cannot make sense of the weather, is fine, but I hope the plants are able to make sense of it.  Because some are very confused.  Their very looks reveal! 
Cherry blossom falling off even before it has fully bloomed! 
Daffodils, flowering, not flowering, flowering, not flowering!
Tulips only half of them flowered.  The others, those still with buds, are confused if they're out in the right time! 
I think, of the whole lot of flowering plants only the Dandelions are the most certain!! 

Respect life

The ongoing case of Alfie Evans and the efforts of his parents and a few activists is quite an alarming indication of the stance of the law, the medical practice and the society as a whole.

I thought the motto of medical profession was to 'improve the quality of life', not 'ensure death'.  And if one cannot improve the quality of life, one ought to be put down.  Going by that dictum, most people even the healthy ones, should be put to sleep once and for all.  Furthermore, the standard of a society is measured by the way it looks after the marginalized, especially the weak and the disabled.  If measured by that standard, the UK would not rank high in this and related episodes.

Following the logic of the hospital and the judges, even George Young a four year old who has dementia and is expected to soon lose sight and other vital organs, should be left to die, without any further medical intervention - not even food and water!

On the one hand there is the whole celebration of the birth of a new prince, and the royals paying homage to the dead at the Anzac ceremony, and on the other a concerted effort to end one life.  Seriously, the dead are revered and the living murdered?  Wonder if the law would prevent a royal family from taking their child to another country for treatment, even if that treatment is no guarantee of better health? So if Alfie can be taken home, he can well be taken to Italy - go for a family vacation, if that be!

In Alfie's case, the doctors had initially claimed that Alfie would not survive long without the ventilator. But he has outlived their prediction and made it on his own since three days.  So there is a possibility - a very wild one - that science has got it wrong.  Yet it need not be a defeat of science.  There is nothing called good science or bad science.   The fact that science has not yet found the cure does not mean that there isn't one.  Furthermore, some remedies used today were experiments some time ago. Only when they've been proved beneficial have they become 'life-saving' today.  So even if one gives into the logic of the hospital and the judges, that Alfie's condition cannot be improved, one can at least try unexperimented modes of treatment with the sole intention of improving his health.  It is not as if healthy people are cheated into being experimented on - which is ethically wrong.  But here is a case where every possible means of available treatment has failed, so why not?

In most such cases where there is no visible sign of agency, human life is considered not worth continuing.  Actually it speaks not so much about the sick person but of those healthy and those taking decisions on behalf of the sick.  In passing judgement about the worthiness or non-worthiness of their continued existence, we are passing judgement on our own ethical and moral standard.

How can taking someone's life be for the betterment of one's life? 

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

British use of wood and ecology

The British tend to use timber a lot.  Wood is used extensively and for varied purposes.  Besides the usual furniture, both household and garden, wood is used for making shelves and racks.  The roof structures of the houses are made of wood.  So is the flooring in most houses.  Fences are all of wood. Even telephone poles are of wood.  All the pews and lecterns in the Churches are made of wood.


My first reaction when I noticed the extensive outdoor use of wood: "Thank God there are no white ants here!" The liberal use of wood only goes on to show the abundance of trees and growth in the country.  Though fiber and other materials are gaining ground, wood is still much in demand. To keep up with this great demand of wood there has to be a proportionate and planned growth of trees, for  wood certainly does not become available overnight.  It takes years for a tree to grow!

It is officially stated that (as of February 2018)
  • The area of woodland in the UK is 3.17 million hectares. This represents 13% of the total land area in the UK, 10% in England, 15% in Wales, 18% in Scotland and 8% in Northern Ireland. 
  • The total certified woodland area in the UK at 31 March 2017 is 1.39 million hectares, including all Forestry Commission/Natural Resources Wales/Forest Service woodland. Overall, 44% of the UK woodland area is certified. 
  • Seven thousand hectares of newly created woodland were reported in the UK in 2016-17, mostly with coniferous species. (Source: Forestry Commission)
Source: BBC
On the whole there is a greater appreciation and awareness of ecological concerns among the people than back in India - though not everyone shares the responsibility of doing something about it.  However, I think the Indians share a much closer bond with nature than the Europeans. 

April 24

Perhaps the only Salesian traditional devotion that I still am faithful to and do something by myself is the 24th of every month. 
Br Mateusz recently cleaned up the statue and
repotted Japanese jewel (Acer),
seems to be doing well - even after me cutting half its root! 

Mary, help of Christians... pray for us! 

Monday, 23 April 2018

The Queen and the Royals

Today on the feast of St George, the patron saint of England, is born the third child of the royal family of William and Kate.  The new born is said to be fifth in line of succession to the throne. 

Prior to my arrival here in the UK, I never thought much of the royal family or the Queen.  Never thought that they'd mean much to anyone.  However, in the time that I've been here, I've noticed how deep a bond the English share with the Royal family.  Honestly it initially appeared a bit old fashioned and odd, that too for a modern and progressive country like England to still hold onto 'kings and queens'. 

In the course of time, I've begun to notice the influence the royal family has on the nation.  Having no real knowledge about the whole story, I still do not know where exactly does the Queen and the royal family fit - but their presence means much.  Gracefully away from politics, the family beautifully serves as a moderating pivot of the English society as a whole.  With the administration and politics left to the bureaucrats and politicians, the Queen and her family represent the English society to the world.  The respect people have for the Royal family, even in today's liberal society, is something amazing.  That respect is not something merely inherited, but certainly gained.  It is something like they have the privilege, but no power (political, I mean); the respect, but no authority;  the affection and the bond, but no legal or administrative duty.  

Indian tonic water

Yesterday while at lunch in Farnborough I happened to notice a bottle on the table labelled 'Indian tonic water'.  I was told that it is added to gin.  I checked the ingredients and there seemed nothing special or different to credit the name 'Indian'.  That's when Fr Des shared his interesting experience during his visit to India.  On the plane he and his companion got a bottle of gin. Once they landed, they asked in a couple of shops for the 'Indian tonic water'. Every shop he asked, he received a queer look from the shopkeepers.  No one ever heard of that before.  Fr Des even asked Fr Arul Maran, his host to search and get one for him.  But none had ever heard of 'Indian tonic water'.  

That's when it struck us that there is nothing Indian about the 'Indian tonic water'.  

I guess it is the same with 'Brussel sprouts', 'French fries', 'English Muffins'... 

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Vocation Sunday reflection

Each of us has a vocation. Each of us belongs to the Good Shepherd's flock. Each of us has a call! I am a Salesian Brother, but that's not my primary vocation. That's merely how I live out my vocation.

Our primary vocation is to be with Him, and to bear witness to Him; to love God and love life. That's our basic vocation: to love and serve!

And so I constantly ask myself, do I find my life and the way I live it meaningful? Is this the best way that I can be useful to the most number of people? And if my life meets both these criteria, meaningful to myself and useful to others, I know I am living out my vocation well.

And since my vocation is deeply connected with God and others, I need to
constantly listen, be aware, be attentive, be open
be willing to discern, differentiate, interpret, put to test and finally,
be ready to make choices, not just comfortable choices but bold and appropriate choices.

At OLSD Church, Farnborough

I was at Our Lady and St Dominic's Church, Cove, Farnborough yesterday and today.  If I'm not mistaken this is the first time that I've preached a sermon on a Sunday in a Church - all three Masses.  Being Vocation Sunday (Good Shepherd Sunday) I was asked to speak about vocation, or my vocation, at this parish in Farnborough.  I was happy to.  The only other time I've preached during Mass is occasionally on Sunday's while at Nashik, in our Salesian community Chapel, for the staff of the house.  They were mostly telugu and tamil speaking groups and we would take turns giving a sermon. 

I did prepare my text and even typed and printed it out, just before leaving for the parish.  However, I never once looked at it.  Mostly because I knew what I wanted to say and the exact words.  Since it was not more than 12 minutes that I wanted to speak, I did not wander about or blabber. 

The parishoners were happy to hear me.  Some of them did come and congratulate and thank me for sharing my story and some thanked me for the spontaneous way I did it.  A couple of boys were keen that I come and talk at their school too!!  Anyway, I constantly reminded myself that it is a sermon that I've asked to preach, not an animation talk.  So I made sure I didn't say anything that would be there merely to impress or draw their attention.  Since I knew I wouldn't speak for long, and was confident that what I had to share was worth it, I didn't need honey and fireworks. Most important of all, I asked the Lord to let His message be conveyed - not my story. 

Besides the people of the parish, I liked the very structure of the Church - simple, functional and neat.  I think that made it very beautiful. The best part was that the altar and sanctuary is surrounded by the congregation.  Only straight behind the priest there is no seating area.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Phone addiction

Cartoon of the day (as in The Daily Mail)...
I guess this is true not just of the daughter of the gentleman here, but of most of us.  We're so lost in our gadgets that nothing else counts.  For some it is a matter of amusement; others use it for gathering information, staying updated; for some it is just work... but in all cases, addiction, none the less. 

Blimey!

Among the few English words I've come across for the first time since I came to the UK, is this word, 'blimey'.  Never checked the meaning of it, but gathered that it was an interjection.  Only yesterday did I come to know that 'blimey' is an abridged form of 'Cor blimey' which actually means 'God blind me'!  Well, knew that blimey is an expression of surprise and excitement, but didn't know that it has this meaning... know not if those using this phrase lavishly (some whom I know well) are aware of the original meaning.

I guess, that would not be the only word, the actual meaning of which we are blissfully ignorant of!  But as long as it is functional and useful, it works.  We don't have to know everything about a word (or for that matter, anything) to begin using it.  

To be with him...

The time is ripe now back in the Indian Salesian provinces to be talking about transfers and changes!  In the next couple of weeks the lists would be out, but till then, the gossip mills will be at their best.   Interesting time!! 

Everytime the Provincials sit for doing this jigsaw puzzle of moving confreres and distributing responsibilities, there is always these questions lurking in their heads and perhaps form the basis of the assignments listed: Will this confrere manage this job??  Will so and so be a trustworthy administrator?  Will this person manage the Parish?  Can this confrere handle the situation in the school or add to the existing confusion?  Will this person keep the community going as a rector?

However, this morning I was asking myself what was Jesus thinking when he chose the twelve? Or for that matter when he chose all those disciples and followers, later?  Saul, for example.  I don't think he chose Judas because he was a good administrator.  Nor did he choose Mathew so that he may chronicle their 'adventures'.  Luke was certainly not called because he would be a good infirmarian of the group.  Peter was not called so that he could fish and provide for the apostles.  He called them all to be primarily with him and then to bear witness to him before the world.  Well, once in the group, they took on roles and responsibilities that would further this purpose.  But they were not called to fulfill those responsibilities!

I wonder if that principle of 'being with him and becoming his witnesses' is still a worthy criteria for our transfers or new/continued responsibilities. 

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Selection, deselection and God's plan

Some Catholic dioceses in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have stopped taking any young men as candidates for priesthood.  To that effect, they have closed down their seminaries and formation houses.  Perhaps one or two are sent for formation to other diocesan formation centres - that too if the candidate is a 'highly recommended' one.  The simple reason for this closure?  Too many vocations! So say the Bishops.  They don't know what to do with those already priests, so why have more!  I've always found that logic strange and the whole process very confusing.  However, reading the conversion narrative of Saul (to Paul), planted a wild thought in my mind.

God chose Saul as his messenger at a very crucial mode.  Christianity was being suppressed.  The Apostles and the few fervent disciples were doing their best.  But perhaps God felt that a bit of extra boost at this time would do a great deal of good in the long run and hence, without discounting the great work already being done, he choose a man who would actually shift the gear of the whole work of evangelisation, not just in deed but in vision and text too.  Would Christianity have had the same rigour and accelerated growth without Paul?  Perhaps not!

So perhaps even this 'break' in accepting candidates for priesthood, could also be phase in evangelisation.  Just like Saul was chosen for that extra zeal he brought to the evangelisation process in the early days of Christianity, so too a lull could do some good for the very same evangelisation process today!  

Cuts and bruises

This is the most busy garden time of the year.  The sun has been out, full and bright, for the past couple of days and garden centres are doing brisk business. I've already had potted most of the plants and bulbs that I bought.  Today I put them all out of the Green house.  Those few plants that I had replanted are today a bit down, mostly because of the 'intense' heat yesterday and today. So I moved them to a bit more shady area till they spread or gain roots. But I'm sure they'll pick up.  And of course, began my daily share of cuts and bruises - and what's the fun in gardening if you don't have a few cuts and bruises.  I feel a bit odd when I see most people working in their own gardens wearing gloves, and glasses and wellingtons (big long rubber shoes).  Why miss out the thrill of touching and feeling the mud, the stones, cool water, leaves, soft petals, the earthworms...

It is amazing to see what just two days of sun can do... the growth in the plants has been phenomenal. Just two days of sun and one can distinctly see the accelerated growth and bloom.
The tulip outside the main door, which bloomed last year too. The colour is amazing.
The pink one in the background is one of the two tulips that I bought this year. 
The pansies I bought and planted two days ago have already look vibrant ...




British summer time

The past couple of days have been bright and sunny, with the temperatures touching 20c and beyond. Now that's really summer for the Brits.  One can see everyone making the most of this sunny weather.  Cars driven around with their windows down. Convertibles with their whole cover down.  Naturally with the windows down or top open, very many tend to blare their car stereos. Some infact many not realize how loud they are playing the music.  House windows being opened.  Great demand for window cleaners. More noise on weekends in the open backyard of houses.  Men and young boys walking around shirtless, bare bodied and in shorts.  Women and young girls walking about with short or mini shorts and open shoulder tops.  Dark glasses being worn by drivers and people walking around.  Primary school children being told to put on their hats or caps while out in the open.  Youngsters in schools and at the university lazing around in the open, in the sun, rather than herding indoors.  Sale of beers shooting up and pubs doing brisk business.  Even nature is at its best now... with fresh leaves and flowers blooming.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Remembering Sr Modesta

I can't but think of Sr Modesta today.  Not that I'm mourning her death... I'm actually happy that I've had the chance to meet and know her. 

She was not a very gifted person, from what I know.  She had no special skills or talents, leave alone a world-class education or academic qualification.  I'm sure, she never held any 'privileged posts' during her lifetime.  Am quite sure she never even made it to being appointed 'principal' to any rural school.  I know for sure that she taught hindi in schools, but that's it.  Nothing more.  Yet, she endeared herself to so many people... to me.  What she lacked for in terms of academic excellence or intellectual calibre, she made up (more than merely balancing) through her personal relational skills.  She was a 'other-centred' person.  Her heart and mind sought out what others felt and needed, much more than what she needed for herself.  She was contended with herself, no matter how little she possessed or the lack of titles she was bestowed with.  What she was blessed with, she made the most.  She was happy and that happiness she gladly and generously shared with others. 

Life is better because you are happy; but life is best when others are happy because of you.
The following quote, perfectly sums up her life:

Christianity - an earthy living

The scriptures and liturgy of the past few weeks make clear how deep a connection Christianity has with food.  We have Jesus eating the 'last supper' with his apostles, the symbolism of the bread and wine as his body and blood, Jesus asking for and eating fish to quell the apostles fear that he is a ghost, the readings of yesterday and today referring to Jesus as the 'bread of life', the two disciples of Emmaus recognizing Jesus at the 'breaking of the bread'...

Given these records and events, one sees the indepth connection our liturgy, our faith and tradition have with food.  It is interesting to note that the food spoke of or referred to in all these instances is not some rare delicacy but ordinary common meal stuff - bread, wine, fish.  Once again a reiteration that Christianity is not a religion of the hi-fi but the hoi polloi, of the most mundane; it is not a fashion statement or trending fad among the rich, but a very grounded and day-to-day affair. 

Furthermore our tradition and rites all have a very mundane and common day to day connection - something we need to rediscover and live.  Rather than elevate these very rites to the heights and apart from everyday living, we need to guauge the depth of our faith on the basis of our existential living rather than a ceremonial grandeur. 

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Inclusive governance

One of the new things I noticed today on the new 10 pound note is that it can braille script on it too.  That's very noble indeed. So anyone, even the ones without sight can easily identify the currency they have or are handed.  The fiver is polymer and small.  The tenner has the script and is polymer. The twenty pound note is still paper and longer than the ten pound polymer.  (Know not of the 50, since I've never seen one). 

That reminds me of an information board at Winchester cathedral.  There is a small garden tucked and almost hidden beside the cathedral, marking the place where once stood the dormitory for the seminarians/monks.  The garden is dedicated to the memory of the dean of the Cathedral and hence named the Dean Garnier Garden. The garden itself was no very spectacular or special (at least in March when I saw it), but what struck me was the information boards therein.  One was in English the other was in Braille.  The first thought that came to my mind was 'what's the point?'  'What would one describe a blind about the garden?' But soon it struck me, 'Why not?'  After all, it was about the historical significance of the place.  So why should a visually challenged person be deprived of knowing that bit of history.  Then I said to myself, even if it was about the beauty of the garden why shouldn't it be in braille!  I really chastised myself for the immediate thought. 
The garden is on the right, through those arches
It is such things as these that make society inclusive, that makes everyone, especially those disadvantaged and those pushed to the margins feel part of, have a sense of belonging.  These braille boards, access routes for wheelchairs on maps, access points at stations, parking lots marked 'disabled', even pavements for easy navigation (even those special slabs marking the slopes), and the other amenities offered for the disadvantaged are truly praiseworthy.  It goes to show the society cares.  That we do not discriminate someone merely for some physical deformity and let things be difficult for them, because it would be "too much" to think of, by "normal" people. 

Wild flowers better than...

Looking around the whole place, I cannot but admire the dandelions!  They really look beautiful. They are considered wild and 'bad' (for the lawns) but gosh they are so pretty!  They are bigger and better than very many of the 'exotic' flowers.  Perhaps because they grow in abundance and by themselves that they are not given the respect and admiration they deserve.  But they are no less beautiful and good than any other 'garden' flower.  I think I'll grow a few in a pot or tray! 
Dandelions growing at the back of the house
And these blue bells growing so gracefully in the back, along the drive!  I've never ever touched that bit of the place and yet right now, that thin strip at the back of the house has the most number of flowers!  Blue and white bells.... together with the yellow dandelions, they are a sight to behold.

New additions to the garden

I bought a couple of plants this afternoon... some pansy viola, petunias and one more dainthus (red, this time). Already planted them in trays and laid them out at the front door.  Wish I could propagate them - but I don't think they can be... too bad! 

Cat repellent

Today while at the garden centre came across the plant which I'd read ads about: the cat repellent!  The first time I read about the plant in the newspaper ads, I found it amusing.  It is said that the plant emits a particular smell which cats desist.  Hence they do not go anywhere near that plant.  Now I wonder why would cats go to the garden?  I've known dogs that dig up the garden just for fun -  even the little ones we presently have at home in Hyderabad are good at it.  But cats? 

Anyway, laughed to myself when I saw the plant - it did not have a label or name but the picture on it says it all! 

The smiling Sr Modesta

Only this morning did I come to know about the delicate health of Sr Modesta.  Having finished supper, I just prayed specially for her in the Chapel and came to my room and received a message that she is no more.  Mummy had visited her yesterday at the Convent, the Capitanio House, in Bandlaguda Jagir, Hyderabad - adjacent to our Provincial house.

I first met her in 2007 when I was in the Provincial house as the secretary.  Back then she was already elderly and in the retirement home.  She hailed from Bihar or Jharkhand and she loved to speak in Hindi.  Being a rare breed of Salesians in the province who speak Hindi, we soon became friends.  After three years when I moved out of Hyderabad, everytime I went to Hyderabad for a meeting or retreat, I made it a point to meet her. The last time I saw her was before I left for the UK. She was already bed ridden and losing her memory.  But she recognised me instantly and we spoke for some time.

She truly is one of the few Nuns, I've known and admired much over the years.  I'm sure she was a native of some rural area and no matter how many years she worked in posh schools as the Hindi teacher, that village in her never left her!  Perhaps that was her greatest gift.  She was at home with everyone and made everyone feel at home with her - a typical rural characteristic.

It was during my stay in the Provincial house that she celebrated her Jubilee of profession.  There was a grand celebration in the convent.  A day or two later she came across to our Provincial house to meet Fr Noel, whom too liked her much.  For some reason the whole community was in his office and when Maria, the receptionist called up to say that Sr Modesta was on her way to meet Fr Noel, we promptly broke up our meeting and surprised her with song, and a card and a few words of appreciation.  She was quite surprised.  And then she lovingly hugged us all.  That's my most vivid memory of her - hugging each one with such affection.  That was Sr Modesta - enjoying the simple pleasures of life, being with everyone, making everyone happy and reaching out to those sad or suffering.  I remember well her daily visits to Fr M.D. Jacob in BIRDY. I think she was more faithful and prompt in her daily visits to him than most of us Salesians living on campus!

She certainly will be one whom I'll miss the next time I reach Hyderabad and our Provincial house.  God bless her simplicity and generous concern for others.  She certainly had plenty of patience, and her joyful smile was her best gift to all! 

An echo chamber

Read an interesting article on Aeon today: Why it is hard to escape an echo chamber?

As I read this article all I could think, at every instance or para of it was the present grip of Mr Modi on the Indian electorate.  The BJP that is presenting itself is very different from that of the BJP represented by Vajpayee or even Advani.  The former, was distinctly clear about its agenda, course of action and vision.  It made no veiled presentation of itself.  Everyone, not just members of the party, knew what its aims and objectives were.  Not so with the present BJP.  What it has succeeded indeed is turn the Indian mind into an echo chamber.  In doing so it has not blocked itself from 'other voices', merely branded them untrustworthy, corrupted and therefore not worth anything.  Far from doublespeak, or even momentary epistemic glimpses, the echo chamber sounds rational, interested in the truth, active throughout and resonates with voices; but merely endorsing its own principles.  Even the contrary voices somehow are so manipulated (not by changing their content, but by changing the mind of the listener), that they endorse the principles of the 'ghetto'. 

The solution out of this echo chamber?  Trust!  There are numerous voices that resonate in a society.  However we know not whom and what to trust.  Unless we begin to trust a voice and that voice proves itself trustworthy, we will only further entrench ourselves in the echo chamber. 

To be more fair to the reading of the article, I can even look at my own Catholic upbringing as a echo chamber.  However, as long as one is willing to look at, evaluate and even trust other contrary sources, is open minded about the authority of sources other than Catholic sources, am willing to be won over by the goodness I observe, acknowledge and appreciate in others, especially non-Christians... I would think I'm not an ostrich in an echo chamber.  

Monday, 16 April 2018

Expressing oneself

One of the advantages of social media, besides anonymity, is the possibility to express oneself without adhering to theories of scientific truth and error or abiding by public/popular/actual rhetoric.  In other words, anyone can express oneself without being felt compelled by the accepted or prevalent norm.  One is merely expressing oneself.  There is no demand for logic, reason or arguments to support one's statement(s) - at least one need not oblige. 

In one sense this can be a very dangerous endeavour.  One can deny total responsibility for what one has just stated and offer no explanation or sensible justification for either.  That can lead to serious personality disorders which affect not just the individual concerned but all those associated with him or her. 

On the other hand, it can be seen as a psychological letting off of steam.  A sort of therapy wherein one merely expresses one's opinion.  Not necessarily a judgement or conclusion.  A catharsis. 

All the same the balance or the line dividing the two can at times be very thin and slippery.   

Made up of children

My 4 year old niece (who is younger to my nephew) has begun to assert her place in the family and her demands to be treated on par with her elder brother are on the increase.  However, she is also at a stage where she is neither fluent in Konkani (our mother tongue) nor in English! 

The latest, I'm told, is the claim to sit on the front seat in the car, beside the driver.  Mostly her brother would sit on someone's lap in the front seat.  Now she wants her turn too!  Mum tried to dissolve the situation by saying, "Small children are not supposed to sit in the front," to which her question was instant, "Isn't Chris too made up of children?"  (I suppose she meant, "Isn't Chris too a child?")

Sunday, 15 April 2018

For peace

A recent article on BBC debates the legitimacy of the air strikes on Syria (Syria air strikes: Were they legal?).  While it does not necessarily justify the Western attack, it does lay bare the loopholes in the whole political system whereby collection action or response is blocked, thereby leading individual states to take action.  This action by individual states, rather than the UN Security council, though "illegal" goes by the same regulations as that laid down by the Security council.  The article certainly shows the actual inefficiency of international bodies, like the UN, when it really matters. 

Even after years of technological advancement and a history replete with wars and destruction, we have still not mastered the art of consensus building.  If at all, the consensus (albeit partial) arrived at, is for destruction and not peace!  Wonder if there is anyone, the common folk, surviving in Syria!  They are bombarded by the regime, the rebels, the Kurds, the Turks, the neighbours, the Russians, the West.  Know not what else is left to be bombed.  God alone knows what information and stories those surviving are fed with - leave alone, food and water!  And after all this, we still expect those surviving to be 'normal'? 

Time and again, our actions prove that national, political, religious, economical factors outweigh humanitarian concern. Wonder what's more precious than human life and dignity? 

Scrambled eggs

Br Mateusz and I had a leisurely breakfast of scrambled eggs this morning after Mass.  Tomorrow onwards the school starts and back to regular schedule.  This reminded me of the first time that I ever made or cooked anything at all in my life! 

It was while at Deolali in Nashik on one of our Sunday ministry days back in 1999 that Mahesh and I found ourselves really hungry by noon.  Having attended the Mass, done with the Catechism for the children, the youth animation with the youngsters, choir practice for the next Sunday and our usual chit-chat with the youth, we were exhausted and starving.  As soon as the last youngster left the Church premise we rushed to the presbytery to have our usual late breakfast.  Unfortunately that day the Parish priest was away and so was the cook.  To our dismay there was nothing in the dining hall.  Imagine our horror when we realised that there was nothing in the kitchen either - nothing means, not just any cooked food, not even anything to eat!  And those were the days when there was no shop or any eatery around the Church - it being in the military compound.  And if there were, we wouldn't have bought anything for our budget was strictly travelfare!  After a quick search of the whole kitchen all that we found was eggs.  We decided to make omelettes.  After all, we said to one another, it is just breaking the eggs and putting them on the frying pan. But we couldn't even find the cooking oil - it was all locked up in the pantry.  Even in those 'hungry' moments, we hit upon the idea of using the little oil in the small pickle containers on the table.  That's how we made omelettes - with oil from the pickle jars! 

Of course, the latest memory of scrambled eggs is the breakfast I had at Cheryl's place in Bangalore and she telling me "You'll remember this scrambled eggs when you see the way it is prepared in UK!"  I do!!  

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Beginning from Jerusalem

Jesus appears to his apostles and assures them that He is not a ghost.  He shares a meal with them and then explains the Scriptures and its fulfillment in him (may not have been the best time to do so, especially after a meal, but given the circumstance, I'm sure they were all awake and perfectly attentive!).  The gospel of the day concludes with these words of Jesus
Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Three weeks ago was Easter.  In these three weeks much water has passed under the bridge, especially in world politics.  Syria has just been bombed.  What course of action - or reaction - would follow is awaited.  And that is not the only tension and confusion in the globe.  Practically every part of the world is plagued with unrest and war-like situation.  Even the very place mentioned in the gospel is at the heart of some unrest.  In such a situation, it is ironic to hear that 'repentance, forgiveness of sins' would be preached to all nations, that too beginning from Jerusalem!  Really?

However, hope is always there to assure us of things different.  But hope is not the only thing.  There is the ground-reality of goodness too.  While media, national and international, trains its lenses on the war-games, deaths, scandals, and every sort of evil one knows and at times even of those unheard, there are the untold stories of good deeds being carried out by ordinary folks all over the world.  Perhaps there are too many to be spoken of or broadcasted and that's why the media chooses to ignore them or offer some only by way of closing notes.

And so we live, by hope and trusting in the goodness of humanity...

Pony tail palm

The indoor Pony tail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) are doing extremely well... even the one which I accidentally chopped off the head while transplanting some months ago.

Nature's way

After days of drizzling and clouds, it was bright and sunny today.  Practically spent the whole day in the garden, yesterday and today. 

Besides marveling at the sheer perseverance of weeds and the delicate nature of 'valuable' plants, it was a day of clearing, weeding, planting and what not! 
Looks like some digital light rays...


... but is actually a plant overgrown in a pot, with the roots taking the shape of the pot
Red star plant (Cordyline australis)




Accepting responsibility

Mark Zuckerberg is under heavy fire these days for letting personal data be harvested from facebook users without their consent.  Well, it seems a bit odd to me to blame him alone for all that!  Just a few years ago, facebook was the buzzword.  Everyone had a facebook account.  One who didn't was frowned upon as if he or she were a dinosaur.  People posted anything and everything on facebook.  From group photos to selfies of oneself in the privacy of one's room;  from picnic photos to private parties; anything... just anything! 

A couple of months ago a thief in Karnataka was arrested for looting clean a house, while the owners were away on a holiday.  On interrogation, the thief revealed that he emptied the house bit by bit.  Not only that he practically lived in that house for the whole duration that the family was away.  Packing up things during the day, cooking for himself, sleeping the night and leaving early in the morning with all things he had packed.  On asking if he was not frightened of the arrival of the owners, he said, he wasn't... because the family was religiously updating its facebook account with photos and quips about their holidays.  He had nothing to fear since he knew when exactly they would be returning!! 

So when people feel free to post anything they want on a public platform like the internet, even if they do not join any groups, they are still making themselves public.  So if an intelligent analyst builds up a profile of the individual from all that has been posted online, then one can only appreciate the analyst and not cry wolf! 

Facebook, like every other media, is a communication network or channel.  It can be used for good or for bad.  To engage with it, expecting what you share to be used for publicity but not for harvesting information, that what you yourself have posted - with great joy and pride - is being an ostrich. Zuckerberg, is to be blamed, but not solely! What Zuckerberg is being accused of, not taking responsibility for the information harvesting, everyone who feels 'aggrieved' too is guilty of.  He (or any other) would not have had it, if you had not offered it, sometime or other other, in some way or the other. 

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Post-truth and trust

For quite sometime now, this notion of post-truth has been in circulation.  Ever since Donald Trump took up the presidency of the US, it has gained all the more prominence.  Perhaps that's the only rational explanation one can offer to the otherwise seemingly bizarre and totally 'wrong' things one encounters or sees others hold as right. 

The age old debate between science and religion, as to which of them is right is now no more the central argument.  Why so?  Has it been resolved? Or is it that the issue is no more relevant?  Or is there is a sort of tiredness to keep getting at one another's throat that there is now a declared 'peace'? 

Perhaps the way science has reviewed itself over the past few decades has something to do with it.  Something religion is still shy of doing or at least some feeble attempts are being made in some parts.  In 1970 W. V. Quine and J. S. Ullian in their book The Web of Belief made a strange argument:  that scientific statements are truths not because of their fidelity to external facts but due to their internal coherence and persuasiveness they share with other narratives and statements.  Our beliefs face the test of experience not as each individual compartmentalized fact but as a web or layered body.  Moreover our interaction of individual experience is only with the margins of our belief, not the core of what we hold as true.  So whenever there is something that contradicts or challenges our belief, we are prompted to restore consistency.  But in choosing what to revise or change, we are not guided by facts alone.  The central challenge is not fidelity to external facts but semblance of the entire web.  And in this process, we might end either changing one of the marginal beliefs or even the core of the web.  What plays a crucial role in this whole process is the authority we choose to trust. 

If this principle is right, then it does explain how one can have two seemingly and 'apparent' contradictory beliefs which for one person are totally opposite and for another perfectly compatible.  It is just that they both choose a different authority source.  What then of the external fact? Does that no more have a say in what holds as true or false?  It does but again, what guarantee that what you see is right?  After all, for centuries science believed in geo-centrism.  Technology experts could think of mega data storage only in terms of cabinet files and godowns. 

Well, if that is the case of observable external facts, what about non-material unperceivable realities of life?  Of values and principles?  Though the complications are multiplied, the basic argument of Quine and Ullian about a 'web of belief' still holds true. 

Saturday, 7 April 2018

From unbelief to belief

It is Mary Magdalene who is the first witness to Jesus' resurrection.  Of all the people, she first reports the incident to the apostles - evidently.  Then He appears to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. They too run back to Jerusalem to tell this to the apostles.  Yet the apostles are skeptical.  It is only when Jesus appears to them that they believe in his being risen.  Thomas is the only one among the apostles who misses seeing Him when He appears first.  He too does not believe - not Mary Magdalene, not the two disciples, not even his fellow apostles!  It is only when he sees Jesus for himself that he begins to believe. 

There may be many a thing we may spread and bear witness to.  Most people do believe when they hear or see someone testify about something they themselves have not seen or experienced.  However, personal experience, in most cases endorses that belief and leads to deepening of the conviction.  For some that personal experience may be the trigger. 

It all hinges on trust.  We basically trust people.  We believe that they will tell us the truth.  We trust that they will not mislead us.  However, in today's world, in spite of and perhaps because of the growth of communication channels there is a growing amount of suspicion about things.  Fake news. Alternative facts.  Post-truth.  Very many think it is due to growth of technology.  Not necessarily. It still boils down to human nature. The real antidote to suspicion and fear is trust; not regulation.  

Flowers

Two new additions to the Salesian gardens flower collection:
Pink kisses

Dainthus
The begonia (double and single) bulbs have been planted.  Hopefully they'll grow well and flower well too.  Let's see.  The tomato seeds, those remaining from last year's purchase, too have been planted.  All of it in the green house.  Once they sprout will transplant them outdoors this year.  Last year grew them in the green house.  They grew lush and green and even flowered but got only one tomato!  Those few I planted outside too grew fast but when the fruits began to grow big they slowly turned black.  Perhaps due to lack of sunshine.  

Salesian gardens bloom

With the two rounds of the snow (beast from the East) behind us, it certainly is Spring.  The poor daffodils which are perhaps one of the earliest indicators of spring, were cheated twice by the snowfall.  However, they are now picking up!  Yet to see a carpet of them, though.  In my garden at least the Hellebore are in full bloom. 

This one really stands out with its distinctive colour but mostly blends in with the garden fence. Nonetheless it is beautiful.

This one is almost invisible amidst the foliage.  But is more robust and dense...
The tulips are slowly peeking out, though not many in my garden.  Even the few look sickly and the blowing winds don't make it easy for them either.  Have already bought a couple of bulbs and hope next year there will be a better bloom. 
This primrose has truly come alive.  Last year I transplanted it to a pot and is doing much better.  There is the purple version of it that I discovered a few days ago in one corner.  Will soon join this one in the pot.
The only weed, beside dandelions in the lawn, that's taking over the whole garden is the scallion. These bulbs are spreading like ants... everywhere.  And only in my garden!!
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