Saturday, 28 July 2018

Fragrance of the first rain

Like many, I too love the fragrance of the first rain.  We had some good showers yesterday, exactly after two months - very unusual in the UK.  And the first thing that caught my attention even before I could see the rain was the fragrance of that rain hitting the ground.

Only today did I read something scientific about it - petrichor, that's the name of the fragrance! It is actually caused by a bacteria when the rain hits the earth.  Since I cannot describe (sufficiently) the experience of the fragrance, I might for now learn the scientific chemistry behind it.  The term 'petrichor' was coined by scientists Isabel Joy Bear and Richard Thomas in their 1964 article "Nature of Argillaceous Odour", published in the journal Nature. The word was coined from Greek petros, meaning 'stone', and ichor, meaning 'the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods' More of it here on BBC

Friday, 27 July 2018

Honest prayers

Talking with Mummy this evening, she was speaking about the prayers my nephew and niece say before they go to school every morning.  I remember Mummy used to make us also say prayers everyday before going to school.  However, now my Chris and Anet seemed to have a more free hand at the prayers.  So I gather that they add their own intentions too, after the 'routine' prayers. 

Roshni seems to have been hard on Chris one day while following up his homework and so the next day morning, here was Chris' prayer:
Jesus, make Mamma a kind woman!  
Anet, I'm told, has her fervent prayer almost everyday:
Jesus, don't go anywhere.  Stay with me!  
Talking of innocent and honest prayers, am reminded of Hubard, a brother from Guwahati province who was studying at Karunapuram a few years ago.  He was a very simple and joyful youngster.  He also had a very innocent outlook towards life.  Hence at times when we had spontaneous prayers during the night prayer, he would thank or pray for something so 'trivial' that very many of us would smile or laugh ("Thank you for the good chutney we had for supper!" or "Please Lord, send us some rain and I'm finding it hard to concentrate and study in this heat and my vegetable garden is drying up").  But he was serious about his prayer.  And all of us knew him well to know that he was not making fun or being sarcastic.  He was genuinely praying about something close to his heart. 

Wish we all retain that simplicity and honesty in prayer.  

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Grandparents feast

Today is the feast of the parents of Mother Mary, Joachim and Ann;  the grandparents of Jesus.  Not much is said of these two persons in the Bible.  I doubt if they ever knew of the Immaculate Conception of their daughter - leave alone, Mary herself knowing this! 

Yet veneration to these two has a great significance even from a mere sociological or cultural viewpoint.  From the very behaviour and life of Mary, one can gain insights into her upbringing.  Mary certainly did not fall from heaven with all the graces and virtues she is extolled for.  All her virtues were very much down to earth: trust in God and His goodness, openness to His call, concern for someone in need, whether at the wedding feast of Cana or her own cousin Elisabeth, love for her family, determination to go on in spite of great hardships (her own young son being crucified as a criminal)... Much of these would have been something she picked up from her childhood, from her parents. 

I wonder what would have been the reaction of Joachim and Anne when they came to know of Mary's pregnancy.  I know not if they knew anything of the divine plan.  Whatever may have been the case, one thing is sure: they were indeed very loving parents who brought up their child with great care and affection. 

This morning I warmly remembered my parents and Roshni's parents: grandparents of Chris and Anet.  When Willy and I grew up, we never had that privilege.  We only met our grandparents once in 5 years or so, when we went to Mangalore for some grand event in the family.  That too it was for a couple of days, amidst all the confusion of the event.  Yet I have great memories of Mummy's parents, especially grandma.  Papa's parents were a bit distant, though we spent more time with them.  Now Papa and Mummy have no great plans and ambitions; they need not slog it out like they once did (all through!);  they can relax and enjoy the company of Chris and Anet.  

Everywhere you go...

Talked to an old friend of mine after long.  She is a missionary in Sri Lanka and spoke with great joy of her work there, in the school, prison, parish group, Legion of Mary, and of course, in the community of three itself!  We studied philosophy together for a year, more than two decades ago.  She was then - and even now - a very affectionate person.  Not a great intellectual but very humane and greatly concerned about everyone.  As she was sharing about her work and the great satisfaction she was having from all the works she was involved in, she was happy to hear me speak of what I was doing (nothing much!).

The one thing we realised was that no matter where we are, the circumstances around us do not matter more than the state of our interior lives.  What's inside is more influential than what is outside of us.  Coincidentally came across this particular song, reflecting this sentiment:
Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you, everywhere you go... (love the guitar too!)

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

After two years!

Every once in a way I feel a prick in my footwear, the only one that I used while back in India.  Most often I'd be busy in some work and I'd tell myself that I'll find the source once I get the work done.  And invariably I forget.  This morning, after many days, I again felt the prick.  So I picked up the slipper and examined it carefully.  Did not find anything at all.  Tried again and then discovered it!  It was a thorn and then I distinctly remembered the source of it:  while at our new home in Hyderabad!  My former pair of footwear had plenty which I extracted over a long period of time - a reminder of the hard work the Brothers and I put in during my first year in the farm at Kondadaba.  Brothers were not really fond of manual garden work but somehow we did a great job clearing a large section of the farm overgrown with wild bushes and thorns, to plant some cashew saplings (that was 2010).
The ball pen is only to get an idea of how big the thorn is... but the pen is also one that I brought with me, two years ago!
So, there at last was something that was on me all these two years, all the way from Hyderabad!  Intact!  It now lies on my windowsill.  

Eleven stars

In my bedroom, on the ceiling are eleven stars!  Well they are those flourescent stickers that glow in the dark.  During the day or when the light is on, I cannot even see the stickers but when the lights are off and it is dark, those glow bright!  I don't remember when was the last time I glanced up at the night sky - other than last night.  But these eleven stars (I presume they were stuck up there by the former occupant of the room) are a soothing effect on days when I do notice them while lying in bed.  Most often I do not notice even these.  Luckily I can sleep off in a wink but there are times when I've slept through the day and therefore sleep eludes me at night.  Watching these stars above makes me feel I'm not the only one in the universe.  That there are far more interesting and challenging things in the world than what is presently occupying my mind.  

Friday, 20 July 2018

Hydrangea, Begonias and others

This year round, in the garden, after the big leaf hydrangea, it is the begonias that have bloomed best.  Unfortunately of the four single petal white begonias I bought, only one grew up well.  But the three multipetal red ones have all grown very well. 







The pink and white ____________  too have come up well... but scattered over a few places.  Have gathered the seeds this year and plan to plant them together next year and make them more visible. 



 The first time the Easter lily has bloomed! Two flowers from three plants!  Great!


Thursday, 19 July 2018

Loneliness

An interesting understanding of loneliness, something that did not occur to me earlier...
By ‘loneliness’ Arendt did not simply mean solitude, in which – as she points out – you have your own self for consolation. In the solitude of our minds, we engage in an internal dialogue. We speak in two voices. It is this internal dialogue that allows us to achieve independent and creative thought – to weigh strong competing imperatives against each other. You engage in it every time you grapple with a moral dilemma. Every clash of interests, every instance of human difference evokes it. True thought, for Arendt, involved the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. True loneliness, therefore, was the opposite. It involved the abrupt halting of this internal dialogue: ‘the loss of one’s own self’ – or rather, the loss of trust in oneself as the partner of one’s thoughts. True loneliness means being cut off from a sense of human commonality and therefore conscience. You are left adrift in a sea of insecurity and ambiguity, with no way of navigating the storms. (Aeon)
And this loneliness is the common thread running through all extremists and belonging (to the extremist or terrorist group) gives them a sense of identity, a place where they no more feel lonely but valued.  So it is not that only those who are physically alone or isolated that are prone to loneliness, even those living amidst people and even those who are actively involved in the lives of others also can be victims of this loss of trust in oneself.  The key as I see it is communication and empathy.  

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Know not how and why, but have been reading quite a few interesting articles about Artificial Intelligence in the past two days. Not so much the technical or mechanical aspect but the rational and philosophical dimension of AI. My general impressions and views, as of now:

What Artificial Intelligence (AI) has actually achieved is 'human intelligence'. It has only managed to create what human beings can think or do, better. But isn't AI about rational thinking and independent behaviour? The machines and robots have been programmed or coded with the various possibilities from the vast amount of available data, and generated algorithms thereof, to choose a particular act. It does not 'think' beyond the given data or possibilities. The created AI has only inherited the collated and multiplied human intelligence, but with its limitations as well. (Now this supposes a distinction between human thinking/act and rational thinking/act.)

Secondly, the inherited intelligence is that of a select group of inventors, not of all mankind. Example is the response of Google assistant, American made and Alisa, a Russian make to the statement, “I am sad.” Google's reply: “I wish I had arms to give you a hug.” Alisa's reply: “No one said life is going to be fun.” The former reply is typically a Western capitalist response to an emotional state and the latter a hard hitting fact of life reply as per Russian culture.

While consensus on what exactly does 'cognition' or 'understanding' mean and how it is achieved is elusive, to expect or attribute the same to AI will be even more complicated. Other crucial issues AI is yet to address: subjective consciousness, creativity, meaning… (Or is it that AI researchers and developers are not interested in mechanizing these essential features of the humankind!?)

Running on!

Last year when the Salesian school Chertsey held its sports meet at St George's, Weybridge I went there for sometime.  During my short time there on the ground, there was a marathon race being participated by one whole year batch.  Teachers standing along the tracks were cheering and encouraging the students to run the laps.  "Keep running, you're doing great!"  At one point a couple of enthusiastic boys who had done some bit of running asked, "Miss, how many rounds are we to run?"  The teacher enthusiastically replied, "Oh, just four rounds of the ground!"  The boys instantly shot back, "What?  This is my 5th round!"   

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Relevance and meaning decide 'the obvious'

What is obvious is not what is out there, but what we sought to seek and find! The famous gorilla experiment, is an example in case.  We human beings always are looking for, not merely looking at.  Blindness and bias are not negative features of our human nature.  They merely indicate that the individual is looking for something else! Something else is relevant and meaningful and therefore, misses the 'obvious'.  (Theory decides the observation.)

Reminds me of Fr TD, who always used to harp on seeing the good in the boys rather than the mischief or the nuisance they create, and when caught in the act say, "See, I told you!"
But the far more important point is that we also need to recognise and investigate the remarkable human capacities for generating questions and theories that direct our awareness and observations in the first place. Bias and blindness-obsessed studies will never get us to this vital recognition.
At its worst, the fascination with blindness and bias flattens humans, and science, to a morally dubious game of ‘gotcha’.
So in the case of Artificial Intelligence (AI), both optimism and worry are justified and valid.  Optimistic that they are better at observation and statistical analysis than human beings; worry, because we human beings are passing on to them our limited framework of what to observe and how to analyse!  Relevance and meaning are vital to intelligence and rationality - computers being good at the latter, not the former.  (Insights and quotes from Aeon)

Friday, 13 July 2018

Reminiscing old times

Last night watched the musical 'Annie' put up by the students of the Salesian school here in Chertsey.  Part of the musical cast was a dog!  Looking at it on stage, was reminded of the time at Yercaud during my philosophy days when acting in a play for the 15th of August.  I'm not sure what the play was, but that I was a police constable and to enhance the effect of the opening murder scene, was supposed to get the 'sniffer dog' - our own Grigio.  Now this German Shepherd of the house was great! 

The only problem was to keep it away from the 'corpse', Doms who was so frightened of dogs that he had already warned me not to let the dog touch him, leave alone lick him!  He'd warned me that if I let the dog touch him, the script of the play would change and they'd be a real dead body on stage - mine!  Knowing Doms fear of dogs, I was careful. 

All was fine till the actual day of performance.  Every day during the rehearsal, Grigio would be up on stage excited about exploring the set and the new place.  I always had to struggle to get it off the stage.  However, on the actual day, I solemnly walked on to the stage with the leash, only to discover that Grigio would not get on the stage. So here I was on stage, in full view of the audience, pulling hard to get the yet to be seen Grigio!  The more the audience laughed at my struggle, the more it frightened Grigio!  

Friday, 6 July 2018

Equality. Is that inherent in the system?

Some stray reflections on the notion of 'equality'...

Is equality an inherent standard or an external imposition on an existing state of affairs? 

Perhaps equality is  an external measure or standard to a given context. Not something inherent. Inherently each is only different. If equal, then it should be the same, more or less.

What implications does this have?  That there always has to be a third party to actually decide? When speaking about human beings or even realities involving more than mere statistical or material components, can two or more entities claim to be equal, all by themselves?  

Tolerance vs harmony

For long the Indian belief system and the general mood of the population has considered Hinduism as a tolerant religion. Indeed it is – at least in its principles and core values. However, living here in Europe and often hearing of the Christian tradition and history, I wonder if the same tolerance can be said of Christianity too. But then on deeper reflection it struck me that the word 'tolerance' smacks of a sort of dominance and a kind of pitiful 'permission' for other beliefs to exist. Even in common usage we don't use the word 'tolerate' when speaking of human relations. And when we do, it is not in very positive and joyful description. To tolerate someone would mean to bear up, for want of no choice or out of sheer necessity. It certainly is not a pleasant scenario. So why use the term when referring to religions and religious adherents? Perhaps a better and more suitable word would be 'harmony'. Well it does not describe one particular religion or group but of the whole! Even if one were to use it for one particular religion, one would need to say that it promotes harmony, not tolerates other belief systems!

Belief

All universally accepted 'truths' or facts were once assumptions or postulates yet to be proved. Most of what we hold as true is based on inference. And going down the line of inferences that first inference is based on, we will encounter assumptions – even assumptions that are universal and true.

Believing does not really involve any kind of judgement or knowledge – knowledge how, knowledge that, justified true belief, or other beliefs (???). When I walk I do not believe that the ground under my feet will hold my weight. I walk! I may be thinking of my interview or the journey or even my own belief in God, but believing in the ground under my feet is not one of them! … basically out of habit or regular behaviour.

(... something missing??)

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Busily happy

A man returned to his native village after several years. Years ago when he left the village to seek brighter prospects he was sure nothing much could be achieved staying in the village. Chatting with his childhood friends who stayed on and settled down in the village itself, he was glad to see them all after long. As he listened to all that they did he finally stated, “So you really have kept yourselves busy.” One of them responded, “Busy or not, we are not sure, but happy indeed!” “What's the big difference,” he asked, “between being busy and being happy?” Another of his friends responded, “If one earns more than what he needs he is busy. And if one earns what he needs, he is happy!”

The Kent SeNSS conference

The three day participation at the conference in Canterbury, my first official participation in the UK, was a great experience.  What's more all of it paid for by the bursary I won in the competition organised by South east Network of Social Sciences (SeNSS).  I had initially applied for the competition because I wanted to visit Canterbury, the historical town.  Coming to know that the University of Kent is located at Canterbury was the sole reason I applied.  Thanks to the organisers I got the chance and am happy to have been there - though did not get to see much of the town... maybe on another visit. 
Close to the Canterbury (East) station in a park! 

The Westgate in the heart of the town

The Cathedral, headquarters of the Anglican Church...
For a political sanyasi like me, with no interest or ear for politics, the talk on Brexit was truly an enlightening one - given by Prof. Anand Menon of Kings College, London.  The panel discussion on the European Union and some of the serious issues plaguing it, too was enriching.  One could clearly see the competence, indepth knowledge and interest of some of the professors involved. 

Though would have loved some more substantial intellectual exercises or presentations, was happy to hear some of the research topics of other doctoral researchers.  So wide, varied and at times weird!  There is one studying cock fights in the Canary islands!  One doing research on a small community park in some remote African country.  One Spaniard studying the privatization of water in England - of all places! Several in the field of education and business.  But all spending time and energy gathering data and analysing it.  The principle or theory they were proving seemed just a line or so.  I was the only one who was not doing any empirical data collection and analysis!  That was quite an eerie feeling. But now I've almost got used to that feeling because, no other discipline exempts a doctoral research from substantiating their data. Philosophy is the only stream where you only blah, blah, blah!  For me it was a good experience talking casually and in smaller circles about my research topic... explaining philosophical pursuits in simple language.  The fact that most often those listening would continue the conversation, ask questions and even criticize some ideas of mine was a great success indicator.

Met some Indians, a Nepali, a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi at the conference and it was a great time of fun and laughter when not in the sessions.  Chatted with them in Hindi and it was great... spoke Hindi after two years! 

Carpe diem!

Had a successful interview at the university this afternoon for the post of the visiting tutors for the philosophy department.  Both the panel members were highly impressed by my presentation and capability to handle a class of undergraduates.  Hope the courses opted are on the charts and I get the opportunity to teach.  Would be a great aid in adding life to my otherwise monotonous schedule of reading! 

For now I have the satisfaction and the joy of having done my best for the teaching opportunity, if available! 
That and the excitement of having a deadline to start writing something (after all the reading) is perhaps a good mood to relish.  Might as well enjoy the moment! 

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Salesian gardens, Chertsey

With absolutely no rains for more than a month, all the meadows and lawns in the country are brown!  Our lawn at Salesian gardens was never really fully green, so one can imagine what it would look like!  However some plants and flowers are still not just surviving but thriving... of course, with some watering every alternate days. 
Wild sweet peas in the front yard
These wild sweet peas are far better and vibrant than the official 'garden' sweet peas!


The bottle brush flower


 This big leaf hydrangea are the best as of now.  Having transplanted the plant from the pot to the ground has paid off richly!  To see the bloom feels so uplifting!

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