Sunday, 19 August 2018

In word and deed

Another news article that certainly needs attention and wider circulation: New Zealand politician cycles to hospital to give birth

Basically for several reasons:

  • To show that motherhood does not mean the end of every other aspect of life for a woman.  That women have the right and the ability to carry on working even after giving birth, while taking care of the children.  Reiterating the fact that women are far more capable of multitasking than men.  
  • The Prime Minister of the country and another politician of the same country, both women, go to a public hospital for giving birth to their respective children - not some posh, private hospital, just because one is in power. 
  • The associate transport minister of the country riding to the hospital for delivering her child - deeds backing up words and promises! 
  • Last but perhaps a very strange reason: these politicians are defying the universal characteristics of politicians! They are showing that politicians are not corrupt, selfish, power-hungry, lazy... (add every other vice under the sun!).  

Too much!

Three of the news items hitting the BBC top news list of today and what a contrast! 

There is the severe floods in Kerala and the destruction it has brought about.  Then there is the devastating drought in Australia.  Two places suffering from two extremes of weather and climate.  If only the rains were to fall in Australia and the sun shine down bright and hard on Kerala...!!  

The third news item is in stark contrast to the other two nonetheless shows what happens when we have plenty!  The news is about how one third of the vegetable and fruit produce never make it to the supermarkets in Europe, all because they are not the perfect shape and size or not good looking.  Consumers won't pick up those and supermarkets don't want to take in these fruits and vegetables from the farmers.  So what is the fate of these 'misshapen' produce? Thrown away as waste!

The most disgraceful aspect of the news itself was the use of words such as "ugly", "misshapen", "wonky", "blemished", "wrong size" to describe how the fruits and vegetables look!  Really?  I wonder if the floods of Kerala and the drought of Australia were to happen here, would people still go by the looks of the produce? 

Saturday, 18 August 2018

It's not easy

A brief chat with one of my school mates stuck in the floods of Kerala revealed to me how difficult life can be for people with families and responsibilities to suddenly think of alternative ways of living.  The usual hour or so journey from his office to his home took him two days!  With some suggesting that he move out of Kerala for a couple of weeks, his only reply was, "It's not easy to leave!"

What he meant was not the actual situation of flood or lack of transportation.  He actually meant leaving behind every material possession and even the thought of whom to take along when leaving, made leaving all the more impossible.  He not only needs to see to his own wife and two kids, there is also his parents, his in-laws and others around.  Decisions about whom to send off first, where to and how to are not easy. 

For a religious like me, I'd be ready with my whole life possessions within half an hour.  But I tried to recreate the same scenario if I'm with a hundred children and a huge house.  There is no question of leaving!  The children are the first priority, but where do I send them to and even if I do manage to send them somewhere I also need to keep track of them!  Add to these children those in the neighbourhood who come to your place because their situation is far worse than ours!  Loss of property can be dealt with but how does one cope with loss of life, that too of a dear one.  What to do with the corpse?  How does the family cope with that loss? 

It's not easy!

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Holy wells and rags

Chatting with Fr Sean after Mass this morning, I heard for the first time the tradition of tying pieces of cloth or thread around trees and bushes in the Catholic tradition.  I've heard and seen it being practiced very much among the Hindus in India. However, never knew that even among Catholics there is a similar tradition - and perhaps for the same purpose.  People tie pieces of thread or colourful cloth pieces around tree branches or bushes as a sort of intention, either for oneself or for someone else.  Fr Sean said that this was a popular practice of piety when he was a boy in Ireland, especially on a feast day like today, the Assumption.  People would go in procession or just visit the holy wells, recite the rosary have a sort of prayer service and carry out this ritual before returning home.  It is said that the wells reminded the Christians of the pool of Siloam and the rags tied to the trees as prayers for some healing.  However, this tradition could be dating back to the Romans, before Christianity.
Well, that's new information! Lovely to hear of this affinity between worship and nature in the Christian tradition.   Did some search on the net and read something more about this great connection here!  Most surprised to hear for the first time of this tradition of tying rags to trees in the Catholic tradition.  

Respectful Force

One significant difference between the UK and India is perhaps the way we look upon our armed forces.  Here in the UK those in service or those who were once in service are greatly respected and honoured.  The veterans of the World Wars are often treated as heroes... atleast most of those whom I've met or seen.  Back in India, those in the armed forces are barely acknowledged, leave alone celebrated.  The memory of their bravery and sacrifice is perhaps commemorated on just a day or two, as today - Independence day.  For the rest of the year, they are non-existent! 

The soldiers in India are a sort of mascot for patriotism - that too when it is convenient for politics.  They are basically 'used' or referred to when someone wants to whip up anti-Pakistan feelings.  It is as if they have been handed over the task of being patriotic, and the rest are exempted - or rather, we exempt ourselves!  Such is our attitude.  Even the salary those in service receive is not something one can boast about.  In comparison with the amount of time, energy and sacrifices they put up with, their wages are totally far less.  I'm sure the middle men in our politics, leave alone the politicians themselves, earn far more than an army man. 

And like the army man, the farmer too is the most under-appreciated person in our country.  Perhaps the last person who actually highlighted these two persons in the progress of our country was Lal Bahadur Shastri, our second Prime Minister, especially when he coined the phrase जय जवान जय किसान (Hail soldier! Hai farmer!).

Monday, 13 August 2018

Rationality or Irrationality

One particular programme that I happened to listen to today, stressed on the rational element of man.  Or rather spoke of human being as a irrational animal, in contrast to Aristotle's 'rational animal'.  This is based on the proved scientific theory that most human beings use only a minimal portion of our intellectual ability, our brain.  The vast majority of the brain's potential remains untapped.  Moreover, the human being today can predict with greater accuracy the consequences of a failure than a success.  This prompts the speaker to propose that rather than improve the quality of our reasoning or our rationality (which we have not really improved for ages, in spite of some progress), we should focus on creating systems and patterns which will help us cope with our failures and weaknesses - something we have engaged in since evolution of society.  So invest greater in technology, data production and analysis, ... and perhaps artificial intelligence too, which will complement the 'weak' rationality we human beings are satisfied/blessed with. 

However I disagree with the idea that it is better to focus on complementary systems which tend to reduce the negative impact of our failed reasoning than on improving rationality itself.

  • Going further that line, will bring us to a time when we trust the system rather than our own rational ability.  Too disastrous for other aspects of life and living. 
  • This notion, takes for granted that rationality is our greatest and most important defining element of humanity.  It is a major characteristic but not the only one.  The human person is a combination of various elements.  
  • Rather than remedy the situation, it would be more proper to prevent the situation needing a remedy! (The Salesian Preventive system rather than remedial system). 

Though very subtle, the emphasis should be to view that what we strive for.  While it is easy to argue that what we create is basically to supplement what we lack, a better option would be to see our invention(s) as increasing our possibilities of ways in which we can do things differently.  

First fruits

First produce, tomatoes of the year... ready for harvesting...
There is a certain thrill one feels when one sees the fruit of one's labour, that words cannot truly capture!

Sunday, 12 August 2018

A piece of history

This morning Fr Sean showed me a postcard he got from the Agricultural show in Chertsey.  It is of the Salesian Sisters school.  The postal stamp on the card has been ripped off so cannot really know the date.  But it certainly is of the early 1900's.  Two indicators: The address does not have a postcode and the fact that the Salesian Sisters were here in 1910.  Moreover the student addressed to has an Italian surname (at least sounds so).  Perhaps of the early days when the Sisters were mainly catering to the Italian migrants to the country - because there were hardly any English Sisters and most of those here were from Italy. 

Though none of the buildings or even trees in the photo are present, would be interesting to know where exactly is this location, vis-a-vis our present residence.  The postcard itself is a kind of progress card, informing a particular student about the success in her exam - and the failure of only one in the batch, poor Barbara!

When Fr Sean told the man selling this card at the agricultural show - of all places! - that he is a current resident of the location of the photo and knows the Salesian Sisters, the man gave it to him for free - though it was priced £ 6.

Digitalizing history

Heard of this new app from Google to help conserve old photos in the digital format: PhotoScan.  Looks good. Helps take the glare and other unnecessary aspects of a photo of an old photo or frame. Very useful in clicking and 'cleaning' old photos in a glass frame or lamination.

Tried it on the only two printed photos I have - ever had! ... of people who have made a huge impact on my life and are no more...
My maternal grandparents: Raymond and Jethrude Pinto

Fr John Lens sdb

Aware of being in his presence

It is not just the teenagers of today's modern era who have suicidal tendencies.  Even Elijah, the prophet of the Old Testament, too had similar thoughts.
This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.
However the angel comes and offers him food and commands him to eat.  The reading concludes with the statement
He got up, ate and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.
Well it might be true that it is the food that sustained him on his journey to the mountain.  But it was something more that actually moved him, besides the food.  It was the assurance that God was with him.  The assurance that he still had something to do and that he was not useless.  It is this awareness of God watching him and the mission that he is to carry out that gets Elijah up and going.  He later encounters God (in the gentle breeze) and that strengthens his resolve to carry on.

Most often, in our low moments when we do not see anything we do or say as worthwhile, God assures us, in His own ways, that we are precious and useful. Mere awareness of being in His presence is a great motivator and energizer.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Deacons and Salesian Brothers

This morning at Mass when I heard and was reminded that St Laurence was a deacon and not a priest, and was someone who was greatly aware of his mission as a deacon of service, rather than sacramental ministry, the first thought that struck me was the reason why Don Bosco spoke of Brothers.  Don Bosco wanted Brothers to do works that a priest would not be able to find time and spare energy for, because he is involved in sacramental ministry.  The Brother therefore would be involved in works, other than sacramental ministry, but complimentary to that of the Priest in building the Kingdom.  Isn't that exactly the same motivation and need that drove the early Church to install the first deacons? 
'It's not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. Therefore brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom. Then we can appoint those men over this business, and we apostles will continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' (Acts 6: 1-4). 
So I guess the issue of distinguishing or mixing up roles in ministry dates long before our times, or even Don Bosco's times!  However, am sure, the apostles and Don Bosco would have a different take on today's scenario, different not only in time but in place (East or West) as well!  

Sharing sufferings and help

The readings on the feast of St Laurence (the Scripture reading and the Mass readings) have a particular and special stance.  Though clearly hinting at martyrdom and death, they also contain a special combination not often emphasised much: suffering and help. 
Let us give thanks to the God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful Father, the God from whom all help comes.  He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help those who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God.  Just as we have a share in Christ's many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in his great help (2 Cor. 1: 3-5). 
This aspect of sharing in the sufferings of Christ or bearing persecution for being a witness to Christ is spoken of much, but barely anything said about extending the help that we have been blessed with.  Perhaps, it is primarily because most people go about helping others without making a bit fuss about it. 

The life and works of St Laurence surely are a great example and inspiration for being generous in extending God's help to others who are in need of help.  

Deep-fried for God

Today is the feast of St Laurence.  My family, especially Papa, has been a great devotee of St Laurence.  The fact that Attur, in Karnataka has a large shrine dedicated to St Laurence and to which both my parents belonged to, has much to do with this attachment.  And so, the first and most 'exciting' martyrs tale that we as children heard was that of St Laurence.  That too what a tale it was: being burnt on the iron grid!  I always tried to imagine how they would have burned him and which side they burned first for I always found it amusing that after a while on the grid, he told his tormentors that one side of his was sufficiently burnt and that they should turn him over to the other side! 
This is the statue of St Laurence we always had on our family altar
While at Mass today, the most immediate instance in our times that flashed across my mind, was the news reports of the recent wild fires in Greece. Remember reading about the firefighters discovering bodies of victims in a group. When they knew that they could not outrun the fire or escape it they formed a huddle, placing the younger ones in the centre, trying to shield them from the fire. Gives an insight into the great love that parents have for their children and dear ones.  Even in the face of agonizing death, their priority and thoughts are all about the well being of their loved ones.  Even so was St Laurence, when even faced with death, all he was concerned was God and the poor. 

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Respect and courtesy

Two days ago we received a letter from the National Rail informing us of the planned renovation work of the foot-over bridge at the local Chertsey railway station.  It informed us of the dates, time and the detailed reason for the renovation work.  It also had details of the types of work being carried out and proposals for alternates during the course of renovation work during which the bridge would not be usable.  The letter was sent to all the residents of Chertsey! 

Truly an amazing gesture and act of courtesy.  However, the residents of Chertsey see no great merit in this.  For me though it means much.  Coming from a place where repairs and renovations are hardly done and even when undertaken, no information, leave alone details of the procedure or duration would be available even on asking, this letter marks a significant sign of progress and respect. 

I remember even when our neighours hold parties they inform us and request us to bear the "noise" - music - and assure us by what time it would all conclude.  The note also includes the reason for the celebration and apologies, in advance, for the inconvenience caused.  Back in India, people blare music so loud and long that not only the immediate neighbours, but the whole locality would be unable to sleep the whole night or even do have a decent conversation!  But no letter or information, leave alone, an apology is issued, or expected! 

Respect and courtesy.  Two simple gestures ease so much of tension and go a long way in building relationships.    

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

War horse

Yesterday evening I was delighted to be invited by Brian and Pat to join them for viewing the play, War Horse at the theatre in Working.  I had earlier seen the movie and was quite happy with it.  Knowing that the central character of the story is the horse, I did not expect much life in this play, thinking that it would be mostly used as a prop.  However, I was in for a big surprise.  The way the horse(s) are characterized in the play is amazing. 

The play itself is nearly two and half hours and follows very close to the script of the movie.  Know not if it is the same in the original book itself.  The horses involved in the play are puppets which are brought to life by three persons, two walking inside the horse and one operating the head.  But it is not just walking around with the frame of a horse, the puppet is really brought to life by the three persons operating the frame.  For a while I was watching the persons hidden underneath and the person operating the head, but very soon they did not really "appear" - all that was 'to be seen' was the horse!  The grunts and huffs, the flick of the tail, the breathing, the twitch of the ears, the movement of the head and even the trot so beautifully synchronized and close to reality that it is hard to imagine that one is watching a puppet! 

The actors who portrayed the persons involved too do a great job, as is the portrayal of war scenes using light and sound but what stands out is the way the horses are brought alive! Really amazing.  And given that the whole run is a single shot (unlike a movie where they have the whole time in the world and opportunities for retake), makes the play something superb.  No wonder the play has been running to packed shows for 8 long years in selected theatres in England.  Though very pricey (£ 54), I enjoyed every bit of it.  Thanks to Brian and Pat!

Monday, 6 August 2018

Salesian Sisters at Cowley

Visited the elderly Salesian Sisters at Cowley this morning, with Fr John.  There were two new Sisters, since I last visited them a couple of months ago.  Two of those whom I'd met in my previous visits looked a bit pale and weak.  For the rest they looked fine and hearty.  It was interesting to notice that some of them, even though now find it difficult to walk unaided or even hold a coffee cup steady, have not lost their sense of humour and joy in life.  A couple of them are very silent and look lost.  Looks as if they are yet to reconcile themselves to the fact that they are no more young, energetic and in-charge! 

What's surprising was that a couple of them remembered me - of course, not my name but that I am a Brother and have visited them earlier!  

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Keeping the chicken alive

In my younger days at home, Mummy used to often say that another person could have a meal from the amount leftover in Willy's plate.  So it was Mummy who would serve him the softest meat parts, and even tear off the meat from the bones of the chicken and coax him to eat what is served.  On the other hand, like Papa, I liked to even crush the bones and extract the marrow!  I'm sure Chris and Anet are not far from their dad with regard to eating habits. 

Am reminded of this whenever we have the whole chicken roast for meals.  For the amount of meat that is eaten or rather that which is not extracted because it is too close to the bones or that it has the skin still attached or whatever reason, one need not have killed the chicken.  Am sure the chicken would have survived, having donated the amount of meat we actually consume!  Not fair to eat every bit of food, especially after it involves a life, and so much labour of different people all along the process!  

Saturday, 4 August 2018

The old B&W TV

Last night as I hit bed, I suddenly remembered the first time we had television at home.  Can't remember the exact year but it was surely when my brother and I were in school, probably in the late 80's.  Prior to that we used to run to Sadiq's house - our neighbour who had TV and very many of us children would gather at his place to watch the Sunday movie screened on Doordarshan - the only channel available. 

Our first TV was Sanyo - or Sankyo? - at least that was what was written on the box.  It was a second-hand one Papa had managed to purchase, I think from his trusted electrician, Danny!  It was a black and white one, which we were clearly instructed not to meddle with.  For fear of spoiling the on/off push button, it was directly put on and off from the main power switch. Once in a way, the signal would scramble and that would set off a very amusing process of three of us at different levels of the house attempting to restore clarity.  Papa would be on the roof adjusting the antenna, Willy would be on the ground below where Papa was and I would be indoors infront of the TV, watching out and shouting exactly at which point the clarity was best.  That was something! 

The first movie that we watched on OUR OWN television was Mayuri.  The only other movie (name) that I remember watching on it was Shatrang ke khiladi - because that was a total damper!  But most of all we really looked forward to the serial, The Sword of Tipu Sultan.  It used to be aired on Saturday night for an hour.  We all loved it and watched it without fail.  However the long bits of advertisements were a bit of a nuisance. I even remember making a list of each ad being screened on one occasion - just to count the number of them! 

I still remember the sole purpose Papa bought it - Mummy and he did not want us to be running around our neighbour's house, asking permission from our home and their home, to watch some occasional Didi's comedy show or a weekend movie.  Though we continued to love watching TV at home, the sense of wonder and amusement did die down a bit, in the years to come.  I don't remember when we graduated from that old B&W TV to the colour one, but that old one did serve us well and for long.  I can still remember distinctly where exactly it was placed in the house and how we used to put it on.  

Thursday, 2 August 2018


In India, especially among the Hindus, there is the custom of following the muhurat, (the auspicious time) for any event or occasion of some significance.  Hence prior to any wedding or house-warming, a priest is consulted.  He then does his ground work and informs the members of the most auspicious of dates and the precise time too.  He does so reading the movement of the heavenly bodies and the 'panchangam' or 'kundali' of the involved individuals.  It is interesting to note that this particular process indicates the involvement not just of a couple of individuals for whom the event is of great significance but of the whole universe.  It is like the whole universe - all the gods, stars, nature, people especially those conducting the event and even the demons - working in tandem for the good and prosperity of the said persons. 

Catholics have a different notion of time.  We do not have specific moments of 'auspicious' moments.  We treat every minute as God-given and sacred - at least in theory! However understanding the Hindu notion of time and relevance is truly a great eye-opener.  Hidden beneath the apparent myths and stories about the different 'kalas' and 'yugas' and the calculation process of the 'muhurat' there is a deep wisdom and unique universal perspective of even very small and routine events. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

What kind of a Salesian?

The forthcoming General Chapter has as its main theme, 'What kind of a Salesian do young people look up to?' or something similar.  The basic notion is to define or redefine the identity of the Salesian for the present times. 

At times I wonder if we will actually say anything new or different from what has already been said - if not in the distant past, at least in the past one or two chapters.  My feeling wells up from my own dilemma to formulate what kind of a person do I want to form (help form) as a formator?  Having lived here in the UK for almost two years now, I certainly need to have a totally different structure or format.  Thinking of the Indian context it is a different kind of perspective that I need to adopt.  To be blunt, a Salesian formed here in the UK will never really be able to live and work in the Indian context to the best of his abilities.  The same is true of one formed in India, out working here. While some basic information and historical origin remains the same, the way the Salesian lives out his vocation will be entirely different.

On second thought, perhaps it is not identity as such but the way the identity is lived or expressed will be different. So the actual working out of that expression is a task of the individual context, province, and ultimately of the individual.  The congregation as a whole cannot really define it for all across the globe!  What I do hope is that the Chapter will help us revise the consciousness of our core identity: as consecrated persons journeying towards the Kingdom, especially with the marginalised young.  It will be interesting to see if there is anything else or different that is enumerated about our core identity.  
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