Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Digesting warm up

Games and sports were always part of the school tradition.  Especially in a Salesian school. All the more in a formation house.  However, not so long ago, games were considered a luxury by most rural folk in India.  Only those who were wealthy would indulge in such pastime activities.  

I distinctly remember a pioneer of the seminary at Kondadaba narrating the surprise and the bewilderment of the local population when the first seminarians (under the guidance of the Salesians) would spend every evening an hour, playing.  So to warm up they'd run around the seminary, do a bit of stretching in front and then start the game, mostly football or volleyball.  Initially the villagers would stop on their way back home from their fields and watch this whole 'amusing' phenomenon.  Being a totally rural setting, and literally slogging all day long in the fields, the notion of organised games, that too daily, was something too much for them to take in.  Slowly they understood the game part of it, but they never really understood the logic of the warm up sessions.  One of the early seminarians once told me, that he once overheard a conversation of farmers working in the field as the Brothers were doing the warm up.  One of the farmers asked the other, what these youngsters were up to and one replied, "తిన్నది ఆరగడానికి !" (They're running around to digest what they've eaten!)

Was reminded of this comment about warm up when we were doing our stretching exercises before and after the walks to Walsingham.  

Pavement flowers

Last year I carefully gathered the seeds of violas and pansies and planted them this year.  Not one has sprouted, yet.  On the other hand, I'm coming across these same plants peeking out in all odd places: in the centre of the lawn, under the garden gate, even one right in front of the main door growing between the tiny space between two paving slabs! 

Formation and knowledge

Reading this particular article on Aeon about walking and applying the philosophy of Gilbert Ryle to it, I was wondering if this can be applied to the whole process of formation and that particular phase of intellectual formation too.

Just a handful of us formators back in the province believe that a student discerning his vocation to priestly or religious life ought to have a rather meaningful and sensible intellectual capacity.  Lacking in which he or she will make things and life miserable for others and themselves - the exact opposite of what ministry seeks to do in service of the people! Most formators feel that intellectual capacity should not be a major factor to be considered when deciding whether a person continues being a religious or priest or not. 

Ryle seems to suggest that if self-teaching is activated, that would suffice for improving a skill. 
We can think about Ryle’s view as a middle way between the just-do-it view and intellectualism. Intellectualism claims that skilled action requires thought, and gives a picture of thought as deliberate, conscious internal activity. The just-do-it view observes that it is not plausible that skill requires this kind of conscious thinking, and concludes that thought is the enemy of skill. Ryle agrees with the just-do-it view that conscious thought is not a requirement of skill, but offers an alternative view of thinking as engaged problem solving, claiming that this kind of thought is a requirement of skilled action.
If I'm reading it right, Ryle would say that just because is a person is kind and considerate, does exempt him or her from engaging in a very intellectual exercise of thinking. Nonetheless, to actually continue being kind and considerate and develop it as a skill rather than blindly repeat certain kind actions and utterances, a particular kind of thought is essential. 

One need not be an expert in oceanography to be a priest or religious but if one is not competent to reflect on ones own ministry and willing to make sufficient effort to learn from it, even if already 'good' at it, then one certainly is not worthy of becoming a priest or religious. Openness and humility to learn, require a certain kind of thinking to actualize and bear fruit.  

Taylor and walking

Just when I thought I need to get back to my reading and writing on my research, what should I come across? A quote of Charles Taylor on the phenomenology of walking!! Just couldn't believe my eyes when I read it!  Nothing great about the quote itself, just that it connects two things uppermost in my mind, right now: walking and Taylor! Came across it in an article on Aeon, and it is about walking!
As I navigate my way along the path up the hill, my mind totally absorbed anticipating the difficult conversation I’m going to have at my destination, I treat the different features of the terrain as obstacles, supports, openings, invitations to tread more warily or run freely, and so on. Even when I’m not thinking of them, these things have those relevances for me; I know my way about among them.
Taylor surely has touched upon practically everything under the Sun!

Why walk?

One of the questions I have been asking myself regarding the walk I'd done over the last week is whether it was worthwhile to physically feel so much as to jeopardize my participation in the Paschal liturgy meaningfully? 

When at times your legs are so aching that you cannot think of anything else, prayer and divine contemplation is not something that comes easily.  You are not interested in it at all.  All you want to do is get into a comfortable posture and relax.  Prayer and worship go out of the window.

On the other side, I noticed this peculiar phenomenon, not only about myself but about practically everyone in the group.  No matter how much we were tired individually, when there was a need for something to be seen to or done, there were always people ready and willing.  Not grudgingly but with a contagious enthusiasm. 

As for prayer and connecting with the Divine, I realised that feeling of being in pain was a great leveller.  None of us participating in the liturgy or even sitting quietly in the Church or on the pavement were any better or different from one another, and most importantly from the one whom we were trying to think about.  My tiredness and aches in themselves linked me with Jesus.  I was not thinking about Jesus or praying to Him, I was feeling like Him! Even for one attempting to widen the scope of meaning and language (as part of my PhD), to include feelings and desires, this 'realization' did not come easy.  

Monday, 22 April 2019

The fun side of the pilgrimage

One of the amusing and very weird experiences all along the journey of the Students' cross was getting used to the language of the event.  Being a very old tradition with its own rules, set practices and even terminology, it was interesting to hear and be part of it.

For instance, the whole exercise of carrying the cross.  All in a very orderly fashion, the way we actually carry it, pass it on, without breaking step, rejoin the column, the traffic marshals steering the column, especially on busy junctions or road crossings, the short commands ('Collapse the cross', 'tight column', 'splay across the verge', 'Three on the cross') and actions (raised hand on traffic junctions, tapping the heads by the cross bearers during silence...) along the route.  Then there was this unique set of words, entrenched in the Students Cross tradition, that I just couldn't get over with:

  • Cross dressing!  During a pilgrimage?  Really?  The first time I heard that this was to happen once we reach the final stop (Walsingham), I thought it was a joke. But everyone was serious about it.  Only later did I come to know that the word actually meant, 'decorating the cross'!  
  • GOD.  I first came across this word on a list that I was passing on to someone.  The title of that page was 'Information about Walsingham to GOD'.  I thought there must have been some typing error.  And then on our first day, I heard people speak about God possibly visiting us along the journey.  I thought they were spiritually motivating us walkers.  On our second day, before we dispersed to bed, the leader called out saying that there were 'jobs' God wanted us to do.  Well, by then I had learnt that God referred to General Organising Director.  The use of the abbreviation is a tradition and by now a very clear and commonly used word among the old-timers.  But for new comers like me, every time we heard a sentence like "God is doing the first reading from the book of Genesis" our minds would take a couple of seconds to ask the ears, if we heard it right.  Imagine the laugh I had when I saw on the programme sheet, 'Nominations for GOD' and my amusement on Saturday while watching the 'election of GOD'!  

Being my first outdoor overnight activity for the first time in this country I noticed the way people come prepared for it.  Replete with an inflatable mattress, sleeping bag, inflatable pillows, electrical blowers to inflate these inflatables, earplugs (to block out snoring companions!), creams (one for the face, one for the sun, another for cold, one for the lips...gosh, the list is too long and hilarious!), hats, caps, jackets, jumpers, shoes (walking shoes, water-proof shoes, pub/casual shoes, Mass shoes...), first-aid kit (each one had one!) ... all of this besides the normal travel necessities. 

What now?

During the students cross walk, especially towards the end, there was always this question on everyone's lips, "Would you be coming next year too?"  I honestly did not have an answer to that.  Neither did I want to have one immediately.  I basically want to let the experience sink in and then see it from a distance and then arrive at a decision about it being worthwhile the effort or not. 

One of the reasons I am not very keen about joining for such physically gruelling tasks of piety is that these are more like sprints in athletics.  Short bursts of activity which are considered sports, while the normal walking and running around in daily life are not considered sports!  I hold spirituality to be an everyday affair, not only the scattered spurts of excitement and then back to normalcy (non-holy days!). 

On the other hand, I never really signed up for this as an religious act or Lenten penance!  The fact that I got to be with young people (even it is it only those who are already 'faith-filled'), in their chosen moment, is something refreshing for me as a Salesian. That I could share with young people my life experience and faith journey and in turn be part of theirs is indeed a great privilege. 

In evaluating the event itself, I certainly wish to see how much it has impacted me prior and later as well.  A decision based on the event itself is not a balanced decision.  

With the young

Perhaps the best thing of my experience of the Students' Cross, that immediately comes to my mind, is the time interacting with the youngsters for practically a whole week, especially during the journey.  By the end of the day, with my feet aching so much, I barely could pray.  Beyond my feet, my mind, could not think or feel any divine inspiration!  But observing the youngsters in the group and listening to them, often their deepest personal experiences and aspirations was a good reminder of being a Salesian. 

The fact that they knew each other or at least had common friends because of whom getting to know those whom they had never met before, was pretty fast, as fast as snapping one's fingers.  That really bonded the group almost instantly.  Most of the youngsters were very very pious and highly determined about undertaking this gruelling walk in its entirety.  Most were also first time walkers.  I could clearly see that they had their 'need' for undertaking this walk pretty clear and pressing - even if not all shared that with me. 

'Unfortunately' they were all from very devout families and had a thorough Christian upbringing.  In that sense devotion was not something they had 'acquired' by themselves - they were brought up in it.  Nonetheless, their effort at understanding it and living by it was something very very amazing for me.  They were very convinced of why they were doing it.  I knew for sure that some of them were really struggling to walk towards the end of the day - just as I was - but it was as if the option of sitting it out for a while or giving it up was never there.  There were times that I really wished to take a break, though never felt that tired to give it up entirely.  But none of them seemed to even entertain that thought! It was as if they were just walking!  Moreover not one of them was moaning about their pains and aches.  Contrary to complaining they actually were cheerful - and chirpy - all day and night long!

One of the things that saddened me a bit was that there were no youngsters in the whole lot of pilgrims (300 or so) who was there to really 'explore' one's faith and devotion. Given that our group was the only other group which had new comers - that too a sizeable number - I gather that it was almost like fishing in a water tank!  That does not discount in any way the courage and depth of each of those youngsters who undertook the pilgrimage.  But it does raise the question of why don't other youngsters, especially native youngsters for whom faith is something not offered in families or at home, undertake this journey? Perhaps those who did try it are already hooked on to it and are now returners.  Perhaps they have found other more meaningful ways of living out their faith and devotion.  Or perhaps faith itself is not something that makes sense to them.  

The meaninglessness of the cross

As part of the Student Cross walk we carried a 35 kg cross ahead of us all along the journey.  We took turns carrying it in 3s. 

Trying to gather in the 'harvest' of this pilgrimage that I undertook, I was wondering what role did the cross play in this whole episode.  Primarily it was I guess a re-enactment of the way of the cross Jesus was made to walk.  Then there is the witness value - people watching us know what exactly are we doing and who we are.  And then the whole idea of sharing in the suffering and pain of Jesus himself. 

However, what nags me about the whole cross was what we did after we reached our destination!  We literally abandoned it.  We propped it up against the wall and then on Saturday some of our group members decorated it with flowers - that's because it was part of the tradition.  So I'm asking myself, why did we carry the cross?  If it was witness value, we could very well do better than that.  Merely carrying the cross in that sense would be no better than a fashion show cake walk.  Just to show others.  But what use did others have of this 'show'? 
Linda, Melbin, Neetu, Lessly, George, David
Andrea, Saju and Sijo
with the decorated cross
Perhaps this inability to find the sense in the act of carrying the cross stems from a deeper question I've been asking myself:  What 'use' or help has this act of mine undertaking this physically tiring journey, has been to others?  Self-inflicted torture with apparently no benefit for anyone else... how meaningful and useful is that?  Is this truly a Christian expression of love and sacrifice?

Well I may be too close to the event itself, to really see the whole picture, but for now I'm letting the experience of the past week just sink in.  

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Extra scrubbing

Returning from a very different experience of the Student Cross walk, having walked 65 miles for three days without a shower, I truly feel like the parents of Dennis... (Most of us in the group were like Dennis, all along the way... completely oblivious of our own stench!)  However, the weather was great and although tiring, the experience was just great!

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Reading sentence

Came across the following article this morning:  A judge 'sentencing' a bunch of kids with a 'reading list' rather than a normal custodial sentence.
The sentence I gave was harsher than what they would normally have received. Normally it would just be probation which would mean checking in with a probation officer once a month and maybe a few hours of community service and writing a letter to say sorry. Here they had to write 12 assignments and a 3,500-word essay on racial hatred and symbols in the context of what they'd done… It was a lot of work. (Alejandra Rueda, the judge, who drew up the list of 35 books). 
Children learn fast.  And depending on what they are taught, they become that!  Teach them to share and care, to value life and respect everyone, they become exactly that.  And teaching does not mean a classroom mode of lecture.  It is about helping them learn and form convictions for life.

And here's a list of the 12 (of the 35) books the teenagers were told to read and write about, one per month:

  1. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
  3. The Tortilla Curtain - T C Boyle
  4. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  6. 12 Years a Slave - Solomon Northup
  7. The Crucible - Arthur Miller
  8. Cry the Beloved Country - Alan Paton
  9. My Name is Asher Lev - Chaim Potok
  10. Exodus - Leon Uris
  11. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
  12. Night - Elie Wiesel

Feel a bit guilty and ashamed to state that I've read only 2 of these!  

Before the cock crows....

The prophecy of Jesus that Peter will deny him thrice within a few hours of the night and Peter's initial denial of it is one of the Lenten themes that comes up often, especially in the Holy Week.  We also read that Peter 'wept bitterly' when this prophecy does come true. 

We are all like St Peter.  Or Peter too was a mortal, simple human being just like any of us.  He was not even an educated man or an aristocrat.  He was a common man.  And like most people, when faced with a life-threatening situation, he chose the easiest and safest way out: denial and lies. 

Sometimes I wonder what if Peter had not lied about his identity and affiliation with Jesus that night.  Most probably the mob would surely have vented some of their anger towards him and in an extreme situation Peter would have met the same fate as did Jesus, right then and there along with Jesus on Calvary.  Who then would have become the 'leader'? 

Peter's denial of Jesus that night saved his life.  He goes on to become the anchor of the early Christian community.  Though not with faults and weaknesses, people look up to him and respect his decisions.  Even a learned man like Paul tries to help Peter see his point and abide by his decision, rather than declare rebellion and independence stating, 'I'm not going to follow an ignorant fisherman!'  Imagine if Paul were the first Pope! (My hunch is that it would have been catastrophic for the Church - then and now!) Jesus in His wisdom chose a down-to-earth, common man, with all the virtues - and vices - of an ordinary human being, to be the head of the Church... much like Pope Francis in our times!  

Monday, 15 April 2019

Thank you walk!

Embarking on the pilgrim walk with the students tomorrow, I honestly don't have any aspirations.  Just want to get out of the house and do something useful.  Perhaps somewhere hidden there is also the 'religious' feeling of doing something for Lent!  Most importantly look forward to being with young people and listening to them, more with the heart than the ears alone! 

I know and keep telling myself that it will be physically excruciating, especially given the fact that I've not been on the road, walking enough.  But I hope the sense of walking as a pilgrim group will make up for the deficient physical stamina.  The following week conference in Oxford too, will involve quite a bit of walking from Cowley to the venue and the railway station itself.  So in all, the coming two weeks are dedicated to walking! 

Even though it is the Holy Week and the Easter week (later), I cannot get myself to tell the Lord that it is for Him that I'm walking! I'm not!  So, as I ask myself what intention do I dedicate this walking to, I say: Thank you Lord! Thanks for everything, especially all the wonderful people in my life who continually love, cherish and nourish me!  Bless them all! For them all, I gladly undertake what you have for me in store, in the two weeks ahead.  

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Pilgrim walk

As part of the preparation for the 3-day pilgrim walk during the Holy Week, there is a long list of requirements and instructions issued.  I understand it has been something that has been formulated based of years of walking experience - or rather bad experiences! However, everytime I'm reminded of it by way of mail or through phone (from a couple of friends or confreres) I am a bit amused.  While all of them are concerned that things should not be too difficult or bad for a first-timer like me, I think taking all necessary precautions and carrying along all kinds of things, only takes the spirit out of the Holy Week walk. 

If Jesus were given all these instructions prior to his journey to Calvary, it would have been a different salvation story!  The way of the cross would not have been too tough a walk with a sleeping bag, anti-blister cream and plaster, bottle of hot water, comfortable walking shoes, necessary warm clothes for the journey, cash for evening refreshments, raincoat (in the eventuality of rain), one cap for the rain, another for the sun...!

Anyway look forward to this walk along with students.  


Last night I drove Fr Sean to St Dunstan's Parish, Woking for the reconciliation service and confessions.  During the service the priest sharing a homily mentioned about the creation narrative and therein spoke of how God used his hands to create human being while the others came about by his mere word. 

It struck me for that difference never occurred to me before.  All the 5 days of creation mentioned in the Bible (Genesis), God is merely commanding and things appearing.  On the sixth day he 'fashions' man (and woman) from the earth with his own hands and then breathes his own breath into them. 

Reminded me of how important the feeling of touch is for us human beings.  It is that feeling of being touched, cradled, kissed and carried close to the bosom that actually nurtures human infants.  Those bereft of these basic forms of human contact tend to miss out a great bit of nourishing.  The baby knows by mere touch its own mother.  The crying infant calms down when its own mother holds it close to her heart - the child recognizing the heartbeat. 

Though the priest did not dwell much on this notion of touch (with him merely mentioning it only once), I find it odd that the whole English culture is averse to touch!  Generally people don't touch and don't like being touched.  I understand the whole area of personal space, respect for the body and the danger of sexual predators.  Nonetheless there is a sort of paranoia which isn't really helpful.  

Young at heart

Today is the first death anniversary of Fr Peter Dooley.  Remembering him yesterday after supper, at table, the confreres were talking of an incident that happened many years ago when he was in the Parish at Highton, near Bootle.  Him and another priest in the Parish were once tied up in the house and robbed.  The next day the newspapers too reported this robbery.  And both were very upset... not because they were robbed but because the news item began thus: "Two elderly people were robbed..." Both of the priest, who were in their 70s felt bad that they were referred to as 'elderly'! 

Friday, 12 April 2019

One amusing clip (Telugu)

Was flipping through some youtube videos and then suddenly came across the following one from an old Telugu movie.  Remembered well Mariadas imitating Brahmanandam during our stay and especially journey back to Hyderabad from Shillong.  This scene was the one we would all begin to laugh at the very mention of 'Peddareddy'!!
I want to talk to Peddareddy, right now! 

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Brexit and black hole

Almost fell over laughing when I picked up The Times this morning.  The photo and the title was simply amazing.  For the past few months, every news channel and paper has been dogged by Brexit news!  The first ever photo of the black hole, too was swallowed into this Brexit drama...
Truly what a title! ... and here's another inescapable black hole... That's one piece of great journalistic talent!

The news article beside it is part of the unfolding Brexit drama or saga!
As an 'outsider' not really affected by this whole ongoing process of Brexit, it is fun to watch.  However, when I think of all those businesses and people whose livelihood depends on trade relations between the European Union and the UK, this stalemate is very agonising.  With politicians squabbling and offering no clear direction to proceed in, all these people living their lives on or across the borders have a hard time deciding what next to do.  That this is the case with one of the best developed countries in the world, makes this scenario all the more pathetic - and comical!  

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Lenten mornings

My meditation moments in the morning are perhaps the only 'Lenten practices' I'm having this season.  Compared to the liturgical and paraliturgical practices that abound our days and timetables back in India, here it is a moment of personalization.  That way, all those practices of piety for Lent I've been used to (and partially faithful to) all over the years have fallen off the radar!  Does that make me less of a Christian? Do I feel less like a Christian? I wouldn't claim that at no time have I felt a sense of guilt of having 'given up' Lent, for Lent!  But the feeling is only that I've given up certain ways of living and practicing Lent.  Does the 'new' way make me a better Christian?  Neither would I claim that! 

But one thing I certainly feel convinced about: personal luxury - be that of material things or of time - certainly does not really help in living a Christian life.  No wonder why Christian teaching is so much related and rooted in poverty.  So I basically keep asking myself what do I need to do, be or say, to love more.  To begin with at least let me not envy or grudge others around me.  I know that's not the ideal, but at least not receding (even if it means remaining stagnant for now), is better than falling back to ways and means of making myself feel good but not actually being and becoming more human!

Even though most of the times it is blabbering and often totally confused and distracted, morning meditation is perhaps the only thing most sensible I have as of now.  

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Listen to God's people

Today is the death anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the courageous Christian who bore witness to what it means to be a follower of Christ, through his life, writings and even his death.  It is said that he was sentenced to death on April 8, 1945 and executed the very next day for being part of the group that tried to plot Hitler's assassination.

For my meditation today... a quote of his:
The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them,” he wrote. “Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word but also lends us God’s ear. . . . We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.
Coming from a man who had the opportunity and actually did leave Germany (for New York) in those troubled times of 1939, only to return within a month, asking oneself what merit would it be if he was not with his countrymen in their darkest hour, this quote makes all the difference between life and death!   

Thursday, 4 April 2019

End of the world

A man rushed around the town announcing solemnly and with great urgency, "It's official!  It is the end of the world!" 

At the town centre, when this announcement was made, those in the Church ran out to the pub next door and those from the pub ran into the Church! 

So much for conversion!  

Why philosophy?

By way of specialisation, every course designed at the higher education level is meant for a particular profession.  So if one is studying computer science, one intends to become a computer specialist.  One studying physics, a sort of scientist.  One studying history, goes into library sciences, archiving, writing, perhaps even into teaching.  It is more evident in arts: a music student gets into the music industry; one studying media, gets into that particular stream of work.  Generally!  Though no rule that one should choose a career only based on what one has studied!  

However, I think philosophy is the only subject or course, that is undertaken by students for no particular single profession.  Of those who opt for philosophy, just a handful of them enter into academia.  The rest, what do they do?  Or why do people study philosophy?  No one undertakes a philosophy course to become a philosopher - certainly not most!  

Perhaps the answer to this lies in the fact that philosophy is a discipline rather than a content-based course.  It actually enables one to evaluate, explore and enact what is most relevant, not just about concepts and texts but in life as well.  As such, philosophy assists any and every field of work or profession.  That can actually be the greatest strength - and also the worst quality - one can acquire studying philosophy.  

Priests and religious who have this 'compulsory' study of philosophy, indeed are greatly privileged.  But unfortunately are the worst prepared or ready for it, by way of willingness. And thereby the ones who make the least use of it. 

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Diversifying syllabus

One of the presenters at the Symposium on Diversifying curriculum in the multi-cultural context of the UK, spoke of their department's attempt to understand that there are nuances in this endeavour.  She pointed out that to

  • democritize - to go beyond the elite
  • diversity - go beyond the white
  • decentralize - go beyond the Western
  • decolonize - involve local experience and have a multi-dimensional approach, or in the least be critical of prevailing popular sources

It was interesting to note that, in the context of teaching history, she stated that doing one does not automatically mean doing all the other too!

As I listened to the various points spoken about, I felt how greatly philosophy, a subject dealing with critical outlook, can help in this endeavour.  That philosophy content itself needs to be filtered through these biases, is a task not less important!

There were also proposals of how we can ask and get the students to suggest authors or ideas they wish to discuss form a small portion (perhaps the concluding part) of the lecture series.  Thus their preferences or likes of their own background or interest could resonate in the curriculum.  Another aspect was a thorough review of the sources, especially primary sources, cited as part of the reading for a particular course undertaken.

Besides the points I gathered from the symposium, I thought the aspect of a conscious and continuous process of self-awareness regarding the biases and perspectives from which I, the educator, carries out the task of teaching (and learning), forms a very fundamental aspect of this diversification.  It could be as simple as being conscious of the vocabulary that I use, the examples I quote, the authors or ideas I refer to... This personal awareness does go a long way in creating a sensitive and inclusive classroom ambiance, especially with regard to the syllabus.  

Involve children in addressing childrens' issues

After many days and many articles and interventions suggested to encounter the growing knife-crime involving teenagers and youngsters in London, I found one article quite sensible and far-sighted in today's The Times (April 3, 2019).

The author Alice Thomson, in her article 'To beat knife crime, listen to the children', advocates involving the children in addressing the issue rather than excluding them altogether, and treating them as mere recipients of a service!
... we can't just blame the police or teachers or the internet giants; what these children really need... is an alternative to gang life that gives them status.
After listing all the possible solutions offered and debated thus far, she adds specific measures involving directly the children rather than teachers, police and the media.  
... the answer is to provide the young with opportunities rather than deterrents and to include them in finding solutions, rather than leaving it to the politicians to squabble.
We need to give them stable structures and purpose, help them at school with entrepreneurial skills that are useful, give them jobs they can do in their teens and be better role models when they don't have family support. 
Most importantly we need to listen to the vulnerable young rather than seeing them all as just an additional out-of-control, dangerous problem to add to our other woes.  
I'm sure Fr TD John and those involved in PAR, me included, will certainly agree with Alice!  


George Bernard Shaw among his many quotes is also believed to have stated
The one who can, does; he who cannot teaches.  
On the face of it, this quote appears very damning for the teaching profession.  It basically degrades teaching to incapacity to actually do anything worthwhile.  However, one speaker at today's Teaching and learning symposium pointed out that if one is to really study this quote in its actual context, the meaning changes radically. 

The quote appears in the context of revolution and rebellion.  A few lines after this quote is where he explicitly states that activities are great source of learning.  The actual meaning can therefore mean, that one who has the capacity is directly involved in the work.  But one who cannot, for whatever reason be directly at the forefront of leading a revolution, can as a teacher, prepare others to become leaders!  A teacher, in that sense, is one who shapes and moulds leaders. 

Of course, none will ever dispute the fact that teaching is no business; when committed, teaching is a passionate service and a humble sacrifice, a noble one at that!  

Diversifying curriculum

I attended a teaching and learning symposium at the Uni today.  The theme was diversity and employability.  The first three talks on diversity were good: more questions than answers.  On the positive side a step further for the better.  But the actual fact: not much of a move away from a very colonial or racial mindset. 

I distinctively remember my agitated mood when I finished my interview at the Philosophy department in Madras University in 2016, where I went to explore if I could initiate my PhD there.  The panel of professors were very clear and adamant that I should do/study Indian philosophy alone.  They were so fixated on it that, at the end of the meeting, I was greatly tempted to ask, "Where is the department of Western philosophy?"  It was with a great amount of self-control that I restrained myself. 

I guess it is the same mentality here in the West.  That philosophy stemming from the Greek tradition is the only 'philosophy'.  What about the equally ancient and profound thoughts around the world, especially of the two great Indian and Chinese traditions?  Does that not count as philosophy?  I understand no university can cover all the philosophical traditions of the world, certainly not giving equal importance to all, but to go about as if thoughts of the Greek heritage are the only worthy philosophical topics and authors, is certainly impoverishing oneself. 

One of the philosophy professors who spoke, mentioned of him designing a new course for philosophy undergraduates including prominent Islamic thinkers from the middle-east.  So far so good.  But why did he choose those thinkers and what thought of theirs? That which actually stemmed from Western thought or later fed into the European thinking.  What of the remainder of their thoughts or contribution?  That did not feature at all!  Such cosmetic changes, while at least being credited as an attempt, are still not claims of diversifying curriculum to be inclusive. 

I went to this symposium with a definite purpose of getting some ideas of how to diversify curriculum in our post-novitiates back in India.  I returned home convinced that we, back in India, (at least in our Salesian circles) are way ahead (in ages) by way of inclusion and diversity and sensitivity, with regard to our philosophical curriculum than here in the West.  

Monday, 1 April 2019

Pre-nuptial tradition

Know not what led me this thought but it suddenly occurred to me this afternoon that the Telugu 'ritual' of pellichoopulu wherein a young man intending to get married, visits the girls' house, with his parents and elders.  This procedure is indeed a very social and respectable one - when taken in the right sense.  If it is taken as a sort of window-shopping for a bride, wherein the girl is one 'shown' as an object of 'purchase', then it certainly loses all its merits but otherwise, the procedure is worth understanding. 

The first thing that occurred to me was that marriage is not just between two individuals.  It is also a union of two families.  Hence it makes sense for one to know the other, just as much as the boy and girl need to know each other.  This makes great sense, especially in our Indian context wherein couples who get married often do not leave their parents side and continue living under the same roof.  However the present form of the boys' family visiting the girls' is only a partial process.  The girls' family too needs to visit the boys' house and family - after all, in most cases it is the bride who moves in with the bridegroom into his house.  That alone is enough reason for the girls' family to come and see where and with whom is their daughter going to spend the rest of her life, her new family! 

Secondly, it is a great 'official' moment of socialization.  Even when we have a tradition of welcoming and receiving strangers as our guests, it is good to welcome a rather unknown family into our home, with the intention of extending one's family. 

Finally, even in modern times when boys and girls often 'select' their life partners (rather than the earlier times when parents decide their partners), the tradition only cements this union of families.  This tradition does not lose its value or can never be outdated in its intended purpose.  Only hope that the other half of the girls' family visiting the boys' house too gets an equal share in this procedure!  
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