Thursday, 28 November 2019

Natural to help

Are we human beings, by nature, selfish or altruistic?  Naturally do we tend towards being individualistic or communitarian?  Philosophy and sociology offer enough reasons, theories and arguments for both sides. 

In my opinion, one of the basic deciding factors in answering that question lies in answering the preliminary question: What is the purpose of human life?  If we begin by answering that question, that sets the tenor and direction of the answer to the initial question.  No doubt, we have both these tendencies: towards good and evil.  But we, by our very nature, are essentially good and therefore tend towards wellbeing of all, rather than be consistent on a purely egoistic track.  And my answer to the main question, about the purpose of human life, is 'to be happy'.  And for me happiness is more than mere joy or cheerfulness - they are only offshoots of the former.  It is a basically a deep sense of contentment and serenity.  A sort of balance and equanimity that one feels, even if one is plagued by a hundred challenges and failures.  And this cannot be achieved in isolation.  In line with this, I agree with Pope Francis' words:
Rivers do not drink their own water; the trees do not eat their own fruit; the sun does not shine to itself and flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves.  Living for others is a rule of nature.  We are all born to help each other.  No matter how difficult it is... Life is good when you are happy; but much better when others are happy because of you.

Motivation inertia

During a training programme at the university today, I was surprised to hear something the presenter was talking about: action before motivation. 

I always thought and believed that to perform an action, one needs to be motivated.  The quality of effort is directly proportional to the level of motivation.  But this speaker, speaking in the context of tackling procrastination, was saying that one needs to start doing an action and draw motivation from that to continue!  This inverse logic was a bit confusing.  But given that I am waiting for motivation to start writing something, ends up with me still waiting, I thought there would be some truth in what he is saying.  At the same time, I also know from experience that once in the momentum, work just flows.  Writing just happens, when I've begun.  The whole problem is the start! 

So how does one get started at all, if one is least motivated to do it?  For now, all I can tell myself is to 'write 200 words'; in contrast, to 'finish my PhD'! 

Easier said than done!  

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Photos with the RM

L to R: Fr Sean, Fr Angel, Fr Kevin and Br Peter.  In St Anne's Parish, after the Mass with the Rector Major

Brian Barnes (left of the Rector Major) during the gathering after the Parish Mass in the Savio centre
Outside the Salesian house: Fr Horatio, myself, Fr Angel and Fr Peter

Fr Horatio, Fr Gerry, Fr Peter and Fr Angel

Blessing people

While the Rector Major was at Chertsey, he was at the Salesian school, Guildford site on Thursday, in the afternoon.  He was asked to bless the renovated school hall.  All the staff was assembled in the hall, but just a couple of students were in.  The school had wound up earlier. 

There was a short prayer and when called upon to bless, the Rector Major spoke a few words but concluded saying, "I will bless first, you, the people, then the walls!" Not only me, but some others too found that very meaningful.  Blessing people, rather than structures. 

Even at Battersea, during the concluding Mass of his visit to England, several small children who had come for the Mass along with their parents were asked to come forward with the offertory procession.  So after the bread and wine, there was a small motley 'crowd' of 7-9 year olds walking up to the altar and getting behind the altar.  And before blessing the bread and wine, the Rector Major very kindly and taking his own time, blessed those children.  For the children themselves, it must have not meant much.  But for their parents, it was huge!  I think it is such small but very very homely and touching gestures that makes the Battersea parish a very vibrant and active one.  For a child to be specially blessed, by a special visitor, that too during Mass at the altar, means much for a family.  Not sure how the English families felt about it, but the look on the faces of the Asian, African and Latin American families said how blessed they truly felt!  

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Homely welcome

The only two 'additional' things we prepared, in the community, for the visit of the Rector Major...
a banquet table (for 18, not more!) and a small 'welcome' notice board! 


For the rest, we did not move one bit of paper or add anything to the normal day-to-day existing way of things.  

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Visit of the Rector Major

The Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco is visiting our community tomorrow.  This is his maiden visit to this Province and certainly to this community.  The last time a Rector Major visited Chertsey was 50 years ago - that was Fr Ricceri.

Well, I just can't help comparing this occasion here and now, and if it were to be in any of our Indian provinces!  Back in India, the preparations would have been going on for almost a year.  For the past one month or so, everyone in the house would have been going bonkers over the whole event.  The whole house taking on a new look - not only physical appearance, by way of painting, cleaning and tidying up, but also by way of decoration and additional beautification.  Besides everyone in town, and I mean, everyone, would know that he is coming.  Of that the Salesians and those living in the house would make sure of.  Then there is the whole extravagance of welcome, felicitation, cultural programmes, talks and invitation cards and related things - one of each of these in the house, the boarding, the school, the parish... Each place would like to have something special for him.  There will also be a long list of things he will have to inaugurate - even if they are still halfway through completion or have already been in use for sometime now!  And for all these events, who is invited and what role assigned to each, is thought over a thousand times - not to mention the seating arrangement at each instance!  Then there are the meals - ah!  Besides inviting the whole town, there is the special menu and the 'other' menu.  And within the special menu, there is 'the Rector Major's table' and his diet.  That is normally assigned to the Salesian Sisters.  All in all, by the time he leaves the place, everyone is so exhausted, we all need a week to recover.  Certainly much more than a week, to recover from the financial expenses!

But here, things are very sober.  No extravagance, whatsoever.  True that he is coming to Chertsey, and he is visiting the school, the university and the parish.  But at none of these places, is there any 'extra' decoration or pomp.  Hell, we did not even clean the house!  But that's because it is cleaned periodically - and is clean!  Food, there is a grand meal - but that's only for 18 people, including the 8 confreres living here.  He is inaugurating the renovated School hall, but even there all that is planned is a short prayer, sprinkling of the holy water and perhaps a ribbon cutting or so.  That's it.  I don't think the hall is specially decorated or anything for this.  And it was ready and in use since September.

Both these procedures and attitudes towards the same event, for the same person, have their own reasons and advantages.  It certainly has much to do with our respective cultural norms as well - especially those concerning guests.  The one great advantage of the former (Indian) style is the way we get our children and youth involved.  And for them too it is a matter of great joy and privilege.  But for every other reason, I see a greater virtue in the latter style.  Again, for the youngsters.  We do not put up a show for someone, but live the high standard of cleanliness, order, functionality, all through.  Most importantly, everyone is respected - whether that be a simple technician coming in to do some repair work or the Bishop or the Rector Major.  Of course, we do not lay out the grand meal table for the former, but everyone is treated respectfully.  Even in the case of the grand meal, the content of the meal is the same we would have for our feast days or b'day celebrations.  Not over the top!

I remember a confrere in the Province serving the Regional, during his official Canonical visit to the community, in a steel plate and tumbler!  His argument, "He is coming to share in our day-to-day life.  And this is exactly how we live our day-to-day life.  Why buy special crockery and exquisite glasses for his visit?"  I, for one, am perfectly in total agreement with that confrere.  

The vanishing pen

A couple of months ago, Fr Sean, exasperated with the 'vanishing pen' in the office, placed a pen with a unique colour - just to stand out.  His rationale, from experience, was that anyone now 'kidnapping' the pen - often 'unconsciously' - will see that it is different and others around will know where it is coming from!  Easier said than done!  Just to reinforce the point that, that pen needs to stay put, Fr Sean put up this note under the pen stand...


Last week, even that pen disappeared!! I was surprised, not at its disappearance, but that it survived the past couple of months staying in the pen stand in the office.  Fr Sean, on the other hand, is still waiting for its return.  He has added another note, to speed up its return!

Everytime I enter the office, I burst out laughing! 

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Diplomatic appeal

A Parish priest's clever appeal to his rich parishioners to be more generous with their contribution...
A few Sundays ago I told you in the sermon that I would like to see all the poor people to come to church. To judge from the collection, my wish has been heard.

Zaccheus and the rich young man

Kevin offered an interesting insight into the reading of this day.  The passage is that of Zaccheus.  He said, he was wondering what new or different could he share about his passage from the Gospel that we have heard so many times. 

He then said that he noticed something in the structure of the Gospel itself.  The story of Zaccheus follows that of the rich young man and the poor blind man.  The curing of the blind beggar is so to say, sandwiched in between the stories of the two rich men. 

The young man and Zaccheus were both rich in wealth.  Both of them were keen to meet Jesus.  The young man had some idea of how to become better, but that he had already mastered.  He knew not what next.  Zaccheus, on the other hand, knew exactly what he had to do.  He was aware of his corrupt dealings and what needed to be done to shun that burden of guilt.  Once Jesus arrives on the scene, all that Jesus does is give that final push!  The young man, asks for further instructions.  However, on knowing what that entails, he is hesitant to go down that road.  Zaccheus, does not need further instructions.  All that he has is a self-invitation of Jesus to dine with him.  He then rattles off his next mode of living! 

At what stage of life am I?  Am I aware of what the Lord wants of me? If aware, am I willing to undertake that what He wants of me?  Am I conscious of what I need to give up, if I am to follow the Lord?  Am I ready for that? 

I suppose, the same questions arise in the intermediary context of poor blind man.  Another lesson, we can draw from these three stories together is that no matter what our financial situation is, we are always in need!  

Monday, 18 November 2019

God, nature and me

When it comes to living our faith and understanding spirituality, we can very easily be viewing it from a two-dimensional perspective: God and me.  While in a sense, this is true, it is not complete.  Our deep rooted Christian faith, our personal spirituality, can never be complete without the third dimension of the rest of creation - nature.  Perhaps, even to say that the often forgotten third dimension of 'the other' is people, is incomplete.  It is not just people that make up the rest of everything; there is the environment, nature, that actually makes up the 'rest of everything'.  In short, there is God, nature and me.  That's the complete inclusive reality. 
Faith is not just to see Jesus, it is to see with the eyes of Jesus.  (Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei 18)
So, there is Jesus, myself and that what I'm invited to see with Jesus' eyes.   

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Unique 'tidy-untidy' house

This Salesian house at Chertsey is a very different kind of house, than any Salesian house I've ever been or visited.  This is the first Salesian house that I've been, which is 'only for Salesians' - meaning, there is merely for residence.  No common apostolate is carried out on campus, neither are there anyone else living on site.  The only other person, apart from the seven of us living here, who frequents is Katie, our housekeeper.  Furthermore, it is located in a normal residential area.  Not in some remote place. Neither does it stand out from among the other houses in the surrounding.  Now all of this combined together makes me feel as if it were a normal house, a normal home!  Not an institution.  Not a building! 

Yet, very often, I feel that it can be more tidier and neater than it normally is. If not the whole house, certainly the common areas - kitchen, dining area, the office... I think it has more to do with my outlook that it is a house, an 'official' place where we stay.  More than my personal preference for neatness, it is this attitude that a Salesian house - a Salesian institution - ought to be neat and tidy.  But today it struck me that if it is a house, a normal simple place where people (7 of us) live, then it can never be perfectly tidy.  Which family house that I've visited has ever been tidy? My own house is never neat and orderly.  Well, there is always a range of order and tidiness, in houses, but never immaculately clean.  That is what corporate offices are.  That is how Sister's convents are (quite a few of them).  But never homes! 

I don't think this realisation is going to altar my actions much or stop me from getting agitated when I see things left out of place or scattered all over.  But perhaps, enjoy this unique experience of living in a unique Salesian house.

Friday, 15 November 2019

'Being offended'??

There is the incident in Buddha's life that comes to my mind when I hear about the whole debate between 'freedom of speech' and 'no platform'.  One of the basic bones of contention in this debate is offense (giving and taking). 

On an occasion when there were people visiting the Buddha, there was a man who came in and started abusing the Buddha.  But he sat there very calm and quiet.  He never retorted nor got agitated.  After a while, the abuser got tired and left.  The disciples then approached the Buddha and asked him, why didn't he say or do anything when he was being insulted.  The Buddha replied, "When someone offers you a gift and you refuse to take it, whom does it then belong to?"  The disciples replied, "The giver." And the Buddha replied, "He offered me a gift and I did not accept it!  So why get worked up about what is not mine!"

Besides, I know not if there is anything called 'being offended' - no one can offend me, unless I let them offend me.  Furthermore, resorting to anything other than verbal dialogue or debate, in order to show difference of opinion or contest the other person's views, is already conceding defeat! 

Everytime I get angry or hurt, I ask myself why is it that I'm feeling this way.  So rather than merely shut the other person up by shouting or insulting, I merely listen.  I then merely present my side of the story.  And then leave it at that.  If the person merely wants to insult me, by feeling insulted, I'm letting him win, without a valid reason.  And if what he or she says has a point, then it is for me to ponder and respond appropriately (both the other and myself - in the reverse order!). 

The same is true of 'bad words'.  When someone calls out, "Peter" I don't respond.  That's not me. So why should I respond to someone who calls me a 'sob'?  If I do respond, then I'm accepting that title!  

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Irony of Christmas ads

By any modern management and commercial standards, the following advertisement is late - way too late! And yes, liturgically we are still two weeks away from beginning the Advent season!  But with Halloween behind us, it is time to boost the Christmas sale!

Nonetheless this headline of a rather populist newspaper caught my attention.  The irony being, the ad speaks of a 'stress-free Christmas' and what actually causes stress is what the advert is peddling!  

Are you St Peter?

Fr Peter was assisting at the Year 3 retreat of a local school which was being held in the Church premises.  Of the 50 or so kids he said he recognised some who come to Church on Sundays.  One of these kids, at the end of the retreat, approached Fr Peter and asked him, "Are you St Peter?" 

When Fr Peter narrated this amusing event, I had a good laugh.  Children always come up with something totally unexpected and different.  Later was wondering what would have prompted the child to ask Fr Peter that question.  Perhaps it could have been a simple case of misunderstanding between 'Father' and 'Saint' - after all, both are abbreviated in common use.  But I think it was more to do with what the child had observed.  Fr Peter was the one who opened the Church and the various other places for them to use.  And what was the theme of the retreat?  Kingdom of God and heaven!  Most probably, there would have been some mention of St Peter having the keys to heaven.  And for the child, he must have put two and two together: Peter and keys.  Hence the natural question: "Are you St Peter?" 

Wonder what would have been the next question, if Fr Peter were to have said, "Yes!" 

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Transplanted cabbages

Bl. Artimedes Zatti, a Salesian brother, whom we commemorate today was an interesting character.  A nurse or a medic by profession, he did much good to those around him, especially the poor, in Argentina.

What appeals to me most of about him, is the fact that in spite of his own person challenges and difficulties, physical, emotional and circumstantial, he did not let them pull him down.  Not only did he make the best of what he was left with - even if it was frail health, or a dilapidated place far from the town, or giving up his dream of becoming a priest and opting to be a brother - but also was constantly thinking about others.  His thoughts were mostly about how he could be of service to those in difficulties and pain.

Even when the hospital that he painstakingly built was usurped by the local authorities, he did not give up his passion to come to the aid of the sick.  That land grab certainly hit him hard.  He was very much affected by it.  Nonetheless he saw it as a transition period.  An opportunity to carry out his service in a different place, in a different style.  "Cabbages grow best, when transplanted," he said, when he had to give up the hospital and move!  

Service from the ambulance

Today is the death anniversary of Fr John Connelly, who died in 1991, aged 71.  He belonged to this Salesian Province of GBR. 

It is said that he was a diligent bursar.  On one occasion, when he was the bursar at Battersea, there was a meeting for which confreres were slowly arriving.  Unfortunately Fr John suffered a heart attack.  And as the ambulance was taking him to the hospital, Fr John noticed Fr John Gillhiney arrive.  Lying in the ambulance he looked out and told Fr Gillhiney, "Yours is room number 47!" 

Old habits die hard!  Even though his heart was struggling to beat, his brain was ticking sharp and focussed! 

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Nothing called 'waste' or 'away'

Yesterday at Egham Hythe for the blood donation session, I carried with me the plastic cup I had picked up during the previous session, four months ago.  The plastic cup has been on my side table, used now and then for drinking water - when I decide to kill time leisurely!

When I arrived at the session to inform of my arrival, the young man there checked my form and then asked me to take a seat and have a drink.  And when he saw the plastic cup in my hand, he said, "Oh, I see you already picked up a drink." And I told him, "That's from the previous session! I didn't throw it away."  At first, he looked a bit puzzled, but when he understood, he beamed broadly and said, "Great!"

I still have the cup with me.  I think it's going to stay and be used for a while!  

Widening the divide with capitals!

A further reflection on the theme of intolerance and Christian unity, in the context of language - a topic that I'm brooding over! 

Disunity is brought about, in most cases, when an idea is held to be of greater importance than a human being. All cases of religious fundamentalism arise when the concept of religion takes precedence over humanity; when faith becomes greater than human life; when god - and I mean, the concept of God - needs to be protected, but not my neighbour. 

One easy way we fall into this trap of elevating a concept to a status higher than a living being, reducing the latter to such a minimal value so as to count for nothing, is when we capitalise a word!  When faith becomes Faith.  When god becomes God.  When church becomes Church.  These are tell-tale signs of where and what we feel are un-negotiable aspects of our living, at the altar of which everything else (not belonging to me), especially others, can be sacrificed.  Furthermore, with words like 'infidel', 'atheist', 'unbeliever', 'pro-abortionist', 'LGBTQ+', ... we can easily reduce persons, living beings with flesh and blood, families and feelings into despicable things that in their entirety ought to be made to disappear! 

That reminds me of a very stinging remark one of my former Rector's made on a report I put together after my supervision of a batch of third year students involved in the 'Immersion programme'.  Back then it struck me, as 'what's the big deal?' Why make a hue and cry about a regular use?  The phrase I used in the report was a description of a place: '...a place infested with naxalites...'  And the Rector had circled this phrase and written on the margins, "Even naxalites are people, not insects!" Looking back I clearly see.  I did not mind using the word 'infested' in the context of the naxalites, but I would never have used it in the context of seminarians or even a packed railway station!  My prejudices were laid bare.  

Christian unity and intolerance

One of the biggest scandal the Church offers to the world is that of the divisions within.  For a body which has unity as one of its primary tenets, to be so splintered, the value of witness is certainly diminished.  Add to that, the fact that some of these splinter groups are archenemies of one another.  And still we claim to be Christians! 

The saint we commemorate today, St Josaphat was martyred not by anti-Christians, but 'faithful' followers of Christ!  It is indeed a strange paradox we comfortably live with: boldly preach in Christ's name and at the same time have no hesitation in killing someone - all in His name.  If only we take a moment to think, leave alone pray, we should be able to see our own religious idiosyncrasies.  But I guess, the very faith we profess often blinds us to see anything beyond that what we hold most precious. 

So good to ask myself, what is it that I hold in such high esteem that I would not sacrifice it for anything else?  And as a Christian, I ask myself: Is it my love for Christ or love for Christ? 

Monday, 11 November 2019

Heaven and misconceived riches

Each of us has a different view of what heaven is.  Our basic catechism gives us an impression of it as a place, up above, where God lives.  Most often the idea is that is a place where all suffering ends and we enjoy unbounded peace.  Somehow as we imbibe the teachings of the Church, the 'carrot-stick' instructions of our parents and teachers, the fantasy of stories and movies, we come to think of heaven as a sort of magic land.  Once there, everything is possible and one need not slog anymore.  It is basically in total contrast to what we find around ourselves, here on earth. 

Take for instance the antiphon of today's prayers, on the occasion of memorial of St Martin of Tours:
Martin once poor and lowly, enters heaven with riches. 
It is as if Martin who had nothing, on reaching heaven gains everything that he lacked here on earth.  That somehow as he crossed the arch of heaven, all that he was denied here on earth, he is now blessed with.  Now that's quite an illusion.  Makes people live dual lives or be split in time - one totally different from the other; the latter making up all that we give up here on earth!  Martin gave up wealth here on earth.  Does that mean he had a thick purse or a fat bank account when he entered heaven?  Would he wanted that? Even if he did get it, would he have thought big about it? 

We don't enter heaven rich.  We are already rich.  Martin did not become rich when he reached heaven.  He was already rich in virtue of peace, joy and thanksgiving here on earth.  He had little but that he shared and what he did he did joyfully.  So he was happy here itself.  Heaven is not a place where one gains what one has given up; it is a state when one becomes conscious of and cherishes what one already is blessed with!  

Prayer for TODAY (John XXIII)

Rummaging through my mails for the password to a long abandoned blog, I came across the following prayer sent to me by Fr Lens, in 2009...

PRAYER FOR TODAY 
by Pope John XXIII 

Today I will just do my best 
to live this day itself 
without trying to solve 
all the problems of my life. 

Today I will try to go 
Where I would rather stay away’ 

Today I will avoid two things: 
Excessive haste, and indecision 

In spite of appearances to the contrary 
Today I will put my faith 
in God’s presence at my side. 

I will not let me get discouraged 
By the idea that I have to keep it up 
All the rest of my life.

Two immediate lessons or intercessions for my TODAY: 'avoid indecision' and 'faith in God's presence at my side'. 

Few words, but long sentences

Remember today a particular Salesian confrere who is known among our circles as a 'man of few words, and long sentences'!  He surely can go on and on about any topic, even the acknowledgement that he does not know anything about the topic!

I remember him once visiting the community where I was, with a very bad sore throat.  That morning, before breakfast he asked me if I could arrange for some hot tea with turmeric for him - just to soothe his aching throat.  And then when I did arrange that, he began to explain to me where, when and how his throat went bad!!  My subtle reminder that giving the mouth a bit of rest would do good to the aching throat was met with another explanation of the scientific reason behind it!! So much for the poor throat.

As I remember him, I recall the words of Fr Lens regarding the length of a sermon during Mass: "5 minutes," he would say!  "After that, the devil speaks!" Genuine listening, without interrupting or talking, is truly an art, a skill, a discipline.  Now that requires patience and leads to wisdom.  But to talk, I guess, even a sore throat would do! 

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Resurrection and relationship

The question we hear in the Gospel of the day, "After resurrection, whose wife will she be?" is quite a human question.  We can judge it to be a very rude or arrogant question or one intended to put the listener into a catch-22 situation.  But if reviewed from a simple and ordinary perspective, it can be said to be a very common question. 

We human being are relational beings.  We tend to work our way through life, by the relations we make or break.  So for one to ask what would be her relation to the 7 husbands whom she married here on earth, is a very concrete and living question.  It makes the situation all more volatile when I hear this passage being used to describe God as the God of the living and not of the dead.  That interpretation of God actually puts God in contrast to the human life!!  The very fact that she had 7 husbands it because the previous one died!  So she did not have 7 husbands all at once.  She only had one husband all along!!  And now if we bring in the 'God of living' interpretation, all 7 are alive.  And then to ask is she married to all 7 is a bit ridiculous! 

The most sensible way I see this Gospel unfold for us the mystery of the resurrection is to challenge our understanding of relationship.  I believe relationship is a commitment.  Granted that every commitment includes boundaries and limitations; but if those boundaries and limitations over-ride commitment and the well being of those involved in the relationship, the connection is actually a strangulation, and all that exists is bondage!  In resurrection, we live our commitment to one another to its fullest - even to God.  Not as bonded labourers, who have no other go than to, but as free individuals who choose to.  

A blessing lost

Today during Mass - during Communion, to be precise - I witnessed a scene that made me feel sad.  It made me say those words that young John Bosco said of the priests who never replied to a simple greeting: "If I were a priest, I would not do that!" 

The scene was of a small boy (J), aged 6 or 7, approach the priest distributing communion, along with his mother.  I've seen and interacted with this boy and for him his small toy, Teddy, is the best thing in the world.  So every Sunday he brings it along with him to Mass.  Today he surprisingly brought in another toy - appeared like a tiger or a honey bee.  But what he does every time he approaches the priest for a blessing, instead of the Communion, is that he stands there holding his toy high up, for the priest to give it also a blessing!!  I guess his logic is, if I can be blessed, why not bless Teddy too! 

Unfortunately none of the priests so far have obliged him!  And every time his mother has to drag him off the line!  My simple question: What does one lose by giving that toy a gentle tap?  You don't even have to utter a blessing.  Just smile and tap the toy!  J does not want anything else!  He's not asking for his Teddy to be baptised as per the ritual.  Just a blessing!  And even if a priest did bless the toy, will the latter then become the body of Christ?  Or will his priestly power diminish? 

If blessing a toy is going to brighten the day of a little 6-year old, and with him that of his whole family, I'd gladly do it every day! In fact, it is not the boy who lost out on a blessing today, it is we grown ups, especially the clergy, and the Church as a whole, who've lost out on the blessing of a happy child!  

Documentation: Ayodhya issue as case

The article appearing on The Times of India online edition about the historical record of Ayodhya as a place of worship offers a reading which should be the basis on which any rational decision should be arrived at, with regard to issues whenever in dispute.  However, we often resort to every means other than checking records.  Primarily because we don't have records!! 

The article also makes interesting reading... how we come to know of Indian history from people who were not from India!  The article does well to explicitly state:
The British officials of the period demonstrated the opposite of the well-known Indian disregard for documentation. 
The article spells out how worship at Ayodhya was a joint-worship of Hindus and Muslims... peacefully and in perfect harmony... till 1857!  Besides the religious - or call it politicized religious - issue what makes interesting reading is the historical data provided.  And who recorded that data!

I think we Indians have a sort of allergy to put pen to paper!  We prefer the verbal testimony and that is how we think history should be recorded!  We really didn't learn very well from Valmiki, the first author, poet of the Ramayana.  If only we inherited his keen sense of recording history, in black and white, we would have had a better chance at being more 'educated'.  The same Valmiki is also credited with teaching the children of Rama and Sita the verbal song of the Ramayana.  Thus blessing us with both the verbal and written history record.  So later if there is any discrepancy between the two, the point of departure can well be traced and reasons for the same known - if people after Valmiki did what Valmiki did!  Even if they did not, at least we have the original document for further and future reference.  

Ayodhya: Historical record (reproduced article)

The following is the exact text of the article, as it appeared on the online edition of The Times of India on Nov. 10, 2019.  Just preserving it... before it disappears! Claim no credit to the content of it, but doing it purely for documentation... as the article rightly states we Indians "disregard (for) documentation." All merit of content is to The Times of India.  The original online article can be read here.

------

Accounts of European priest, travellers suggest both faiths worshipped at Ayodhya site pre-1857
by
Vaibhav Purandare


P Carnegy is not a name that will ring a bell in contemporary India. But this Britisher, an assistant commissioner of the Raj in Faizabad in the 1860s, is among those who played, unwittingly, a key role in providing champions of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement substantive material to make the case that Hindus had launched their struggle for the ‘janmasthan’ in Ayodhya much before the Ram Lalla idol was installed in 1949.

Writing a historical sketch of ‘Fyzabad’, as he spelt it, Carnegy wrote that until 1855, the year in which communal violence broke out in Ayodhya over possession of Hanuman Garhi and the ‘janmasthan’, “Hindus and Muslims alike used to worship in the mosque-temple."

But “since British rule (in 1858, that is) a railing has been put up to prevent disputes, within which in the mosque the Mahomedans pray, while outside the fence the Hindus have raised a platform on which they make their offerings.”

Carnegy wasn’t the first to point to “joint worship” in the inner yard. That credit goes to Austrian Jesuit priest Joseph Tieffenthaler who visited Awadh circa 1770 and recorded that 12 “koti and kasauti” pillars supported the Babri Masjid’s interior arcades and that there stood a square box called the “bedi” or cradle at the entrance, “where Vishnu took incarnation as Ram”. Tieffenthaler’s theory was that it wasn’t Babar or Mir Baqi in 1528 but Aurangzeb in the 17th century who had destroyed the shrine “to deprive Hindus of their faith”. Yet, the Jesuit priest wrote, Hindus still came to the spot to do their circumambulation and prostrated.

The first to refer to an inscription inside the masjid which stated it was built in 1528 by Babar’s chieftain Mir Baqi was F C Buchanan, physician of Lord Wellesley, who visited Ayodhya between 1807 and 1814. And the first legal record came in 1822, when a superintendent in Faizabad court, Hafizullah, submitted his report in Persian saying “the mosque founded by emperor Babur is situated at the Janmasthana”, “adjacent to the kitchen of Sita”.

After that, records about the dispute and about the persistent Hindu claim to the disputed site piled up quickly, with other European travellers following in Tieffenthaler’s footsteps and British officials such as A F Millet taking the path trodden by Carnegy.

Millet, a land revenue officer of Faizabad district, stated in his report of 1880 that Hindus and Muslims had worshipped “alike” inside the structure, and the writer-traveller Edward B Eastwick recorded in his ‘Handbook of the Bengal Presidency’ in 1888 that before 1858, namaz and puja were both performed inside the shrine. The British officials of the period demonstrated the opposite of the well-known Indian disregard for documentation.

The gazetteers of 1854, 1881, 1892, 1905, the Archaeological Survey Report of 1891 and later archaeological and general survey reports of the 1930s reinforced the theory of the mosque having been constructed after demolishing a temple and of intermittent Hindu efforts to get the spot back.

The archaeological report of 1891 by A Fuhrer, who translated three inscriptions inside the mosque, corroborated Buchanan’s view that it was Mir Baqi who “by the order of Babar” had built the mosque circa 1520 “on the very spot where the old temple Janmasthanam of Ramchandra was standing”.

The old temple, Fuhrer said, “must have been a very fine one, for many of its columns have been used by the Musalmans in the construction of Babar’s masjid”. A police complaint launched by the muezzin of the Babri Masjid in November 1858 too became part of the ‘janmabhoomi’ docket for the protemple side. Syed Muhammad Khatib, who used to call the faithful to prayer in the mosque, had written to local cops a year after the 1857 revolt that a Nihang Sikh, a Bairagi (ascetic), was “on the rampage at the Janmasthan."

He had forcibly built a “chabutra in the middle of the Babri mosque” and had raised the platform and placed a flag, a picture and an idol, the muezzin complained, urging authorities to get the construction demolished and oust Hindus from the place, where, earlier, the “nishaan of Janmasthan lay for hundreds of years and Hindus used to do puja.” These documents were put forward by the Hindu side in the post-1985 VHP (and later BJP) agitation phase to buttress their case.

Friday, 1 November 2019

An alternative to the Golden Rule

During my year at Ramanthapur, on the day of my b'day, my family joined me and the community in the evening celebrations.  There was a grand cultural programme put up by the boys in the hall.  At one certain moment, my niece came over to me and sat on my lap.  I was sitting at the back of the whole group with my family.  One of the youngest boys, Ganesh (I still remember him well!) aged the same as my niece - 3 years - was sitting right in front of the whole group, closest to the stage.  He somehow noticed my niece on my lap.  There was a strange look on his face.  It was as if to say, if she can, why not I?  But that was also coupled with the knowledge (far ahead of his age) that he could not.  He turned back a couple of times to see if my niece was still sitting with me.  I very delicately led her back to a chair, beside me.

Later during the programme, when called upon the stage to cut the cake, my nephew and niece hopped along.  They are 'professional cake-cutters'! And they would never have missed this opportunity to cut the cake with me!  From the stage, I dared not look in Ganesh's direction.  And so I invited the whole batch of the youngest boys (Mamma Margaret home boys - we called them), all 21 or 22 of them, onto the stage to join me.  They didn't need a second invitation!

This incident flashed in my mind, the moment I read the article, offering an alternative to the Golden rule. The Golden Rule asks us to do unto others what I wish done to me!  The Chinese philosopher Mengzi, offers an alternative: Extend to the world, the love and reverence you already have for your parents and elders.  (How Mengzi came up with something better than the Golden Rule on Aeon).

The Golden Rule actually presumes an inherent self-love as primary to human nature, rather than love for others.  It basically asks one to transpose one's love for oneself, onto others.  Mengzi's alternative, rests on the basic premise that as human beings we naturally love others, especially our parents, relatives and elders in our immediate community.  While the goal of both the principles is the extended other, the starting point is distinct.  Mengzi's extension is based on the 'we' dimension rather than the 'I' perspective.  Two other distinctive characteristics, pointed out by the author Eric Schwitzgebel, of Mengzi's extension, also make great sense.  One, Mengzi's extension is a lesser/easier leap than the Golden Rule: from family-to-others rather than self-to-others.  Secondly, it in a way includes the starting point of the Golden Rule in as much as the extension can be applied to oneself.  If I want my dear ones to enjoy kindness and empowerment I can extend/apply it to myself too!
Care about me not because you can imagine what you would selfishly want if you were me. Care about me because you see how I am not really so different from others you already love.
Looking back at my interactive experiences with the boys at Ramanthapur, what guided me more than my love for myself, especially when it came to the younger ones, was my affection for Chris and Anet. After all, half of the boys were around the age of Chris.  

To be Christians/Saints

What does it take to be Christians?  What qualifies one to be a Christian...

Being poor, concerned, seeking after justice and peace, merciful, pure of heart, those willing to suffer for a just cause.  That's it!  For anyone looking for a roadmap to sanctity, the Beatitudes offer one summarized edition! These very virtues that bring us closer to God are also the very ones that help us become aware of our humanity. 

... and we're all called to be Saints! 
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