Wednesday 25 February 2009

Narayan Vaman Tilak literature

For those who are interested, Appasaheb (Ashok Devdatt Tilak) has given away a large part of his books to the Protestant Seminary at Pune. The University of Bombay asked for and preserves (some) of Narayan Vaman Tilak's papers, while another part of these papers is with the University of Pune. The Pune College will probably have a copy of the Khristayana, and perhaps Rev. Sudhir Sharma or his brother in Ahmednagar. Fr Tony George says that some of the Tilak relatives in Nashik might also have a copy.

Appa says he has prepared a collection of Tilak's bhajans for publication, and perhaps also his Abhangas, but who will be interested, he asks, and where is the money. But Muktatai showed me a hymn book edited by Devdatt Tilak, which indicates the authors of the hymns, and contains some 300 hymns and bhajans composed by Narayan Vaman Tilak. The book, called Upasana something, is still in use in the Protestant churches, but the latest edition has dropped the names of authors, unfortunately.

Chalta Bolta Chamatkar is still available, whereas Jara Vegala Angle is out of print and is to be found only in libraries, perhaps in the Sarvajanik Vachanalaya near Shalimar in Nashik.

And Solomon Rapol tells me that he bought a copy of Smrtichitre just last year from a bookshop in Nashik, but is unable to tell me which edition it was.

It would be wonderful to see the Khristayana and Tilak's bhajans in print. Would there be many takers? I think so. More importantly, it makes further study more probable, and that is certainly important. Maybe a small run of 300-500 copies....

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Sahityalaxmi Laxmibai Tilak Punyatithi Smaran

We have just finished the lecture by Ashok (Appasaheb) Devdatt Tilak on his grandmother, Laxmibai Tilak, the occasion being her 73rd death anniversary. Appasaheb narrated the story of her conversion, which he has also brought out in English: Agadi Step by Step. I had read the booklet, but I found it moving to listen to the old man answering attempts to downplay her conversion by attributing it to her devotion to her husband - the Indian wife is supposed to be a pativrata, the husband is practically her god. She converted, people say, just in order to follow her husband. And he converted because he was a writer, a poet, and somewhat eccentric. Appasaheb spoke beautifully about Laxmibai's character: independent, strong, wilful even. He told us the seven steps which she herself described. He said that Narayan Vaman, her husband, had never forced her, and never even taught her. He only struck when the iron was hot. And she came to Christ dramatically. She said, at the end of her life, that Christ had brought her to him so that she might complete what her husband had left incomplete, the Kristayana. Her seventh step became the seventh word of Jesus on the cross: It is accomplished. Into your hands I commend my spirit.

The old man was moved as he narrated the story, and he moved many of us who were listening to him, in his flowing and forceful Marathi.

I am grateful to have had this opportunity to listen to this witness.

Sunday 22 February 2009


Ian Figueiredo shared with us in the Good Evening talk something that Fabio Attard had said during the meeting with Youth Ministry delegates in Chennai recently. Fabio had observed that most Rectors tend to veil the truth when presenting their reports to the provincial. But, he said, is this really helpful? Do we realize that, by veiling or fudging the truth, we are actually running the risk of damaging hundreds and thousands of youngsters, those entrusted to our care? Would not true love for them demand honesty on our part?

Wittgenstein was one of the most honest philosophers and also an extremely honest human being. I think a very real part of his anguish was that he felt he had to be totally honest and transparent with everyone, and that he just could not do that to the extent he desired.... He had, I think, a rather tortured personal life. And the anguish and pain probably came from the demands he made on himself.

Aubrey Mascarenhas, SJ

I bumped into Fr Aubrey Mascarenhas, SJ, at the Shrine of the Infant Jesus, Nashik, the other day. Aubrey is now Director of the Heras Institute at St Xavier's College, Mumbai. He used to be my Sanskrit teacher in the JDV days. I just realized that he was only a theology student at the time, while I was probably in first or second year BPh... I still remember the first sloka:
Shaile shaile na manikyam
Mouktikam na gaje gaje
Sadhavo na hi sarvatra
Chandanam na vane vane
Which translates, roughly:
Not every rock contains precious stones,
Not every elephant has a pearl[on its head],
You do not find [real] sadhus everywhere,
[Just like] not every forest has sandalwood.
I remember learning the declensions and the conjugations, and realizing with surprise how close they were to the Latin, and especially to the Greek. Our languages bear the unmistakable traces of our history, when no other documents are available. There is certainly a link between India and the languages of Europe, and in fact the Indo-European is a recognized linguistic group. Was there one group of people who subsequently split into Western and Eastern branches, with the Eastern branch splitting up into the Iranians and the Indians? Or, shall we say with recent revisionist attempts, that it all took place in India, and from India the glory went forth to colonize the West and even the further East?

Saturday 21 February 2009

Contemplation gardens and herbs

A friend commented on my Contemplation and Gardening blogpost:
Did you know that in medieval times, there were gardens for contemplation. There were stone benches and seats which were covered with herbs like Basil, etc. When people sat on these seats, the herbs were crushed and the smell emanating from them was conducive to getting into a deeper state of mediation. Sort of like the modern day use of incense sticks and aromatheray.
No, I didn't know that! But then gardening and contemplation have been linked in many religious traditions, most egregiously in Zen...

And I have been thinking that I must chase the reference - I think it was in one of Dalrymple's books, perhaps City of Djinns - to Paradise. It seems that our word Paradise comes from the Oriental (Arab? Persian?) word for a high walled garden, of the type one still comes across in Delhi. Quite delightful, really. Like the little garden of the CRI House in Masihgarh (see photo above), not far from our Delhi Provincial House...

Thursday 19 February 2009

Religious life, politics, and expectations

I was reflecting this morning on one difference between religious life and politics: in religious life, we have a number of expectations of one another, and that leads to a certain amount of anger when these expectations are not met; but in politics there tend to be no expectations; instead, it is the art of the possible. I know I cannot have any moral expectations; I know also that there are many factors at play; and the art is to anticipate as much as possible and act in such a way that I am able to get where I wanted to go.

Gore Vidal's Hollywood is an extraordinary illustration of what I have been saying about politics, especially when he describes the political campaign of W.G. Harding. Harding was nowhere near being anybody's favourite; and he wins the presidential election precisely by his cool calculations that the favourites would cancel each other out, and that people would then turn to him as not being really anybody's enemy. In the process, one gets to see all the little tricks that politicians probably play, as for instance when a senator goes out and leaks to the press that they have a candidate, when in fact they do not have one. But the very pressure of the news in the press serves to turn the senate to a choice.

The question I am asking myself is: is it possible to keep one's ideals in religious life, and yet work without too many expectations? I think this is also a religious ideal. I keep thinking of Jesus who "knew what was in the hearts of men, and did not trust himself to any of them." This, I think, is not so much scepticism as the kind of attitude I am trying (badly) to describe. Jesus knew our weaknesses and even venality; he did not have great expectations of us; and yet he loved. That, I guess is the challenge.


Is Notting Hill a British film? I am not sure. But I found the language quite what I imagine to be British. Thus the Hugh Grant character apologizes to his family for being so out of sorts over the last six months, and promises them: "I promise you I am going to behave myself. I am going to be impressively cheerful from now on."

And the way the family - ordinary people - and Hugh's assistant in his bookshop fall over Julia Roberts and make complete fools of themselves trying to be 'nice' as well as 'impressive' to the young and famous actress. Entirely believable.

I love the understated dialogues and acting in this film - which I really haven't seen in its entirety, just bits and pieces on television.


There is a - kirtan ? on Shivaji Raje going on at full volume in the neighbourhood, and I find myself irritated. It is free, unasked for, unprovoked impinging on my freedom to do quiet work this Thursday morning. Horses, elephants, prose and poetry, recitals and verse, with choruses interrupting and reinforcing every now and then, the tabla and the peti harmonium....

Yet it is a great vehicle of popular communication. It is popular history, the history that celebrates, inspires, builds up, binds together. And the art form it is using - is it kirtan or katha? - though I have seldom heard it so early in the morning - can be inspiring and elevating.

A Brahmabandhab Upadhyay Bibliography

Anthony Kalliath, "Brahmabandhab Upadhyay: An Evoking Parable of Christian Vocation." Word and Worship 41/6 (2008) 379-401.

Lord of the Rings

Lovely review of the Lord of the Rings movie:

Stratford Caldecott, "'Grace of the Valar': The Lord of the Rings Movie," Communio: International Catholic Review 35/1 (Spring 2008) 151-160.

Psychological Foundations: a new journal

I just noticed a very impressively produced and relatively new journal: Psychological Foundations: The Journal. I was leafing through it for book reviews, and noticed two contributions by Jose Parapully, SDB. Turning to the Table of Contents, there was not only Ajoy Fernandes, SDB, but also Joe Thannickal, SDB, and Egidio Fernandes, SDB.

The editorial team consists of Jose Parapully, Reenee Singh, and Shalini Anant. The publisher is the Psychological Foundations Trust, New Delhi.

Congratulations, Jose and team! Impressive.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

A Narayan Vaman Tilak bibliography

Tilak, Laksmibai and Tilak, Devadatta. Smrtichitren.
- First edition: Part 1 (1934); Part 2 (1935); Part 3 (1936); Part 4 (1937). 7 impressions up to 1953.
- Abridged version, ed. K.B. Devale. Mumbai 1940.
- Abridged version, Sahitya Akademi, Mumbai, 1958, 1968.
- Abridged version, ed. Devdatta Narayan Tilak, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, 1st ed. 1958, 4th ed. 1996.
- Abhinava avrtti, ed. Ashok D. Tilak, 1973, 1989, 1996. Containing all 4 parts, plus other scholarly apparatus (introduction, notes, index).
- Abridged version, ed. H.A. Bhave, Varda Prakashan, Pune, 1987. Second impression / edition 1989.
Tilak, Laksmibai. I Follow After. English tr. by E. Josephine Inkster, of Part 1. London: Oxford University Press, 1950. Madras: Oxford University Press, 1950. 353 pp.

Tilaka, Lakshmibai. From Brahma to Christ: The Story of Narayan Waman Tilak and Lakshmibai his Wife. New York: Association Press, 1956. 3 editions. See

Tilak, Laksmibai. [Smrtichitren.] English tr. by Louis Menezes, SJ.

Tilak, Laksmibai. Bharali Ghagar. Ed. K.B. Devale. Mumbai, 1948.

Tilak, Narayan Vaman, and Tilak, Laksmibai. Khristayana.

Shaikh, (Mir) Isahak. Laksmibai Tilakanchi Smrtichitre: Ek Chintan. Pratima Prakashan, Pune, 2000.

Tilak, Narayan Vaman. Abhanganjali. Ed. Ashok D. Tilak. Unpublished.

Tilak, Ashok Devadatta. Chalta Bolta Chamatkar.

Tilak, Ashok Devadatta. Takkarmal. Vangmayaseva Prakashan, Nashik Road, 2006.

Tilak, Ashok Devadatta. Chavaituhi. Mukta Ashok Tilak, Nashik, 2001.

Tilak, Ashok Devadatta. Jara Vegala Angle.

Nazareth, Malcolm. [PhD thesis on Tilak.]

And a rather significant number of other items at, and also in Sampurna Smrtichitre, ed. Ashok D. Tilak... (I have drawn a lot of the above from the latter source).

Ashok Devdatta Tilak and Mukta Tilak

Robert Pen and I paid a visit to Ashok Tilak at his daughter Mukta's place at N.D. Patil Marg, Nashik. It was a very interesting visit. I learned an enormous amount about Tilak.

First of all, there is a complete version of the Smrtichitren (called, in fact, Sampurna Smrtichitren) edited by Ashok (Apa) Tilak (1996); I have a copy which Bro. Pascal of the Tilak Vachanalaya, Holy Cross Ashram, was kind enough to practically press on me. Apa said that he could not bear the abridged version. Coming home, I realized that our library copy is really the abridged version edited by H.A. Bhave (we have the second impression of 1989).

I could not really find out whether or not Apa or his daughter possessed a complete copy of the Khristayana. From what I gathered, Apa's copy has been passed on, along with many other books from his collection, to the library of United Theological College, Pune.

Apa said that towards the end of his life, Tilak had composed an Abhanganjali, which he himself had edited and prepared for the press. Somehow he had not been able to publish it. Would I be interested, he asked. Of course, I said. The problem is not publishing or finding the funds; the problem is the editing, and if that has been done, the publishing can easily be done too. Apa said he would have to go through the text once again.

He showed me several of his own books (every book makes you one enemy, he told me, and he had therefore 12 enemies): Chalta Bolta Chamatkar; Takkarmaal; Chavaituhi; Jara Vegla Angle. Chalta Bolta Chamatkar is a collection of memories of people who had known Tilak; Apa said he had spent over 25 years on this book. Takkarmaal,if I remember right, is a set of possibly polemical essays. Apa asked me to take a look at the last essay, which was a letter from him to someone from Nagpur who had written a doctorate on Tilak and Tukaram. People nowadays just write doctorates; they know nothing about what they are writing; mostly they get their students to do the research. Chavaituhi is, I think, a collection of humourous stories.

I asked Apa if he had heard of the new translation of the Smrtichitren by some Jesuit (Tony George told me later that it was Louis Menezes, presently at St Xavier's School, Mumbai 400001). He said he had been sent a draft, and had not liked the translation. He did not know whether it had been published. (Tony George confirmed later that it had in fact been published.)

Malcolm Nazareth, once Principal of the Jesuit Regional Theolgate Vidyankur at Nashik, and now teaching in the US, is one of the Tilak scholars. There seem to be several others, many of them writing in Marathi, but Apa does not seem to think much of them. They are all either fools or knaves, he said. They are not interested in really understanding Tilak. They are waiting for me to die, and then they will have a field day writing what they want. Someone has translated "Take up your cross and follow me" as "Tumchi shava-peti [coffin] khandyavar gheun chal," he said. These are the kinds of things they write.

Apa is an interesting man. He made Robert pull out a fat little book. It was his autograph book, sort of, with pages for each day of the year. He had collected hundreds of signatures of people he had met or who had visited him; the signatures were on their respective birthdays. He asked Robert and me to add our signatures too. We happened to see the signature of his brother, D.D. Tilak. Apa made me open also to the 19 December page: there, on the Liberation Day of Goa, was a cartoon of a foreigner being kicked out. Do you know who drew that cartoon, he asked. No, I said. Bal Thackeray, he said. Prabodhankar Thackeray was a great friend of Devdatta Tilak, and Apa and Bal also used to be friends, though now Apa prefers to keep his distance. But that was Bal's cartoon, drawn by him on the page with his own pen....

I told Mukta that there was very little available on the net about Tilak. She said she was interested in setting up a website, and could someone find out how to go about that. I said of course, we could help in that. It would be a worthwhile project.

Apa showed himself willing to come over to Divyadaan for a lecture, and Mukta suggested 24 February, being the death anniversary of Laksmibai. We said we would be thrilled, but that we would confirm.

24 February is a bit tight, as the second years will be just finishing their last exam at around 1730 hours. But we are planning to go ahead and have the lecture, perhaps at 1900 hours....

In the meantime, Tony George has promised to try and get me a photocopy of the Khristayana from another member of the Tilak family.

I think we should try to acquire as much of the Tilak bibliography as possible: books by Tilak and by Laksmibai; by Devdatta Tilak; by Ashok Tilak; by others such as Malcolm Nazareth. If possible also copies of whatever manuscripts are available, from Nagar and from Pune.

The glorious semal tree

A fine example of the semal tree (simdo in Gujarati, perhaps known as silk cotton in English). The first photo allows a comparison between the semal and the palas: while the palas is truly like a flame in the forest, shooting up against the green, the semal is regal and majestic, putting out its large, usually red, flowers in naked glory before it sends out its leaves.

The semal also seems to be found all over the Indian subcontinent. It is abundant all along the Nashik-Mumbai road, even though so many trees have been lost to the four-laning project. I have seen it in Goa. New Delhi has whole avenues lined with semal, and they must be flowering gloriously just now. I believe its flowers are even eaten as vegetable... And my grandmother, Maria Piedade Cardoz, once made me a lovely soft pillow with the silky cotton released by the seeds. What a pillow that was.

What a pity we do not have a single exemplar of the semal on the Divyadaan campus.

Narayan Vaman Tilak (1861-1919)

We are living in Nashik,the Nashik of Narayan Vaman Tilak and Laksmibai Tilak, but we do not have a copy of the Khristayana in our library. So I got Muktabai Tilak's phone number from Fr Tony George, SJ, the other day, and this morning I forced myself to make a call. Apa Tilak picked up the phone. I told him I was interested in obtaining a copy of the Khristayana. He said he had with him only his own copy. When was it printed, I asked. In 1948, he said. Then it must be out of print now, I said. Yes, he said. You might not be able to obtain a copy. Would the Jesuits have a copy at Tilak Vachanalaya, Holy Cross Ashram, I asked. Try them, he said. Perhaps they have a copy.

I said I would like to be able to reprint the Khristayana. But who will be interested in it, he asked. I said perhaps we could interest someone in doing a doctorate on it. Apasaheb told me that some years ago, a Mr Sharma had tried to reprint it. That Mr Sharma was related to Rev. Dr. Sudhir Sharma of CSRD, Station Road, Ahmednagar. Apasaheb also mentioned Jnanodaya in this connection; leafing through Smrtichitre, I came across the name, and it seems to be a magazine that Tilak had either founded or else was associated with. Whatever.

Apa Tilak is Muktabai's father. He told me that his daughter had brought him over (from his Nashik house) because of illness. He said he was trying to dispose of his books, and that he had already given a large part to some big seminary or college in Pune. Was it Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, or the Jesuits, I asked. No, he said. Then perhaps United Biblical College? Perhaps, he said. He said he had more books to dispose of. I said, we have a library, why don't you think of donating them to us? We will be able to keep them safe. He had not heard of our library, or of Divyadaan, though he had heard of Don Bosco. Could I come and see you, I asked. No problem, he said, but phone and come. I would like my daughter to be around. Do you know the address? No, said, please give it to me. "Glory", Flat no. 4, N.D. Patil Road, near the GPO, opposite the Telephone Exchange, he said.

I asked Robert. Let's go immediately, he said, today or tomorrow. I phoned again. This time it was Muktabai who picked up the phone. Come at 5.00 p.m. this evening, she said.

Smrtichitre has been lying on my table for months. I picked it up, began leafing through it, at least to discover who Apa was. There is no mention of Apa in the book as far as I can see, but this is what I have gathered: Narayan and Laksmibai had two children, Dattu and Namu. Dattu married Ruth....

I remember some Jesuit having recently translated Smrtichitre, but can't find the information just now. But Tony George should know: he has just completed a doctorate on Christians in Marathi literature or something to that effect, and one of the texts he studied was Smrtichitre.

And William Falcao has just phoned saying he knows the Rev. Sharma very well, and that he teaches in the MSW section of Ahmednagar, which is in fact called CSRD.

For Prembhai with love...

I reproduce this comment from Nabam Peter on my Prembhai posting, because Prembhai deserves it. Thank you, Nabam Peter.

Rev Ivo,

I came across your blog while searching for my old school.I was a student at St Xavier's School, Harmutty in Assam.Reading your post about our beloved and most revered Prembhai brought a sombre atmosphere to me.It makes me more sad that I am learning about his demise more than months later.I pay my respect and pray, God our father has given him his reward in heaven.You rightly described that he had touched the lives of many Arunachalis and I am a testimony.We loved him very much and I believed him when he would ask us to touch his long flowing beard to get some magical power of sort.We loved getting around him and listening to his adventures of getting into the deepest part of Arunachal and his travel around the the world.His room at our hostel was a gift store for us.We use to raid it everytime he came back from travel.I didn't know he was an ordinary man with stories like ours because I believed he was extraordinary.To be honest,Arunachal as a whole owe lot to him.He along with the help of Salesians and other congregation, use to bring boys from remotest place in Arunachal and gave them free education and these students I believe were pioneer and led their fellow men to the world outside them.Your blogs are informative and inspiring
and I shall keep following them.

Thank you,

Nabam Peter
IIT Kharagpur

Monday 16 February 2009

The palas is flowering

The palas is flowering already all along the ghats down to Mumbai - though the photo above is from the Kawant - Chhotaudepur road in Gujarat.

Palas – palash in Sanskrit, dhak in Hindi, kesudo in Gujarati, purasu in Tamil, flame of the forest in English. A tree spread over the Indian subcontinent, unmistakable for its 3 part leaf and typical orange flowers. Sacred to Hindus and Buddhists alike: palas flowers are part of the Saraswati puja in Bengal, and a staff of palas wood is part of the famous Hindu thread ceremony. And then I remember my brother-in-law Julian saying that the tree is also called Brahmavrksa, and that sadhus make their staffs out of this wood alone, but I have not found confirmation of this. (Vrksa in Sanskrit - ruk in Konkani!)

And the flowers are a herald of spring, and fitting provide a natural yellow / orange colour dye exactly in time for the Spring Festival of Holi, a colour that had none of the harmful properties of the currently used powders and grease paints, and in fact several healing cooling medicinal properties.

We have planted some palas in our Divyadaan campus, and we cannot wait for the flowers to arrive.

Freedom and contemplation

How to set people free - or how to accompany persons in their task of self-liberation - is perhaps one of the most important tasks in helping professions, and certainly also in formation.

A person with low self-esteem, or a person with issues that she is not aware of, is a most dangerous person when endowed with authority of any kind.

How might we help ourselves as educators and formators, and help those entrusted to us?

Spending quiet time in contemplative prayer is certainly one way, a way that we most often neglect.

Spending quiet time with ourselves too - walking calmly in the garden or even around the house. Reading a quiet book quietly - calmly, without rushing. Letting things sink into our minds, our hearts, our bellies, as William McNamara says.

Sunday 15 February 2009

St Andrew's, Bandra

Speaking about churches, Mary Ferreira ('Mary Teacher' of St Joseph's Wadala) told me that the cemetery of St Andrew's Church, Bandra, contains a huge stone cross which was once part of the now demolished St Ann's Church. The original St Ann's Church that used to be where eventually the Bandra slaughterhouse was. I remember reading in Awakening Faith about a magnificent Jesuit college that could rival the colleges in the old continent. The original St Ann's was part of that college.

Mary also told me about the Circular Cross on the facade of St Andrews: before the facade was moved to its present location, she said, on the day of the Summer Solstice the sun would pierce the cross and fall directly on the main altar.... Which left me wondering about the possible fusion of Indian and Western architecture in this old Church.

Inacio Vaz, a forgotten Goan artist

Dr Belinda Vaz had come for Sabino Cardoz's anniversary mass. Belinda is a Vaz of Guirim, so I asked her about the painter Inacio Vaz, my grandmother's mama, and Belinda's great-uncle, her grandfather's brother.

Belinda told me that Inacio has done several paintings for the Church of Bom Jesu in Old Goa, but that during the restoration his signatures had been somehow removed. She said he was a prolific painter, and that many of the Guirim houses had instances of his art. The old Vaz house - now sadly in a state of some disrepair because of disoccupancy - contains a beautiful and original Last Supper, from what I remember from my last visit: a Last Supper with deliberate Indian themes. Belinda said that somewhere in the house must be also a painting of a Goan woman bathing at the well.

She said that Inacio was somewhat eccentric, with longish white hair, and had remained a bachelor all his life. He used to go round Europe quite often, and she was not surprised when I told her that one of our students had discovered his name among other Indian Christian painters like Angelo da Fonseca, Sr Genevieve, and Jyoti Sahi. Still, Inacio Vaz is nowhere as well known as Angelo da Fonseca. Hopefully someone will do some research and study on this Goan painter, who, if he dared to paint an Indian Last Supper in Portuguese Goa, was certainly an independent sort.

Holy Trinity Church, Powai

This morning we had the first anniversary mass for my uncle, Sabino Cardoz, at Holy Trinity Church, Powai. Behind the rather ordinary new church on a still beautiful and peaceful tree-lined hill, stand the ruins - barely the two lateral walls - of the original Church of the Holy Trinity.

Mabel and Philip Barretto of Sahakar Nagar told me that they remember going on pilgrimage once a year, all the way on bullock carts, for the feast of that Church. Fr Shiraz, the present parish priest, said that it used to be an East Indian affair, and the feast, which is moveable, had been fixed on the last day of May. He confirmed what I had read in Awakening Faith, that the original Church of the Holy Trinity was in what is today Vihar Lake. When the British wanted to create the lake, they gave the Catholics an alternative site, which is where the church stands today, on the hill overlooking Powai on one side and Bhandup - Kanjur Marg on the other. People say that the belfry of the submerged church is still sometimes visible, when the water level of the lake goes down.

Unfortunately the old church on the hill is now in a terrible state of disrepair, with huge trees growing out of the walls. To add to the problems, a stage and toilets have come up in front of the ruins, not 5 feet away from them. Practicality rules over history, I guess. But then Fr Shiraz was telling me also that, some time after independence, when no one was living on the hill, the Indian Navy acquired the land, so that now there is an ongoing dispute. Let's hope the dispute is settled, that the ruined church is recovered, and that some conservation efforts begin soon. It would be a real pity if we were to lose such relics of a Bombay that is now no more. And just like the forts of Bombay, the old churches of Bombay could become part of the historical attractions of the city.

The messianic secret

An old homily of mine for Sunday 6B which I thought I absolutely must share:

A leper came to him, fell on his knees in front of him and pleaded with his right hand over his mouth: "If you want to, you can make me clean."

Jesus looked at him, and once again he was touched with pity, moved to compassion from the depths of his being. Moved at the sight of this human wreck, with dripping sores, dishevelled hair, dressed in rags, cast out from home and family, friends and worship. He reached out, and looked into those dull eyes now dimly lit by a glimmer of hope; he touched him and said: "Of course I want to: be clean!"

And the miracle took place. We are not surprised at that, we who know Jesus is God. But Jesus goes on: "Go to the priests, get your health certificate from them, but see that you keep your mouth shut; don't tell anyone else!" That surprises us. Why? Why should he keep quiet? Didn't Jesus want to be known? Didn't he want all Israel to acknowledge him and believe in him?

But Jesus had learned from what had happened before, and so he said: Don't tell anyone, mind you.

It was no use. The man went - and told his story, left, right and centre - and they came again, the hundreds and thousands, the deaf, the lame, the blind, the lepers - they came after Jesus looking for the easy thing - craving for his touch, wanting to be healed, while remaining quite unchanged. Healed like the leper - externally, at the surface of the skin.

Now, as then, people want to see, to touch, to feel. Now, as then, we live on sensations and thrills. You cure one leper, and a thousand come running after you - for cures that go no deeper than the skin. We are all looking out for a pill, a power, a prescription that will cure us instantly. With what fervour we pray for health, for jobs, for safe deliveries. But how many pray for a change of heart? How many pray for a mind like Jesus? How many pray for compassion and love? Do we even hear of Thanksgiving to the Infant Jesus for favours such as these?

The people of Jesus' day wanted to see, to touch, to feel; and we are not very different. But Jesus has compassion on us. He sees us hungry and thirsty, like sheep without a shepherd, running to our shrines and our novenas, earnestly making our supplications on bended knees. Jesus sees us still and is moved from the depths of his being, and grants us our favours, gives us what we ask. But he sighs within, he fears we will get stuck to our petty ideas of happiness, our small little worlds, with our shrivelled up hearts. And so he tells us - Don't tell everyone, keep it to yourself. There's more to it than a skin deep cure. I love you and care for you. I want you to be happy and I want you to be healthy. But there's more to life than good health and money. If only you could understand what it means to be given a heart of flesh in place of a heart of stone. If only you could know what it means to pray that my Father's will be done. If only you would trust enough to pray that his kingdom come. Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all else will be given you besides.

There are miracles in the gospels. But lepers are cured, never to be heard of again. The blind are given sight, never to be seen again. The dead are raised to life, only to die again. The real and decisive miracle in the gospels is the sight of two strapping young men who just leave their nets and follow Jesus. Or the tax collector leaving his money and his fun and going after Jesus. Or Zacchaeus turning a new leaf with tears in his eyes. Or the sinner woman pouring her heart on Jesus' feet and wiping them dry with her hair. The real miracle - today as yesterday - is the change in the hearts of men, which makes them leave everything they have because they have found a pearl of great price. The real miracle is a man pouring out his life for his fellow human beings. The real miracle is when other people, in imitation of him, think nothing of placing love before family and wealth and life itself.

Saturday 14 February 2009

Nashik history

Nashik is quite a historical and religious centre.

Panchavati and Tapovan are associated with the exile of Rama and Sita. Laxman is supposed to have cut of the nose (nasika) of the demoness Supanakha, thus giving rise to the name Nashik. The famous Laxman Rekha is supposed to have been drawn in this same Nashik - though I have yet to see that site. Tapovan, where Rama, Sita and Laxman are said to have dwelt, is still a charming corner on the other side of the Mumbai-Agra highway, full of ancient tamarind trees, though the sacred Godavari itself leaves much to be desired. In and around Panchavati there is the Kalaram Mandir built by the Peshwas, the Ram Kund, the Sita Guhfa. Some kilometres up towards the source of the Godavari is Anjaneri, where Hanuman is said to have been born - he is called in fact Anjaneya-suta. And of course there is Trimbakeshwar, a little town at the foot of Brahmagiri, the source hill of the Godavari, full of ancient temples, including a Shiva temple with a Shiva lingam that is supposed to be one of the 12 important Shiva lingams in the country.... And all through flows the Godavari, affectionately referred to by the local populace as the Ganga. The first village on the Godavari after Trimbakeshwar is, in fact, called Gangapur; it has the privilege of having 5 beautiful little temples built around the river bank, not to speak of a mauna-sadhu who has set up his lovely little ashram not far from the bank.

On a slightly different note, Nashik was the jagir of Raghoba, uncle of Madhavrao Peshwa. Madhavrao's mother and Raghoba's sister was, interestingly, called Gangabai. And Raghoba's wife was Anandibai. What is today the village of Anandvalli still houses the remains of Raghobha's vada - the remains or what is left of them, after some builder has done his job. Not far from this is the ancient Navashya Ganapati temple, which used to be a lovely little temple on the river bank, now no longer quite so lovely thanks to patra-shed type of extension. Further upstream, on the way to Gangapur, lies Someshwar, another sacred spot, somewhat under the patronage of the Nashik Mahanagarpalika, with its efforts to transform it into a picnic-cum-holy place.

In between Ashok Stambh and Anandvalli, and bounded by Gangapur Road and College Road, lies the Divyadaan Campus. That campus, now full of trees and greenery, used to be a quite barren piece of land before the Salesians acquired it way back in the early 1960s. I have often wondered whether Madhavrao's army had marched through that land on their way to teach a well-deserved lesson to Uncle Raghoba...

On the south of the campus, along the Mumbai-Agra highway, stand the Pandavlene, which are really Buddhist caves with a caitya and many viharas. And on the north of the campus, along the Peth road (I think), lies another ancient site, Chambarlene, which is an ancient Jaina temple...

We are surrounded by history.

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Obstacles, goals and anger

In the course of life one has often to decide what it is that one really wants. Thus, for example, when faced with an obstacle or a block, one has to decide: do I want to be angry and express my anger, or do I want to get beyond this obstacle and block? If it is the second that I want, then I have many options before me: jump over, get around, go back, find another way....

Not that anger is bad. But I have to keep asking myself: is it going to get me where I want to go? Or is it leading me away from my destination? Anger might be arising from the actual situation, and then it is sometimes power and energy to do what needs to be done. But it might be arising from other, external, irrelevant factors: lack of self-esteem, the inability to take a slight, the tendency to read every obstacle as a personal affront. In point of fact, many obstacles are rooted in problems that are not my own. By getting upset about them, in effect I make them my own, and am left with one more burden...

So an important part of counselling is to identify the feelings at play, and then, after helping the client own responsiblity, to aid him/her in deciding what s/he really wants to do. And if s/he wants merely to express anger, then that is what s/he must do.... Only, then there is no place for lament that s/he is not reaching the goal....

Ram Kund, Panchavati

Yesterday I accompanied Mauro Mantovani and Jarek Rochowiak to Ram Kund, Panchavati, Nashik.

As soon as we landed, we were accosted by an elderly sadhu begging for alms. We were surprised when two young men came and brusquely took the sadhu away from us. "He is always bothering visitors," they told us. What happened next was sad. They threw him on the ground and kicked him. I tried to say they should not do that, but no one was listening.

I think now that I lost an opportunity to pick up the old man from the ground and give him something.

The gospel has to penetrate my living in such a way that I am able to act spontaneously, rather than realize only much later what I could have done.

On the whole, I have found that people have been more than kind in the Hindu holy places we visited in the last few days: the man guarding the shoes at Muktidham who refused to take any money; the people who guided us towards the beautiful Kalaram Mandir which I had never seen; the young couple selling jadi-buti on the little bridge at Panchavati; the vegetable sellers on the banks.... It was good to be in friendly contact with them. There is a distinct feeling of 'coming of age'. The older resentful type of attitude was not there. Or perhaps it was because of the amazing linkage that speaking in Marathi can bring about?

Monday 9 February 2009

The Good News Bible

At a wedding in Goa recently, I was asked to celebrate the Eucharist in English. We looked around for copies of an English language Bible, and found only the Good News Bible. I was shocked when I read the account of the Wedding Feast at Cana from John 2: there was absolutely no sign of the word Woman.

The Good News Bible is a paraphrase rather than a translation. It is certainly not a recommended text for the liturgy or for exegetical study. I would go so far as to say that no serious Christian should use it even for prayer and meditation. It omits simply too many things for comfort. To omit the word Woman from the account of the Wedding Feast at Cana is to reduce the layers of meaning in the text to the kind of flat literalism that Americans seem to love.

Let's get back to the great translations: the RSV, available for Catholics as the RSVCE (I don't quite like the New RSVCE; I don't see how one can interject inclusive language when it was not there in the original; no point in whitewashing the fact that the Bible was written in a patriarchal age), the New Jerusalem Bible, perhaps also the New American Bible.

Sunday 8 February 2009

Tribals and demons

Banker leaves very little to imagination when he describes the demoness Tataka explicitly as a tribal woman:
He had heard the whispered legends of the Yaksi demoness Tataka.... But no witness had faced the demoness adn lived to describe her. Bejoo himself had always harboured a faint suspicion that Tataka might simply be some insane dasya woman, one of those cannibalistic thugs who had taken to waylaying travellers.... He had held an image in his mind of a black-skinned tribal woman in a leaf skirt, body pierced in numerous places by carved bone jewellery, a stout nail-studded club in one hand, a necklace of infant skulls dangling over her naked pendulous breasts, roaring curses in her primitive tribal tongue, her rotted teeth easily mistaken for rakshasi fangs. (Prince of Ayodhya: Book One of the Ramayana. New Delhi: Penguin 2005, 465)
Maybe we cannot distort the original texts so much as to excise from them all their biases and prejudices. But perhaps a retelling, and a brilliant one like Banker's, need not indulge in perpetration of prejudices?

Saturday 7 February 2009

Ashok Banker's Ramayana

I've begun reading Ashok Banker's immensely readable Ramayana.

Unmistakable traces of Tolkien as well as Robert Jordan: Ravana is called the Dark Lord, and has the power to sneak and speak into people's minds as in the Wheel of Time. There is a tower in the middle of Ayodhya, built by the Seers, a magical tower, and it is even called the Eye. The Bhayanak-Van is called Southwoods and is a place of dark enchantment like the Mirkwoods of Tolkien. There are repeated references to the Samay Chakra, or the Wheel of Time. Brahman, with a lower case 'b', is the One Power, and can be used for good or for evil, by those who attain it through long years of tapasya; thus not only the Sage Viswamitra but also Ravana himself, after a penance of a thousand years, has power over it. The devas look suspiciously like the Valar - or is it that the Valar are modelled on the devas of the Indo-Aryans?

The other side is not so pleasant: I think Banker has tacitly accepted revisionist history when he assumes that the Aryas were native to the Indian sub-continent, and from there made forays or journeys into the Germanic lands, as well as significant cultural contributions to China and Japan, to mention just a few places, by the time of the Ramayana.

And of course, unavoidably, the Aryas are the good people, while the Asuras are the bad people, the demons.

I need to read a good, rather complete version of the Ramayana now to check and compare.

Quibbles aside, as I have said already, Banker's is a magnificent achievement. He makes the Ramayana - and the world of the Epic Aryans - come alive.


Karvandas in Februrary ... still at the flower stage.
Zosvaddo, Soccorro, Bardez - Goa

Tuesday 3 February 2009

The gift of God’s love

In the face of the petty slights and humiliations of life, one begins to realize better the meaning of the gift of God's love. "It is, as James Alison tells us, an inexplicable love, way beyond our partisan loves; an absolutely gratuitous visceral commotion, born outside all reaction, which the ancients called agape. We come to be able to love other humans, to love the human race and the human condition. Jesus, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, 'for the joy that was set before him' thought nothing of the shame." (Brendan Lovett, For the Joy Set Before Us 221)
"It is to the extent that we learn unconcern about our reputation that the Father can produce in us the same love he and his Son have for the human race. Now that love has no interest in any final settling of accounts. That love seeks desperately and insatiably that good and evil may participate in a wedding banquet. 'Not without you': it will not be without the others, the betrayers, the persecutors, those gone astray; all are forgiven because they are loved, because they are delighted in. In truth, Jesus loved his slayers. With our entry into all this, awareness of Christian mission is born." (Lovett 222)

For the Joy Set Before Us...

I have been reading Brendan Lovett's For the Joy Set Before Us, which is the latest attempt to actually apply Lonergan's theological method. A rather difficult book, whose topic is the theology of mission, but brilliant in parts. One of the great convictions running through the book is that God's plan is the reconciliation of all things in Christ. That is the 'joy set before us' - incidentally, this morning's reading from the letter to the Hebrews. The universality of mission is linked to this great plan of God...

But I couldn't help thinking of Dostoievsky in The Brothers Karamazov: I love humanity; it's just people that I hate.

One is deeply convinced of God's plan, and Lovett's book has ringing phrases, as when he asks: What, then was this joy? And answers with the words of James Alison:
It was the possibility of delighting forever in a huge celebration along with a huge multitude of us human beings, people who are good, bad, creative, depressive, but humans and, for that reason, loved. (Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination, New York, Crossroad, 1996, 189 = Living in the End Times, London: SPCK, 1998. Lovett 222)
So one may be lifted by this kind of affirmation, and yet experience within one's body the anger, the resistances, the difficulty of truly loving, letting be, accepting the concrete human beings who rub shoulders with us every day and stamp on our toes.

Sunday 1 February 2009

Celebrating the Eucharist

Last evening we had the traditional dinner on Don Bosco's feast for the friends of the community.

I felt very happy that our domestic employees were invited together with the rest of the staff (which really means just Shyju and Mr Vamane). This is a great step in the right direction, a move forward in the celebration of the Eucharist...

Mr Vamane, unfortunately, came in at around 1800 hours, thinking the Mass was in Divyadaan. He found the gates locked and went away. But his children came in later, Gopal and Vardhini, and it was a treat to have them with us. They were most at home, brimming with a pleasant confidence, and they told us they absolutely had looked forward to coming. Where did you get all that confidence, I asked them. From our grandfather, they both replied without hesitation. Now that is something!

Dr Patil and his wife were there too. I found this young man sitting there, and could not for the life of me place him. It was only much later, at the very end of the meal, that I recognized him as our very own Dr Patil. A good man, if ever there was. He and his wife are both doctors, though not MBBS. They worked for years in Dhule district, and were practically gods in that place where there are so few doctors and no good hospitals worth the name. They decided to move to Nashik for the sake of their children. But even here they are exceptional: such care for the poor and the simple, no recommending unnecessary tests and hospitalization, and a pittance for a visit - just Rs 20. I have even seen a poor patient being given IV fluids in the waiting room. And best of all, Dr Patil is excellent in diagnosis. That comes from his years of experience in Dhule. The upper blade is extremely strong, and for the most part he can tell what's wrong with someone without too much hesitation, and without resorting to tests.

Politically incorrect

Swamiji dropped in to wish us yesterday, very good of him, a man of some 84 years. He came on a motorbike with Damu, who together with his older brother could be considered Swamiji's only chelas.

I found that Swamiji has put on weight - lack of exercise, no more cooking, and lots of tablets because of a blackout some years ago, he explained. But otherwise he is as combative and clear in his thinking as ever.

"I think dialogue is an escape," he told me. "We are afraid of telling people, or else we have given up all hope, of conversion." That might sound like the most politically incorrect thing to say nowadays, but Swamiji as always has a point. Like he said - openly, and in front of Damu: Damu and his brother take good care of me, they read the gospel, they know everything about the ashram and lots about our faith - but in their hearts they are convinced Hindus. And I am happy about that. I have preached the gospel to them, they have made their decisions, and the most important thing is that we are friends.

Swamiji is convinced that the gospel has to be preached to all, and that there is no point hiding that fact. He told me how an Evangelical Pastor came to see him with his flock. He told the good ladies straight away, without mincing words: The Catholic faith has been around for 2000 years, many of the protestant sects have been around for barely 100 years. The problem with us Christians is that we have one God and 3 crore panths. You must all become Catholics.

Is this disrespectful? I wonder. Swamiji is not forcing anyone. He is expressing his opinion in a forthright way. And he is able to be good friends just the same after that. Maybe we should have a look at this more closely.

Power and Timing

I've been reading Gore Vidal's Hollywood, and here are some fantastic insights about the use of power (which I hope is not seen always as a dirty word). Vidal is writing about President G.W. Harding, and the Wilson he mentions is the President before Harding, Woodrow Wilson:

“I’ve discovered one thing about this job…. Someone – in this case you – can come up with a good idea that the President likes, but that’s not always enough, because a lot of the time even though he – me – agrees with you on policy, I have to say no, and sit back, looking sad and forlorn, until you force me to do the right thing.”
“In this case, you can count on my forcing you, Mr President.” Borah was somewhat taken aback by Harding’s unexpected grasp of the essentials of power. Burden had often noted that for want of good timing, many an excellent policy had failed of enactment.
But the President was in full control of the situation. “So let’s keep in close touch during the next few weeks.” Harding rose, as did the two senators. … Then he turned to Borah. “Let me wind up my fishing expedition with the Japanese. The British are already on board, so they say. We may also have to include the French and the Italians to make them feel good. Then when we’re ready, I’ll give you a signal to go and put the gun to my head with a Senate resolution, and then, gracefully, I’ll give way, and we’ll send out invitations for a conference here in Washington…. You see,” the President had led them to the door, “I want this country to be known as a defender of the peace, everywhere…”
“We’re as one on that.” Borah shook the President’s hand.
“So was Wilson,” Burden observed, “but he would’ve made a brilliant speech prematurely. Then he would’ve denounced those who disagreed with him and… well, I suppose he would’ve declared martial law, if he could.”
Gore Vidal, Hollywood: A Novel of the Twenties (London: Grafton Books, 1990) 434-5.

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