Saturday 27 June 2009

Domestic flights

Domestic flights within the US are not as complicated as international flights. There are checks, but nowhere as rigorous as the international ones. One of my checked in bags was checked, though. I found a note inside to that effect. I wonder they opened the number lock. Interesting.

The American Airlines flight was also interesting. All these are no-frills flights now; I knew that, but what was new was that no food can be purchased without a credit or a debit card.

Both check in and exit were simplicity itself. The check in can be done at home, but at Boston Airport even the manual check in is not manual anymore. You go up to the counter, key in your details, get your boarding card, deposit your bags, and there you are. Exit also was great: the air-bridge, the baggage belt below, the bags which came out in no time, and that was that.

Child Growth Standards

Extremely interesting talk by Cutberto Garza, Provost, Dean of Faculties (what's that?) at Boston College, entitled "Raising the Bar: An International Growth Standard for Infants and Young Children." Garza has been involved the last 20 years in a WHO project for standardization of child growth. (Fred Lawrence justified this talk at the Lonergan Workshop, Boston College, by pointing out that the famous preferential option was not only for the poor but also for the young. Somehow theologians managed to drop 'the young' from their attention. Something for Salesians to think about.)

The most startling finding of the project is that height has nothing to do with race or genetics, only with environment. Kids grow in the same way in the first five years if you give them all that they need. And part of what they need is breast-feeding.

The study involved countries such as India, Ghana, Oman, Norway, the US and some others. The finding is so startling that the US government has not yet accepted it. Garza said that the US finds it difficult to accept the fact that there is no difference between Indian and Ghanian and Omani children and American children.... And, I guess, governments such as the Indian now have no excuse in terms of race or genetics; if children fail to grow, it is entirely a matter of environment.

The study evoked understandable reactions from the formula-feed lobbies, but it appears that that opposition has largely died down.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

The leaf mould of one's mind

Wonderfully suggestive and expressive phrase from Tolkien, quoted yesterday by Fred Lawrence at the Lonergan Workshop: Tolkien, it seems, said that his books grew not only out of his reading, but out of the leaf-mould of his mind....

Full qualifications

Finally got my full qualification to be a philosopher.

This morning, after a long session with 4 solid lectures and question hours, I was walking out of McGuinn Hall, reading a pamphlet about the latest Lonergan news, when I walked into the glass doors. Huge bump, feeling of consternation, pain... but all said and done, a feeling of relief and thankfulness, because nothing worse happened. My specs were intact, miraculously (I had to shove the glass back into the frame, I noticed a couple of hours later). The glass door was not even cracked, thankfully. Anything could have happened. But now I am fully qualified.

Lonergan used to repeat the story of Thales and the milkmaid. His point was that Thales had entered a new differentiation of consciousness, or perhaps it was that Thales was in the intellectual pattern of experience, whereas the poor milkmaid who laughed at him was merely in the usual dramatico-practical pattern.


Boston College is a beautiful campus, with manicured lawns, neo-Gothic buildings for the most part, lovely flower beds. But this June is really rainy and wet. I find myself longing for the sunshine.

Fred Lawrence usually begins the Workshop late Monday mornings, but this time it looks like he began it Sunday evening, with two and not just one paper. I missed those, and also the first talk Monday morning. Still, the papers are rolling. Many 'application' papers this time, mostly in the economic field.

Everyone is speaking about the Seton Hall Conference on Lonergan's Economics. The Lonergan people there teamed up with the School of Business, and they managed to get in professional economists as well as business people. It was, they say, a very fruitful interaction.

Saturday 20 June 2009

Finding our Father

Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary today. The gospel reading is the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. The great theme of the boy Jesus discovering and declaring his real Father. Something that each one of us has to do: discover and declare that, far before our fathers and mothers, we have One who is Father and Mother, the One from whom we ultimately come, the One to whom we are ultimately going....

So ultimate allegiances are to God. Not an easy lesson for parents. But already Kahlil Gibran put it so well:
Your children are not your children, but the children of life's longing for itself, arrows shot from the bow of life. They will travel far beyond you. Let them go. Don't try to stop them. Don't cling to them.
And Mary: keeping all these things in her heart. Pondering. Contemplating. Powerful words, powerful image. One of the most beautiful icons of Mary in the Word.

Phyllis and England

Phoned Phyllis Wallbank from the airport. Luckily I had her number on the cell. She was in bed, the knees are bad.

I thought of the lovely visits to her home on Dorney Common. The lovely little pink house, named Meldrum after the horse that won and enabled the lucky winner to build the house. The back garden with the gold fish. The walks down to the Thames. The old abandoned Norman church, now lovingly restored by the Friends of Abandoned Churches. Eton Court and Dorney Court. Eton Wick and Eton itself, with the tail-coated young elite of England and the world. The warm little pubs and the lovely old and not so old houses. Thousand year old walls, and a house out of the Doomsday Book. The Eton Rowing Trench, with the hundreds of rabbits creeping out of the hedges. Walks with Phyllis early in the morning, with the crows, and then the ducks, and the Canadian geese, and the swans, and the rabbits coming out to greet her and to help themselves to the bread.... The trips to old Oxford, and to Canon Tim Russ at Great Missenden. The Gateway School there. And London, and the British Museum, with its disputed Elgin Marbles....

Never thought I would love England, but it is truly one of the most fascinating countries in the world. It has managed to keep its old world charm and its beauty, its history and its arrogance at times. But it is also home to the peoples of the world, as one sees at Slough. The poet wanted a bomb to fall on Slough, cancelling out its ugliness. The poet's daughter apologizes now for her father. And Slough is a parable of the end times, the wedding feast, the great gathering of all peoples in the house of our Father.

The spiral of violence

The interminable and so meticulous airport checks sent my mind back to just a few years ago, when you could practically walk into a plane. In Italy it was 15 minutes before the flight left. In other places, perhaps just one light security check. No more. Te dis gele... And who are we to blame? A whole series of historical wrongs, the spiral of violence, of which we are all now a part.

Musings at Heathrow

I had a five hour wait at Heathrow Airport on my flight out from Mumbai. Heathrow is one of the most security-conscious airports in the world, and we took at least an hour to get from our plane into the departure lounge of Terminal 5. But it was done, finally, and I still had something like four hours to pass. So after a wash and a quick look around, I got into the Interfaith Prayer Room. Not very well located, not very prominent, but a quiet room nonetheless. A rack for shoes as you enter. A couple of chairs. A notice telling you about the Anglican Communion Service, and the Roman Catholic Eucharist on Sundays. Perhaps some other services too.

The room itself was bare. Carpeted. With a prayer mat in a corner. The ones who were using the room were mostly Muslims, from what I saw. I sat in a corner facing north, I think. There was a Muslim lady doing namaz facing West. I thought, why not, let me also face West. A little sign of solidarity, of our common faith in the God of Abraham, of our common humanity. It was good. A quiet time of prayer.

The gospel of the day was about prayer, and fasting and almsgiving. Jesus telling his disciples not to make a show of these things. The line from Nietzsche came to me: all love has a kickback. The line that Tony De Mello seems to have picked up, perhaps via Freud. So why do I love? Is there most often not some payback, some kickback? And why do I forgive? Don't I feel good when I do so, don't I feel great, and perhaps also superior?

But: why so cynical? Forgiveness is quite impossible sometimes, even often. And when it does happen, it is a sign of God, it is even God himself who is working. Operative grace: he alone works, to change the heart of stone into a heart of flesh. And surely there are times like this. When forgiveness is the work of the Spirit, and not just some give and take...

Sunday 14 June 2009

Memories of Fr Benedict Furtado

For some reason, the other day my thoughts went back to Don Bosco Youth Centre, Koregaon Park, and Fr Benedict Furtado our Rector. Fr Benedict was my first post-novitiate Rector in my very odd post-novitiate: together with Nelson Falcao I was pulled out from Yercaud by the then young Provincial, Fr Tony D'Souza (me after my novitiate, Nelson after first year philosophy) and sent to Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune, to begin philosophy there. Fr Benedict, as I was saying, was Rector in DBYC, and he was a very interesting Rector. What I recall most about him now was that he was unflappable: in a very complex community consisting of college going brothers (an extremely volatile and lively group: Gerson, Fally and Stanny...), JDV going brothers (Ian Doulton, Nelson and I), as well as the Yerwada school and parish team (Michael MM Mascarenhas, Joe Mascarenhas...). Benedict was kool, and house assemblies were something we would eagerly look forward to, because they were entertainments of the highest order. People like Jude Borges and Gerson could be counted upon to say the most outrageous and outlandish things, but there was Benny, cool as ever, with his famous half-smile (he had already suffered mild paralysis of his face). Not that he would agree with everything; in fact, he would disagree with many things. But he was never threatened, which is something that I find very amazing at this distance of some 30 years, and he was able to flourish and even thrive in that kind of atmosphere. And we loved him.

Benny was no great lover of philosophy, but I must say he had the grace of being inconsistent. When we entered DBYC, I remember him saying to Nelson and myself: Tch, tch, tch (famous expression), philosophy is useless. Learn football, learn guitar. Two years later, in a conference, he was saying to us: Tch, tch, tch, football, guitar, not enough. Learn philosophy, prepare well for practical training, for life.

Benny was a man who was sincere; he loved every one of his young charges, and I think it was clear that he had a special love for the naughtiest ones (he was smart: he was disarming the opposition!). He loved the poor: perhaps he was already involved in the Fatima School, later Don Bosco). Above all, he was a holy man, a good Salesian, a good priest. His room was in the corridor connecting the two large rooms in the present Catechetical Centre, and he would make use of one of the large and elegant toilets together with the rest of us. And he religiously stuck to his diet of 'two bananas' at every meal, and bombils at lunch and supper (once some wag placed some fried bombils under his tea cup. He gave his crooked smile when he saw them).

Friday 12 June 2009

Thomas Stephens' Khristapurana

Nelson Falcao (standing right) with Swami Shilananda and Ramesh Yadav.

The translation of Thomas Stephens' Khristapurana into contemporary Marathi is in the press, and should be out some time next month. A scholarly event that is eagerly awaited.

We are planning to make a trip to Swami Shilananda to present him with a copy.

And of course, a book release function is also in the works.

Swami Shilananda, SJ

Swami Shilananda, SJ, paid us a surprise visit this evening. Ramesh Yadav, who looks after him, brought him on the motorbike. Swami is now 84 years old, and cannot cycle anymore. He was doing so till not many years ago. He is still strong, however: he and Ramesh have been to Mumbai thrice on the bike, and he says he thoroughly enjoyed it, and feels it is the best way to travel to Mumbai!

Swamiji left 3 or 4 of his writings with us: Provocative, Religions and Salvation, The Mind of Benedict XVI, and Heaven and Earth. He is certainly not afraid to be provocative. His opinion is that Christianity has always been a provocative religion. He is a rare combination of almost total inculturation in dress and form, and absolute Catholic orthodoxy....

The wonderful thing is that his disciple Ramesh is still Hindu. Swamiji has asked him whether he would like to become Catholic. Ramesh said a clear no. Nothing is affected. Perhaps that is how things should be: the freedom of asking, the freedom of saying no, and the friendship continues.

And, yes, Swamiji has a copy of the Khristayana.... When it rains, it pours.

Thursday 11 June 2009

The Salesian tradition and its growth / decline

Traditions are not static entities. They grow. They also decay. There is progress, but there is also decline. So there is such a thing as the unauthenticity of traditions, the deterioration of traditions. Then we might be using the same words as before, but the meanings have undergone subtle change and have perhaps even become quite different.

Ever since I first read Insight I have been wondering about the Salesian tradition and the 4 biases, dramatic, personal, group, and general. That individual Salesians suffer from egoism and even from dramatic bias, is not in question: we are all human beings. That the Salesian tradition might be suffering from group bias, is also probably the case: every group becomes an 'in house' group eventually, and develops its own, probably slanted, ways of looking at other groups, even within the same Church. But probably the Salesian tradition is naturally prone to general bias, which is the bias of common sense is naturally prone to, simply because we are a congregation with an extremely practical purpose and aim. General bias is the tendency to neglect the long term in favour of the short term. It is a bias in favour of the here and now, the super practical, in favour of the later and the then.

So how might Salesian meanings have subtly changed? And which might be those meanings? Things like reason, religion, loving kindness, I guess. What do we mean by reason? What does the 'normal Salesian' usually mean by reason and reasonableness? And is that what Don Bosco meant? And loving kindness: this is probably the great victim: what do we generally mean today, in this particular province, or in this region, by loving kindness? Or: what is the operative meaning of loving kindness? - Which is a slightly different question: we are asking how loving kindness is actually practised.

And 'preventive': what do we mean by it, and how do we live it? Despite the very positive and highly theological meaning that it has in theory, do we really understand it that way? Or are we not in danger of micro-planning the lives of our youngsters and even our young Salesians? And what might the alternative be, what might the 'real' meaning of 'preventive' be? Or perhaps we must ask: what might it, what should it, mean today? I think it would aim in the direction of enabling youngsters to grow in responsibility, to grow into mature adults. Which is a far cry from standardization, keeping good form, keeping the show going, etc.

I said the Salesian tradition specializes in the particular, the here and now. I think there is a good side to this: it means that it treats each youngster as this particular youngster, a person in his or her own right, and is able to deal with him / her in that way.

The Khristayana

Wonderful news: we have found not one but two copies of Tilak's Khristayana.

Just a few minutes ago, Fr Tony George, SJ handed over to me a copy of the Khristayana, and another, abridged version.

Unbelievably, when we have been searching all over Nashik, Tony found the copies stored in a safe place in Holy Cross Ashram itself. The abridged version bears the stamp of Tilak Vachanalaya of Holy Cross Ashram; the full version seems to be Tony George's own copy, which he had secreted away as a young Jesuit college student, and then forgotten about it.

When it rains, it pours. When I showed the copies to Nelson Falcao, he calmly told me that he had a photocopy of the Khristayana; he had found a copy in the Protestant Library in Pune (which one? near Bishop's House, he said).

Chhappar phadke.

And now we must find someone who will study the text and produce a critical version. Ashok Appa Tilak seems to have prepared a version for printing, but we have still to trace it.

Saturday 6 June 2009

A Salesian syllogism

A contextualized example for whoever is taking Logic this year.

A common Salesian syllogism (remembering that all traditions can suffer wear and tear and deterioration):
If X is popular, then X is not doing his duty.
But X is popular.
Therefore X is not doing his duty.
An excellent example of a syllogism that is valid but not sound (if I remember my basic Logic right!).

The questionable part is the major. According to me at least, it just does not hold water. There is certainly no necessary connection between popularity and dereliction of duty. There is not even a probable connection by reason of empirical induction.

Or, more simply: if the syllogism were sound, it would follow that Don Bosco himself would be called into question:
If X is popular, then X is not doing his duty.
But Don Bosco was popular.
Therefore Don Bosco was not doing his duty.
At stake is our belief in the possibility of combining firmness and kindness!

Walk in the man...

This morning the wonderful reading from Thomas Aquinas (office of Readings, Week 9, Saturday). Aquinas is quoting Augustine: walk in the man (Jesus) and you will arrive at the God. Then he goes on to say so acutely and perceptively: it is better to limp along the right road, than to leap and run along the wrong one. For if you are on the right road, even if you are limping you will eventually reach. But if you are on the wrong road, then even leap takes you further away from the true goal.

And the true goal is Jesus, who is way, truth, and life.

Thursday 4 June 2009

Mi Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy

Last night some of us went to see Mi Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy. I expected it to be a movie on the life of Shivaji, but was somewhat disappointed when it turned out to be a take on the contemporary feeling on the part of some Maharashtrians that they are an oppressed and despised people in their own land. A film about Marathi gaurav, in short. A sort of spin off on Lage Raho Munnabhai, I thought, with Shivaji himself appearing to bolster the faltering Dinakar Bhosale....

To all appearances the movie is a propaganda affair, perhaps in the light of the coming Assembly elections in Maharashtra. But it does have a sort of 'inclusive Maharastrianism', and Dinakar Bhosale seems to be a basically good sort, just to his UP and Muslim tenants and even friendly with them, to the point of considering them also Marathis because of the number of years they have spent in Maharashtra.

I thought, however, that the scenes of the Marathi manoos being oppressed so blatantly were rather crude. No one can do that to a Marathi manoos today and get away with it!

Then there is the advocacy / defence of violence within measure: Dinakar does not hesitate to use Shivaji's sword, but does not in the end kill his persecutor, the builder Ghosalia. But then this is staple fare in almost all movies today.

The movie will certainly strike chords in a section of Maharastrians. Quite powerful in that sense.

I noticed that recently Cinemax - and I think all the theatres in Nashik - have been having some sort of Marathi Film Festival. All the movies being shown are in Marathi.... Now that is something new.

Marathi is a truly wonderful and beautiful language, as Wyman commented. Perhaps the Marathi movie scene has still to catch up with the standards set by the Marathi stage.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

The deterioration of passion

I began watching Revolutionary Road last night, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio.

Haven't finished the movie, but the deterioration of the relationship is powerfully shown. How quickly passion and love turns into hurting and being hurt, anger, misunderstanding, not being able to bear the sight of.... How soon the idealism of youth gives way to the mundane matters of daily, humdrum existence. What clay we are made of! And how true it is that we have to work daily at our relationships, and that all relationships, not only marital ones, have to go deep till they find the springs of living water at the root of our being....

Loving vs domineering

This morning I was reading the Rector's Manual - something that I consider a precious Salesian resource. Familiar stuff, but so relevant. Don Bosco was saying: Let us love those in our charge as our own sons. We should be ashamed to give even the least impression of domineering.

From where does the need to domineer come? From Minderwertigkeit, I guess, from lack of self-esteem, self-confidence, self-image, the need to bolster oneself and boost up one's perceived lack by sitting on, attempting to dominate, being bossy....

I remember our therapists telling us at Sadhana Lonavla: there is no such thing as superiority complex. All that we call superiority complex is really a disguised inferiority complex.... Probably much truth in that. Though I think that there just might be a superiority complex, e.g. the caste thing. An implicit and lived assumption that one is better than, and that the others are lower than....

Monday 1 June 2009

A lovely restaurant in Burma

Chadaoing vs appreciation

Yesterday a confrere told me how he and some others had been chadaoing another confrere.

But there is a difference between chadaoing and genuinely appreciating. Chadaoing makes someone get fullaoed, and that is not a nice thing, being often unrealistic. But genuine appreciation is the real thing: it is balm for the soul, it is always growth producing, and one can never go wrong in that.

How wonderful if I could say to each of my confreres, young and old, and to each young person, and to each person I meet: 'How wonderful that you are!'

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