Thursday 24 September 2009

Shok Sabha for Appa Tilak

Just back from a Shok Sabha (Condolence Meeting) for Ashok 'Appa' Tilak at the Sarvajanik Vachanalaya, Shalimar, Nashik. At least 15 people shared something about Appa, including Nelson Falcao. Apart from Nelson and Francis Waghmare, all the rest were Hindus, Brahmins for the most part.

What struck me as all these people were speaking, was that this Christian gentleman had moved so much and so well among them, that they not only appreciated his literary abilities and his mastery of Marathi, but really loved him. Almost all of them said that Appa was forthright and direct, and never shied away from an argument, but that he was a person who could be described as having a mischievous sense of humour and a happy person.

One of those who had attended the funeral service at St Andrews said that he was moved by the final Christian melodies, but that it was such an irony that the fun-loving and happy Appa was being laid to rest on such a sombre and serious note.

Another said that, being Christian, Appa did not believe in rebirth, but that he was sure that he was somewhere, listening to all this; and that he would not have been happy, because he hated Shok Sabhas. So he was rightly named: A-shok, someone who did not love mourning and wailing (the Hail Mary: shok karane, suskar takne)....

Appa's pastor was not very appreciative, in the sense that he felt Appa had mixed more with the Hindus than with Christians. But I think Appa has shown us a different way of being Christian. As his grandfather Narayan Vaman Tilak said, it is possible to be fully Christian and fully Indian; Appa showed that by his life.

Burma and the Buddhist Far East

Strange how Burma, and especially Sagaing, occurs again and again the novels of people like Lustbader. Sagaing, pronounced Sagay by the Burmese. I remember the utterly beautiful and peaceful sight of thousands of gold and white pagodas rising up from the trees, dotting the hills, across the Irrawaddy from Mandalay. Sagaing, where Dolly retires to a monastery at the end of her responsibilities in The Glass Palace. Sagaing, where Ma Varada brings the injured Mun to be healed and to recuperate, in Lustbader's French Kiss.

Strangely also, these novels never cross the border into India - despite the fact that India's North East is, in many ways, continuous with Burma and Thailand. Is it because Buddhism has not been such a major influence on the tribes and peoples of the North East? Is it because a certain type of Buddhist influenced mysticism cum martial art has not penetrated the North East? Whatever; the novels usually never cross the border.

Lustbader also mentions Pagan in passing. Pagan - Bagan - I remembered Hto Laing, our guide, pronounced Toe Lay, just like Sagaing pronounced Sagay.

Fascinating, Buddhism.


Most mornings I walk in the Joggers Park down our road. The place used to be a sort of rundown gutter area; today it is a rather beautiful and well-maintained dirt track surrounded by greenery. It is particularly enchanting in the play of darkness and light early in the morning between 5.00 and 6.00 a.m.

I am discovering that there are various ways of walking. You can be so conscious of people around you that you are disturbed: this one is walking so fast that he will overtake you; that group of women, why can't they just shut up and stop talking so loudly so early in the morning; that other man, bobbing along with that queer gait, does he really have to play his bhajan so loud that everyone can hear? The irritation at the habits of people, or their lack of concern for others; the spirit of competition; the tendency then to speed up or hurry up for no reason at all; all these can be damaging.

But there is a way of walking that finds the pulse (ba-mahk), that tune into the rhythm of one's body and mood and the atmosphere, and when that happens, the walking happens, it flows, one is not tired, anxious, irritable. Not even Bobber with his loud bhajan disturbs. And not the Two Women who are sometimes Three but always chattering. Ba-mahk: find the pulse. And walking can become deeply prayerful and refreshing.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

The Sanskrit in Konkani

There is no doubt that Konkani is a Sanskritic language, but the number of words we use without knowing the Sanskrit (or, for that matter, Marathi) equivalents is amazing. One becomes aware of this only slowly.

Tuka mattui ginyan nam.
Ginyan = jnana, knowledge, wisdom.

Tuka mattui rit nam.
Rit = rta, order.

Ontoskorn = antahkarana.

Mon = manas, mind (one translation).

Aydon = ayatana, container.

Konkani lovers, you are welcome to add to the list!

Nelson Falcao's Marathi translation of the Khristapurana

So Nelson's Marathi translation of the Khristapurana is out, and he deserves to be congratulated warmly for this. It is a massive tome which I have barely glanced at as yet. Nelson has to give his final go ahead to the press, and then the copies will roll out.

One observation is that the book aims at both a scholarly and a popular audience. That is Nelson's reason for keeping the price so ridiculously low - a paltry Rs 1,200 for a book that, I think, runs into more than 2000 pages in large format. That also is the reason for the colourful appearance: a multicoloured illustrated hard cover (not dust jacket), colour photos inside (dividing the chapters perhaps?), and so on.

The 'Doctor Father' Nelson Falcao could have been avoided, perhaps, in favour of elegance and restraint worthy of such an achievement.

But all this is from the phantoms of the night! In broad daylight I am sure there will be a thousand things to appreciate. At any rate, this without a doubt a publishing event: the retrieval of a 400 year old text that has been edited thrice in the last century: by Prof. Saldanha in Mangalore (1907), by Prof. Bandelu in Pune, and by Fr Caridade Drago.

Sunday 20 September 2009

Inter-Oratory Football Tournament, Nashik

The Oratory Football Tournament was held at Divyadaan / STI today. I am not quite sure how it ended, and who won, but it was great fun, and the colours were thrilling, as usual, despite the poor Nashik monsoon this year.... Wonderful to see young people having fun.

Saturday 19 September 2009

Respect and truth

Wonderful reflections emerging from the session with the Salesian Brothers this morning. We looked at the passage from the Gospel of Luke where the woman washes Jesus' feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. The inner strength of Jesus is striking: he goes to the house of a Pharisee, even though these are the people who have been questioning his habits of eating with tax collectors and sinners, to the extent of calling him glutton and drunkard (see the immediately preceding passage); he is quite calm and serene all through this extraordinary action of the woman; he intuits what Simon is thinking and confronts him, but great composure rather than aggressively; he uses a story so as to 'give face' to Simon, to bring home his lesson gently and progressively; and he is extraordinarily sensitive to and gentle with the woman....

We reflected on how, in the East, respect is often more important than truth. We have to 'give face' to our interlocutors. We recalled the importance of the usual courtesies in a hot country: offering water, for example. The importance in all cultures of offering the interlocutor a seat, and how the 'temperature' immediately goes down by a degree when such respect is shown. We thought of the importance of tea in our country and especially in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat: to offer tea is a great sign of friendship and respect; to be invited over for a cup of tea is a sign of goodwill that is not to sneered at; and if, besides offering a glass of water and a seat you are able to offer even a cup of tea, the temperature goes down significantly, and many things become possible. As Sun Tzu said, you have changed the situation.

How might all this apply to a situation when we have to deal with someone who has authority over us - our Rectors, our Provincials, for example? We have to naturally modify and be intelligent. Here offering a glass of water, or a seat, or a cup of tea is not possible. Here I am on the 'receiving end,' often. But still things are possible. Everyone has his needs, everyone is human, even Rectors and Provincials. So: take care of that humanity. Give the proper respect. Take care of the timing. Maintain cordiality. You still have the power to change the situation.

Of course, this is not all a question of tricks and techniques. There is needed, like Jesus, the deep inner strength, the calmness, the equanimity. So prayer. And contemplative prayer. A life that has place for 'ritiritezza' - the type of 'personal moments of silence and of prayer and of study' that Don Bosco learnt at the Convitto from Cafasso and others.

So the dialectic of respect and truth. "Speaking the truth in charity." And we have been commanded to love, not necessarily to fling the truth at people regardless of.

Wonderful aspect of the inculturation and incarnation of the gospel. Otherwise we run the risk of being called gwai faan loh, uncivilized barbarians, as the Chinese call the white man who has the kind of directness that is considered disastrous and totally uncivilized in China.

Thursday 17 September 2009

The Art of War

"War is based on deception. Move when it is advantageous, and create changes in the situation." Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
Seve Guarda understands that Peter Loong Chun feeds on power. He existed to impose his will on others. So Seve forces a fatuous tone into his voice. He makes Loong believe he is, like all Americans, stupid and arrogant. He pretends to be afraid. He thus brings down Loong's own fear, and allows him to 'take command.'
"Seve's mask was fear; this - and only this - was what Loong must see and, so, react to. Meanwhile, Seve had effected the change, and it was this: Loong had been afraid when Seve had first confronted him, before Loong had taken full command. Fear was an adversary of inconstant properties. It could engender caution, strength, even resolve. These were all Seve's enemies. He needed Loong to be confident, assured, and thus incautious and vulnerable. Seve, by appearing foolish, had caused Loong's own obsession with control to dissipate his fear." (Eric van Lustbader, French Kiss, 40)

Monday 14 September 2009

Ashok 'Appa' Tilak, RIP

Kavivarya Ashok Devdatt Tilak, popularly known as Appa, grandson of Narayan Vaman Tilak and Laksmibai Tilak passed away yesterday, 13 September 2009, at the age of 81. He had been ailing for some days and had been admitted to a local hospital at Nashik. The funeral rites were conducted at St Andrew's Church, Sharanpur, Nashik, and Shri Tilak was laid to rest in the Christian Cemetery, Nashik.

The Marathi papers in Nashik carry the news on their front pages. Besides this, Sakal has almost a whole inside page carrying articles on Ashok Tilak, calling him Rishitulya - like a Rishi, I suppose.

One of the articles, by Mahamine, notes how Ashok would attentively follow up anything that was written about his grandparents, scanning the writings for half-truths, falsehoods and distortions, and writing scathing responses - see, for example, his Takkarmal.

Fr Francis D'Britto is quoted on the front page of Sakal saying that Marathi literature has lost a chalta-firta encyclopedia - a reference to Ashok's book Chalta Firta ...

RIP, Appa. Our condolences to Muktabai Tilak-Lawrence and the rest of the family. We were privileged to have known this great man at least for a brief moment. I think he was happy with his reception at Divyadaan last year, and was looking forward to coming again. That was not to be.

Sunday 13 September 2009

Lord of the Sabbath

Been dipping into Ratzinger's Jesus of Nazareth again. Truly wonderful. Here is what I picked up this morning.

The Dispute concerning the Sabbath

This dispute is at the heart of Jesus' differences with the people of Israel of his time. The conventional interpretation today is that Jesus replaced a narrow-minded, legalistic practice and replaced it with a more rational, liberal and humanistic view. "It was, in fact, the Sabbath disputes that became the basis for the image of the liberal Jesus." Such an interpretation did not favour a friendly image of Judaism. And it saw Catholicism as a return to this kind of legalistic Judaism. (Amazing when I recall that it was this liberal interpretation that dominated all our homilies in Kristu Jyoti College as deacons!)

So the question is: who is Jesus? Was he merely a liberal rabbi? And is the Christ of faith a mistake?

Jacob Neusner, Ratzinger points out, quickly brushes aside this sort of interpretation. It is not the legalism and the overcoming of such legalism that is at the heart of the text here. Rather, he points out, it is Jesus' answer that is the true heart of the conflict. The Son of man is lord of the sabbath. Jesus and his disciples may do what they do on the Sabbath day because they take the place of the Temple and of the priests in the Temple (who profane the Sabbath and are guiltless).

The Sabbath for Israel was not merely a matter of not working, but of positively 'resting.' It is not a matter of personal piety, but is at the core of the social order. Resting means re-forming the circle of family and home.

By means of the word rest, Neusner, in fact, helps us to understand the close connection between the Sabbath dispute in Matthew and the passage just before it, where Jesus says: "Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest...." (Mt 11:28-30) Again this has been interpreted in terms of the idea of the liberal Jesus, as going against the burden of Jewish legalism. But this interpretation is not very convincing, seeing that following Jesus is far from comfortable! Neusner is right on the dot when he points out that here, too, Jesus makes himself lord of the Sabbath: I will give you rest. My yoke is easy, my burden light.

So this is the heart of the debate: Jesus understands himself as the Torah, as the word of God in person. So there is simply not the kind of gap between John's gospel and the Synoptics as the liberal interpretation has made it out to be.

A further aspect of the question is the consequence of Jesus' centrality for the social order of Israel. The sabbath holds Israel together; Jesus breaks this order. His claim entails that the community of his disciples is the new Israel.

The identity of Jesus and the social order
The fourth commandment - Honour your father and mother - anchors the heart of the social order. But this is exactly what Jesus calls into question when he says that his mother and brothers and sisters are those who do the will of his Father.

Still, there is a universalism that is clearly present in the Old Testament. Israel does not exist simply for itself. It exists in order to be a light to the nations.

Has Jesus fulfilled this universalism? He has not brought about world peace. But he has brought the God of Israel to the nations. The vehicle of the universalization is the new family whose only admission requirement is communion with Jesus, communion in God's will. This is a yes to the fourth commandment on the highest level. It is the entry into the family of those who call God Father.

An extremely important novelty lies hidden here. For there is clearly no social and political dimension in Jesus' teaching, unlike that of the Old Testament. This, says Ratzinger, is an "epoch-making event in world history" - the release of the social and political order from the sacred realm, its transfer to the realm of human freedom that has been established in God's will by Jesus and taught to see the right and the good.

This universalization of Israel's faith and hope, and the concomitant liberation from the letter of the Law, is tied to Jesus' authority and claim to Sonship. It loses its whole foundation if Jesus is interpreted merely as a liberal reform rabbi.

Saturday 12 September 2009

Mrs Nellie Miranda

Ashley preached wonderfully about his mum yesterday, and there was not a dry eye in the congregation.

I just want to add one more thing to what he said: here was a woman who lost her husband and found herself with the responsibility of having to bring up 3 kids all alone, with the oldest being still in Std. X. And still she allowed this oldest boy to follow his vocation to the Salesian life and priesthood. Amazing example of faith. God bless you, dear Mrs Miranda. And God bless all our mothers and fathers who have given us such examples of faith and generosity. "Faith without works is dead," we will be hearing St James saying this Sunday.

Sr Maud

Sr Maud, FMA (Wadala), passed away this morning at the ripe old age of 95. RIP, Sr Maud! I am really sorry I did not make time to pay you a last visit.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Star of Bethlehem

Vincent Dias just phoned me: his Bethlehem lilies have flowered for the third time in a season! Last month, when I visited this gentleman from our parish, I saw the plants which had flowered for the second time in a month. They were literally full of flowers. A bit on the small size being so many, but really a respectable number. Now he phones me saying they have flowered again. Quite amazing. Of course, I know nothing properly scientific about the flowering patterns of Bethlehem lilies (Star of Bethlehem), but I had assumed all along that they flowered only once a year, and of course, for a single night, which is really a few hours at night. ... More info would be welcome from any of you.

Tuesday 8 September 2009


I have just uploaded my first Wiki article. It took some doing, some learning, but there it is. I composed the article, on De Smet, on a User Page; then I had to wait for 4 days, and make at least 10 edits. Finally, just now, I 'moved' the page into the public domain. Good fun, and I feel good. A piece on De Smet was badly needed on the Wiki. And now, there it is.

Have a look at:,_SJ_(1916-1997)

Monday 7 September 2009

Being there

The Divyadaan students have been watching Peaceful Warrior. The effects were seen in the skits they put up for Teachers' Day: it is the way that is important, not the goal. Enjoy the journey, and so on.

Yesterday Abi, Augustine and Sumer were here in connection with their presentation at the Seminar on Methods of Interpreting a Philosophical Text. They are doing Redaktionsgeschichte, history of the drafts, and they discovered that the whole ending section of "Hermeneutics" 1962 (foundations of scientific communication, basic context) was missing from the final text of 1972. I asked them to find out why. It was very tempting to give them the answer. But then, that is the point: not the answer, but the way, the method, the met-hodos, the good way, that they have to learn. And they will learn it by discovering it...

Of course there are no short cuts. Or rather, the short cuts are actually the wrong roads. The Long Road is the Right Road in this case. And the Long Road involves, among other things, reading - the whole con-text of which Chapter 7 is the text.

And this morning: the gift of centering, of being where I was, in the moment. Taking in the morning, the crunch of the gravel on the road, the darkness and the light, the speed that the body allowed. Finding the pulse, the path, and following it. Being there. And that continued: in rising and sitting, in washing and clothing, in eating and drinking, in the meditation itself. And wonder of wonders, the pain of sitting did not appear. It was dramatic.

And not: I am a person of special value to God. But even: God rejoices over me, delights in me. Father, Son, Spirit. There. Here. Now. True.

Exotic Divyadaan

Stunning new blog called Exotic Divyadaan, created by Leon Cruz Ratinam. Have a look at Divyadaan deserves this.

Thursday 3 September 2009

Living life

Michael D'Costa forwarded this speech made by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Anna Quindlen at the graduation ceremony of an American university where she was awarded an Honorary PhD. I found it wonderful and so right.
"I'm a novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is all I know. Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work. You will walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree: there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank accounts but also your soul.

People don't talk about the soul very much anymore. It's so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is cold comfort on a winter's night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you've received your test results and they're not so good.

Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my work stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the centre of the universe. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say. I am a good friend to my friends and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cut out. But I call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I would be rotten, at best mediocre, at my job if those other things were not true.

You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are. So here's what I wanted to tell you today: Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger pay cheque, the larger house. Do you think you'd care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast?

Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze at the seaside, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water, or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a sweet with her thumb and first finger.

Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Write a letter. Get a life in which you are generous. And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Take money you would have spent on beer and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister. All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good too, then doing well will never be enough.

It is so easy to waste our lives, our days, our hours, and our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of our kids' eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of to live.

I learned to live many years ago. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and try to give some of it back because I believed in it, completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned. Bytelling them this: Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby's ear. Read in the back yard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness, because if you do, you will live it with joy and passion as it ought to be lived."

Wednesday 2 September 2009


Names are never as simple as they look. We tend to think that all people have names and surnames. But already many people from Tamil Nadu tend to have just a name, and some add in the initials of their father's name, or the father's name itself.

Burma is even more interesting. As you grow older the prefix changes. If you are a woman, it goes from Maw to Daw, and if you are a man, you are Maung and then Ko and then U. So Ko Tun Pe becomes U Tun Pe.

And even more complicated, people Burmese people of Indian origin might have a Burmese name and an Indian name.

Like the friend I met in Boston: he was Chinese, and he was trying to tell me that he had a Chinese name and a Western name. I could not understand him at the time. I was wondering whether his Western name was an equivalent of his Chinese one, or the Chinese name an equivalent of his Western one. I guess they are just two different names: one Western, one Chinese.

So how do you identify people, is the question. And even more seriously, how do you identify yourself? I am sure the passport authorities in these countries have come up with some good solution, but I don't know what that is!

(Amitav Ghosh, The Glass Palace, 496.)

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