Wednesday, February 28, 2007

That infernal side berth

It happens. Every darn time. Whenever I travel on Indian Railways by II-AC, the computer invariably assigns me a friggin' side berth. I ought to write to Laluji (the Railway Minister) that they should ask their clients' height when making a booking. Infernal side berths. You know, those pokey little benches on the side of the corridor. They are a little less than 6 feet long. I am a little more than 6 feet long. The lower one is formed by two seats folding together, so there's always a rather uncomfortable bump in the middle. Grr. I-AC, which doesn't have side berths, was full up. Every time I vow, "Never again!" and, of course, I end up in a side berth again.

Hmph. (At 4:00 am, the passenger in the adjoining lower berth -- the "regular" one -- disembarked at Surat. So, at least I could stretch out for the two hours it took to get to Baroda.)

At 6:15 am, I got out of the rick and looked at the darkened house, and a whole wave hit me. Papa's not at home. He won't be. Ever again.

What a deep and vast ocean this.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Travelling again

Just arrived in Bombay a short while back. A good friend from college is in town from Australia. He lost his dad to lung cancer a year back (the anniversary Mass is this evening).

Took the Indigo flight from Delhi via Baroda ... amazingly, it left early and landed early! A Rs. 100 ($2.2) charge for the extra leg-room emergency exit row. And yes, approach was on Runway 32 again, and I got some footage too. :-)

Cricketer Irfan Pathan (who's from Baroda) was on the flight ... he boarded the plane last, surrounded by a small throng of ground staff shaking his hand, of whom one obligingly brought his cabin baggage on board, and welcomed by tittering flight attendants. And at baggage claim, a small crowd gathered to get his autograph and photos. The otherwise hypersensitive paranoia of Indian airports about photography was no match for the presence of a member of Team India.

Taking the night train to Baroda tomorrow.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Well, I don't know when I'll find time to write about everything on the trip (and the posts from before that are roiling around the bean) ... The Golden Temple was breathtaking. The border flag-lowering ceremony at Wagah (the closest I've been to Pakistan!) was hysterical! What a tamasha! The cycle-rickshawallah I hired for the two days turned out to be a Hindu married to a Christian ... he took me around to a few of the churches in the area as well.

And on the Shatabdi Express back to Delhi, the guy sitting next to me turned out to be an Air India Boeing 777 captain! Boy, did I pick his ears or what! :) (So why was an AI captain on a train? He'd just flown in from Birminghan [There are direct flights to London {Jet Airways. That would explain the A330 I saw on approach the other day} and Birmingham {AI}] and was on his way to Bombay via Delhi. The Delhi flights [Air Deccan and Jet] were booked, so, much to his consternation, ended up on a train.)

The gate at Wagah, the border between India and Pakistan.

Detail of a panel on the gate leading to the Harminder Sahib

Harminder Sahib (The Golden Temple), the holiest shrine of Sikhism.

St. Francis Catholic Church, Amritsar

Holy Eggs Batman!

Does anyone take PETA seriously? Now they're criticizing the monks at Mepkin for the way they treat their chickens, after an "undercover investigation" (a PETA activist disguised as a retreatant).

Prayer request

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Seargant Plouff of Winston-Salem NC, who was shot dead while responding to a call for help at a bar. He was my friend Peter's uncle.


The broadband at the brother's in Delhi is still down and the dialup is painful. A few posts coming up.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Off on the morrow to the Golden Temple

Taking the early Air Deccan flight to Amritsar tomorrow, and staying the night, returning by the Shatabdi Express Friday night. I'm

Of course, if there's fog, I might spend most of the day at Delhi airport.

This afternoon I had the most fantastic time trouping around a genuine
urban village in Paharganj, northest of New Delhi railway station --
the village of Nabi Karim, which is the home of a (rather well hidden
... the houses have just come up on either side of it) 14th century
Tughlaq fort, and the dargah of Qadam Sharif, the grave of Feroz Shah
Tughlaq's son, Feroz Khan. The area is one of the most congested, and
"narrow alleyway" simply cannot convey just what it feels like. It
will never be a tourist attraction. I was there with a friend of my
sister-in-law's, who's into heritage sites and the like, and author
Lucy Peck, who's written a well known guide to Delhi's ancient
monuments. She was updating the maps for her book, and it partly felt
like a treasure hunt, as we tried to figure out just where the walls
appeared and disappeared in the maze of alleys in the village.

"Qadam Sharif" means "holy step" ... the claim to fame of this dargah
is that it has a relic of the Prophet -- a stone slab with an
impression of the Prophet's foot. This was, apparently, acquired by
Feroz Shah from the Caliph at great cost, and it used to lie on the
top of the grave of his son.

Yes I have photos, which will come later (I suspect when we're back in
Baroda next week when I'll have more time).

I also got to Sacred Heart Cathedral in time for a holy hour in front
of the Blessed Sacrament, followed by Mass (celebrated by the
Archbishop) at 6:00 pm.

Don't expect that I'll be blogging until my return.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A mystery

At the Touchstone Magazine blog, Anthony Esolen posts some very powerful reflections on the death of his mother-in-law, and the Christian perspective on death. Some of it resonated very powerfully, and hit very close to home.
I know that in many places it's still a common enough experience to watch someone die. I've seen it happen twice, and I guess I'd be content to go on with my life and never see it again. Do people ever grow accustomed to it? I don't know. It was a profound mystery; at one moment, she lay in bed, breathing slowly and quietly; if she was doing nothing else, she was being. And then there was no "she," not in this world of time and change.
I really do not want to share too much about my own grief on here, more than I have. But this is almost exactly how I described watching my father die. And there is no better (no worse?) way to describe it than to say that it is a mystery, indeed, a profound one.

There is so much around me and in me that screams, "death is the end." Full stop. Off thayi gaya as one says in colloquial Gujarati, with unsentimental finality. "He/she was switched off." Pati gayu, one says pragmatically about something that just ended. "It's over."

My father was not a Christian. He was part of that idealistic generation, coming of age as the new nation was born, that harbors a deep suspicion of things religious. A suspicion that is often quite well-founded.

There is no part of me really that is tortured about whether he's "in heaven." This mystery is really a lot wider and more profound than that. I can barely fathom what just occurred.

Esolen goes on to write beautifully about the Resurrection, and about the deep love of God the Father. It's stuff that I believe in, deeply. And it's comforting.

Paradoxically, starting tomorrow, and for the next forty odd days, the Christian world will turn and focus on one of the mysteries at the heart of things. That, indeed, in order to live, to truly live, one must die. "Unless a grain of wheat should die, it remains but a grain of wheat." [A few weeks before he died, my father picked up a copy of Newman's writings that I was reading, and opened to a page where this line from St. John was quoted. We had a brief, but intense, and all-to-rare, discussion of matters religious.] But this death is the death of the Cross, which is at the same time the Tree of Life.

A profound mystery.

May the Lord have mercy on us as we start our Lenten journey.

Repent and believe!

Lent starts tomorrow. In all the upheaval of the past ... has it just been a few weeks? ... somehow, I just realized this. In my years as a baptized Catholic, I have never been in India on Ash Wednesday ("Raakh Budhvar" as the bulletin put it, in Hindi, last Sunday, sounds so ... I don't know, weird!). Or during Lent, for that matter.

Somehow Lent starting now is strangely comforting. I look forward to trying to quiet down, to read Scripture more regularly, and intentionally focus on my relationship with Christ.

A former student wrote asking some advice about "what to give up for Lent" this year. (He was contemplating soda, i.e. soft-drinks). Here's part of what I wrote back.
The whole thing about fasting is that one is fasting from what is good and what is pleasurable.

So, it sounds like giving up soda again would be helpful.

One thought would be, and I'm dead serious, any time that you're tempted to drink a soda, pause, and say a Glory Be or a Hail Mary.

Some other ideas (in addition to giving up soda. I always suggest that giving something up is a good thing): read some Scripture daily. Pray in a more disciplined way. Feed the homeless guys you bump into around 5 points. Take a Rice Bowl from church. Try and get to Mass during the week if you can. Forgive those who've hurt you, and try and reconcile with them. That last part, I think, is probably more difficult than all the soda in the world!
At the Ignatius press blog, there's a neat article on self-denial. And do also check out Amy's almsgiving post.

Interestingly, just as Lent starts (on Thursday), I'll be off for a quick trip to Amritsar, to visit the Harminder Sahib, the holiest shrine of Sikhism. And to pay my respects at the site of the Jallianwallahbagh massacre. And, to see Pakistan. I.e. from the Indian side of the border at Wagah.

[An aside on almsgiving: last summer, when I was in Pune arranging to have our condo leased out, at one point I asked the agent if there were a local equivalent of Goodwill or Salvation Army, where perhaps some of the old furniture could be donated. 'I don't know,' he said. 'But I'll ask my boss. He's Catholic. They know about such things.' A few weeks ago, I suggested to mom that we donate dad's clothes to the local Goodwill. Apparently, there is no such thing. This is not to say that non-Christian Indians don't practice charity. But the kind of organized charitable giving tends to be, it seems, a Christian-run thing here. Once we're back in Baroda, I'll make a note to contact the parish to find out how to distribute his clothes.]

The votes are in!

For the Catholic Blog Awards 2007!

I'm a bit surprised that 10 people actually voted for this blog (total in both categories it was nominated for)!

What is more surprising is just how few votes there were --- upper 700s. I figured there'd be a lot more. But, I guess, setting up a password and id and all that takes more time than folks would want?

Anyway, a great link to some great blogs!

Violence at Carnival

Today is Carnival (Latin: "carni vale" -- farewell to the flesh), Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday. Take your pick. Lent is upon us!

The various Carnival festivals around the globe have taken a life of their own, as mass tourism, globalization, a burgeoning global middle class, media and so on intersect in big business. The connection with the Catholic celebration (and Carnival as a secular festival is predominant in historically Catholic localities. Goa's carnival is well marketed.) is tenuous at best, apart from the date.

The Rio Carnival, one of the biggest, has been more violent than usual.
The series of recent crimes has been unusually brutal even by Brazilian standards. The police have found dozens of mutilated corpses in stolen cars -- the remains of people who had been tortured, most of them victims of the war between rival drug gangs. Heavily armed drug dealers drove at high speed through neighborhoods in northern Rio, speading terror. They shot at policemen and members of the so-called "militias" -- armed groups who claim to be acting in self-defense and which have driven the drug dealers away from many favelas.

Special police forces and drug dealers recently faced off in a firefight that lasted two nights in a favela complex in northern Rio. The access road to the airport and the Linha Amarela, one of the city's main traffic arteries, have to be closed almost every day due to shoot-outs.

But no crime has shaken the city as much as the death of little João Hélio Fernandes. His mother was assaulted when she stopped her car at a red light. She was hauled from the car, but wasn't able to open her six-year-old son's seat belt in time. The gangsters slammed the car door shut and sped away at full speed with the boy hanging outside the car like a doll.

The criminals dragged the child through the city for seven kilometers (3.4 miles), and kept going even though horrified onlookers alerted the driver to what was happening. By the time they stopped the car, the boy was already dead.
The violence is related to gangs and drugs. Carnival is big business for drug dealers.

As we start Lent, another reminder of just how much we need help. Or, as the Christian tradition says, a Savior.

Great C.S. Lewis roundup

Ignatius Insight has a very useful roundup of articles on C.S. Lewis that have appeared on the blog of Ignatius Press.

Martin Luther a blogger?

The following segment is from a Spiegel interview with the founder of Craiglist, Craig Newmark.
Newmark: You can let people vote. You can give people a voice for saying what they have to say. Blogging technologies give everyone a printing press. There are people who have good opinions and are very eloquent, and who can sometimes have great influence. I understand there was a very good blogger in Germany 500 or 600 years ago called Martin Luther, and he was very influential -- using an earlier version of the Internet.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Church doors?

Newmark: Yes. Some years later, John Locke in Britain spoke out, using blogging in the sense of publishing his own opinion, and helped create and justify the Glorious Revolution in Britain -- which led to a greater distribution of power. The same goes for Thomas Paine in the US later on. The Internet is just fostering that sort of thing today. It's already happening.
Well, Martin Luther was an early self-publisher, yes. And the rise of printing changed (among many other things) the political and religious landscape forever. But to call him a blogger? Is the difference between a pamphlet publisher or a tractarian of a previous era and today's bloggers one of just degree (say, the frequency and ease of publishing) or of kind (for instance, what if Martin Luther really could have blogged?) Hmm.

Well, the Internet is largely value neutral, I'd say. Human nature, it's nobler side, or, its depraved side, will continue to use it, like anything else.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Terror strikes again

[Image from NDTV]

The Samjhauta Express ("Accord" or "Compromise"), the only train connecting India and Pakistan, is torn apart not too far from Delhi, on its way to Lahore, killing 66 people, most burnt beyont recognition. The fire was intense, and the villagers who reached the scene soon after the blasts looked on helplessly. The explosions took place in the general, or unreserved, compartments. I.e. the victims were largely poor.

I saw an afternoon daily's screaming headline "Peace Train Blown Up" earlier at Khan Market, and since then, have been following the news on TV.

Well, this illustrates just how easy it is to blow a train up in India. Given the volume of passenger traffic, trying to set up a secure zone at a railway station is next to impossible.

While it seems that the intent is to derail the peace process, I am not sure how this will effect that. Both countries were clearly targets, and the victims would largely be Muslim. This will, one hopes, only deepen the resolve to continue mend relations.

So, tell me how does one identify a Pakistani from an Indian, or a Hindu from a Muslim, from a lump of charred carbon? At least for now, both nations are united in shock and grief.

I was seriously toying with making a quick trip to Amritsar to visit the Golden Temple and Jallianwalla Bag later this week. I think I'll stick to that plan, and most likely, make it up to the border with Pakistan at Wagah as well.

Please pray for those killed, for their loved ones, for families torn apart, for lives broken. And for peace. For justice. And an end to terrorism.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lal Qila

I'll write more about the fantastic visit to the Qila Mubarak (the Red Fort), to use its Shahjahani title, on Saturday, on a walk organized by the Habitat Center, lead by a very informative and knowledgeable conservation architect.

Here's just a few photos. Once broadband is up, the entire set will be up on Flickr.

A private room in St. Peter's

... for Michaelangelo. An old receipt turns up, showing that the famous artist had his own quarters in St. Peter's.

Pallium for the Archbishop

... a replacement one that is, mailed by the Apostolic Nuncio to the (soon to retire) Archbishop of Mobile, after his own pallium was stolen from his car over Christmas!

Now, I'd like to know what they did with that pallium. Surely it's not trolling on ebay somewhere?

Well God forbid ...

... that one be thought a Hindu!

At the announcements at Mass this morning at Sacred Heart Cathedral, the priest said, "And people, please remember that when you come up to receive Holy Communion, the proper response is 'Amen'. If you don't say that, the priest will think you are a [pause, fumble] ... um ... Hindu, and not give you communion."

Do the people have to be told what the proper response is? What does this say about the level of catechesis, or the level of participation during Mass of the faithful?

And, come on, surely there is a better way of phrasing this? It came across as, "Well, if you don't want to be thought a Hindu, [gasp, shock, horror!], then do say 'Amen!'" I perceived that as quite insulting. If a member of my family where present, I would have been mortified!

A really neat way to evangelize! Put down people of other faiths!

I doubt that this was the intention the good Father wanted to convey. But, perception is everything!

Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating open Communion (in fact, in the comments to a post below, I am having a discussion with one of the readers of this blog, on this point precisely). And yes, the Church's discipline does come across as exclusive and haughty and arrogant. This, however, is not the way to counter that perception!

Friday, February 16, 2007

A story of hope

A young freshman at Notre Dame decides to give a couple of years in ministry as a catechist, when he discovers he has a malignant brain tumor.

A powerful story of faith. And it really brought me some comfort as I swim through my own grief. [Hat tip to Amy.]
He wanted to share with his family and friends that if “this wasn’t necessarily going to work out the way they wanted it to … that didn’t mean that God wasn’t working. It didn’t mean that they were being ignored.”

Ballintyn received radiation treatment for his tumor at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York in October 2005.

Because of the nature of his tumor, Ballintyn was treated in its pediatric ward. Seeing children battling

cancer was a “wake-up call” for him.

“They were so happy,” Ballintyn said. “I expected a lot more crying.

“But it was quite the opposite. I was made keenly aware of the children’s optimism, of the children’s desire to live.”

Ballintyn’s own desire to live was strengthened when he learned that the probability of a total elimination of the cancer was 90 percent or more.

“That’s actually [when] my prayer requests ended up shifting,” he said. “I sent out e-mails and I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to be fine. We need to pray. We need to pray for these kids.’ ”

Spotted in an alley off Connaught Place

[These are begging for captions!]

Civil Lines

Some more photos from Civil Lines.

The historic Maidens hotel, now run by the Oberoi group. One of the premiere places for Europeans to lodge in colonial times. One story has it that two ladies staying here wired home for money, "Send money, or maidens no longer!"


The run-down gate to Qudsia Bagh, the gardens of the Dowager Mughal Empress Qudsia, wife of Mohammed Shah and mother of his son, the next Emperor Ahmed Shah.


Inside the gate.

Posted by Picasa

Spotted in one corner of the gardens. The tennis courts, once the preserve of Europeans only (Indians could walk through the gardens only in the mornings), are now run by the Masons!

Bruce Metzger RIP

NT scholar (he created the standard for textual criticism in many ways), dies at 93. Via Christianity Today.

Nicholson Cemetery

This afternoon I headed over to the northern part of the city, the area known as Civil Lines. This is where the British established their residences after the Mutiny*. Here are some photographs from the Nicholson Cemetery, named for General John Nicholson, who died during the storming of Delhi as the British retook the city, amid heavy casualties, in September 1857. His grave is here, among the graves of many from the era (before and after the events of that fateful year), and it is still in use by the Christian community of Delhi. It's owned by the Anglican Church, I believe; however, there was a notice from a Catholic parish about the use of the cemetery, fees and regulations and so on, as well as Mass times for All Souls Day, on the notice board.

[* I simply cannot bring myself to refer to the events of 1857 as the First War for Independence, as our school text books did. It simply wasn't an organized war, even though the overthrow of the British was the main aim, as was, at least initially, the reestablishment of the Mughal empire. I'm a bit wary of current nastionalistic readings into past events. One could use the term that Dalrymple uses, the Uprising, but it's not really that well known.]

John Allen talks to the ADL about Jewish Catholic dialogue

This weeks All Things Catholic. I love the way he takes these things beyond their normal frames of references. For instance,
Now, for the bad news.

As I noted above, Southern Catholic leaders often don't feel the same sense of personal moral anguish for the Holocaust as bishops and theologians from the North, especially Europe. It's no accident that the early Catholic heroes of the dialogue were mostly Europeans, such as Cardinal Jan Willebrands of Holland, or Franz König of Austria, or Augustine Bea of Germany. These men witnessed the terrifying failure of millions of Christians to respond to the Holocaust, and so the cry "never again!" resonated with them deeply. Southern Catholics, while certainly not insensitive to the Holocaust, are less likely to accent its singularity, and correspondingly less likely to see Jewish/Catholic reconciliation as a towering pastoral priority. All this is in addition to the fact that across much of the South, Catholics lack personal experience of Jews because Jewish communities are infinitesimally small.

In terms of secular politics, Southern Catholics tend to be skeptical of the West in general, and of the United States in particular. They're often deeply ambivalent about Israel, and that will no doubt be a flash point in the Jewish/Catholic relations of the 21st century. Trends in Europe, including reactions to Islam and fears about national identity related to declining fertility rates and falling populations, are likely to fuel nationalistic and xenophobic movements which are also often anti-Semitic.
And here's an interesting footnote (his phrase)
I had several conversations around the edges of the ADL meeting, and I was struck by the way these people seemed to "get" the Catholic identity movement. When I said that today's desire to accent Catholic distinctiveness is, to some extent, a reaction against secularism, that claim didn't seem to require any gloss.

Only later did it occur to me that nobody needs to explain to Jews what it means to defend one's identity against pressures to assimilate to another worldview. For precisely that reason, Jews invented the "politics of identity." In fact, one could probably describe today's Catholic thrust to reaffirm traditional dress, speech, ritual, and doctrine as the church's own version of "building a fence around the law."

Jean Varnier on depression

[Via Zenit.]
Vanier is the author of "Seeing Beyond Depression," published by Paulist Press. He founded L'Arche Community in 1964 in France, which provides group homes and spiritual support for developmentally disabled people. It currently has 120 communities in 30 countries.

Q: Depression is a plague of present-day society. How should it be faced? How can depressed persons be freed from their suffering?

Vanier: It is necessary to speak of depression, and to speak of it as a most human and real thing. The question is to know what one's values are. And the big question is that, if these values are focused only on success, power, etc., then one is neglecting a part of oneself, a part that is a child, a very frail woman, a vulnerable person.

To come out of depression means to find people who love you not because you are powerful or successful, but for yourself, with your frailty.

Q: We can say this to ourselves or to depressed people, but how can it be truly internalized in either case?

Vanier: This is a huge problem. It's not medicines alone that can help people. Drugs can lessen anxieties, but the big question is: Do I want to discover what it means to be human? The human being was born little and will die little. Are we willing to accept our frailty as it really is?

We are in a society that in fact rejects this truth. The weak are rejected, there is a desire to discard the elderly, to remove the handicapped and to do without our frailties. How, then, can we help people to rediscover the meaning of the human being?
The book has been published by Paulist Press.

Fast-thinking pilot fools hijacker

You have to read this story to believe it! Fast-thinking pilot fools hijacker - Europe - [Hat tip Peter.]

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya

The dargah of the famous Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, is quite near here, in an old village of the same name that predates the modern city. (Delhi, apparently, has 275 such villages. The city has grown up around, and in some cases, on top, of these.) So, I ventured forth on the sidewalk past the busy evening traffic on Mathura Road. About 10 minutes later, a lane veered off to the left, carrying scores of women in burkhas and hijabs and men in kameezes and skull caps, with stalls selling roses and garlands, chaddars (brocaded silks to be draped on the dargah of the pir) and other offerings for the faithful, on either side. Beggars lined the way, with hardly a break, hands outstretched, awaiting the tossed coin or note. The smell of delicious meats being roasted wafted out from a dozen or more kabab stalls and restaurants.

A few hundred feet from the main road, one passes the tomb of Mirza Ghalib, the famous mid-nineteenth century poet and composer of ghazals. Some kind of a program was underway near the tomb, with a vast dari (carpet) spread out, and a few dozen people seated listening to various speakers. After this, the lane narrows even more, and seems to become enclosed. It’s an illusion created by the tall buildings looming overhead, and the awnings of the various stalls. Several men proffered cards as I walked by, asking if I wanted a certain number of poor to be fed. “The going rate is Rs. 5 per head.” At one point, a chorus of voices entreated me to leave my shoes in their care. I walked on ahead, and surreptitiously slid the footwear into the black jhola (cloth bag) slung across my shoulder (which also partially obscured my camera, and at least for a few minutes, helped cloak the obvious NRI tourist. It’s an uphill battle fighting that sixth sense that prevents me from completely blending in.).


The lane narrowed even more, and twisted and turned. I spy a tiny opening to the right, and leaving the crowd that veers to the left, following the signs to the dargah, I find myself in a small marble tomb, with four walls, open to the sky. It turns out that these are the tombs of Mirza Jawan (one of the grandsons of Aurangzeb) and his family. Everyone and their grandmother wanted to be buried near the holy man’s shrine, so the area surrounding the dargah is literally, littered with tombs (including that of the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah). An opening leads to the enclosure in front of the dargah itself. It’s a kind of shortcut, I guess.


To the left, a large crowd is patiently waiting to enter the smaller dargah of Amir Khusro, a famous disciple of the saint. To the right, a larger crowd is gathered in the courtyard in front of the main shrine, surrounding several qawwali singers, seated at their harmoniums, who gather here every Thursday evening. I stand and listen to the gentle music rising into the evening air, the rhythmic clapping having a strangely pacifying effect, in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the pilgrims moving to and from the dargah.


Large yellow notices warned that photograph was not permitted without permission. However, I noticed several people blatantly ignoring the warning, and clicked away. (A short video of the qawwalis will be uploaded to YouTube once the broadband starts working here again!)

There was a short line waiting to enter (“No ladies allowed inside dargah!”). I tied a handkerchief over my head, touched the doorpost and brought my hands to my lips in a sign of respect, ducked, and entered the tomb itself. The grave was covered under multiple layers of chaddars and offerings, with numerous strings of mannat tied to the intricate marble grillwork. The small space inside was full, as men slowly shuffled past, egged along by an attendant (“Agay badho hazrat!”, “Sir, move ahead!”), making a clockwise circuit around the grave. Some stood in corners in silent prayer, or reading from prayer books or the Qu’ran. Some prostrated themselves at the foot of the grave. The piety and devotion of the faithful at any site of pilgrimage, whatever the religion, have always moved me deeply. There is something powerful, and humbling, as we all acknowledge our limitedness, our finiteness, and seek the divine. Somewhat unexpectedly, I found myself moved to prayer as well, and asked the saint’s intercessions for the soul of my father. A Christian man, praying at the tomb of a Muslim saint, for his Hindu father.

I exited the dargah, and stood and listened to the qawalliwallas for several minutes more. A flock of pigeons swept over the dome of the dargah and flew into the gathering dusk.

I come running to the end of Your street,
Tears are washing and washing my cheek.
Union with You -- what else can I seek?
My soul I surrender as Your name I repeat.

No baptism for you!

If your parents were married as children, i.e. A story in today's Hindustan Times on the Catholic Church cracking down on child marriages in tribal areas. [I saw the story in the print edition, but couldn't find it online, except in the digital reproduction section. The search engines on almost all the Indian dailies are phenomenally frustrating.]
The Catholic Church in West Bengal has realized that the only way to crack down on social evils like child marriages is to brandish the stick.

The Krishnanagar Diocese, about 130 kilometers away from Kolkatta, is the first one to have cracked the whip by penalising families who got their children married off. The punishment ranged from a fine of Rs. 3000 to excommunication.
[That's about $70. Probably close to or more than a month's wages for many.]
Bishop Joseph Gomes said that the Diocese had decided that everybody has to follow the law and anyone found flouting it would be punished. "We will not baptise children of guilty families and prevent them from attending church functions. Girls have to be 18 and men 21 to get married and everyone has to follow that." he said.
That's the law across the country. I would like to know how they would "prevent" people from attending church "functions" (but not the liturgy?).

It just struck me, a dyed-in-the-wool American Catholic as somewhat strange that the church could actully levy fines. Try that in the US! Anyway, it's clear this is a big problem out there, and the church felt compelled to respond. An interesting reference to ethnic customs:
Herod Mullik of the Bangiya Christian Pariseba, a forum of Christians in Bengal, said traditional customs like child marraiges were prevalent particularly in the tribal belt 'where people continue to retain their ethnicity. Where people flout existing laws, it is for the Church to take punitive action to keep its community law abiding," he said.
I would interpret, "retain their ethnicity" to mean, "continue in their pre-Christian customs." And, I wonder which other laws fall under the purview of the Church to help enforce? Clearly, a different role for the Church in the society.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Valley Song

You have led me to the sadness
I have carried this pain
On a back bruised, nearly broken
I'm crying out to you

I will sing of Your mercy
That leads me through valleys of sorrow
To rivers of joy

When death like a Gypsy
Comes to steal what I love
I will still look to the heavens
I will still seek your face

But I fear you aren't listening
Because there are no words
Just the stillness and the hunger
For a faith that assures

I will sing of Your mercy
That leads me through valleys of sorrow
To rivers of joy

I will sing of Your mercy
That leads me through valleys of sorrow
To rivers of joy

Alleluia, alleluia
Alleluia, alleluia

While we wait for rescue
With our eyes tightly shut
Face to the ground using our hands
To cover the fatal cut

And though the pain is an ocean
Tossing us around, around, around
You have calmed greater waters
Higher mountains have come down.

(Jars of Clay)

The Church in China: The Patriotic Association

An analysis of the Patriotic Association in China at Asia News.

CHINA - VATICAN The Patriotic Association’s war against the Church and a “harmonious society” - Asia News
The government too seems to be distancing itself from the Patriotic Association. Two days ago, on the occasion of New Year’s greetings, Jia Qinglin, a member of the Politburo and president of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, met with the leaders of the Patriotic Associations of the various religious recognized by China. He told them that “religions can play a positive role” in building a harmonious society, referring to the slogan launched by President Hu Jintao for shaping a more just society and more balanced development. According to the Xinhua news agency, Jia asked leaders of the Patriotic Association to promote religious ideas and actions that can help achieve social harmony. “It is very important,” he said, “to make full use of the ‘positive elements’ of religion.” At the same time, he underlined that the Patriotic Association must take steps towards meeting the needs of communities and their requests. “Social harmony,” he explained, “must be defended among the followers of religions and their petitions and demands must be heard.”
Jia’s suggestion comes just days after the publication of an official study which shows that there are 300 million believers in China, three times the official figure. This means that at least 200 million Chinese are not accounted for within the official structures controlled by the Patriotic Associations. The reason is clear: no one accepts submitting to the control of the Patriotic Associations in matters of faith; plus, economic interests are often hiding under the mantle of ideological control: the seizure of goods belonging to religious communities for personal gain. To give just one example, in the Catholic Church, over 80% of the estate of Chinese dioceses has been confiscated by officials of the Patriotic Association, who sell and rent land and buildings, pocketing the income, instead of using it for the Church’s mission in poorer regions. This is something that can be multiplied by 5, that is, for all the religious communities recognized by the government: Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants.
[A recent issue of the Economist has a neat survey of the rise -- and acceptability -- of religion in China.]

St. Valentine



In the official calendar, today is reserved for Sts. Cyril an Methodius.

[And the Telegraph's Peter Foster mentions the odious Shiv Sainiks and their moral policing of amorous couples in his Valentine's Day post.]

Delhi: The Garden of Five Senses

Went out with the nephew and niece to Delhi Tourism's new Garden of Five Senses, in the south of the city, near the Qutb Minar. Unfortunately, we misjudged the level of traffic, so it was a brief visit. I didn't find the place to be that remarkable -- it being Valentine's Day, the garden was overrun by necking couples -- but did manage to get a few shots. The last one is of the Qutb Minar itself. [The last time I was out here was in 1992, I believe. The brother lived in Vasant Kunj then. The place is unrecognizable!]





Lent is around the corner

We're a week away. Boy, hard to believe! I was reading Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent 2007. As always, I find his words thoughtful, thought-provoking and uplifting. Here he returns to the themes of his first encyclical, agape and eros and talks about what they might mean for Lent.
The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome His love and allow ourselves to be drawn to Him. Accepting His love, however, is not enough. We need to respond to such love and devote ourselves to communicating it to others. Christ “draws me to Himself” in order to unite Himself to me, so that I learn to love the brothers with His own love.
And then
The Fathers of the Church considered these elements as symbols of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Through the water of Baptism, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, we are given access to the intimacy of Trinitarian love. In the Lenten journey, memorial of our Baptism, we are exhorted to come out of ourselves in order to open ourselves, in trustful abandonment, to the merciful embrace of the Father (cf. Saint John Chrysostom, Catecheses, 3,14ff). Blood, symbol of the love of the Good Shepherd, flows into us especially in the Eucharistic mystery: “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation … we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving” (Encyclical Deus caritas est, 13). Let us live Lent then, as a “Eucharistic” time in which, welcoming the love of Jesus, we learn to spread it around us with every word and deed. Contemplating “Him whom they have pierced” moves us in this way to open our hearts to others, recognizing the wounds inflicted upon the dignity of the human person; it moves us, in particular, to fight every form of contempt for life and human exploitation and to alleviate the tragedies of loneliness and abandonment of so many people. May Lent be for every Christian a renewed experience of God’s love given to us in Christ, a love that each day we, in turn, must “regive” to our neighbour, especially to the one who suffers most and is in need.
And what a beautiful designation for Our Lady -- "Mary, Mother of Beautiful Love!"

In a piece at Zenit, Archbishop Cordes highlights the contrast with Pope John Paul's Lenten messages, which focused largely on the social diemsnion of love, on what may be loosely termed, "charity." Benedict's messages are very theocentric and Christocentric. And, I would add, puts everything in the context of the cosmic perspective of the Christian narrative. [For whatever reason, I cannot get Zenit to load at this moment.]

Fr. Barron on the Departed

Right now it's the top link on his page of sermons. Word on Fire | Most Recent Sermons

Irish nun to receive Padma Shri

Via Zenit .
An Irish woman religious will receive a civilian award from the Indian government for her social service.

Sister Cyril Mooney, 70, will be conferred the Padma Shri Award for her more than 40 years of work to educate the marginalized and poorest of the poor, reported SAR news agency. This honor stands fourth in the hierarchy of civilian awards given by the government of India.

A member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sister Mooney arrived in India in 1956 to serve the country by educating children in moral and spiritual values.

In 1964 in Lucknow, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, she began a project that recruited college and high school students to teach children who are unable to attend school.

Sister Mooney also worked to free domestic workers from the exploitative clutches of professional moneylenders.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

New ecumenical endeavor

Christian Churches Together in the USA
Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT) is a new forum growing out of a deeply felt need to broaden and expand fellowship, unity, and witness among the diverse expressions of Christian faith today. CCT is inclusive of the diversity of Christian families in the United States — Evangelical, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Pentecostals, historic Protestant, Racial and Ethnic churches.

Christian Churches Together provides a context — marked by prayer, theological dialogue and fellowship — in which churches can develop relationships with other churches with whom they presently have little contact.
The latest meeting resulted in statements on evangelism and poverty. (I can't find either online.)

Since I mentioned Humayun's tomb ...

... here's a photo from a 2005 visit. (More from this visit on the Flickr badge in the left sidebar) ... and of course, a shot from Google Earth.

Catholic Blog Awards 2007

Do go visit. This year, you have to register to view the nominees and vote.

And, yours truly has been nominated in two categories: Best Blog by Clergy/Religious/Seminarian, and Best Written blog!

My word! I'm touched! (Well, y'all knew that!)

There's lots of wonderful competition out there, most of it in a completley different league than my musings on here ... so do go check them out!

[Sr. Susan has a list of some of the cool nominees, along with an explanation of how the voting thang works this year.]

Cinnamon Spice

Spicejet isn't bad at all. Whereas on Indigo one has to pay thirty bucks for a packet of cashews, here, sweet young things (the phrase is of Wodehousian provenance. And if it isn't, it ought to be.) hand out candy and cookies with a smile. Still no-frills by Indian standards, but hey. The check-in agent, obviously taking pity, gave me an extra-legroom emergency exit row seat. The cabin is pleasing, with plush grey leather seats, and decent seat pitch even in the non exit rows.

Flights were taking off and landing on Rwy 27 as we waited for the aircraft to come in from Bangalore, including a BA 747. It's always a treat to see one of these giants take to the air, or alight on the ground, seemingly as light as a feather. By the time we got onboard the 737-800 (endearingly named "Cinnamon"), the winds had changed, and takeoffs were to the southeast, on Rwy 14. Apparently the use of the alternate runway is now routine.

Most flight schedules show a flying time of Delhi of two hours. It's high time they just upped it to three. Air traffic delays on this heavy sector are routine. About 110 miles out, the Captain (who spoke with an American accent, which made me weirdly homesick. Expat pilots are everywhere in India.) announced an ATC mandated slow down, and then that we were twelfth for landing.

The approach was from the east (either to Rwy 27 or 28, I couldn't tell) with a spectacular view of the capital as we crossed the Yamuna. The dome of Humayun's tomb gleaming in the sunlight streaming through the clouds, with the railway tracks near Nizamuddin Station just next to it, and further to the north, the heart of Lutyen's New Delhi, the stretch from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhavan, with North and South Block clearly visible, then Safdarjung's tomb, as the aircraft passed over Safdarjung aerodrome.

I'm looking forward to exploring the capital a little on this visit.

Besides, I'm just really tired. A couple of days of sleep might not hurt at all.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Two hours

Indigo is a pretty decent airline. I couldn't survive this seat pitch for a much longer flight though.

The approach into Bombay was on Runway 32, not the standard 27. This is the first time since I started noticing such things, that I've landed on Rwy 32. A beautiful approach, with a beautiful view of the nuclear reactor at BARC in Trombay. I'm sure if I'd had my camera out, some IAF MiGs would have appeared and done nasty things.

Spent the day with my best friend from college who's in the country for a bit. This is just what I needed.

As I was standing at baggage claim, I suddenly realized with a start that I had not thought of my father in over two hours.

I guess that will slowly increase.

Go Indigo

Off to the airport in a few, for my first flight on one of India's new low-cost carriers, Indigo, to Bombay. (Spending a couple of days there with friends before heading to Delhi, which will also be on a low-cost carrier, Spice Jet.)

I know a lot of people who've flown this new arrival's A320s, and all have given good reports.

This isn't Jet Airways - no pampering on board. One has to purchase food and beverages. Ah, welcome to the burgeoning new world of Indian aviation.

Here's a photo of an Indigo A320 at (this was probably on a delivery flight, it's still got its French registration.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Gordon Brown meets the Pope

Not like I really follow British politics that much, but this story showed up in one of my Google Blog Alerts with a link to the blog of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

Yep, he's blogging, even though, as he puts it, "things got just a little bit too hot" one day in 1556.

Someone ought to badger good ol' Sir Thomas More to start his own blog :)

As the Parzania controversy unfolds...

... and the dailies (such as they are) have all and sundry talking about it, why does no one ask, when such questions come up (remember Fanaa last summer?), why the heck does the world's largest democracy need a Censor Board?

Yes yes, neither Fanaa nor Parzania were "banned" in Gujarat by the board. It was worse. Sheer bullying and intimidation of the basest kind.

But why the heck is there such a board to begin with?

Ah that darned paternalistic Indian statism.

DNA - Mumbai - Parzania gains more support - Daily News & Analysis

I don't think I really understand this

Rome rabbi applauds ADL for boycotting French cardinal | National Catholic Reporter Conversation Cafe ... because Cardinal Lustiger converted to Catholicism, the Chief Rabbi of Rome and the chairman of the ADL cannot attend a panel on Nostra Aetate which celebrated the new era inaugurated by that document in Catholic-Jewish relations?

Surely we are beyond the era of "the only good Jew is one who leaves Judaism to embrace Christianity." Or, maybe not. Centuries of mistrust cannot be erased in 40 years, however long that seems from the point of view of an individual lifetime.

Yet, what does this say about the Jewish understanding of religious freedom?

Would there be similar cageyness on the Catholic side if a similar panel involved, say, a Catholic convert to Judaism? I don't know. One may or may not like that, but surely one has to respect an individual's decision.

When Popes speak « Built on a Rock

Bill Cork has an interesting piece up on the response in the United States to Pope Gregory XVI's denunciation of the slave trade, including the less than imitable example of the remarkable first Bishop of Charleston, John England. (One of his successors, Patrick Lynch, was a slave owner and a staunch defender of the Confederacy.) When Popes speak « Built on a Rock It's hard to imagine that something spelled out so clearly by a Pontiff could be so soft pedalled by an American bishop today, when communication is so much improved.

Incidentally, this was also the time that Isaac Hecker was growing up, and exploring the Transcendentalists (if I have my dates correct), and a few years before he embraced Catholicism. As far as I could tell (my copy of "The Paulist Vocation" is packed away somewhere in DC right now), he didn't have much to say about slavery. As a New York lad, I guess, it didn't direclty impinge upon him.

A sobering read on the issue is John Noonan's "A Church that can and cannot change." [Do also read Cardinal Dulles's review in First Things.]

Friday, February 09, 2007

Ex Novice

After several days of prayer, reflection, discussion with friends and my spiritual director, I have decided to take a leave from the Novitiate, in order to continue to stay in India for a longer time. The Paulists would have liked me back just before Lent, in order to send me on the Lenten assignment. I simply could not conceive of myself returning in such a short period of time. I have felt strongly that in the immediate future, I want to spend more time with my family, especially my mother.

The only way this could work within the structure of the Novitiate (which is a formal period of discernment before someone commits himself by making temporary promises of Simplicity, Chastity and Obedience), was for me to leave this year's class. I received an email this morning from the Novice Master letting me know that my request for leave has been accepted. As of today, I am no longer a Novice.

The Paulists have been remarkably supportive of me throughout my father's illness. When I return, I hope to rejoin the formal discernment process.

For my part, I am viewing this as an interruption, or a delay, in my formation process. My sense that my vocation is to the priesthood remains unchanged. It seems though, that my path will remain crooked and a bit murky.

Since my father was diagnosed with cancer last April, I have been haunted by those passages from the Gospels where Jesus says, "Let the dead bury their own dead," and "He who loves his father and mother more than me is not worthy of me." They continue to haunt me. And it may be that I am like the rich young man, who when confronted with Jesus' demand, turned and went away sad. However, this is the best I can do, and, like with everything else, I beseech the Lord to have mercy on me, a sinner.

The Trapdoor

There's this trapdoor, behind which lurks something dreadful.

And anytime I see a photograph of him --
especially the beautiful one my brother took in November in Delhi, a week before the surgery. The one that's now in the living room, enlarged and framed, with a garland of sandalwood around it. The one in front of which my mother recites the Gita every evening, while smoke rises up in straight lines from the incense sticks,

or the one I took, two years ago, in a different world, in Alaska. Him with more than the normal hint of a smile on his face, hand around mom, who's bundled up looking like an Eskimo, beaming
-- this door creaks open and a shard of memory escapes, glinting for a second, and cutting deeply. A stab of sharp pain. Sudden and startling.

I wince and shudder and turn my head.

And run, run far away.

Away from that door. A trap.

He's not coming back.

Polycentric Christianity

A fascinating article in Christianity Today on Scottish church historian Andrew Walls, who's been living and studying and writing about Christianity in the global South for over half a century.
His first stunning revelation came in the classroom, where he was teaching about the early church. "I still remember the force with which one day the realization struck me that I, while happily pontificating on that patchwork quilt of diverse fragments that constitutes second-century Christian literature, was actually living in a second-century church," he explains. "Why did I not stop pontificating and observe what was going on?"

It was a move from "talking about texts" to "talking about the community that formed the texts." The epiphany transformed his understanding of both the church in Sierra Leone and the second-century church he had studied in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. "As I looked at the surviving literature of the early second century, I could see all the examples of that literature around me," Walls says. "You read the first letter of Clement, and, yes, I'd hear sermons like that, and just as long. You read Ignatius, and though I had not actually seen anybody going to martyrdom, you saw the same sort of intensity."

What he met in Sierra Leone was not, Walls realized, a derivative or younger version of the European church, but "a symbiosis, very carefully fused." Something was occurring that paralleled the patristic period, when a Jewish gospel got translated into Greco-Roman culture. For Walls, this brought a "very definite movement from depression to hope" and began a lifetime love affair with Africa.
And it's not just about individual conversion,
Evangelicals believe in the conversion of individuals, but Walls began to see that conversion refers also to nations and communities. Did not the Great Commission command the discipling of the nations? "Conversion to Christ does not isolate the convert from his or her community," Walls says. "It begins the conversion of that community. … [D]iscipling is a long process—it takes generations. Christian proclamation is for the children and grandchildren of the people who hear it."

Walls began to think that this kind of Christian conversion is necessary in every place and time, and that Christian history is the story of how faith moves from one culture to another, translating and retranslating the gospel along the way.
And trying to find the common thread that runs through the vast tapestry of Christianity over time and space. A contrast with Philip Jenkins is also noted,
While some scholars such as Philip Jenkins emphasize a shift of power from Western churches to those south of the equator, Walls sees instead a new polycentrism: the riches of a hundred places learning from each other. That is why he has delighted in the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World, which he founded at the University of Edinburgh. Students come from all over the world to share what they are learning and to study together. As Kwame Bediako, former director of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, puts it, "The gospel that was in principle universal has now become in reality universal."
[Incidentally, the author of the article met Dr. Walls at the Overseas Mission Center in New Haven, CT, where I was headed in January, when life interrupted.]

Benedict meets with Sant'Egidio

Via Zenit .
The Pope said to the representatives today: "By putting prayer and the liturgy at the center of its existence, the Community of Sant'Egidio seeks to be close to those who are in situations of poverty and social marginalization.

"For a Christian, a person, though distant, is never a stranger."
My only experience of Sant'Egidio has been praying Vespers with them on visits to Rome at the beautiful church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. There's an amazing spirit there, and every trip to the Eternal City, I try and go there the first and last evening.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I felt a funeral in my brain

I felt a funeral in my brain,
And mourners, to and fro,
Kept treading, treading, till it seemed
That sense was breaking through.

And when they all were seated,
A service like a drum
Kept beating, beating, till I thought
My mind was going numb.

And then I heard them lift a box,
And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead, again.
Then space began to toll

As all the heavens were a bell,
And Being but an ear,
And I and silence some strange race,
Wrecked, solitary, here.
-- Emily Dickinson

Comment of the day ...

... over at Open Book:
If they were really brave, they'd try to resurrect polytheistic worship at the Kaaba in Mecca.
... in response to a story about a group that held pagan sacrifices on Mt. Olympus
To the astonishment of onlookers, Peppa also began babbling Orphic hymns, before thrusting her arms upwards into the Attic skies and proceeding, somewhat deliriously, to warble her love for the gods of Mount Olympus. But, then, for the motley group of modern pagans coalesced around the temple's giant Corinthian columns, this was a special moment. Not since the late fourth century AD, when the newly Christian Roman state outlawed all forms of pagan worship, had a high priestess officiated on the sacred site.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Into Great Silence

Amy has the scoop on US release of the documentary film about the Carthusians that made such waves in Germany. There's a limited US theatrical release being planned: after March 23 in the DC area, and end April in Atlanta. Those in SC -- plan a road trip! :-) There's also the possibility of purchasing a DVD (steep price though: $40 or so incl. s/h.)

open book: Silence, continued

Shostakovich - Smert' (Death)

This is the final piece in Symphony 14 (see below). A poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, entitled simply "Zaklucheniye." "Conclusion"


Всевластна смерть.
Она на страже
и в счастья час.
В миг выщей жижзни она в нас страждет,
ждёт нас и жаждет –
и плачет в нас.

All-powerful is death.
It keeps watch
even in the hour of happiness.
At moments of higher life it suffers within us,
awaits us and thirsts for us -
and weeps within us.

And I laugh at love, which is mown down by death

I grew into the world of music via my father's lovingly preserved Dual gramophone, and his fantastic collection of old vinyl LPs, both Western and Indian classical. I still remember clearly, one afternoon, I must have been about 11 or 12, I found an LP of Dmitri Shostakovich's 14th Symphony, opened, but still in the plastic wrapper. It had obviously not been played much.

It's an unusual work, in that there is voice, a single soprano, in the symphony, really a collection of works by famous poets set to music. I don't recall the music that much actually (except a few startling parts, which I'll mention below), but the words are still fresh in my mind. All the poems are about death. Of course, as a geeky pre-teen language buff, I was most fascinated by the Russian (I had not yet learned how to read Cyrillic). Now, suddenly, these poems come tumbling back to mind.

Two in particular struck me (and strike me), both as poems, and musically (as I remember it. I will, of course, be checking on the health of the Dual, and see if it can be coaxed into life.) (There's a third as well, but I'll put that in the next post.)

Of course, on this blog, the Cyrillic text will precede the English translation below. The full libretto of the symphony is also available online.

The first poem is entitled Malagueña (meaning girl or woman from Malaga), a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca (original Spanish text.)


вошла и ушла
из таверны.

Чёрные кони
и тёмные души
в ушчелях гитары
бродят, бродят.

Запакли солью
и жаркой кровью
сосветься зыби

А смерть
всё выходит и входит
и входит, выходит и входит
Всё уходит и входит!
А смерть всё уходит
и всё не уидёт из таверны.

The strident soprano's "voshla y ushla iz tavernii!" still rings in my head!

The second is "Madam, posmotrite!" "Madam Look" by the French poet Guillame Apollinaire.

Мадам посмотрите!

«Мадам посмотрите!
Потеряли вы что-то...»
«Ах! Путяки! Это сердце моё.
Скорое его подберите.

Захочу – отдам.
Захочу – поберу его снова, поверьте.
И я хохчу, хохочу, хохочу
хохочу, хохочу, хо, хо, хо, хо...
И я хохочу, хохочу, над любовью,
что скошена смертью.»

Here, it's the "kha- kha-" sound, repeated again and again in the words ("khakhachu" = "I laugh"), somewhat ominiously, in the last stanza.

English after the jump.


entered and left
the tavern.

Black horses
and dark souls
in the ravines of the guitar
still wander.

They smell of salt
and hot blood
from the foaming
of the nervous ripples.

keeps leaving and entering,
and entering, leaving and entering.
keeps on entering and leaving!
Death keeps on leaving
and still will not leave the tavern.

"Madam Look!"

"Madam, look!
You have lost something..."
"Ah! It's nothing! It's only my heart.
Pick it up quickly.

If I want, I will give it back.
If I want, I will take it again, believe me.
And I laugh, laugh, laugh,
laugh, laugh,...
And I laugh at love,
which is mown down by death."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Catholic vs. Protestant Heaven

Finally I get around to seeing this on You Tube. From the Simpsons. Just priceless.

Armenian Orthodox church service

Amazing chanting. (YouTube)

And while we're at it, do check out William Dalrymple's essay on Eastern Christians (from the Guardian in 2001, but not really dated). I was searching for an online version of the interview with him in the Sunday Express, but couldn't find it. Got this from his website instead.

Look at the company I keep

While surfing the webpages of the Indian Income Tax dept. (equivalent of the IRS), I come across this:
25. Who can apply on behalf of non-resident, minor, lunatic, idiot, and court of wards?

Section 160 of IT Act, 1961 provides that a non-resident, a minor, lunatic, idiot, and court of wards and such other persons may be represented through a Representative Assessee. In such cases, application for PAN will be made by the Representative Assessee.
I wonder what "such other persons" might mean. :-)

Monday, February 05, 2007


ચાણોદ, on the banks of the Narmada.

  Posted by Picasa


The air is like brine
and limbs lie limp
in a sea of grief.

Cardinal Martini and Euthanasia

After having cared for a seriously ill person, suddenly this conversation takes on a completely new hue. No, I do not believe that euthanasia is "good death." However, I need to study what Cardinal Martini is talking about a little more closely. In this newsletter Sandro Magister gives the background to a recent flap in Italy over the remarks of Cardinal Martini, the Archbishop emeritus of Milan on a controversial case involving a terminally ill patient who refused water and food, and thereby committed suicide. He was refused a Catholic burial, and the case caused a huge sensation.
For the former archbishop of Milan, the seriously ill person has at every moment the right to interrupt the care that keeps him alive. No, objects the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. But the real clash is between Martini and the pope.
[As an aside, the idea of voluntary suicide isn't just something thrown up by a modern culture divorced from traditional roots. Some ancient religious traditions propose similar paths, for instance "santharo" in Jainism. Clearly, these are understood as spiritual ends, and not stepping stones to the widespread acceptance of euthanasia.]

Joseph Ratzinger, Catholic Church and Salvation, Pope Benedict XVI, Outside Church No Salvation, Non-Christians Saved --

I saw this 1964 sermon by Fr. Ratzinger linked at dotCommonweal. Read it. Joseph Ratzinger, Catholic Church and Salvation, Pope Benedict XVI, Outside Church No Salvation, Non-Christians Saved --
Yet if we are honest, we will have to admit that this is not our problem at all. The question we have to face is not that of whether other people can be saved and how. We are convinced that God is able to do this with or without our theories, with or without our perspicacity, and that we do not need to help him do it with our cogitations. The question that really troubles us is not in the least concerned with whether and how God manages to save others.

The question that torments us is, much rather, that of why it is still actually necessary for us to carry out the whole ministry of the Christian faith—why, if there are so many other ways to heaven and to salvation, should it still be demanded of us that we bear, day by day, the whole burden of ecclesiastical dogma and ecclesiastical ethics? And with that, we are once more confronted, though from a different approach, with the same question we raised yesterday in conversation with God and with which we parted: What actually is the Christian reality, the real substance of Christianity that goes beyond mere moralism? What is that special thing in Christianity that not only justifies but compels us to be and live as Christians?

Paulist office aims to help heal Catholic Church wounds - Catholic Online

Paulist office aims to help heal Catholic Church wounds - Catholic Online
Reconciliation involves healing people’s wounds – whether it be caused by abuse, disagreement with the church’s stand on an issue or anything that led someone to feel alienated or rejected – and welcoming people back to the church. Reconciliation work is such an intrinsic part of the Paulist charism that the Paulists are devoting $1.2 million over the next five years to reconciliation awareness, training and programming, according to Father John E. Hurley, director of the reconciliation office.

“People’s lives depend on what we do as disciples of Jesus Christ,” Father Hurley said in his welcome address to the board members. “It begins with recognizing that those experiencing alienation and hurt in the church are our brothers and sisters. It begins with our baptism.”

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Then walk alone

When Richard Attenborough's Gandhi first came out, we lived in Ahmedabad. One afternoon, most uncharacteristically (he had a well-known disdain for Indian cinema, especially Bollywood), my father took me to see it in a theater, in the crowded confines of the old city, somewhere near Relief Road. This screening was dubbed in Hindi, and as a nine year old, I was most amused by all the gora log speaking the national language, albeit (if I recall correctly) with a fake firang accent thrown in as a sop to some sense of authenticity. The movie was immensely powerful of course, especially for one brought up in a house steeped in respect for the Mahatma. I would later discover that this didn't mean my father agreed with all of Bapu's ideas, especially when it came to economics ... however, to the end, and especially after 2002, he regularly lamented how Gandhi was forgotten in everything but name.

Last summer, dad introduced me to the Gandhi Katha, a week-long narration of the life of the Mahatma, in a traditional religious story-telling genre, by Narayan Desai, the son of Gandhi's secretary and friend, Mahadev Desai. [I'd seen a few of the discs last year; now is the time to go and see and listen to the entire program.]

Gandhiji's favorite bhajans (hymns) remained my father's favorites, including Narsinhrao Divetiya's translation of Cardinal Newman's "Lead Kindly Light." We've been singing or listening to these bhajans all week.

Ahmedabad is also the home of the famous Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati. On a few occasions I remember visiting the Ashram (one of the must-see stops when friends from abroad visited the parents) and sitting for a "sound and light" show on Gandhiji's life. [Apparently, at least according to this 2004 report in The Hindu, this show seems to have lost its luster.]

It was during one of these shows at the Sabarmati Ashram that I first heard Rabindranath Tagore's famous poem Ekla Chalo Re (composed at the time of the partition of Bengal in 1905, I believe), also one of Gandhi's faovrites. In so many ways, my father embodied the steadfastness and courage to stick to one's principles exhorted by this poem.

Here's Tagore's English translation:
If they answer not to thy call walk alone,
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O thou of evil luck,
open thy mind and speak out alone.

If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O thou of evil luck,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track travel alone.

If they do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou of evil luck,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite thy own heart
and let it burn alone.
The original Bengali follows.
jadi tor daak shune keu naa aashe tabe ekla chalo re
tabe ekla chalo, ekla chalo, ekla chalo, ekala chalo re

jadi keu kathaa naa kaya, ore ore o abhaagaa,
jadi sabaai thaake mukha phiraaye sabaai kare bhaya
tabe paraana khule o tui mukha phute tora manera kathaa, ekalaa balo re

jadi sabaai phire jaaya, ore ore o abhaagaa,
jadi gahana pathe jaabaara kaale keu phire naa chaaya
tabe pathera kaantaa o tui raktamaakhaa charanatale ekalaa dalo re

jadi aalo naa dhare, ore ore o abhaagaa,
jadi jhara-baadale aandhaara raate duyaara deya ghare
tabe bajraanale aapana bukera paanjara jbaaliye niye ekalaa jbalo re
This blog has an mp3 of a version sung by Kishore Kumar (a well known Bollywood actor and playback singer). Not quite the traditional Robindrosangeet style, but still quite beautiful. You really have to listen to the words, even if you don't understand Bengali, to appreciate their depth and beauty.

On Saturday, for the termu (thirteenth day, marking the end of the official mourning period) for my dad, I will be singing Ekla Chalo Re.

Put out into the deep

One of my favorite passages from St. Luke was the Gospel for Mass this weekend. I heard it with two of my closest friends, who'd come up for the day from Bombay. The "Duc in altum" reading has been meaningful at several junctures in my life, and here it was again. The Lord calling out, asking me to trust in Him, to put out into the deep (and as Dogwood just reminded me in an email, not to forget to let down my nets!

Also via Dogwood, the link to Fr. Robert Barron's fantastic homily for this Sunday's readings. (Sermon 317 at Word on Fire)

Feast of the Presentation

Last year, I attended a prayer service at St. Peter's in downtown Columbia.

This year, a close friend had gone and sent me an email letting me know that the closing hymn was "Abide with me."

Such simple connections, bringing such comfort.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

So this is why your joy has entered my heart

Tai tomar ananda amar par
Tumi tai esecho nicche
Amae noile tribhuvaneshwar
Tomar prem hoto je micche.

-- Rabindranath Tagore
An English translation: (the page linked has the full text of the poem as well, with its earthy imagery of divine love)
So this is why your joy has entered my heart,
My lord,
So this is why you have come down to my humble abode.
Without me your three worlds would be nothing -
For I, only I, can be the fulfillment of your love.
I first heard these beautiful words of Tagore also near another deathbed. It's a breathtakingly bold sentiment. Somewhat similar to the Psalmist's plaintive cry:
Dost thou work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to greet thee? Is thy steadfast love declared in the grave?
It's one that, I suspect, my father would have greatly appreciated.