Thursday 16 May 2024

Family Day and My Family Days May 15, 2024

Family Day - May 15

May 15th is dedicated as International Day of Families.  This has come to be observed by the  UN since 1993 underscoring the importance the world nations attach to this institution.  Over the years, perhaps, the definition of family has changed from that of being the basic human community evolving from the union of a man and a woman, and consisting of their children, if any - whether single or plural men or women, can constitute a family, whether other animals or any other being can be family etc. are now being debated. I would rather go by the conventional understanding, having no objection towards expanding it to include others.  It is observed that for many elders living alone their dog or cat is becoming their family. 

I do not know if it was coincidental - Catholic Church declared 1994 as the international year of families, and St. John Paul II (1994) issued an encyclical by the name: A Letter to the Families, which provides a modern and biblical catholic narrative on the families. It powerfully empahsises humans as the way for the mission of the Church, with the conviction that humans are entrusted to the Church, which shares in their joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties in their daily pilgrimage (Gratissimam Sane, 1)*. 

My Happy Family Days

I recall the days when I felt very passionate and good about 'my family'.  I loved my mother, my grandmother, to some extent my father (whom, now I love more, though all the three have disappeared from the planet), my sisters and my brothers.  I lived with my family for almost full 15 years from my birth, barring a few days of camping, and a few days with other relatives. I enjoyed a great amount of freedom, especially in my high school years and had grown to become rather independent. But I was happy with my family, in spite of the usual sibling fights one would have. But then, after completing the tenth grade, I took the path to Christian priestly life in the sannyaasa tradition with the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate.  The initial years of training (generally termed formation) with focus on detachment from the world and one's own family, and the sincerity with which I took to them, made me almost totally detached from my family of origin, the Payyappilly-Palakkappilly family of Perumanur, Kochi! 

Formed into a Non-Family Man

Three years of being away from the family, from the mother tongue, with a bare minimum of correspondence, and thereafter just about a month with the family, again to continue with a more rigorous training of 2 years of seclusion, made almost totally a non-family man, and I began to be more comfortable in the religious house (ashram) than in my own family.  I no longer enjoyed being with my family or any family or even anyone for longer than 10 minutes to half an hour. Not because I had grown attached to God or Jesus or had become perfect in the religious consecrated life, but because I had found my comfort zone in that system!  And I almost continue to be so, while I make effort to be deeper in my commitment - at my own level, though ever far from the ideal. 

My commitments and attachments are now more of duty-boundedness - whether to the family of origin - where I try to oblige and be available, if my presence is desired, trying not to impose myself on them, and so too with the CMIs. 

Cosmic Family and the Common Home

Perhaps, over the years, I have become more fascinated by the ancient Indian ideal of 'vasudhaiva kutumbakam' found in some of the wisdom sayings (subhaashitaani).  The same, the government of India, of late, have adopted with great zest, all the same contradicting itself by alienating several thousands, perhaps millions of its own citizens often casually and at times, ruthlessly, from their rights to freedom and dignity. To me, the ideal has become inspirational: 

ayamnija: paroveti ganana laghuchetasaam
udaara caritaanaam tu vashudhaiva kutumbakam!

The considerations like 'mine' 'yours' etc are that of small minds, but for the large-hearted (the generous or broadminded) the earth itself is the family! 

I have tried to consciously cultivate this family by trying to connect with people beyond the borders, especially those who are in evident struggle, and also with other beings - moving and not moving, and trying to respect them, appreciate them and accept them.  Though I accept and realise the contradiction, that the inspiration has not stopped me from 'assimilating' them - life forms - vegetarian and otherwise, and even relishing them beyond the need for survival. I would have loved to grow to the stature of St Francis, but I am not that; rather, I am cold-bloodedly a cosmic family member, which I consider a matter-of-fact. 

In spite of having done that, and very consciously adhering to that, I have been accused of nepotism, when two of my family (relations) got into the very attractive faculty positions where I was the head of the institution.  I leave it at that, and no longer try to proffer an explanation for that, and people are generally happy to go by the former logic than any other. 

With these introspective reflections, some more thought on the family: 

Family: Enslaving or Liberating? 

Why a family? Many thinking women, who come under the category of 'feminists' (I used to consider myself a feminist, as someone who consciously tried to see things from a woman-perspective as well; now, I prefer to be a humanist, which I think includes also women), most likely from their experience, have denounced the institution of family as enslaving.  I don't blame them.  There are several such instances where family had become for women (and sometimes for men too), a very binding and enslaving experience.  The very natural animal drive to perpetuate one's tribe accompanied by the pleasure element in the process has been deified and divinized by the humanly unique institution of marriage - in the course of the evolution of human civilization taking the forms of a contract ensuring safety and security, or ennobling it as divinely ordained, and leading to self-actualization.  However, the very same institution has been found to be failing in its purpose by denying security and safety and instead perpetuating exploitation and subjugation, and dehumanizing the parties, either as the victim or as the perpetrator.

It is worth pondering and investigating, what the general trend is, whether in general people are liberated or enslaved by the bond.  When I sit in the confessional, generally, I get the impression that at least from a woman's perspective it has been made to be enslaving. However, the Christian sacramental vision is to make it a liberating and Christifying experience, after its 'communitarian faith tenet' of the Trinitarian Godhead, fulfilling the Jesus vision: 'that they be one, as we are one' (Jn 17:21).  Trinitarian faith is not a logical treatise, but a reflective realisation in the light of Jesus' utterances believed to be about the 3 distinct entities - himself (referred to as Son), his Father and his Spirit.  Christians have come to believe in one God in which these three distinct 'persons' are united as one, and the logic for such unbreakable unity is the constant communication or unbarred sharing of their totality among themselves. This is more of inspiration than logical understanding, though some such (to my mind, stupid) efforts have been made by humans to make it appear logical, by constructing and defining concepts such as persons, substance etc. The inspirations are: 1. God blesses humans to be united inseparably - body, mind and spirit - to perpetuate humanity, through the fusion of man and woman. 2. This is made to be divine when this is characterized by unbarred total sharing of one's self with the partner as it happens in the case of the One God who is also a family, a community 3. It is God's abiding presence - visible through the sacrament of the union - that makes it fulfilling and liberating, as God is full and free, so too the partners in this imitation of God, become free and fulfilled 4. This happens through the conscious and deliberate choices the partners make after the mind of Christ (Phil 2:1-11), blessed by the remembrance of God's presence in this union, which make this a transcendental experience, while still being very much earthly!

This total sharing in practical life involves submission and surrender of one's will. Hence, St. Paul in explaining the mystery of marriage begins his instructions to (Christian) families with the need for mutual surrender (Eph. 5:21).  This is not to be a slavish surrender, but a partnership based on five pillars of non-violent communication as suggested by my author friend and pacifist Vedhabhyas Kundu: respect, understanding, acceptance, appreciation and compassion, which he sees as the principles that would make a family sustain. 

Very often the partners become blind to the purpose of marriage, and forget the abiding presence and become led by the natural animal passions of self-sustenance, security which at the human-animal level includes 'ego' as well. If that is to be replaced by these five pillars, there is always a possibility of well-being and self-actualisation in the relationship. 

This requires preparation which is often lacking. And resources such as the families of their origin, religion etc. can be of great help. 

As I thus philosophise, I perceive that I feel happy having not chosen the personal family track. Though escaping the risks of being in a conventional family relationship had never occurred to me, looking back and listening to people, I feel relieved that I had not taken that more travelled track! That was a blessing for me, to be a blessing for several families - though I am not sure whether I have been that!  But I admire those millions who have managed to take that track and have built solid families, enriching several million lives to be productive and creative, especially my sisters and brothers, apparently leading healthy family lives, many of whose foundation of family, i.e., marriage ceremony, I had the good fortune to bless.  

Green Families & Families for Climate Change

This year, UN has proposed as the theme for the day, 'Families and Climate Change'.  This is really a meaningful way to connect a very significant role families can play in this phenomenon affecting everyone, especially through informed choices they make in consumption, and small initiatives in production (family farming).  If every family decides to go on uncooked food one day a week, or one meal a week,  or decide to reduce 10% of their local travel on foot or bicycle (not discounting the fact that almost 50% of the word population still don't own a car) the impact on energy front and emission could be tremendous.  I feel, every family, when it is being established should also decide to be a green and sustainable family - in itself, i.e., fresh and lasting, and in its relationship with the planet.  Families are to be inspired to be 'zero waste, zero carbon' families. Whenever I get an opportunity at a wedding, I invariably remind the new family of the Christian challenge to be a green family on our 'Common Home'. 

Tailpiece This family day, I am with the family of my former student, Alan. Eight years ago, I had the opportunity to bind them together as a minister of the Church, and today, I am in Doha with them on their anniversary.  We celebrate at Nehdi Mandi, Wakra, and I remind them that it happens to be also the international day of families, and also that I had remembered them at the Eucharistic Table. Though far from being a green family, they are happy with their mutual gift to the world - Eva! And may they remain so for the rest of their years, pray, long years! 


Wednesday 1 May 2024

Good Friday March 28, 2024

For the first time, I have to preach to a North Indian community on Good Friday. 
But it is only the locus, the community of 100 odd sisters, is predominantly Malayalee. There are some staff members belonging to the North and North East of India. 

The past few decades of Catholic Christian presence in North India, I feel, had been one of a comfort zone living. Are we there? Yes, we are. 

But are we there? We are hardly there. Our being there, in spite of the well-attended educational institutions (schools), I am afraid, hardly matters. It is high time that we scientifically assessed our impact on society and reviewed the expected or intended outcomes of our presence, ministry and preaching.  

All three, I feel, mean the same - it is all about proclamation - of the reign of God, which is the proclamation of Jesus Christ, after whom is the entire 'enterprise' of Christianity, in its innumerable formats. And the reign of God is just about justice, peace and joy (in the Holy Spirit) as St. Paul would say (Rom. 14:17).  While we also tried to bring them about, I am afraid, for a great amount of time since Christianity began to be presented to other cultures, the preoccupation had been about 'converting' others to 'Christian' religion, with the 'reign of God' taking a back seat.  And with conversions hardly occurring and the possibilities for the same dwindling, the missionary spirit seems to have fizzled out.  At least, that was my experience when I spent about a decade (1980 to 1990) with some break in between in the so-called mission region of UP, in North India.  The very nomenclature of 'mission regions' itself reveals the lack of missionary nature and God's reign perspective (more easily said as 'kingdom' though that might sound anachronistic and undemocratic today) of the Christian presence in India, especially, in the pockets where it is rather well established. While not questioning the bona fides of those zealous missionaries, I sensed a contagious dissipation consequent of a total lack of direction,  and the life did not energize me, though they all lived a very frugal, and without being very purposeful about it, a very austere, life. (Later on, as I stuck on to the 'discipleship track', I have always asserted myself to be a missionary, while being a teaching faculty at a PG institute and later on, as the principal of an Arts and Science Autonomous College.  I was convinced that I was there to continue the mission of Jesus which he proclaimed as 'Kingdom of God' or as that of 'liberations' Lk 4:18). 

So what is my reflection and/or challenge on this Good Friday which in Hindi we term as 'Holy Friday' (Pavitra Shukravar)? 

Good Friday, we find Jesus whom we adore as God incarnate, God's son, fully human - that he suffers, dies! Reaffirming the human nature on this earth, not denying, and confirming that this life involves suffering, death and decay, or decay and death. About five centuries before Jesus, a young king of India, Siddhartha (lit. one who has realised the meaning), found meaning by discovering almost the same - dukha satya! Suffering is real! Or in reality, there is suffering!  And he proposed an eightfold path, and the foundation was to get rid of 'desires', human attachments! A very rational way to deal with sufferings stoically, and get rid of all sorts of desires! And in the process, he spreads the message of 'karuna'  and 'maitri'.  It became a very powerful movement converting and transforming violent and ambitious powermongers to apostles of peace! However, in India, it gradually disappeared, or the core elements of the teachings were perhaps, absorbed or coopted by the mainstream Hindu culture. 

While Buddha took a very rationalist position on the reality of 'suffering', Jesus realized a solution in a caring interpersonal relationship, with the Ultimate Truth being experienced as the most caring, considerate, forgiving Father, who guides our destinies for the best, even while we are experiencing suffering. Our ability to tune ourselves or surrender ourselves to the will of the Father is our redemption! The joy which is 'not as the world gives' and 'which no one can take away'.  It also implies growing to be as perfect as the father, whose quality is described in terms of 'compassion' towards the good and the evil alike. It also implies growth into that realm, which is beyond the typical human  categories  of 'this, that, mine, their...' which is that of laghuchetasaam, where as, for 'udaara caritaanam' it is 'vasudhaiva kutumbakam'. 

But what is Jesus' suffering all about?  
According to the faith articulated, we understand Jesus' suffering and death as the sacrificial offering to expiate our sins.  That is a beautiful and consoling faith vision.  While we confess this faith vision, we have arrived at that faith vision from the very real suffering, and subsequent death of Jesus on what we now call 'cross' (Presently, more of an ornament and a pious article, than a symbol of our faith).  

Jesus was killed through a conspiracy where religion and politics colluded because those in power felt threatened by the challenging ways in which He spread goodness around. 
He went about doing good.  
He questioned existing practices and conventions and boldly set them aside and said what was more important was 'human well being'
He radically challenged the very exclusivist world vision - my nation, my clan, my family to the wider vision of God's children, God's family, where Jew and Samaritan, the High and the Low could be treated equally and well. He showed the so-called scum of the society could rise to Godlikeness through the acts of goodness towards others. 
He recognized women as coworkers, companions and supporters in his mission, a very radical position for those times, when women were mere possessions of men. 
He denounced hypocrisy. He challenged the status quo by upholding the ideals of justice and equality. He defended the woman who was caught doing wrong, pointing out the hypocrisy in our own behaviour. He was able to touch the heart of a Samaritan woman and make her a witness to his goodness. 

He presented self-sacrifice as a means of overcoming evil rather than physically overcoming
the evildoer. Philippians 2:1-8 in presenting the human Jesus, assures that humans created in the image

of God and can attain godliness.

Good Friday teaches us how to cultivate divinity within ourselves?

(a) By deliberately choosing, doing good - Start with your family, neighbourhood, and workplace.  This can be in any situation. 

 I read about  Sarah Marie Loesch in the New York Times. She died at the age of 23 during skydiving training in July 2005. In her 5-year career with Freefall Adventures in Williamstown, New Jersey, she had already completed 1300 jumps.

These were the entries in her diary: Among her favourites - Jesus Christ came first, the second was Bible study. Her career goal - to serve God in everything she did. She was a "born-again Christian." Upon her death, her mother said that religion gave her the strength to face it. She said: She was doing what she wanted to do. Now she's flying with the angels.

Are we able to keep Jesus Christ and his lifestyle as our top priority in our homes, families, neighbourhoods, and workplaces?

Are we willing to take extra steps, extra minutes/hours/days, extra effort to help at our workplace and family?

(a) By not doing wrong – Recently a Christian was found to be instrumental in a corrupt manipulation of the mayoral election in Chandigarh. His name was something like 'Masih'. What a pity! What a counter-witness by a Christian for the nation!

·       b) By surrendering to God's will – as Jesus did.  When confronted by the ununderstandable sufferings in our lives or around us, while trying to avoid them, or mitigate them, attuning ourselves to the wisdom of God.

·       c) By suffering for our beliefs, for the good

·       In the past few months, many Christians have faced severe resistance and hardship while fulfilling their duties - as teachers, as ministers. Father Babu Francis (Allahabad), Father Anil Mathew (Bhopal), Sister Mercy (Chhattisgarh), Father Dominic (Lucknow) - all were arrested, imprisoned for varying periods, and eventually released.  Christians appear to be much disturbed at this development.  But Good Friday is posing this very same challenge:     Are we ready to face this consequence for being a Christ disciple  - honest, truthful, just and helpful - always in service to others?

·       Hebrews 1-4 is worth listening. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

In the 2000-odd years, perhaps there had been hundreds of thousands of Christians who might
have lived in this manner and inspired their families and neighbourhoods. Do we
belong there? But the Church has been able to recognize just about 10000 of
them, proven to have lived the Jesus life in an extraordinary manner.  That means on an average just about 5 people per annum. Can you and I aspire to be counted among them?

Holy Father, Pope Francis, whom we in faith we trust as God-given guide for the faithful in this world,
challenges the Christians to have a deeper understanding of their life on the planet that is worthy of a true Christian life. He wants all of us, individually, as families and organizations, to re-examine our lifestyle as Christians, as it affects the lives of all - humans and other creatures living on the planet. He is talking about the things we use, the things we discard, the waste we generate, and the water, air and earth that we pollute with our indiscriminate consumption.

       He challenges each Christian to carry a small cross to minimize their impact on the earth. This means living a simpler life, generating less carbon from cooking or travelling, or using electricity or burning things or dumping unmanageable trash on the planet.

Can a Christian home be identified as a carbon neutral home next year? Can a Christian institution be a carbon neutral institution? Can a Christian claim to be a zero waste person? Can our fasting and abstinence have a bearing on the impact we have on the planet?

He has written two letters in this regard - Laudato Si and Laudate Deum.

·      I hope that Good Friday will inspire us to go beyond just interpersonal relationship among the humans, but rather live on the planet in a responsible fashion that our lives don’t harm the planet systems on which all life forms depend.  This is the challenge of the cross in the climate change scenario of the modern life.

Tuesday 30 April 2024

Sidra - A Green Resistance to Desert Extremities!

The Sidra Tree

In the scorching sun, with no water or rain around, and no one but the author of life to defend and protect, Sidra stands nonchalantly firm, verdant, buoyant, vibrant and majestic.  Like the sattasamavayin yogi, unaffected by the ups and downs of life (sukhe-dukhe same krtva - Gita 2:38) it remains unaffectedly verdant, resolutely resilient!  

Sidr tree (Ziziphus spina-Christi), also known as Lote tree (also found as Ziziphus lotus-Christi), Christ's Thorn, Jujube or Nabkh tree. The Arabic equivalent of Lote is 'sidr' (when rendered in English, usually written as Sidra).  In Qatar, however, it is generally written as Sidra only.  

In the Qatari culture, the Sidra tree is the iconic symbol of the country's heritage. The Sidra has grown in the deserts of Qatar for generations. With roots that reach deep into the earth, fruit and flowers that nourish and leaves that heal, the Sidra became a beacon of comfort in the harsh desert environment, allowing life to flourish. The Sidra also provided shade and shelter to travellers and scholars, who would escape the desert heat, gather together and share knowledge.

Over time, the Sidra came to represent nourishment, strength and courage, as well as learning and growth. In the hearts and minds of the people of Qatar, the Sidra tree exemplifies perseverance, solidarity and determination. (source unknown)

It is the national tree of Qatar, about which Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, said: 

"The Sidra tree, growing strong and proud in the harshest of environments, has been a symbol of perseverance and nourishment across the borders of the Arab world. What is the significance of this glorious tree? With its roots bound in the soil of this world and its branches reaching upwards toward perfection, it is a symbol of solidarity and determination; it reminds us that goals of this world are not incompatible with the goals of the spirit."

(Qatar Foundation Chairperson, at the inauguration of Education City, 13 October 2003)

Qatar Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1995 to develop people's abilities through investments in human capital, innovative technology, strategic partnerships and state-of-the-art facilities, has accepted Sidra as its logo taking into account the primacy of this tree in the lives of the desert dwellers and its health value. 

Education City Convention Center of Doha, the headquarters of Qatar Foundation, designed by Arata Isozaki draws inspiration from the tree. Its massive entrance is supported by two massive 250-meter-long doubly curved steel Sidra trees. According to the Quran, they are a symbol of the knowledge of the divine.  It symbolizes the support given to various branches of knowledge and scholarship by the centre. 

Qatar government has made massive plantation efforts, especially in Doha, and even in the desert tracts of the small country along all its highways, with Sidra having the largest count.  Qatar foundation promotes this as part of Quranic Botanical Garden, among the trees mentioned.

Sidra is a popular name for women in the Middle East.  It is also said to mean 'of the stars or like a star'.  It refers to a tree in heaven, mentioned twice in Quran. 
On the coast of Libya, there is a broad inlet named Gulf of Sidra between the towns of Benghazi and Misratah. 

Blooms and Fruits Sidra blooms after the summer, as winter approaches, and the flowers are cream-coloured and not all that eye-catching, but still beautiful.  They are said to be ideal for the bees and honey of this region, especially, Yemen, said to be based on these flowers, is famous. 

By December-January, the trees have fruits.  The fruit has some local appeal in Qatar and perhaps, in all of the Middle East. It is likely that in the pre-oil era, after the dates, these were the only fruits of the desert, and served as a valuable nutritional resource for the people.   It can still be utilised as a valuable addition to the diversity of food-nutrition basket of the region. In an agro-expo organised by Qatar Foundation, I had seen stalls exhibiting products of Sidra - Sidra dried and pulverised to form flour with which organic tea biscuits or cookies are made.  However, I am afraid, with the oil-induced opulence, such considerations are of least significance for the region. 

In the season of its fruits, they are available in the market - from a size of 1 cm to 2 inches in diameter.  They are light green when ripe, but many prefer them when they turn brown.  The bigger ones have become popular, and are most likely a product of hybridization, and are grown in the desert farms of the Middle East. 

Interestingly, the Middle Eastern fruit is botanically named Ziziphus lotus christi or popularly known in Western circles as Christ's Thorn (Spina Christi) with the tradition that a crown of thorns of the tree was pressed onto the head of Christ as part of his persecution by the soldiers prior to his crucifixion. 

In our Qatar campus, we have solemnly planted two saplings, after almost two years of stagnation, now they are growing - slow, but steady! 

Indian Ziziphus - Ber In Northern India, ber is a very popular fruit, with hybridized versions in the market for past many decades.  I think it is a kin of Sidra.   My Botanist colleagues tell me that these are Ziziphus mauritiana (or Indian jujube). However, the fruit and the tree have a very ancient tradition, with reference to it in Ramayana, where the simple Ram devotee, the tribal mother Sabari, is said to have received Ram with great love, and to ensure that he is fed with the best of the fruits she had collected, would taste each one, and the sweeter ones thus tested would be passed on to Ram, who, the maryada purushottam that he is, would without any hesitation, accept and eat them.  The modern Hindutwa is making efforts to 'tribal-wash' Hindutwa, by adulterating the simple and unadulterated devotion of Sabari, as a Hindu tradition of the tribal communities. 

While the desert version of Ziziphus is a real, sturdy, evergreen tree, the sweeter Indian version appears to be more a shrub or a small tree, when compared to the great ones of the desert. 

Sidra - a Kerala Story In my state Keralam, similar plants are found in the drier regions like Palakkad, perhaps, also in Tamil Nadu,  and the fruits are referred to as 'elanthappazham' (Yelanthappazham - Tamil).  There was a famous dance song in my childhood, with the dancer moving about selling 'elanthappazham'... A search on the youtube didn't lead to that, but I got a new one (

On my recent visit to Keralam, I found a small tree, bearing medium-sized fruits (about 1 inch in length) at the Sacred Heart Monastery campus, Thevara.  Appears that planting Jujube (ber) is getting trendy among the Malayalees. 

On Sacred Heart campus of Sitapur, our former manager Dr John had planted several plants of the hybridized one, and they grew to bear abundant fruit.  One of his successors felt a concrete footpath was a greater priority for the campus and many of the sturdy fruit-bearing trees were sent to the valley of death.  However, thankfully, we still have a plant or two on the campus. -  YEMEN HONEY

Monday 29 April 2024

Jubilee - 3 Rs for a Post-Laudato Si Jubilee celebration April 28, 2024

Jubilation is an English word very commonly used to indicate merriment and celebration of joy.  It appears to be linked with the word 'jubilee' and usually, there is great jubilation around any jubilee.  When we dig back, 'jubilee' is a concept emerging from a mandate of the Old Testament. Leviticus Chapter 25 gives its details. Interestingly, the original Hebrew word 'yobel' (jobel?) means a ram's horn used as a trumpet, calling out to announce the onset of the jubilee year. 

In simple terms, it is the Sabbath of Sabbaths - or the Great Rest!! Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word 'Shabbat' meaning 'to cease' or 'to stop'.  The human need for 'rest' is spiritualised and 'deified' through the religious diktat of 'Sabbath' so that the avaricious human nature may, at least, with some fear of the unknown disciplining almighty, sustain themselves by resting and relaxing for a day, in turn also letting the planet and all other fellow beings have some rest from their work as well! 

Jesus restored the legalistic observance to its original meaning of 'well-being' and 'wholeness' (rest for wholeness, rest with the Lord for wellness), and he was kind of obsessed with ensuring that his Sabbaths were spent in the company of the resting fellow faithful, while boldly going about powerfully 'healing' the afflicted on those days (Acts 10:38)! This is indicative of the prominence Jesus attached to wholeness and wellness in His life and ministry.  Apparently, he lived a frugal, but healthy life. He was never reported ill! He is always on the move! But he is happily there in the company of the rich and the poor, and relishing a good feast that comes his way! 

While we celebrate the jubilee of these two beloved sisters - Sr Mary Clare and Sr Rose Ann of the Holy Cross adhering to the regulations of the third order of the Franciscans - I think they present an apt picture of two disciples of Jesus the Healer, with their training and ministry as a nurse/public health worker and a pharmacist respectively.  Whew! what a terrific ministry - of 5 decades and still both of them in one piece! Most of us present at this gathering have not even lived so many years! Praise the Lord for this ineffable gift! 

When I heard the Gospel being read today - Jn 15:15ff, I felt like Jesus declaring after reading out from Isaiah in the Nazareth synagogue and looking around and telling the congregation: 'this has come true today'. Amen!  In today's Gospel, Jesus says, the one who abides in me, and I in him, shall bear abundant fruits! We are sure that in the past 50 years this dynamics has sustained through them - Them in Jesus, Jesus in them, and abundant fruits, wellness, well-being!  Congratulations, sisters! 

So I feel on such occasions, we need to skip reading a typical Gospel passage.  Instead, we ought to highlight their life and ministry and that should serve as a live-proclamation of the gospel! May words of the gospel today continue to ring true in your lives and in the lives of all those who claim to be Christians, and further doubling up as 'consecrated persons'! 

In this fashion of carrying on the wellness mission of Jesus, they have indeed become partners and leaders of a global process and the global goal of 'good health and well-being' (SDG 3) of the 17 odd goals set by the world nations for the year 2023. The world nations aspire for good health and all the 17 odd goals are directly or indirectly linked to this crucial one.  Some of them bear a very direct link with this vital ministry - no poverty (1), zero hunger (2),  quality education for all (4), gender equality (5), clean water and sanitation (6), affordable and clean energy for all (7), sustainable cities and communities (11), responsible consumption & production (12), climate action (13), life under water (14), life on land (15)  etc.  Let us be proud that hopefully consciously, or unawares, they have been contributing to these noble global goals.  Thank you, sisters! Congratulations! 

When I saw the gathering and recollected the fact that these two senior women, had joined as two very young women or girls from their small neighbourhood of Karanchira (Thrissur) or Thodupuzha (Idukki) of Keralam, and had sacrificed their small families and neighbourhood, the Lord has indeed rewarded by making them truly members of the global family (vasudhaiva kutumbakam), being carers to communities far and near, North and South, East and West!  And this very gathering in the name of this widespread province of the Holy Cross sisters itself is evidence of their attaining this global citizenship!! Again, hearty congrats sisters!  

The church recognises consecrated life as a close following of Jesus Christ, who sought the will of the Father and who went about doing good.  One of my senior confreres, after living this mode of life for over 50 years, commented: whoever be the one who 'invented' this mode of life, should be given a 'nobel prize' - he was putting it in a very light vein, emphasizing the safety and security this life had provided him, though hardly anyone would choose consecrated life with such motives! That is a great gift - being a free moving, available, global family member - in exchange for the sacrifice of one's own small family and possessions!

Today's first reading (Acts 9:26-31) narrates Saul's drastic turn around into Paul, from the pestilent persecutor to the prophetic proclaimer of the gospel, bringing consolation and peace to people. May the jubilee celebrations make the jubilarians and each of us celebrating them, look at our own small and short lives, and resolve for effective turnaround to be harbingers of good news and peace wherever we are sent! 

The Psalms (21:22-30) echo the sentiments of a true Jubilarian - And my soul shall live for him, my children (in this case, it could be the hundreds they have served and nurtured) serve him.  They shall tell of the Lord to generations yet to come, declare his faithfulness to peoples yet unborn: 'These things the Lord has done'. 

Coming back to Jubilee as the Sabbath of Sabbaths, it appears to be a great Economics of material sustainability (thousands of years before the concept itself gained currency), couched in religio-spiritual idioms. It is basically the rest for land or earth to replenish itself, and not to exhaust itself of its limited resources - a cautionary step bearing very well the reality of 'carrying capacity' and 'limits to growth' in mind. 

With the post-Laudato Si thinking, I feel jubilee should take into account, the basic principles of sustainability - the 3 R's of 'Reduce, Reuse and Recycle'.  From the conventional 3 Rs now, two radical R's have been introduced with several others - Rethink and Refuse! Rethinking is a very valuable process to happen with any jubilee - about one's life, one's purposes, one's habits.  However, to me, the biblical jubilee implies another set of R's:

1. Rest - Rest for oneself; we usually term it a Sabbatical! Rest with the Lord (not yet  eternally), but in the Lord's company

2. Review - Rethink: how one's life has been, how it could be in future, how Lord-permeated it is. 

3. Restore, Revive and Renew: Restoration of the relationships is a core of OT jubilee.  The land, the people and their mutual relationships to be tempered with justice, with God, with goodness. That leads to the 'revival' of one's real life, leading to a fresh start again, with the energetic thought that 'today is the first day of the rest of my life'.  

For land and a people, 49+1 = 50  years is not a very long period.  Years and individuals go by, but the land and the people remain.  But for an individual, 50 years of a profession or a career path is a really long one. Even a family life of husband and wife for 50 years is a really long one, with the probability of not accomplishing that by the sheer reason of being alive being very high!  Hence, the ingenious adaptation of a half/mini jubilee at 25 years, to my mind, makes more sense.  It is a good time to rest, recoup, review, restore, revive and renew!  For a Christian disciple, I would say it is an ideal time to visit the Holy Land, get energized from the land where Jesus walked, and get revived for a renewed committment to a life of unconditional and invincible goodness. 

Though not being pessimistic, and praying that the traditional salutation of Yajurveda 36:24 'pashyema sharadashatam' be true in every jubilarian's life, still I am afraid, for an individual, it is meaningful to have a 'jubilee' celebrated at the stage of completing 25 years (a quarter of what is generally referred to as a human being's lifespan - purushayus or better, manushyayus).  

It is indeed heartening to learn that these beloved jubilarians, past their 70, are still active in their ministry!  May they continue to do so... bhooyascha sharadshataat - may they live and see even beyond the hundred!  So for us, the congregation and the faithful, it is indeed a great matter to celebrate this rare feat - a marathon run!! 

However, I feel, it is important that every jubilarian should celebrate one's jubilee by planting a tree, as that would go a long way (symbolically or otherwise) in spreading unconditional goodness - of shade and shelter, of life (water and Oxygen), of food (fruits and leaves), of beauty (leaves and flowers and the tree itself) and of healing (medicine).  As Fr. Bobby Cap. would say: the set of questions for the last judgement has been revised, especially with Laudato Si (2015) & Laudato Deum (2023): No more of the series - Did you feed me? Did you give me to drink etc, rather,  just a single question: Did you plant a tree? So, let each jubilee be accompanied by a suitable tree planted for the future generations! 

So let us all wish our beloved sisters the very best! 

Grateful to God, may they continue to do the good work the Lord has begun in them, and may they continue to be the good news, a hundred years and beyond! 

तत्। चक्षुः॑। दे॒वहि॑त॒मिति॑ दे॒वऽहि॑तम्। पु॒रस्ता॑त्। शु॒क्रम्। उत्। च॒र॒त्। पश्ये॑म। श॒रदः॑। श॒तम्। जीवे॑म। श॒रदः॑। श॒तम्। शृणु॑याम। श॒रदः॑। श॒तम्। प्र। ब्र॒वा॒म॒। श॒रदः॑। श॑तम्। अदी॑नाः। स्या॒म॒। श॒रदः॑। श॒तम्। भूयः॑। च॒। श॒रदः॑। श॒तात् ॥२४ ॥

May you see 100 autumns (years), may you live well a 100 years

May you listen to good things, especially the scriptures a hundred years and may you instruct others in those good ways a 100 years, and May you remain illness-free (healthy) a 100 years! 

And may you see, listen, instruct, remaining healthy for 100 years and more!!

Sunday 28 April 2024

Peechat Rocks at Peechat Para

It was an unexpected gift! A visit to my friend Tom (Thomas Peechat), the 20th century Kerala version of Henry David Thoreau, the social rebel of 19th century Boston  (  The night on the verandah of his single-room home, with a separate kitchenette.  A dinner of cooked jackfruit (puzhukku), with mango chammanti (chutney) was indeed a rare treat, with pure, mildly sweet, Caryota palm toddy from the neighbourhood to wash it down. With no wind blowing even the open veranda was stuffy in the Kerala summer.  Perhaps, the forest-like dense growth of trees adds to the warmth and humidity? 

Peechat Rock

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We woke up and took up the challenge of Tom for a visit to Peechat Rock. 

The 125 cc two-wheeler Honda-Glamour was handy enough to carry both of us along the tough, unpaved, uphill track.  Amazing power and in spite of a weakened knee, I still didn't want to give up on the mild adventure involved. We climbed to the top of the hill of the estate of a relative of Peechat family through a nearly worn-out gate with vines almost hiding it, but with PEECHAT boldly fixed on the top of it. There is a jeep track upward, and we stop at a point and trek the rest of the 200-odd metres to the bare rock forming the pinnacle of the hill. 

You have to watch your steps, and then climb onto the rock - which at this stage of my life and with the knee and angles tending to be in non-cooperative mode is a bit difficult, otherwise, for the teens and youth a cakewalk holding some sportive challenge.  This is now becoming popular as 'Peechat Para'.  The hidden beauty was unveiled with the clear felling of the rubber plantation which had been there for decades, and prior to which, for the local population accustomed to the hilly terrain not anything of great interest. But with the modern day of less and less of anything uneven, and more and more of everything wasteful, the youth find it a perfect rendezvous for a trek, a picnic spot with a beer and accumulating litter of plastic bottles, empty beer bottles and plastic wraps of junk-snacks.

But the morning view of the valley was enchanting with the mellow orange cadence of the Sun over the tufts of white cloud blanketing it.  It would have been more pleasing in the infant ruddiness of the Sun. We miss the company of our good friend Andrew, who would be game for any such outing. We have my cousin Sajeev to complete a trinity.  I complete my rounds of Suryanamaskaram, and find a rather perfect balance with Vrkshasanam and a version of Garudasanam. Would have loved to do the head-pose as well, which would have been terrific, after the typical habit of my adventurist nephew Vijay.  But somehow, didn't feel inclined to.  Tom, the trained physical educator that he is, indulged himself in adventurous jumps over the cleft between the top rock, the edge of which is a cliff with the next landing being another hard rock hazardously below. 

We trek down.  I am careful, lest my knees already showing deterioration are not adversely affected. Pineapple plantation is replacing the rubber.  Wildflowers - a sturdier and smaller version of Petunia Aystasia gangetica, and wild jasmines - were everywhere - making those nooks and corners really pretty.  

It is a great spot to be - I would rather suggest the Peechats restrict the entry, perhaps charge a token fee, and ensure that the spot is maintained friendly - litter and plastic-free!! 

Peechat Panankaavu where Peechat Rocks

Back to the 15-acre estate of Tom can be a paradise for a Botanist interested in tropical evergreen flora. Many pockets abound with ferns of all sorts - from the tiny ones to the giant tree ferns. Tom, of late, has altered his lifestyle to include animal friends on to his wild farm.  A level segment of the otherwise undulated land has been cleared of the neglected rubber trees, with a plan to promote tennis. But wild trees like tambakam, kulamavu, marutu etc. abound, in addition to the Bamboo species introduced by him.  Another species in abundance is Cinnamon.  I would rather name it Peechat Cinnamon Enclave! But I would rather go for Peechat Panankaavu (palm grove) - as the campus has a number of Caryota palms (kaali pana), which could yield an abundance of naturally filtered very sweet and inebriating health drink.  In all this, the government is not promotive, but with a restrictive licence raj of the excise department such skill traditions appear to be on the verge of extinction. 

Tom's new companions include country fowls, country ducks, and indigenous cows, one of them giving birth to a rare calf, something like a white tiger - kapila! the regular wild visitors still continue - the family of spurfowl being the most evident! The 10 ft deep natural pond is now home to the ducks, and the clean water is now not really attractive for ordinary humans to have a dip.  

NPP - I am involved with and part of very many NPOs (Non-Profit Organisations), generally, voluntary development organisations.  If they generate wealth beyond their expense, it is usually 'surplus' to be ploughed back into development.  Many of the organisations I associate with are thus.  But individuals, rarely.  My colleagues who are outspoken socialists when it comes to organisation/institution, I have observed, are outright capitalists with an insatiable profit motive, when it comes to individual or family life. But Tom, past 50, though still young, is an exception.  So far, he has been a Non-Profit Person through and through.  His Peechat farm holds great potential for tourism, which can be run on a sustainable basis.  But he seems to be bitten by some waldenism as yet! May the God of small things and big things, but who sustains all things, sustain him well! 

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Gerento-Tourism - On Earth Day encountering 'back-to-the-elements' truth

Happy Earth Day!  April 22, 2024

अथातो भ्रमण  जिज्ञासा ! After exploring scenic tourism, development tourism, agri-tourism, edu-tourism, pilgrim tourism, it was now my turn to do a gerento-tourism.  With the short time, available I went around four districts and about 400 kilometres to meet with the elderly in my circle. 

Had a long day starting with my young IITian yoga tutor online. Then putting my privileged room in the provincial house back to order. I managed to reach Vimalayalam and spent some 'quality' time with 

Aetty. Sr Sophie, Dr Sr Alphonsa etc gathered around. Aetty was going about carrying a pack of medicines, and cribbing about no one to help her out with the application of the eye drops. Sophie examined and found that 3 of the small plastic dispensers were all empty and she had a new one along. Now she suspects. Perhaps, my endorsement makes it easier for her to let go! I unwrap the packed new ones, there are 2 of them. 

I agree to have a lime juice lest Aetty intervenes and creates a mess. She is under control today. Sr Alphonsa, the only doctor of the congregation is energetic, and tries to reason it out with Aetty.  Aetty is unhappy, as she has no (health) problems, but because of her sight & hearing impairment, she is not able to do what she wants.  I  point out to her the examples of people who have nothing, and the many things we have that we take for granted. I tell her about our former provincial Bp Gregory who has gone blind, and at 90, the congregation didn't feel like experimenting with a treatment costing around 30 lakhs, with no guarantee of eyesight restored, but he leads a cheerful life. And I challenge her to take up her daily cross for the

millions who are even much worse disposed. And she kind of swallows in and doesn't refute.  I also tell her about the status of Vellichayan and refers to his gradual loss of memory to register with her the blessedness she enjoys.  Apparently, she was put to ease...Don't know for how long! She is comforted to learn that Vivek and Annie are doing well. 

We have plenty of kisses and hugs. I should have said a prayer. We force a smile on her to take a pic. I insist her not to come down and she is ok with it.

Next time, if possible, I hope to find time to visit her and join the community celebration of the mass. 

I also meet Sr Eliamma, Sr Thressiamma who all gracefully greeted me and enquired after the rest of my brothers and sisters. 

My visit to Vellichayan was fine. Vellichayan was found to be healthy physically. When Aji asked if he knew Prashant achan, he agreed.  But when he asked about who this was,  he was unable to place.  That is not a very happy experience though.  I was happy to see Aji taking time out of his working schedule to be with his father - He has found a placement in Australia (what great possibilities) which helps him to travel easily and take off from the job, as and when required. 

This time, I had many such visits. At Muvattupuzha, I met Fr Gallus, 90+, almost confined to room, and bed, but still able to move about.  There was Fr Joachim, former energetic prior of Thevara & manager of the press - he appeared ok for his age, Fr Kuriakose, a silent but persevering missionary who used to trek the several miles to KAITHAPPARA Sunday after Sunday for several years - he is almost bedridden. Then there was Fr George Kalambukatt, who was of a younger lot, in early 70s, but suffering from memory loss. He spoke normally and gave the appearance of having recognized me. 

Thereafter, at Chethipuzha, Changanachery I found our former rector and general, Rev. Dr Mampra Thomas. He struggled to respond, but was finding it difficult to keep his eyes open.   I recall his glorious days as the powerful rector of Dharmaram college, due to his unexpected raids of our sections to instil discipline, we used to call him 'ripper'. I met the very powerful and musically inclined Fr Vempala, who made Christ, Trivandrum, a welcoming community, the tradition continues to this day.  There are very cheerful ancient presences like Fr Ludovicos (whom our friends used to call with the addition, mar Malpiduthabava) who appeared lean and strong past his 90s. Similarly, Fr Sebastian Pinel, who was keen and eager,  supported by his Walker.  I connected him with his batchmate, the great scholar Agastya (Thottakkara) of Kochi. I also met Frs Ignatius Prakuzhy, Joseph Puthenpura, John... of the twins.  Puthenpura was very vibrant, was active and appeared well on his way to normal life after his latest tryst with a heart attack. My former scripture professor Rev Dr Antony appeared very energetic for his age.  Many of them were casting votes in the election with the new provision for those elderly to cast votes at their own residence.    

At Karukutty, I felt blessed to have spoken with Fr Jose Koluthara my guru, a radically creative spirit. I tried to comfort him saying that his mantle of creativity has been taken over with great gusto by my confrere and his disciple, Rev Dr Varghese Panthalookkaran. He appeared much better than what the reports about him said. We spoke for about 8 minutes.  I was consoled to find him in a much better shape and spirit than I had expected, though he is in need of a wheelchair now. I had a longer chat with the bible scholar Fr Palatty, who appeared ok, though he is in need of assistance. The great liturgiologist Rev Dr Pathikulangara was there, almost confined to room and bed, still fully conscious and able to eat, read and speak.  He even manages to check his WhatsApp messages. 

At Thevara, I met the evergreen Fr Austin, who was and is and shall be at Thevara - student,  teacher, manager, senior citizen, college mentor. past 85 and an open heart sugery, he seemed to underscore the commitment to life. I told him that I was visiting older people all over, but didn't visit him, as he was still young. We had a hearty chat! 

But before all that, on the very day of my arrival,  I had started with Fr Alex, my professional mentor, who in his mid-eighties and after an angioplasty almost 20 years ago, and a stroke a few months ago, is still maintaining an office schedule - occupying himself as the finance director of the huge Rajagiri Hospital.  Others in the combat were Fr John Thekkekkara, who is able to move around, but is requiring assistance, Fr Pynadath another giant in the field of school education of our province, is now gone thinner, and hence able to manage himself better and his assistant also is able to help him better. He appeared fresher, leaner, more graceful, but unable to speak as he had undergone a tracheostomy some 3 years ago.   Fr Mathew Vattathara, with whom I had lived many years under the same roof, has to undergo dialysis thrice a week, and has to follow a very strict diet, not to let his potassium levels go up, and also keep his creatin level under check.  I also meet my former prior and provincial, and a giant predecessor at SH, Rev Dr Jose Kuriedath. He has thinned down, and is combating pancreatic cancer bravely.  Chemos - but still attending office at the director of Rajagiri Engg College. 

But on the last day, I was happy to meet Thankamani chechi, the mother of my good friends James and Sunny, our neighbour.  At 97, she must be the seniormost citizen of Perumanur. Still pleasant and cheerful, but suffering a hearing loss, though not total.  She was very happy to meet me. 

I try to stop over and see Paily Chettan, (the veteran congress worker who used be called 'swagatam paily' as he was invariably the one who would do the welcome address in all such public meetings) but could not. His  family plot appears like a miniature Walden without a pool, all the same a mini forest. I meet Achutti (I always thought he was James) and his wife Annie, they are past 80!! Can't imagine. They are now our next door neighbours, and chechi was saying, she enjoys looking through window at the greenery of our ancestral plot of land! She said that while she was looking at that plot in the morning she wondered where the achan might be now!! That is nice.  

Missed to have a picture with Ammini aunty (Nisha's mom) - that too was part of the gerento-tour.

OMG! Old age sets in. And we have to be ready for the limited editions of our lives!

Signs are evident: I forgot my bag at Manikath house, but before soon, I remembered and got it back from there; at SH I forgot my phone, the story repeated, and someone brought it for me to the monastery.  Painstakingly, I had gathered documents regarding my teaching career, and safely kept them in a folder, only to forget it at Kalamassery as I hurried back to the airport. (That was fun - riding to Kudackachira for the wedding of a former colleague's son, in our e-car, I found it nearly impossible to reach the airport.  Hence got a motorbike brought to me en route, shifted to it, and rode with the rider as the pillion and rushed to the airport, just to manage the check-in, in time!! Felt almost like Phileas Fogg.)

On the trip, at Kainakari, St Chavara's birthplace -  I am glad to catch up with my old friends ageing with me! They are doing fine!  I also meet with the new generation of the CMIs all energetic.  We all share the lunch together at Chavara's family property!  The tiny island hamlet is now connected by a bridge - I feel (perhaps, that is a tourist perspective), it would have been better the other way about! 

Already I feel impaired - my knees reveal deterioration of the bones, even the bones of the fingers do. Dukha Satya! Accept it, and do the good one can!!  And further, get ready to disintegrate into the elements from which we emerged! 

May the source of all goodness and strength empower us on that path!