Sunday 28 February 2010

Asian paradise flycatcher

Douglas Braganza (Belgao Dhaga, Trimbakeshwar Road, on the outskirts of Nashik) sent me this picture - unfortunately not very clear - of the Asian paradise flycatcher in his backyard. Very rare to catch this fidgety - and probably very shy - but extremely beautiful bird...

The kombo shenkro

Someone called Mona commented on my blog post of long ago on the semal.

Yesterday, returning by the Pune-Manmad Express from Lonavla to Nashik, I spotted another red flowering spring tree, which is neither the semal nor the palas. It flowers, I think, with an abundance of red blossoms on bare branches, somewhat later than the palas and the semal. It is a tall tree like the semal, but its branches are not orderly and majestic like the semal. I have seen it in the hills behind my house in Goa, so it is not uncommon: very common, in fact, along the ghats up to Nashik, and so, presumably, along the Western Ghats, the Sahayadris. I wonder what it is called. I think dad used to call it 'kombo shenkro', which amounts to 'cock's comb' in English. I wish I had a photo...

12 March 2010: It's most probably called DHAUL DHAK / Erythrina suberosa / corky coral tree / pangra / gulnashtar, if I am to go by the pictures and descriptions in Pradip Krishen's extraordinary book, Trees of Delhi, p. 204. Description:
A middle-sized, prickly tree with distinctly orange, corky bark and an irregular crown. It is an arresting sight in flower, with clusters of bright-scarlet flowers preented at the ends of its branchlets. Native to dry, mixed forests throughout India, it also ranges eastwards into SE Asia. Not very common in Delhi.

Highlights of PC2010

Our provincial chapter 2010 has just concluded. It was a good chapter: well-planned, mostly civil, and quite productive.

The highlights were many: a very successful passage of the lines of action on province solidarity (a 2% of gross annual income contribution from the houses to the province, or else a slab payment established by the provincial economer); a wonderful set of lines of action on Human Rights Education and Activism; certain very significant lines of action on formation of formators and mentoring of ministry; lots of lines of action about Higher Education. Of these, the one about solidarity was probably the most significant from the point of view of the difficulty of the topic; but the HRE and formation of formators no less significant from other points of view. The formation of formators refers to the preparation of formators for the specific task of formation: personal growth, counselling, spiritual direction; personalization processes (of the type Selvaratnam was offering).

Several felt that the spiritual dimension was rather absent. Perhaps when we get too practical, we forget to dwell on our motivations and the driving forces. Excessive concentration on lines of action makes for a neat chapter; the long preambles and papers of the past used to be messy. But they had the advantage of making us go back to our sources and documents: the scriptures, the constitutions, the documents of the church and the congregation; and that was no mean gain.

The communication aspect was also probably weak, both in between the first and second sessions, and during the second session itself.

12 crores of onions thanks to BGVK's watershed work

The following article appeared in the Sakal (Ahmednagar) newspaper, 8 Feb 2010:

Watershed Development and 12 crores of onions
The inspiring story of Sasewadi

The farmers of Sasewadi, Ahmednagar taluka, sold a wonderful 12 crores worth of onions this year. Besides the technological expertise about onions, it was the watershed work of Bosco Gramin Vikas Kendra that made this miracle possile, the farmers told the Sakal correspondent. Thanks to the watershed development, the living standard of the people has gone up. The success story of Sasewadi village of Nagar taluka is an inspiration to everyone.

The village is about 20 kms from Nagar. The road to the village branches off at Jeur on the Nagar - Aurangabad road. Surrounded on three sides by hills, 6 years ago there used to be a severe shortage of water in this village. The Nagar based BGVK began watershed work 6 years ago, and completed the work 3 years ago. The government had already carried out such work earlier, but the villagers said that the quality was questionable.

Thanks to the watershed work, the water table rose. Earlier, water used to get over by February; now, with a little rainfall, the wells get recharged and farmers are able to bring more land under cultivation. The people realized that onions would bring them a good income, and, since water was available, the whole village started cultivating onions. They learnt the latest techniques, and also mastered the marketing of their produce.

Thanks to a good market price, the farmers were able to get a very good profit. Each farmer received a minimum of Rs 3,00,000. 3 years back, most of the people in this village of 1,500 had kaccha houses; today, 95% of the people have pukka houses. Before, they used to send a request for water tankers by February; now they make this request only in the month of May. On 5 February 2010 the people even established a village development fund for repairing existing structures and for other activities.

Bro Alex Gonsalves, director of BGVK, said that the NGO had spent about 50 to 60 lakhs of rupees for the work. Before watershed development, the total income of Sasewadi was 1 crore; now it has reached 12 crore.

Savio D'Souza's new CD

I want to note a new production, an audio CD entitled You are Mine, which is the work of Bro. Savio D'Souza of Don Bosco Youth Centre, Koregaon Park. Savio has written the lyrics, while the music has been composed (and presumably also arranged) by Joey Mendoza. The CD is produced by Tej-Prasarini: Don Bosco Communications, Matunga, Mumbai, and was released on 31 January 2010, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Salesian Congregation and the Feast of Don Bosco.

Congratulations, Savio! This release deserves some publicity. Wonderful to see that a young theology student from Pune has found time to do some production. Was Peter Gonsalves the last Salesian who released something like this while still in the seminary?

Saturday 27 February 2010

Lonergan's De Deo Trino: Pars dogmatica

Gord Rixon, new director of the Lonergan Research Institute, Toronto, has been kind enough to send me a copy of the latest volume of the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: vol. 11: The Triune God: Doctrines. This is a translation of Lonergan's Latin notes De Deo Trino: Pars dogmatica. The Prolegomena (Part 1) of this text was earlier published as The Way to Nicea. Wonderful to have the whole text now in English translation, together with the Latin text.

Saturday 20 February 2010


Yesterday Robert and I went to see the play, Chanakya, at Karmaveer Dadasaheb Gaikwad Sabhagruh near the erstwhile Lifeline Hospital, Nashik. Diego had been given 2 VIP passes by the organiser, Mukesh Kaneri.

Though I've certainly heard of Chanakya, I have never really gone into his life and teachings. I was surprised to learn many things. One, that Chanakya lived before Christ, at the time of Alexander (Alik-sunder, in the Hindi of the play - Alik, the Beautiful, if you go by the meaning) and his invasion of India, and that he gave advice to Puru, the king whom Alexander eventually defeated. Two, that Chanakya was the man behind the power and throne and empire of Chandragupta Maurya, revered as one of the greatest kings of India. Three, that Chandragupta was of misra-jati - his mother, it seems, was a Shudra. That a man of mixed caste could rise to be one of the greatest emperors of India - in fact, one of the first to rule over a large territory - is something to be noted. Four, that Chanakya and Chandragupta trained an army of Adivasis to overthrow the weaker kingdoms around Magadha (that was one of the principles of Chanakya's political philosophy - attack the surrounding weaker kingdoms if you want to attack eventually a strong kingdom; eat the bhakar from the cool edge rather than from the hot centre). Five, that Chanakya did not hesitate to order killings: at his word, the Nanda king was killed, and then later also his wife who would have been a trap for the young Chandragupta, and then the Parvata-raja of Kastha-mandapa (Kathmandu) who had reneged on his treaty....

Apart from the morality of the last, I am extremely intrigued by (1) Chanakya's use of Advisasis; (2) the fact that Chandragupta was a half-caste. This is certainly part of the history of the subalterns in India, which needs to be studied carefully. That the play was able to show these facts clearly was good; it is far more difficult to talk, for example, of the implications of the fact that Shivaji had to be anointed by a Brahmin imported from Kashi - Benares. The point is that there is a subaltern history waiting to be written - unless the Oxford Series has already dealt with all this.

Chanakya's political realism needs to be applauded. He constantly puts samaj-dharma and rashtra-dharma above traditions and conventions and personal loyalties, and even above personal feelings and attachments. The king, he tells Chandragupta, is bound to be lonely; he cannot look after his own happiness. He has to look after the happiness of his people.

Another thing that intrigued me, when I looked up the net for Chanakya, is that the situation of 'Hinduism' in 300 BC was far more fluid that we would like it / expect it to be today. According to the Wiki article, Chanakya was an Ajivika; Chandragupta became a Jain and eventually renounced his throne in favour of his son Bimbisara; and his grandson Ashoka, of course, became Buddhist. The article also notes that the Ajivika religion was eventually absorbed into Hinduism, or what is today known as Hinduism. What a cauldron! And good to know the context.

It would be extremely interesting to compare Chanakya with Machiavelli, in the light of what Fred Lawrence has to say on the latter.

Book Release, Brahman and Person

The Jesuit Community of De Nobili College, Pune, has kindly consented to release the book, Brahman and Person: Essays by Richard De Smet, ed. Ivo Coelho, at 1930 hours, 2 March 2010, which happens to be the 13th death anniversary of Fr De Smet.

The function will take place at De Nobili College, Pune. The speakers are Frs Noel Sheth, SJ and J. Vattanky, SJ, both Indologists who knew Fr De Smet.

The function will be followed by dinner for invitees.

Wednesday 17 February 2010


Heidegger talks in terms of a work of art opening up a world and keeping it open. When I listen to my Neapolitan music, I feel, how true that is! (I am listening to Caruso singing Te vogli bene assai) It opens up the world of Napoli - as I imagine it - and keeps it open for me: the broad lazy expanse of the sea, blue as only blue can be in the Mediterranean; the sunlit stretches of sand and tiny beaches; the hills, with Vesuvius towering menacingly over; the food, the music, the love, the whole culture.... A world I have barely known, really, but which this music has the power to evoke and conjure and open. And then of course Capri: Capri!

Indian music: what kind of world does it open up? My impression is that Indian music does not evoke food and sun and sand and love in the way that Italian / Neapolitan music does.... Perhaps Indian music adheres strictly to the canon: it has to embody one or at most two of the 9 predominant rasas or emotions.... and food, sun, sand are not part of these. Love perhaps. So: when I like Neapolitan music, is it that I am confusing the agreeable with the beautiful? But these are Kantian categories. I think, with Dewey and Heidegger, I want to affirm that the beauty and charm and value of Neapolitan music lies in its ability to open up and hold open a world....

Historical methodology

Just been dipping into Thekkedath's two volume History of the Salesians of Don Bosco in India.

It would be an interesting exercise to tease out of this book the underlying convictions re historical methodology and philosophy of history. My impression is that Fr T.J. studied in the Greg at a time when 'cut-and-past' history - chronicles and 'recording of facts' - was dominant. This could easily be checked out: find out who was teaching at the time, what was the content of the manuals, who were the dominant authors relied upon.

Cultivation of intelligence

Looking at our seminarians in Divyadaan, I realize that there is intelligence - what is often badly lacking is adequate cultivation of intelligence. Absence of sufficient reading, for example: newspapers, magazines, novels... I am not talking about current reading; but the reading that has been lacking during the growing years. It amounts to a lack of exposure. The world of immediacy has not been sufficiently expanded, the world mediated by meaning has remained small, shrunken, limited. I bless God that in my growing years there was enough of this, despite the fact that we were, in retrospect, a family of very limited means.

So if I were to give any advice to parents today, it would be this: expose your child the larger world through reading. True, we are living in an image culture - and there is a large expansion that is possible also through TV and internet. But reading would also be important.

In this respect, the Harry Potter novels have been a good thing. At least there has been some enthusiasm for reading. My nephews tend to read Tolkien - they even find downloadable versions on the net. Vast expansion of the world through Tolkien.

Short sayings

I remember Francis de Sales saying somewhere: Anything that is worth saying can be said briefly. (Fr Olivio was very very upset when I quoted that!)

Mao puts it in a colourful, Chinese way: Better a loud fart than a long lecture.

And among the other memorable short sayings is this one of Ronald Reagan: A simple lie is easier to believe than a complicated truth. (So he would not hesitate to tell people simple lies, I guess.)

Friday 12 February 2010

Don Bosco Nashik shines once again at State level games

After the brilliant success in December 2009 at the District level Amateur Athletics Association, the young athletes of Don Bosco Nashik have done well once again at the State level games held recently. Joel Mohite bagged first place and Pramod Thapa second place in the 100 m running race. Shrirag Pillai took the first place in the 800 m race, whereas Abhijit Singh took the first place in the javelin throw. The Don Bosco team also won the 4x100 m relay race.

At a function held on 8 February 2010, Mr P. Vellarasu, Collector of Nashik, felicitated the athletes, singling out the Don Bosco team, with their principal Fr Diego Nunes and physical instructor Mr Padmakar Ghumre in a special way for having brought honour to the District.

Friday 5 February 2010

Cultural attitudes to violence

I am engaged in editing the papers of the recent Meeting of Christian Philosophers of India (ACPI) held at Dindigul, Tamil Nadu (October 2009), with the topic of A Philosophical Reflection on Violence.

I have just gone through Johnson Puthenpurackal's creative paper, in which he draws on contemporary thinkers such as Heidegger, Marcel and Sartre in order to reflect on violence.

However, he does seem to take certain things for granted, as for example what he calls the Indian and Christian ethos of non-violence.

I am not saying here that he should not. My reflection is in the direction of thoughtful taking possession of. Can we take an ethos of non-violence for granted, for example? Or better: is it true that every culture in the world takes the ethos of non-violence for granted? Or even better: does not this ethos itself demand reflection, thinking, deliberation?

This kind of questioning is provoked by my reading of Japan based novels in the last year or so. If we are to believe people like James Clavell, the traditional Japanese culture has a quite different attitude to violence, one that is quite different from the Indian tradition of ahimsa, or the Christian tradition of non-violence. In this Japanese culture, it would seem that honour, for example, is far more important than life. Thus if someone's honour has been impugned, or is about to be impugned, it is the absolutely honourable thing to commit seppuku, to take one's own life.

I have been trying to find matter on the Japanese attitude to violence on the net, but have not yet been successful.

The matter is complicated by the fact that Japan has integrated Buddhism, with its teaching of non-violence, into itself.

Thursday 4 February 2010

3 Idiots

Just back from seeing 3 Idiots. Very very well done. Racy. Technical quality superb. Vidhu Vinod Chopra; I did not see Chetan Bhagat’s name anywhere. Aamir Khan, Kareena, Madhavan, and (for me) newcomer Omi Vaidya, and of course Boman Irani as Viru Sahastrabuddhe, or Virus as the Boss of the Imperial College of Engineering.

I liked the movie enormously. It upholds an alternative view of education, as something far more than schooling and passing exams. It emphasizes learning, discovery, creativity, enjoyment of learning, rather than rote, memory, going by the book, success, and so on. It encourages people to go after what their hearts desire, rather than plump for the obvious choices that often their parents force upon them.

It ties up of course like a fairy tale and a Hindi movie: Pia is rescued from a loveless marrieage in the nick of time; and Rancho, the main character is, after all, free, still in love with Pia, and is, in fact, an enormously successful man and a world-renowned scientist, Phunsukh Wangdu.

The movie presents difficult moral choices like whether to betray a friend or not; to tell the truth in an interview or not; to take advantage of a leaked paper or not; and tends to come down almost always on the obviously right even if difficult side.

I think Phyllis Wallbank would love this movie...

John de Britto

Feast of St John de Britto today. Britto formed part of the famous Madura mission of the Jesuits founded by Robert de Nobili, with its attempt to found a Catholic mission relatively free of European cultural domination.

Britto took the name of Arulanandar, dressed in saffron robes (kavi), and became a vegetarian. (Beschi was called Viramamunivar.) He was one of the pandaraswamis founded by de Nobili, someone who could approach all castes, unlike de Nobili who could approach only the Brahmins, and no one else.

Today Britto is venerated as a saint, while de Nobili and Beschi are not; why, what might be the reasons, would be an interesting topic for study.

I recall here Dr Ambedkar's criticism of the methods of the Madura mission: these zealous missionaries, he says respectfully, failed to root out the caste attitudes from their converts.

Whatever might be the reasons that led de Nobili to establish two classes of missionaries, and to preserve caste separation even in church, it is clear that today we have to root out every vestige of the caste system from our minds, our hearts, our churches, our communities...

And here is a task both for those who consider themselves high-born, and for those on the other side. "Put on on the mind of Christ."

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Roots of modern Hindu Muslim antipathy

A Pakistani journalist, Nadeem F. Paracha, says that the roots of modern day Hindu-Muslim antipathy lie not in the distant past, but a mere 150 years back in history - in the failure of the 1857 rebellion jointly started by Hindu and Muslim soldiers against their British colonial masters.

After the rebellion, the British became more imposing and introduced a number of modern ideas and technology, some of which, like democracy, suddenly made Muslims aware of a new reality: that in a rule by majority, they would be reduced to a minority. That is when they started identifying themselves with the worldwide Muslim ummah.

A number of conservative Muslim scholars began reshaping Muslim history, turning the Mughal rulers into arch villains for their 'liberal' views and for their detachment from the Turkish caliphate. This led to Muslims in India glorifying the ancient Muslim conquerors, plunderers such as Muhammad of Ghazni and Muhammad Ghori. At the behest of Muhammad Iqbal, the Muslim League gave intellectual respectability to the work of the conservative scholars: to Iqbal, Indian nationalism, propagating a joint Hindu-Muslim struggle, was contrary to the concept of a united Muslim ummah.

On the other hand, a section of Hindu extremists began to glorify their own new heroes.

Why then, Paracha asks, do Pakistani Muslims spend more time celebrating Islamic history outside India, even though now they are a majority in their own country? - He answers in terms of class: it is the middle class that now feels itself a minority in an era of populist democracy; and it is they who are now indulging in reactionary thinking.

The article, "Suffering from a Minority Complex," from the Pakistani daily Dawn has been reprinted in the Sunday Times of India, Mumbai, 31 January 2010, p. 2.

A wonderfully open analysis that does justice to the complexity of the subject. One of those enlightening pieces that one has the good fortune to come across.

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