Sunday 30 May 2010


A William gem:
It is a great gift to be able to lie so as to convince other people. It is a still greater gift to be able to lie so as to convince oneself. William was possessed of the latter gift. (Just - William, London: Macmillan, 1991, 196)

Secularization and the Monk

Swami Shilananda (see the Don Bosco Parish, Nashik blog) was very firm and clear yesterday: the greatest problem of our age, he said, was secularism (he meant secularization). All of us, including religious, including even himself, were becoming secularized. That is why something like Sanjivan Ashram makes no sense to the majority of priests and religious. It is seen as a waste of time. Unless one is doing something useful - like running a school, or doing social work - one is seen as wasting time. Just being a priest is not enough: one has to be a principal, a teacher, a social worker, if one is to be useful. Evangelization - total waste of time. That is why no Jesuit wants to follow him, he said, and certainly not the diocesan priests. But he seems to have hope in the Salesians (of all people!): you are the only ones who can do something. And where does such a perception come from? From his feeling that we are not so far gone out on the limb of secularization, I think....

A great challenge for me, personally. Asato ma sad gamaya... I realized suddenly how this hymn encapsulates the central insights of Sankara and the whole Indian tradition, despite all problems of interpretation: the fact that, compared to That, Tat, this is unreal, and we cannot get attached to this to the forgetfulness of That....

Thursday 27 May 2010

Just William

I had picked up two William books from King's Circle some months ago, and when Avinash was here, I pulled them out and gave them to him to read. He was not fascinated at all by the roguish antics of this brat. But I began reading, and found myself guffawing. I think these 'children's books' are really meant for adults. Only adults can truly appreciate their wry humour. Wonderful. A great laugh.

Just William is the first book of the series by Richmal Crompton. The style isn't set yet: William is a trifle too solemn.

I wonder where I can get the rest of them, and also Billy Bunter.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Zorba the Greek

I tried reading Zorba the Greek some years ago, and found it far less exciting that I had expected it to be. Later I came across the movie version with Anthony Quinn, and sat through it. I was shocked at the denouement, especially at the brutal murder of the young widow with whom the protagonist is in love. Devastating. Never expected something like that. Christian country and all that. The scapegoating mechanism of Girardi came to mind immediately. Yesterday I pulled out the book from our library once again, and opened it: straight to the chapter of the murder.

What is the book trying to say? What kind of philosophy of life? I have not read enough of it to make up my mind as yet. Certainly there is a contrast between "the bloodless categories of metaphysics" and the "elemental living out of life" as represented by Zorba. But Zorba is not a god, neither is he a superman. He is as human as anyone else. Perhaps he is - Zorba the Buddha? But a vibrant type of Buddha. Perhaps Osho, our backdoor neighbour, was trying to get at this, and perhaps even modelling himself on this?

Sunday 23 May 2010

For the love of the Atman...

Powerful Upanisadic statements of the human yearning for the Absolute, the Highest, the Greatest, Brahman:
Mark well, it is not for the love of the husband that the husband is dearly loved. Rather it is for the love of the Atman that the husband is dearly loved. 
It is not for the love of the wife that the wife is dearly loved. Rather it is for the love of the Atman that the wife is dearly loved. 
It is not for the love of sons that sons are dearly loved. Rather it is for the love of the Atman that sons are dearly loved.
It is not for the sake of contingent beings (bhuta) that contingent beings are dearly loved. Rather it is for the love of the Atman that contingent beings are dearly loved. 
It is the Atman, indeed, that should be seen, heard, thought on and deeply pondered. By seeing the Atman and hearing about him, by thinking of him and discerning him, this whole [universe] is known. (Brh. Ar. Up. 2, 4) 
The longing for the Brahman-Atman is like an arrow that pierces through the Upanisads.

The Song of Songs is another great text that sings of the love for God. But the Song of Songs is more: it sings of the mutual love of God and the human being.

All of which frames beautifully the religious vows that our brothers and sisters will be uttering tomorrow...

But Jesus reminds us in the gospel of John: You did not choose me, I chose you. The initiative is God's. And in the First Letter of John: In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us first.

God has taken the first step. God has loved us first. And his love will never fail, it is eternal like the mountains.

Our love instead is ephemeral, like the morning dew. The mystery, and the great consolation, of course, is that even our desire for God is God's gift to us. We would not be seeking him if he had not drawn us to him. No one can come to the Father unless the Father draw him. Yet there is our freedom: drawn, we can still resist; pulled, we can pull away. For without this freedom there is no possibility of love.

And so our religious life: the adventure and the struggle to say yes, yes, yes, and to keep saying yes.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Obit: BC Philosophy Professor, Lonergan Institute Founding Director Joseph F.X. Flanagan, S.J.

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (5-16-10) - Rev. Joseph F.X. Flanagan, S.J., a beloved Jesuit priest and highly respected professor of philosophy whose seminal programs helped shape both the Philosophy Department and undergraduate education at Boston College, died Friday in the Jesuit residence at St. Mary’s Hall on the BC campus. He was 84.

Joseph Flanagan, SJ: Among the most notable accomplishments of his 47-year tenure at Boston College, Fr. Flanagan used grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities to establish BC’s Perspectives Program, a four-year interdisciplinary course of study that integrates the humanities and social and natural sciences through the exploration of the great books of Western Culture.

In an effort to relate classroom learning to actual life experience, he co-founded the Pulse Program in 1969, a popular service-learning program that combines the study of philosophy and theology with weekly volunteer service in more than 40 Boston schools, homeless shelters and community agencies.

Both programs have been widely replicated at colleges and universities around the country.

In addition, Fr. Flanagan founded and directed the Lonergan Institute at Boston College to explore the work of the Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan, considered among the most distinguished philosophers of the 20th Century.

“I don’t know anyone who embodied the spirit of wonder that is at the heart of philosophy as did Joe Flanagan,” said BC Philosophy Chairman Patrick Byrne who, as a student at Boston College worked with Fr. Flanagan to establish the Pulse Program in 1969.  “Fr. Flanagan always thought that philosophy was about transforming the ways we live our lives. He recognized that our encounters with people who had suffered or were in difficult circumstances gave students the greatest opportunity to understand what philosophy had to do with living a full life in a meaningful way.”

William B. Neenan, S.J., vice president at Boston College and longtime friend and colleague, described Fr. Flanagan as an individual who had a dramatic and lasting effect on the students he taught and mentored. “It could be said that Fr. Flanagan was as influential in shaping undergraduate education at Boston College as anyone over the past 40 years,” said Fr. Neenan.   “Not only was he wonderful with students, he was also a great Jesuit who was very supportive of the personal and academic endeavors of his fellow Jesuits.”

Added Joseph A. Appleyard, S.J., BC’s vice president for University mission and ministry who worked with Fr. Flanagan for nearly 50 years, “Joe Flanagan was profoundly convinced that the life of the mind was a way to God and a way to help people, and that thinking about what it means to exist, to know, to create, and to live together brought us deeper into the life of God and showed us how to make the world a better place.  These weren’t separate realities for him.  He devoted his life to understanding how they fit together and to showing his students—and, really, his colleagues and friends too--why this was such a worthwhile way to live.”

Born in West Roxbury, Massachusetts on the Fourth of July in 1925, Fr. Flanagan attended Boston College High School before joining the U.S. Navy upon the outbreak of World War II. He was sent by the Navy to Brown University for the V12 program and then to Washington University Dental School, where he earned a doctoral degree in oral surgery. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1948 at Shadowbrook Novitiate in Lenox, Mass., and later earned a master’s degree from Boston College, an S.T.L from Weston College and a Ph.D from Fordham University.

Fr. Flanagan joined the faculty at Boston College in 1963, and served as department chairman from 1965-1993 before being named full professor in 1998. He also served as director of the Lonergan Institute from 1993 to the present. He is the author of the book The Quest of Self-Knowledge: An Essay in Understanding Bernard Lonergan’s Philosophy and dozens of scholarly articles and publications on subjects ranging from epistemology to aesthetics.

Fr. Flanagan is survived by four siblings: former Massachusetts Suffolk County District Attorney Newman Flanagan, the Rev. James Flanagan, S.O.L.T., Kevin Flanagan and Rosemary [Flanagan] Cronin.

Visiting hours will be held Tuesday, May 18, from 4-8 p.m., at St. Mary’s Hall at Boston College. A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 19, at St Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill, with internment at Campion Center in Weston, Mass.

Monday 17 May 2010

Upamanyu Chatterjee

English, August is extraordinary by any standards.

From a trite point of view, Agastya / English / August is Upamanyu's alter ego. Where else does one mine all the minute observations of life and human nature, if not from one's own experience? So both Agastya and Upamanyu are Bengalis, both have done English literature in college, and both are IAS.

English, August has been described as one of the first looks into the consciousness of the 'Western' educated (upper) middle class Indian.

It has been described as a scathing expose of the IAS.

It has been described as a peek into the forgotten India of a thousand dusty mofussil towns. I can't help thinking Madna might be Meghnagar or Jhabua or Alirajpur.

The great theme of the novel is boredom. Nothing interests Agastya - or, almost nothing. He does not like to miss his morning exercise, he likes good food and a good drink, he is into drugs, he loves sex - but provincial town India bores him.

Still, what struck me is that Agastya is bored but never afraid. He lies through his teeth, and he enjoys lying. He takes the servant class for granted; there is no sense of (false?) shame or guilt here. He is not beyond stealing his Collector's car keys, just for fun. He takes on the sabhapati of the village where he is posted as BDO in training. He is able to get his orders obeyed, and immediately: see the incident of the water tankers in Chipanthi. He chats amiably with the Naxalite Rao in the same village, even argues with him. Agastya may be bored; afraid he is not; he belongs to the upper middle class, his father is the governor of Bengal, and he knows he belongs.

I am curious now to read Upamanyu's other novels. Also because he is 1959 born, which does make quite a link, for all the differences.

His remarks on the Dutch hospital and missionary work are quite outrageous, but perhaps that is how a good many IAS officers see mission hospitals?

His take on Baba Amte is interesting, and far more respectful. The mission hospital thing he is just not able to enter into. An outsider's perspective. Quite hostile, though in his usual serio-comic way: he imagines the missionaries phoning the Vatican every evening (he calls the pope Ringo George I) with reports about conversions, and how two Muslims snatched the medicines from their hands and ran off before they could be baptized. (246)

I found myself laughing aloud on occasion: some of Chatterjee's observations are so true.

Jainism in South Kanara

One of the most interesting things I learnt from my brief trip to Shirva and Mangalore, was that there are Jain communities in India that are not Gujarati. There is a very large and powerful indigenous Jain community in Moodbidri, if I am not mistaken. We passed through the town, and Maxim D'Souza pointed out the Thousand Pillared Temple, a famous centre of pilgrimage and several educational institutions, besides, naturally, plenty of businesses owned and managed by Jains. (Maxim himself studied in a Jain school.)

I knew, of course, that Jainism was once far more extensively spread in India than now: there is the famous statue at Sravanabelagola; there is Chambarlene and the other Jain temples at Mhasrul in Nashik; and so on. But I had no idea that there were still flourishing Jain communities that are not of Gujarati extraction. This is a pleasant discovery!

Saturday 15 May 2010

Joseph Flanagan, SJ, passes away

Joseph Flanagan, SJ of Boston College, one of the leading lights of the Lonergan movement, passed away suddenly a few minutes ago. Here is Fred's email to me:
Dear Ivo,
Unfortunately, I have to report that between 4 and 4:30 pm today, Friday, Joe Flanagan had a massive heart attack and died. Harvey Egan, who lives next door to him, heard him take a hard fall, ran over, called 911, and anointed him. He emailed me shortly thereafter. When I read the email and we were heading to St Mary's, Kerry called with the definitive news. When Sue and I arrived at the Emergency Room at St Elizabeth's Hospital, his sister and local brother were there with their spouses along with Kerry.
Fred and Sue
Joe was a scholar, but more than a scholar, he was a paternal and avuncular figure in the Lonergan movement: gently encouraging, finding money, appreciating... We will miss him. And his ultra-unorthodox (to my Indian mind) ways of dressing: green shorts to the Lonergan Workshop, for example, and his  great shock of silver hair. 

Thank you for all you have been, Joe. May you be rewarded with endless delight as you discover the truth of all that you taught and believed in, and as you meet old friends up there, BL included. 

Photo: Joe Flanagan and Fred Lawrence

Thursday 13 May 2010

Central Library, Panjim

The State Central Library, Panjim, Goa: the oldest library in Asia, according to the Curator, Carlos M. Fernandes.

Recently the Library acquired the holdings of the venerable Instituto Menezes Braganca, thanks to an ordinance by the Government. (Lots of flip sides to this acquisition, unfortunately. The precious paintings seem to have disappeared, for instance.) The IMB, I learnt, is the successor of the Instituto Vasco da Gama, which used to publish the journal Boletim Inst. Vasco da Gama, now Boletim Inst. Menezes Braganca. Good to know these things. The Central Library has some but not all the issues of these magazines; I hope the IMB has the rest! Precious stuff. And there are people who actually want to destroy 450 years of colonial history!

Sobit amchem Goem

I have some wonderful photos from Goa, but I need to work up the energy to mount them onto this blog.... photos of karvandas, jackfruits, bimblis; of Chorao, Narvem, Malar and Divar. Before all this beauty disappears, sucked into the morass of rubbish and garbage, I want to immortalize it.

There is something different about Goa. You step out of Goa into Banda, and you feel different. You step out of Goa south into Karwar, and again the same feeling. Different. What is it, really? Some suggest it is the colonial influence. It can't be the vegetation, because that's the same north and south of Goa, and sometimes even better because pristine and unspoilt. It must be the culture. Meaning as constitutive!

By the way, I learnt that the word Goa - Goem originates from the Munda word Goem-bab, which has nothing to do with the famous Konkani writer and protagonist Shenoy Goembab, but means a ear of rice bending with heaviness.... Munda is of course one of the great Adivasi languages. Surprising to know that this Adivasi language seems to have provided the earliest roots of Goa! All this information from Cosme Costa's book on Apostolic Christianity in Pre-Portuguese Goa.

Chorao and Divar

I finally managed to set foot on Divar. Vincent Luis and I set out from Soccorro, went round via Saloi, Ekoshi and the Pomburpa Ferry to Chorao. After wandering around a bit - not too much, really - we found the road to the Narve Ferry. We diverted a bit till we found the Saptakoteshwar Temple and two little springs. One was really filthy, with tourist refuse of the most execrable sort and a family attempting a picnic. The other was also filthy, but not as bad. A little boy called Durgesh volunteered to show us the way, and despite the protestations of his kaku that there was no road through the fields, he showed us one. Of course we had to jump down durigs (bones creaking), wade across mucky fields (the spring does work!), till we came across, in a most unlikely place, a site protected by the Archaeological Survey of India: a probably very ancient temple carved into the rock, with a spring adjacent. But the 'civilized' spring was a little away from it: a little cistern, with two plastic pipes jutting out of it for 'bath'. We had our bath and even attempted to drink some of the water.

But the land is marvellous: green, fertile, in the middle of summer: with areca nut plantations, coconut trees, and hundreds of temples. What Goa must have looked like when the Portuguese chanced upon it.

Across the Narve Ferry, is Divar. Quite a different experience. If the Narve part of Chorao is still thoroughly Hindu, Divar - Malar - at least the parts we saw - are unmistakably Christian. And early Portuguese Goan Christian, if we are to go by the very different architecture of the churches and chapels we saw: squarish, even round.

At the Candelaria round chapel we bumped into the parents of Fr Feroze Fernandes, of Pilar, editor of Vavreaddancho Ixtt, and also learnt that Fr Joseph Almeida, provincial of Gauhati, was at home. A little search brought us up to Joe's sister's house, and there he was, in the middle of a good Goan lunch. We politely declined the invitation to lunch, took photos of the St Mathias' church of Malar, and left. No time to climb up to the main church of Divar, the one that is so clearly visible from the Konkan Railway. The Ribandar Ferry, a very un-Goan lunch next to the Goa Institute of Management, to Miramar to Vincy's place, to Betim to get some fresh fish (5 or 6 halwa at Rs 230 a kg, and prawns at Rs 200 a kg), and then home.

Ivo dos Remedios Furtado

Ivo dos Remedios Furtado, friend, philosopher and guru of Prof. S.M. Tadkodkar, HoD Marathi, Goa University, turned out to be not only a history buff and a 78 year old man of wide and passionate interests - among which dog training - but also someone with a rather unique connection to the history of the Salesian presence in Goa. Ivo was a boarder - one of the first boarders, if I am not mistaken - in Don Bosco Matunga. He had the privilege of accompanying, at Fr Maschio's request, the first group of Salesian missionaries by ship from Bombay to Goa (Fr Scuderi was already in Goa, it is understood) - among them Fr Giuseppe Moja.

Olivinho Gomes, Konkani Literature in Roman Script

A few days ago - 8 May 2010 to be precise - a book on Konkani Literature in Roman Script, written by the late Dr Olivinho Gomes, was released at the Kala Academy, Panjim, Goa. It might be worth getting a copy to see what Dr Gomes came up with in his last book. Prof. Tadkodkar told me that Dr Gomes was a great fighter for the rights of Roman script Konkani, without being against any other script. I also learnt that, contrary to what I had heard, Dr Gomes had a sociology and IAS background, and not a linguistics and IAS background. He did much for the setting up and promotion of the Konkani Dept. at the Goa University, Prof. Tadkodkar said, but did not receive the recognition and appreciation he deserved.

Angelo da Fonseca

Teotonio R. De Souza has an article in O Heraldo, Saturday, 24 April 2010, p. 8, with the title "A Forgotten Goan Christian Painter."

I did not know that Angelo da Fonseca was being ignored...

I did know that almost no one knows about Inacio Vaz of Guirim...

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Pre-Portuguese Christianity in Goa?

Back from a rather interesting holiday at home... Lots of things to share, but let me begin from the latest, and perhaps the most surprising: the suggestion that there were Christians in Goa before the Portuguese arrived.

The idea has been proposed, I believe, by several people, but the book I have been reading is Cosme Jose Costa, Apostolic Christianity in Goa and in the West Coast (Pilar, Goa: Xavierian Publication Society, 2009).

I was intrigued, and at first quite unwilling to believe this. But Fr Costa does make a case, which, even if not foolproof, is worth looking at. He speaks of Goa as a trading centre with the Middle East and with Rome (which is well proved). He speaks of the Apostle Thomas making his way over land to Kerala - and it is not implausible that he passed through Goa and the Konkan coast. He also examines the evidence of the Apostle Bartholomew having done more or less the same thing. There is a ch. 6 dedicated to the examination of Pre-Portuguese references to Christianity in Goa. Ch. 7 examines the vestiges of Pre-Portuguese Christian Customs in Goa and the Konkan. Ch. 8 concludes the book with the "latest archaeological discovery": a "Thomas Cross" hidden in a smallish monument, surmounted by a Latin Cross, near the old Goa harbour. The Thomas Cross bears an inscription in Pahlavi, which, Costa reports, was the liturgical language of the church associated with the Metropolitan of Fars. (35)

Some of the suggestions are extremely interesting, and will sound even preposterous: the Betal worshipped quite commonly in Goa, according to Costa, is a corruption of Bartholomew. A certain Fr H.O. Mascarenhas, reports Costa, even proposed that there were Christian temples dedicated to the persons of the Trinity: Abanath / Bhutnath (Father Lord), Ravalnath (from Rabboni - Rabulna - Rabulnath) / Bhai rav (Brother Lord), and Atman / Bhavka Devta, Santeri, Ajadevi (Spirit). (See Konkannachem Apostolik Kristanvponn). (67-68)

What then happened to this early Christianity, if it did exist? Costa proposes that the Portuguese destroyed the vestiges and forcibly assimilated these Christians to their own form of Christianity. Those who resisted were among those who fled Goa, he says.

Read the book! Perhaps there is something here.

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