Murphy’s Law

March 29, 2014 at 10:20 am

There is a saying that I heard upon arriving in India:   “ If you do not have patience before coming to India, you will learn it.  If you have patience, you will lose it!”  When you go to the airport in India, you have to leave plenty of time.  The following is a typical experience.    I had arranged for a driver to pick me up at 630 am to run me out to the airport for an 830 flight.   He had been picking me up at 11 all week to take me to the office in Delhi and had been reliable.  Apparently he overslept.  His phone was turned off when I tried to reach him.  Finally at 6:40, I decided to overpay for a hotel car so that I would not miss my plane.    Before you enter an airport in India, you always have to show your itinerary  and passport to a soldier.  It is generally a formality.  I have always had an itinerary, but this morning as I drove out to the airport, I could not locate mine.   I was wondering if I would miss my plane or if they would somehow accommodate me and let me enter the airport without the paperwork when I finally located it after tearing apart my backpack for the third time.  After I handed my newfound itinerary to the soldier, he looked at it and yelled to another soldier,  “Spice Jet! Dehradun!”  twice.  Then he directed me to go talk to the other soldier who informed me that I had to go to Terminal 1.  Now normally that would not be a big deal in the US.  However in Delhi, there are 3 terminals and they are all 15-20 minutes apart from each other.  So I hailed a cab and asked to go to Terminal 1.  As we drove to Terminal 1, I was wondering why I was so trusting that soldiers would know what flights leave from which terminal.  That made me a little concerned.   I thought that I needed to do a better job of finding out from which terminal my flights depart in the future.  Still,  I did not bother checking my I-phone for the time.  At this point, I figured that if I missed the plane, so what.   As St Paul says,  “All things work together for good….”

As I was collecting my things from security, my cell starting ringing in my backpack. It was my driver asking if I still needed a ride to the airport.  I explained that I was at the airport. I then checked the time on my cell  and saw that I still had 20 minutes until my flight boarded for Dehradun.  I bought a mug of green tea, relaxed, and said my morning prayer.

George Harrison and More Monkey Business

March 29, 2014 at 10:19 am

As we were passing through a national forest preserve, there were numerous monkeys along the side of the road.      At one point, I looked to the right about 200 feet off  the road, there was a little altar of sorts.  Probably about 3 feet high containing, I am sure, one of the 3 million Hindu gods.  Facing it with their backs to the road, were 5 monkeys of various sizes.  Could have been a family.  They looked like they were sitting there staring at it.  ( I have been told that Hindus consider the monkey as the last animal reincarnation before returning as a human.  These monkeys have futures as altar boys or girls).   They were as cute as can be.

When I arrived at the hotel where Kathleen has been this week while I was working in Delhi, she told me a story of a monkey swinging onto the balcony of a room, entering an open door, and proceeding to go directly to the mini bar where the little rascal was found drinking the artificial dairy products!  Kathleen warned me to keep the door to the balcony locked as the monkeys have been known to simply open them to enter a room.  She said that she has found monkey scat on our balcony.

I am sitting now on the balcony looking out over Rishikesh which is a city on the Ganges.   There is a mountain range in the distance beyond the city.  Rishikesh is where the Beatles came in the mid 60s and met George’s maharishi.  As we drove through the forest,  George’s “My Sweet Lord” ( All Things Must Pass) was running through my mind.   When we reached the city, it felt like we could be anywhere in India despite its Beatle magic. Suddenly, my driver slammed on his brakes as a large hog darted across the road in front of him.  I thought we were going to hit it for sure.  Then we turned a corner and saw a large oxen use it horns to lift up a young oxen about 20 percent of his size and throw the youngster on its side.  My driver exclaimed.

Below me now as I look out over the city of Rishikesh is the sound of running water tumbling down a mountainside.   Shalom.

20 minutes after writing this message I heard some loud noises outside.  It was a monkey screaming at another monkey.  I looked over to my right and on a balcony next to us was a little monkey with an apple in his mouth and two more in his arms.  The hotel rooms all have apples and oranges set out for the guests.  He tried to shimmy quickly down two stories on a supporting structure of the hotel, but found it difficult to do so with his arms full of apples.  But the other monkey was threatening him so he dropped the apples from his arms and scooted down.  As soon as those apples fell, the other monkey jumped face first  flying through the air after them.  He picked them up and ran off.  Our other friend ran off with an apple still held in his mouth.

I have yet another postscript to add now 24 hours later.  Kathleen was sitting on the balcony this morning reading when a monkey walked across the front of the balcony on the other side of the railing.  After it went next door, it turned around and stared at Kathleen.  He must have sensed her fear.  He walked over to the door that was cracked open to our room and opened it.  He entered and took an apple and an orange that housekeeping had left for us.  He walked out and went to our neighbor’s balcony to enjoy his snack.  See Kathleen’s picture at www.

Rich Man, Poor Man

March 29, 2014 at 10:10 am

The readings for today’s liturgy reinforce the Courage to Change reading from today ( see post immediately below):

“Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings.  Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord .”    The Bible often presents life in stark terms.  You are forced to make a decision.  You can clearly see the implications of one’s choices.  This quote reminds me again of where an individual finds the source of their self- worth.  Is it in the affirmation of others or is it in God?  Another stark choice is presented in the New Testament reading which asks us whether we will care for the poor man at our door or ignore him.

Whether the Hebrew scriptures or our New Testament, the Bible frequently wages  what is called “class warfare” by some today.  You are not allowed to be comfortable with the idea of chasing money or building security for oneself.  Recall the parable of the farmer who builds a second silo for his grain so that he may enjoy the bread while others are in need, but dies before the silo is completed.    The poor may be more visible in India, but they are present everywhere in the world.  They may be isolated or sheltered where they cannot be seen frequently in the US.  The Bible keeps them ever before us reminding us to take care of them.  “Jesus said to the Pharisees: ‘ there was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.  And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.’”  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that we should give to all who beg.  He encourages us to share our bounty or experience of God’s abundance. God is the source of all.  We are the fiduciaries of what we receive.  It is not really ours.  We must use it well.

Lord help us to discern your way this day.  Your thoughts are above our thoughts.  Your ways are above our ways.  Help us be faithful stewards of what you have given us.  Let us not be fools who are separated easily from their money, but let us not cling to it either out of fear or insecurity.  Let us be prudent and wise with its use and spend it as you would have us spend it.  Change our frame of reference, our paradigm,  our view of the world as it needs to be opened up or broadened to accommodate You .  Use this Lent, to purify and cleanse us so that we may see You in others and find Your way.

4th Step of 12 Step Program Hitting Right Between The I’s

March 29, 2014 at 10:04 am

Courage to Change reading was directed right at me this morning.  Perhaps I was ready for it since I had a long quiet time.  Perhaps I was ready for it because I systematically worked steps 1-4 in January and February.  Whatever the reason, thank you Lord for your word to me today.

Step 4:  Made a SEARCHING and FEARLESS moral inventory of ourselves.

One of the topics for this inventory is self-worth.  “ I have found that  I have always judged my value on the basis of my accomplishments, or on what other people said about me.  This meant I had to work all the time, or constantly make myself the center of attention.  At best my sense of satisfaction was fleeting.”  Call it people pleasing. Call it fear of failing and needing to succeed.  It has been and remains a big motivator for me.  It is very human to need this affirmation from others. It does make us feel good to experience the respect that can come with a position of authority, responsibility, or money.  It does feel good to feel part of the “in crowd” that may be the equivalent of the “Big Men on Campus” even if it is a case of being a big fish in a small pond oftentimes.  But all that is shifting sand if that is where we find our self-worth.  I used to enjoy reading books on the Holocaust such as Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning” or Elie Wiesel’s books as well as Solzhenitsyn’s books ( A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) on the Russian Gulag  which capture human beings who have been stripped bare of all externalities.  They have no fancy cars, expensive artwork, big houses.  They are all gone.  They are no longer respected physicians, actors, athletes or business people.  It is all gone. What is left?  How do they react?  Where do they find their self- worth?

“With Step Four, I realized that part of my self-worth can be based on my ability to love other people.  Saying a kind word, writing a considerate note, or just taking time out from my other thoughts to appreciate another human being, enriches my entire day.  I have the power to feel good about myself, regardless of my achievements, whether or not other people validate my worthiness.”

Step 4 follows steps which foster a connection with one’s Higher Power as one comes to understand who or what that means for them.   Hence today’s reading closed with a quote from Abraham Lincoln who is not often viewed as a religious man.  Yet some of his writings reflect a deep relationship or understanding of the workings of the Almighty.  Perhaps borne out of presiding over a bloody civil war and his experience of depression:

“It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels worthy of himself and claims kindred to the great God who made him.”

Intellectually I recognize and acknowledge that God is truly the source of our self-worth.  We are children of a loving God. We are His/Her kindred.   Let us ask the Lord that

“ We may grasp with our hearts how we are immersed in love.  May we recognize You in others and in the events of our lives.   Experiencing your love, may we share your love with our brothers and sisters.  May we say a kind word and appreciate those with whom we spend time today.  May we love as You love.”

St Joseph and Jim Susi pray for us

March 19, 2014 at 1:40 pm

On St Joseph’s Feast  Day,  some students would spread out table clothes on the cafeteria table, light candelabra and bring in elaborate meals.  These were the Italian students at my high school celebrating their heritage.  It always falls shortly after St Patrick’s Day.   Wikepedia indicates that the celebrations originated in Sicily when the intercessory prayers of St Joseph were credited with ending a drought.  I know that we had a lot of Sicilians at Fenwick, but I have always associated the celebration with the larger Italian family.   In retrospect, I appreciate the Catholic culture that I experienced growing up in a bit of an Irish/Italian/Polish ghetto  while being educated in the Catholic school system.  But I digress…St Joseph is a patron saint for a few groups.

St Joseph the Worker  is the patron saint of laborers.  The Catholic Worker includes him on its mast head and also has one of its original homes named after him.  Of course, we always view him as a carpenter.  It is just as likely that he was a masonry worker.  A humble common laborer.  Probably living at a subsistence level like so many masonry workers in India.

He is also the patron saint of a good death which I learned  on St Joseph’s Feast Day shortly before another wonderful Italian  brother,  Jim Susi, entered the afterlife.  I happened to attend a noon hour Mass at the Cathedral  a few years ago and the priest shared Joseph’s role  for the dying as part of his homily.  I realized at that Mass that Jim had fought the good fight, but was not going to make it.  He was a Navy Seal and fought a terrible cancer  to the bitter end only accepting death a few days before he died.

Of course, Joseph was also  the father of Jesus.  We do not know much about him from the Gospel narratives, but he who knows the son,  will know the father.  Don’t all of us sons find it spooky sometimes how we mirror our fathers?   I am sure  that there must have been much of Joseph in Jesus since  we all learn how to relate to the world from our fathers and mothers.

St Joseph and brother Jim Susi pray for us that we may reflect the faithfulness and love of our Heavenly Father.  Pray that we may possess the wisdom of God  to see others and the world as God does…grounded in God’s love.  Pray for us now and at  the hour of our death. Amen.

Demographic Dividend or Time Bomb?

March 16, 2014 at 12:20 pm

According to the Times of India (TOI),  “About 50% or India’s I.21 billion population is less than 25 years old.”   This  bulge is frequently referred to as a demographic dividend that provides an advantage for India when compared to other emerging or growing economies such as China’s.  However, rather than being an advantage it could be a disadvantage.   The public sector needs to be cleaned up and the private sector needs to be freed up  in order to provide jobs for this generation of the future as illustrated by the following statistics cited by TOI:

“India ranks 134th of 189 countries, according to a World Bank report on ease of doing business.  On ease of starting a business, it ranks even lower: 166.  The report says that 35 permissions/procedures are required to construct a warehouse.”  To open a bar and restaurant in one of the states ( Maharashta)  requires 38 licenses.  All of these steps create opportunities for bribery.    Corruption is cited as the first or second issue by voters in this year’s  political campaign.   There is constant discussion in the newspapers that this red tape needs to be eliminated to free entrepreneurs from “rent seeking” bureaucrats.

The  corrupt political ruling class does very well for themselves.  They are definitely in the 1 percent if not the .1 of one percent.  It is hard to imagine that they will be interested in Lenten repentance ( 🙂 ) .  There is an election coming up in a couple of months and the anti-corruption party that  won popular support in Delhi a few months ago is attempting to field a national party.  Unfortunately, its leader is making one mistake after another.  He resigned after being in office less than one month to make a political point and has threatened to jail the media recently since they are acting like a free press acts.    India is another democratic experiment.  60 years old.   Folks here are frustrated as they are in the US with the political process and lack of effective governance.  A “tough guy” is running ahead in the polls presently.

Speaking of the election, the press commonly refers to “Sops”.  Sops are what the politicians not only promise but actually provide to certain constituencies.  Want to pay less for your water?  We can arrange that!   One of the more interesting sop requests was reported in today’s paper.  In the state of Haryana, a group of men have banded together because of the “ gender imbalance resulting out of widespread female” infanticide.   The guys have coined a slogan “Get us a bride to get our vote.”   20 is considered the ideal age for marriage in the rural areas of Haryana.  Surveys have shown that almost 15 percent of the men 25-29 remain unmarried.  While the bachelors are not really serious about a candidate or the government finding them brides,  they have contributed to raising awareness about the need to save female infants.    The ratio of women to men in Haryana is 877:1000.  See one of my earlier posts about why female infanticide is so prevalent.  The men are also complaining that unemployment is the reason why they cannot find a suitable woman.

According to the Economic Times, there is some good news on the poverty front in India which may be encouraging for employing the demographic bulge. In the past decade, more than 140 million people or 2.18 percent of the population have moved past the poverty line.    Ten years ago 40 percent of the population lived in extreme poverty earning $1.25/day.  Now it is 25 percent.  The “moderately poor”  earn from $1.25-2/day. That percentage has stayed relatively stable as it increased from 35 to 37 percent.  The increase in the standard of living is more apparent among the next two categories of “near poor” and the “developing middle class”.  The near poor ( $2-4/day) have increased form 20 percent to 29 percent and the developing middle class ( $4-13/day) has gone from 4 to 8 percent.   Stats are from the International Labor Organization.

Some quick observations:

1)      This is good news?  I suppose it is positive that there is a bit of a rising tide.  For India’s sake, I hope that people do not feel left behind by the benefits of globalization.  Otherwise, it would not be surprising to see either a Fascist leader or the Great Socialist leader emerge.

2)      Wonder how differently it feels to be moderately poor versus extremely poor?  A distinction that is perhaps meaningful to those who talk about the poor rather than to the poor themselves.

3)      Provides new perspective on the beggars that I see daily to whom people will give coins that are the equivalent of nickels and dimes.   Mr. Shah has counseled me in the past that these folks all have homes and families to which they can return.  He is a bit impatient with them.   I often wonder if one should encourage young children’s begging as it may become their lifelong occupation.

4)      Anirudh Krishna of Duke has shown that folks in the developing middle class are one illness away from slipping back into poverty.

5)      Add up the percentages and you have 99 percent.   Reminds me of the 99 percent movement a few years ago in the US.  Curious coincidence or an economic global phenomenon?

6)      Our driver and housemaid fit in the developing middle class along with  textile mill workers, cash crop farmers, shop salesman, carpenters, auto rickshaw drivers.   The term of developing middle class seems a misnomer.  Mr. Shah would like to leave India and go to Dubai or somewhere where he would make enough money that he could save some.  He promises to wait until we go back to the US. 🙂

7)      Perhaps we have adjusted to India, but it does seem that in general folks are making do albeit at a subsistence level.  Yet, there is still plenty of work for the Missionaries of Charity.

India is Blessed Teresa’s land where she desired to do what is pleasing to God in the smallest detail.  She sought to “ discern carefully and obey the slightest manifestations of God’s will.” ( Mother Teresa  Come Be My Light by Brian Kolodiejchuk).  She knew that she was called “to bring Christ into the unhappy holes of the slums of the Calcutta poor…nursing the sick in their homes—helping the dying to make their peace with God…helping the beggars of the streets to lead respectful lives.”  Making a “home for the lame, the blind , the outcasts of human society…to bring souls to God, and God to souls.”

Bird Sanctuary

March 11, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Just back from US.  2nd night sleeping.  Slept from 1030 to 630.    How great is that.  Take that jet lag.  But skipped working out since I am afraid that I am getting a cold.   Instead I sat on our balcony looking over the beautifully landscaped courtyard.   Sunny.  Mild.  Watching  the bird kingdom wake up.  All kinds of variety of birds.  Medium sized green ones. Tiny birds. The size of hummingbirds. Flitting in pairs across the courtyard from tree to tree just above me.  Dark colored.  Bluish tint.  Then in the trees of our neighbors, 2 large birds with very long tails and extraordinary beaks.  Camouflaged by their brown color.  They are similar in size to a large black crow but their beaks and tails have to be 12-18 inches in length.   Then later, there is another large bird feeding on some kind of berry or seedlings in another tree in our neighbor’s yard.  Also similar in size to a large crow but with a brown trim body speckled with white spots.  This is what I am missing when I go to yoga or head downstairs to the workout facility to run on the treadmill.

Now a couple hours later, there is a loud cacophony of honking horns rising up from the streets below.  A constant din.  Then I hear pigeons that like to roost where we have a closet of water pipes on our back balcony.  There were four of them inside the metal grills before I chased them away.  The Muslims consider them holy birds of a sort.  When Muhammad was fleeing some warlords with whom he had been mixing it up, he ducked into a cave full of pigeons.  His enemies passed on and could not find him.  So the Muslims love to feed the pigeons and spread seeds out on the floor of their open mosques.  Kathleen thinks that we should leave them alone.  I guess that they will not hurt anything.  Our Muslim Man Friday likely will not want to mess with them.