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While My Guitar Gently Weeps

November 10, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Newspapers always highlight the ugly underside of our cities.  The items that follow highlight events that are unusual to a Westerner’s eyes.  India is a wonderful place and this post should not diminish the richness that can be found for anyone willing to embrace the diverse experiences present.    Here are some of the items that appear all too often in the local news:

There are no shootings and almost no knifings.  I think that I may have read of one.    People frequently  strangle each other instead.  Suicide usually occurs by drinking poison and women are the ones generally committing suicide.

Electrocutions by power lines.  Power lines fall on people and/or their homes.

Loose wires also seem to kill folks all the time and  I mistakenly thought that it was a freak accident when Trappist Monk Thomas Merton was electrocuted by a fan in SE Asia.

Rape is unbelievably common.  The rapes of vulnerable, often  impoverished, lower caste women and children are in the paper every day.

Similarly, parents ( I suspect the fathers) do not like to have daughters.  Men outnumber women 10-9.  It is not unusual for baby girls to be aborted.  If born, they are often found abandoned.  I even read one article where an abandoned baby had been partially eaten by dogs.  Apparently, girls are unwanted because they leave the family and go to live with their husbands’ families.  The brides’ families also have to provide a dowry to the grooms family.

I have already read a few times that the dowry has been a cause of friction between the families.  It is not uncommon to read that the grooms’ families are not happy with the amount of the dowry.   In 3 instances, I have read where the wife has committed suicide by jumping off a building or drinking poison.  One of the women had even been married for a few years and the dowry was still a contentious issue.

India views itself as a “religious” country. Yet women and the vulnerable are not treated well.  Perhaps the behaviors cited above are a reflection of what happens to human nature when it is stressed by poverty.  Perhaps the abominal treatment of women in India in general is the result of the infanticide of women.  The disproportionate numbers and a culture whose scriptural view  may hide women away in purdah likely leads to dysfunctional relationships between the genders.   Thomas Aquinas considered our sexual drives a human appetite akin to hunger and our appetite for food.   It could be that the frustration of that appetite engenders the all too commonplace violent acts of rape.

I read in the New York Times where a woman who made a lot of money with one of our American corporate icons is establishing a foundation to address the plight of women.  Clearly an issue.

George Weigel’s  The Truth of Catholicism has a quote from JPII in 1997 when receiving the credential of the US Ambassador to the Vatican:

“  No expression of today’s American commitment to liberty and justice for all can be more basic than the protection afforded to those in society who are most vulnerable.  The  USA was founded on the conviction that an inalienable right to life was a self-evident moral truth, fidelity to which was a primary criterion of social justice.  The moral history of your country is the story of your people’s efforts to widen the circle of inclusion in society, so that all Americans might enjoy the protection of the law, participate in the responsibilities of citizenship, and have the opportunity to make a contribution to the common good.  Whenever a certain category of people—the unborn, or the sick and old – are excluded from that protection, a deadly anarchy subverts the original understanding of justice.   The credibility of the US will depend more on its promotion of a genuine culture of life, and on a renewed commitment to building a world in which the weakest and most vulnerable are welcomed and protected.”

Of course, the Pope was addressing the belief that human life begins at conception and should be protected by law as well the importance of dying naturally.

India seems to be aware of the need to have the laws in place to protect women.  With the dowry deaths,  charges have been brought against the grooms’ families.  The police are quick to arrest the rapists.  I think that they have also outlawed getting ultrasounds to determine the gender of fetuses in order to minimize the abortions of females.

On a different note,  I played golf yesterday.  The golf club did not have any golf balls to sell.  So today I headed out with my driver to get some golf balls.  As we drove down a narrow street that was like an alley jammed with three wheel auto rickshaws and storefronts selling tea or bread, I saw what looked like some puppies playing.  As we drew closer it was 3 baby goats or kids.  They ran into a narrow backyard that was paved that had the two parent goats and a few oxen feeding.  As we came to the end of the alley, there was a construction project which was using women to carry dirt and other materials.  They carried the dirt in large flat bowl-like plates on the top of their heads.  All that in a few minutes.   Even though I found a sports store chain, I never did find anywhere selling golf balls.  Should not be surprised since there are only 2 golf courses in Hyderabad.


The Nizam’s Falaknuma Palace and Feudalism in Modern Times

November 10, 2013 at 11:23 am

I was stunned by the jaw dropping beauty of this palace.  It was the home of the Muslim  Nizam hereditary line that ruled this region of India for 6 generations.  The dining room table seats 100 and the locals say that it is the longest dining room table in the world.  It is made out of one piece of wood.  They also tell me that the Nizam was the wealthiest man in the world up until the Independence of India in ’48.   Looking at his palace,  I have no doubt that he was certainly among the world’s wealthiest.


These guys were basically feudal lords who collected rents from the peasant farmers.  The book A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth is set during this period of the partition and describes the lords and their lifestyles.  The lords were called Zamindars and are portrayed as having ” no sense of honor except to gratify the promises of pleasure they have made to themselves.”    They had no need to work.  Hard to imagine that such feudal situations lasted well into the 20th Century.  The British shared in the revenue stream  of rent as well.


When the English granted independence to India,  Nehru had his hands full trying to keep India consolidated as one country.  Even today, Indian pundits talk about the lack of a national identity.   The common story of India is based on their drive for independence.  I think that I read that there are over 2000 languages spoken here.  In 1948, there were a number of Zamindars  that Nehru had to appease.  He of course lost East (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan and the Nizam also said that he wanted no part of India.   This area has a heavy Muslim population similar to Pakistan at that time.   Nehru was not anxious to assert force but when a convent of nuns was raped he lost his patience for the Nizam and basically sent the Indian Army with tanks to Hyderabad to convince him to join India.  The show of force was sufficient.


3 or 4 years after Independence, the Indian parliament passed an act to give the feudal lands to the peasants while compensating the Raj’s and Nizam with some cash, but most of the compensation was  in perpetuity bonds.  I wonder if the Nizam’s family is still collecting the interest?  I did read this week where his heirs are fighting over his estate.  In particular, one of his grandchildren is challenging the administration of the trust by the son who would have been next in line for the throne.  The last Nizam had 600 heirs.  600!  I was told that the Nizam had 4 wives and 200 women in his harem.


When I walked around the beautiful palace looking at its beauty and enjoying the killer view of the city since it sits on top of a ridge looking over the plateau below, I could not help thinking how he benefitted economically from living off the sweat of his peasants’ brows.  You would think it would definitely create some cognitive dissonance living in such luxury in the midst of such poverty.  Yet I myself drive by the corrugated steel shanties here every day with more curiosity than qualms.  My driver was telling me that the construction workers who live with their families in these corrugated steel shacks make $5-$8 a day.  A typical shanty looks like a one room house that is about 8×12.   The construction company sells them the corrugated steel, provides water, and power.   A classic company town.  Reminds me a bit of Grapes of Wrath.  The water comes in tankers that are about an eighth of the size of one of our gas tankers that you would see at an American filling station.  The water tanker fills big vats that are probably about 12×12.  The workers and their families come with buckets to drink and pour over themselves.   Despite that, some of the shanties  have satellite dishes attached.  Lots of kids running around playing.  Happy as any youngster anywhere.



A Catholic India/Thanks Xavier for bringing the Jesuit Charism

November 3, 2013 at 4:34 pm

After attending Mass last week at Loyola, I returned today.   The Jesuit charism is crystal.  I have been reading a few pages of James Martin Jesuit Guide (NYT Bestseller) every morning to start the day and his spirituality is mirrored by the Jesuit priest that I have heard preach the past two weeks.  The Jesuits are contemplatives in action.  Our pope Francis reflects the same holiness I find in Martin’s writing and that I heard in the liturgy this morning.   A few of this morning’s highlights:


Nothing starts on time in India.  I arrived 5 minutes before Mass was to begin at 8 and I was the first to arrive.   At 8:05, the Church was about a 1/3 full and a young person led  the assembly in a few Marian intercessory prayers, followed by an act of contrition and a prayer asking that we may follow the will of God.  It helped  us enter a contemplative state.  By 8:15 the church was full.


The Jesuits practice a prayer format called the “Examen” during  which  they review each day looking for signs of God’s presence.   In that way, the priest began the liturgy with  a spontaneous prayer of reflection. In other words, his prayer was not in the lectionary.  He asked us to remember the times in the past week where we have not responded to God’s call  to love in the moment to moment of our lives.  I cannot replicate it here, but he made us all aware of how throughout the day, we have moments as spouses, as parents, as children, as students, in the workplace, or in the marketplace when we are not at our  best and miss the opportunities that God provides us to love another or to listen to another or to be empathetic.  Then he led us in the prayer of confessing how we have fallen short and seek God’s mercy.    I found it illuminating.


For I sometimes struggle with the notion of “sin” since we are asked to recall our sins so  frequently.   It is not often that we knowingly and with intention do something evil or harmful.  However, the priest’s focus on  our acts of omission resonated with me.  There are times  where I realize shortly after an encounter that I  might have been called to be more attentive to what is going on.  Should I have  given a dollar to the woman with the babe in her arms in the parking lot at the airport on Wednesday.  Then there was the time on Tuesday, where I was at a dirty and dingy facility to register as a foreigner and stepped out of the building to go to an exterior bathroom.   I was followed by a woman of the lowest caste who was sweeping the street and washing the sidewalks who greeted me with “Namaste” and obviously hoped for  a few rupees.  These folks live on$2 or $3 a day.   I said “Namaste” and met her eyes and moved  on.  I can be  self- absorbed and miss little opportunities to be responsive.  I know that I am not going to end poverty in India, but maybe these folks would have had a little better day if I gave them a dollar or two from my abundance of which God is the source.



Getting back to the liturgy, the priest highlighted how we have heard the biblical stories so much that we often can no longer hear them.  He confessed that the priests draw the same lessons from them which can become stale.  Recently,  I have found that many of the biblical stories come alive in a new and fresh way for me in India.  The rural settings, events, or ancient ways of the Bible are still present here.  Did I mention the altar to Kali on my golf course where the Hindu’s sacrifice animals?  And the celebrations of an entire city of an elephant idol that reminded me of the golden calf and Baal in the Old Testament?   There are also leper colonies here in Hyderabad.  Today’s gospel story was Jesus healing 10 lepers with but one, a Samiritan, returning to say thanks.  This reading became a basis for him not to talk about the importance of gratitude; instead, he preached about justice and equality. (The Jesuits embody the Church’s gospel of social justice as well).  He talked about the caste system and its rampant discrimination.  He mentioned how the Jews would not touch a cup of water from which a Samiritan drank and said how they were the “untouchables” in the world of Jesus. Then he moved to examples outside of India because he was afraid to hit too close to home he said.   He talked about how Moslems and Christians in Bosnia who broke bread together went to war against each other.  He mentioned how in Nigeria, Christians went to war against each other.    He made some mention of the Church in India ruining itself because of discord.


On the other hand, Jesus knows the heart of the Father and reveals a better way.   He recalled various scriptures about God’s love like the sun shines on the just and the unjust.  He highlighted how gospel stories often highlight Jesus speaking a harsh word to those among the Jews who thought that they had a monopoly on the true religion and said that there are fundamentalists among the Hindus, Muslims and Christians that all miss the mark.   He was clearly calling us to show God’s love in humility to all no matter their religion or their caste.    Both this week and last, he called the assembly to be missionaries and to spread the word to people that Jesus loves them.  Along these same lines,  I had noted in the gospel reading that the leper that was healed “praised God loudly”.  Why don’t I?



At one point,  in the middle of the sermon, the priest  asked me to introduce myself to the 250 people in the Church and used me as an example of the Universal Church.  We are a Church in which all nations have a home worshipping in spirit and truth.


He later cited Martin Luther King which I thought might be for my benefit.  It was not.  MLK was part of his explication of his theme of social justice which became obvious to me since the recessional was the hymn of the civil rights movement,  “We shall overcome”.


When I exited the Church, I had a couple of people introduce themselves and the priest interrupted the discussion he was having to greet me and ask a few questions.  When he heard my name,  he said that he knew a Father Tom O’Gorman in Chicago.  I said that my family dropped the O and he immediately knew it was an immigrant desire to avoid the Irish discriminatory taint.   When he asked why I came to Secunderabad to church from Hyderabad and I told him it was because of the Jesuits who know what we are about,  he  just laughed and laughed heartily.  What a warm person.




A Catholic in India Looking for a Parish

November 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Sunday September 22 , 2013       A Catholic in India


I asked my driver if he knew where St Mary’s Church and Loyola College were.  He said “Sure, Sure”.

I think what that means is “No, but I will figure it out.  Not to worry.”   I live in Hyderabad, but it has a twin city, Secunderabad where both St Mary’s and Loyola are located.  I hoped to attend Mass at St Mary’s since a retired  expat Anglican priest had strongly recommended it.  I also wished to visit Loyola to find out if the Jesuits have a Mass on their college campus.   I asked my driver to pick me up at 8:30 since St Mary’s was supposed to be 30-45 minutes away.  It is a broad range of time given that you will never know what the traffic will be.  He picked me up at 8:40.  Punctuality is not important here.  Have to like that.  Kathleen and I will learn to go with the flow more.

35 minutes later we pulled into St Andrew’s in Secunderabad.   Not St. Mary’s or Loyola, but St Andrews.  It was clearly labeled St Andrews so I am not sure my driver can read.    I got out of the van to check it out.  Turns out it is an Orthodox church and it was filled to capacity with Indians who were singing in a full throated fashion.   Beautiful songs.  Not exactly chants, but rich in tone.  As much as I appreciated it, I could not understand a word of it so I decided to keep trying to get to St Mary’s.  My driver, Thierpathi,  who was studying the Church and its surroundings which were alive with activity,  called his boss.  No help there.  He then asked someone at St Andrews who pointed vaguely in some direction and we took off.

5 minutes later Tierpathi pointed and said “St Toms over there.”  I said “Let’s go St Mary’s. “ Two minutes later we passed  another Catholic parish, St John’s.   Who knew there would be so many Catholic parishes in India.  I decided that we may never find St Mary’s and said, “Let’s go there. “ But he was already past it.  I thought that he would turn around but after a few minutes I asked him to go back again.   A lot gets lost in translation over her.  We each speak English, but cannot understand each other.   He turned the car around only to miss the turn again to St John’s.  Turned out that it was providential as suddenly within one block, we came upon St Mary’s and we turned into the parking lot.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I saw a Pieta that has to be about 30-40 feet in height.  The statue must be  2 or 3 stories tall.  The figures are not proportional.  Mary is huge.  Mary is 1 ½ or 2 times the size of Jesus.  So much for the Renaissance.  However, in  some way it makes sense since the sculptor was seeking to honor Mary.

There is also a plaque that indicates that the statue is dedicated to all the religious and lay people that planted the seeds of the Catholic community in India beginning in the 1500’s.   I thought of St Francis Xavier and the many believers who followed after him.   Xavier, a college roommate of St Ignatius, came to India around 1540.

The Church is Gothic in style which is a bit surprising to see in India.  Explained perhaps by another placard that said that this Church was built by Irish soldiers serving in the British Army in the 1800’s.  I thought of my ancestors presumably forced to serve in the British Army or perhaps it was a better choice than starving.

I arrived at 9:25 for a 9:30 English liturgy.  However, the prior liturgy was just finishing up with a powerful recessional hymn in the Telungan language.  The Indians are very pious.  As they left the Basilica, many waited in line for one of the deacons to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads.  The church looks pre Vatican II for all the statues it has.  The Indians crowd around the statues, pictures of saints or Mary and touch them sometimes with both hands.


The liturgy was excellent.  The English  music was not.  It was a bit like polka music.  Very upbeat, but not particularly  contemplative.  The people did participate in the singing.

I was the only Caucasian in the assembly and clearly one of the tallest people there.  The altar just about came up to the priest’s shoulders.

His homily was original.  As the banner that hung over the assembly indicated, today’s gospel included  a quote of Jesus:  “ You cannot serve both God and money.”  He talked about the 3 ways people make money:  working hard, winning the lottery, or through an inheritance.  He said that you can have money and keep your soul in God which I thought was an interesting approach within the context of the first reading from Amos.   The Old Testament reading was from Amos the prophet who torched the wealthy for exploiting the poor.  He did not get into that reading at all.

Pope Francis certainly did today.  See the Sunday Chicago Tribune.  He attacked globalization and an economy that puts money before people.  Of course, I am an ambassador of globalization as I teach people in India to fish by learning how to do tax returns.

There is clearly an emergence of a middle class here from all the American based companies that are doing business here and hiring Indians.  Deloitte has hired 20,000 and we are one of many.

The priest also had a second theme about how Jesus used or experienced bad things such as his interactions with the Pharisees or his crucifixion to good.  But then he went into a discussion of how the soul is good and the body is bad and we can use this bad body to generate merits for our souls.  Sounds more Buddhist or Hindu than Catholic.    God declared God’s creation good and through this creation we can know God.  See also Wisdom 11:22-12:2

As we left St Mary’s, I had Thierpathi check with the priest to get directions to Loyola.  45 minutes later I asked Thierpathi if we were getting close.  He said 4 or 5 more miles, but 5 minutes later he asked  a few people if they knew where it is.  The first two had never heard of it, but the third pointed his finger up and said something to the effect that we should just stay on the road.  We were clearly lost.  The twin cities are not that large.  10 minutes later I suggested we go to the hotel, but then providentially  Loyola appeared on the right.


The security  guards were not too sure what to do with us at the front gate, but finally decided to admit us and pointed us toward  the priests’ residency.  The priests have little cells that line a walkway and we met a retired native Jesuit who warmly greeted us and told me when I could find a Mass on the grounds in the future.  He said that they are a quasi-parish and was surprised that I would want to come so far to join them.

We then headed back to the hotel and were home within 45 minutes.  It was a great drive around the city.  Big shopping day.  Everyone was out getting fresh fruit and doing other shopping.  A great hubbub of activity.  What a wonderful morning.

My Driver’s Wedding

October 25, 2013 at 10:02 pm

My  new driver was married this past Tuesday.  See pictures below.  You will note that the groom is dressed as a flower pot.  He is covered from head to toes in flowers.  New idea for the Rose Bowl.

He told us that the wedding would start at 8:30.  As it turned out we were the first ones there at 8:30 .  The tent was pretty much full by 10 pm.  There was not a real ceremony.  At 9:15,  we thought that the bride was arriving.  Instead it was Shah.  He could not see and had to be led by the hand to the entrance to the tent and then down the aisle and up the steps to the stage.  Since the folks at work, recently had me play “pin the tail on the donkey” as part of the going away party for my predecessor, I was quickly reminded of how blind I was I walked around feeling like a donkey.

Shah’s family had myself and  3 other expats walk down the aisle immediately behind Shah.  It was a bit awkward.  I was afraid that they were going to have us get up on the stage.  I peeled off  about 3 rows from the front.  But it is example of the hospitality in India.  People treat you like a king and make you feel special.  His parents, brother and uncles were so friendly and solicitous.   They waited on us hand and foot as we ate dinner.  They served us our food as they stood around our table and kept offering different food. We were truly honored. One of the guys said that he never seen chicken prepared in so many different fashions.

We were on the “guys” side of the tent.  We could not see any women, nor the bride.  Separate ceremonies and eating areas.

The ceremony wasn’t much.  A little bit of paperwork, then  the imam stood up and said a two minute prayer that was completely ignored by the guys in the tent who were talking away.  Then folks went up on the stage and gave Shah a hug and we had dinner behind the stage.

That was Monday night.  We all got back together on Tuesday night to celebrate the consummation of the marriage.   Interesting concept.

Shah is 28 and his marriage was arranged.  One of his sisters snuck him a picture of his bride.  Surprisingly,  on the second night, Shah was able to take us over to the entrance of the tent for the women and we met his mother and the bride.   We took pictures with his mom while someone went to get his bride.  She was courteous and shook my hand and my predecessor, Curt’s hand.  I had a sense of how we were part of a new foreign world for her.

Her face looked filled with fear and anxiety.  I was thinking how prior to coming to India, I was wondering if I was making a big mistake and felt some fear. That was nothing compared to how her world is being rocked.   In her culture, she is marrying someone she has not met, moving into his house to live with his parents, leaving behind  her home and all she has known.   Not to mention having sex for the first time with virtually a complete stranger.  Now that is moving beyond your comfort zone or pushing the envelope to use a couple of banal statements.

Shah is sweet, hard- working guy so she married well.   I do not know the mother in law.  That could be a little more tricky.

One of the expats was telling me that his wife attended a Muslim wedding and that the bride was in tears the whole time.  Wasn’t a pretty picture.

Let me close by saying, that surveys had shown that arranged marriages are more successful.  Not sure what that means though.  Is that a measurement of the rate of divorce which one would expect to be less in a religious culture?  Nevertheless, people do grow into love in arranged marriages.  As I read in the Church bulletin here today:

A newly married couple said, “What shall we do to make our love endure?”  Said the Master, “Love other things together.” – Anthony de Mello.

Kathleen and I are going to love India together!  (After she gets over the initial shock.)


filling out the paperwork