Sunday, 20 April 2014

Travelogue of a Lenten Pilgrimage

I joined a group of 100 parishioners from Good Shepherd Parish, Sanpada on a cool and beautiful morning on 12th April 2014 for the annual Lenten tour. The plan was to dedicate an entire day to the Stations of the Cross and make then in 14 different churches across South Mumbai.
We set out at 8.00 am from Sanpada with a prayer on our lips, a hymn in our hearts and the Lord’s cool wind in our hair.

Alter of St Ignatius Church
The 1st station – Jesus is condemned to die
St. Ignatius Church, Mandvi.
Established by Capuchin Fathers in 1897.  This church was built primarily for the Koli community living in the neighbourhood.  In this small but beautiful Gothic church, we contemplated on how Jesus accepted his Father’s will to sacrifice himself for all of mankind. Fr. Terrence D Souza, blessed the visiting congregation and inspired us with his talk on the choice of two different life paths – One of Care, Non violence and Compassion and the other of Control, Conflict and Indifference. I examined myself for the humility, patience and love to accept my cross without complaint.

The 2nd station – Jesus carries his cross
St. John the Evangelist Church, Ballard Estate.

Dominated by the crucified Jesus and flanked by Mother Mary and the apostle John, the church like it’s namesake had a humble and honest personality.  In it’s humane atmosphere, we contemplated on how Jesus took upon himself the crushing weight of the sins of all humanity as he took up his cross. I examined the depth of my gratitude and love for Jesus as he took up the heavy burden. 

The 3rd station – Jesus falls the first time
Holy Name Church, Colaba.

This century old church is also the seat of the Archbishop of Mumbai. The church is resplendent with graceful arches, vibrant frescos, life-like statues and a dignified high alter. In its awe-inspiring premises we were reminded of God’s glory and his Son biting the dust to uphold his Father’s glory in his dearest creation – Man. We remembered the weak in our society who fall and yet know no respite from their suffering and are roughly hauled up again to carry on.

The 4th station – Jesus meets his Mother.
 St. Joseph’s Church, Navy Nagar, Colaba; also known as RC Church.

Set up in 1853, this was the first church for British military (Roman Catholics) in the cantonment. In it’s hallows in front of the striking white altar, fed with sunlight, bathing the church in a stunning glow, we meditated on the mother and son who had put their entire trust on God. “Look how God repaid us”, they could have said. But even in this phase they trusted God and obeyed his will drawing strength from each other. I remembered my own complaints and resolved to trust the Father.

5th station - Simon helps Jesus carry his cross
Open Alter at Cross Maidan
An open alter with no doors, windows or walls and Christ’s crucified hands inviting all of humanity to celebrate his Father’s creation. Under the open sky we contemplated on Jesus’ helplessness at his inability to carry the cross alone and was in despair when no help was offered voluntarily but was pushed on him in the person of Simon. I examined my willingness to reach out to the marginalised and my frustration at not being able to fulfil my duties.


The 6th station – Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Lady of Dolurs Church, Marine Lines, New Sonapur. 
How fitting it was that we made this station which features an act of kindness at this small but beautiful church in the hustle of Marine Lines. Our Lady of Dolurs Church was like a balm to the weary traveller, just as Veronica’s kindness was to the suffering Jesus.  Have we the strength to be kind to the dregs of humanity I asked myself? I examined my humility and strength to follow Veronica’s example.

The 7th station – Jesus falls the second time
St Francis Xavier Church, Dabul.
Established in 1872, this is a historic site and was formed by the joining of two churches - the church of St. Sebabstian and the church of St. Francis Xavier. The Church has a nave (central space) in which is placed the statue of St. Francis. Right above this is a beautiful blue-tiled dome. Adjoining are statues of Mother Mary and Jesus. The church houses the relic of St. Francis Xavier and this is opened every year for public viewing.

On this historic site, we turned over the page where Jesus stared at his weakness at falling even while getting help. When one is so weak that even his will can carry him no more.
In the adjoining St. Sebastian Goan school, the weary pilgrims received a sumptuous meal and were refreshed for their next station.

The 8th station – Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
St.  Theresa’s Church, Girgaun also known as Girgaun Portuguese church. 
The central figure of St Theresa is flanked by St. Joseph and another saint. The alter features a beautiful Last Supper painting. The figures of Jesus and Mary dominate the area before the pews. An otherwise stark church; it inspires its people to examine their purity and to be humble like St. Theresa. At this station Jesus gives a message to all women, “Weep not for me but for your children”.

The 9th station – Jesus falls the third time
St. Stephen’s Church, Cumbala Hill.

In this Spartan church build in a semicircle design with a stained glass painting of the risen saviour raising his hand to bless the people, we contemplated on the suffering, broken Jesus, on his knees for the third time. Is this the Son of God? Strength shines through not in his ability to repel but to withstand. Life is so, sometimes it requires us to snap back sometimes to bend. When love is the force, the outcome is God’s will.

The 10th station – Jesus is stripped of his garments
St. Ignatius Church, Jacob’s circle.
 Dedicated on 1st Jan 1913, the church was initially run by the Jesuit fathers and was later handed over to the Diocesans fathers.  In this beautiful Romanesque church with it’s beautifully painted dome depicting the Last Supper and stained glass painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus above the main entrance we contemplated on how Jesus’ humble adornments were shorn away from him. What does it mean to be defiled in our body in which we take so much pride in. We reflected on what Jesus willingly gave away to save us.

The 11th station – Jesus is nailed to the cross
Our Lady of Glories Church, Byculla, also known as Gloria church.

Originally built in 1572 and later reconstructed at its current location in the shape of a Latin cross in 1913, Gloria Church exhibits Gothic style architecture. Under its 160 ft steeples, beautiful altars, divine statues and colourful stained glass windows, we reflected on how Jesus, weak and humiliated was nailed on the cross. How mighty is God and yet he joined the lowest ranks to take us out of our sinful selves.  It is this mightiness that I aspire to be joined to. A mightiness built on love and compassion which, every sin against it’s source pulls me away from.  

The 12th station – Jesus dies on the cross
St. Anne’s Church, Mazagaon.
St Anne's shcool

Our parishioners Mr. Vincent and Mrs Alzira Rocha got married in this church. This beautiful church was once a private chapel and was later extended to a church. It is 130 years old. We looked up to the crucified Christ along with St. Anne and Mother Mary and made our 12th station. The small high vaulted church infuses one with a feeling of lightness and beauty, an opportunity to soar and reach the skies. We contemplated on the suffering, broken Jesus. All our hopes pinned on the sacrificial lamb. When will I be able to stand up and take the responsibility for my own sins instead of looking for sacrificial lambs. And yet, this lamb opens its arms wide to invite the sinful.

The 13th station  - Jesus is taken down from the cross
 St. Josephs’s Church, Umarkhadi.

A beautiful church with a alter backdrop of Jesus’ foster father Joseph carrying Jesus in his hands and a dome with two angels supporting the crucified Jesus against a glorious sun; we were reminded of our Father, both worldly and spiritual. Jesus, the obedient son was dear to both. With his ultimate sacrifice, the son glorified his Father and left a legacy for us to carry on.

The 14th station – Jesus is laid in the tomb
 Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Dock Yard Road.

We made our last station in the bosom of our Lady. Built in 1794, the church has a warm, comforting, familial atmosphere. Believers are welcomed by the heartening sight of the outstretched hands of Our Lady welcoming them into her Son’s church. The same hands which had held her dead son in her arms. A son who had died for us. In this church, we contemplated on how the few people who had the courage to stand by even at his death, did not leave Jesus to the birds but laid him with dignity in a tomb. Jesus showed us that Death is not an end. It is but a transition where our true self, devoid of its physical shell returns to the Father.

Thus it was with hope that we returned. Not with dread of death but with hopes of a glorious reunion with the Father. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Harry Hole series, Jo Nesbo

Titles – Red Breast, The Bat, Nemesis, Devil’s star, Redeemer, The Snowman, The Leopard, Police, Cockroaches, Phantom

Author – Jo Nesbo
Publisher – Vintage Books
Genre – Thriller
Rating – Very Good

Last time I wrote on this blog was last year..... I read daughters of war and didn't get to writing the review.
Jo Nesbo, Gillian Flynn, Keigo Higashino, Jussi Adler-Olsen to name a few had set my pulse racing.
Cud'nt put down till the last page, cud'nt wait to open another book. 
The adrenalin rush these thrillers give is addictive. And this is my purgerance. To write about and get them out of my system.  
Why is human frailty so hard to not observe?   
Jo Nesbo 

Jo Nesbo is being touted as the next Stieg Larsson of the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” fame. As gripping as his tales are, he still has some catching up to do in the dexterity and twists in his tales. Especially at his closures, Nesbo tends to spill the beans in the 2nd last chapter itself. He laboriously explains the entire sequence of events and leaves nothing to the reader’s imagination. Most stories have a second sub plot running in parallel. While this does confuse the investigation and the reader, one gets used to this after the first couple of reads.

Then why did I rate it “Very Good”? 
Fascinating plots, twisted insights into human behavior, thousands of motives for who dunnit and a tragic love story.

Nesbo delves into the criminal’s mind with compassion. A realm I'm personally uncomfortable with because I want to judge this person, not get into the whys and whatfors. Delving into his motives, one realizes the criminal is also human. Yes, the outcome of his actions is one which is unacceptable but one wonders whether this man/ woman deserves sympathy or punishment!

Jo Nesbo  works with certain beliefs about serial killers – that they take to this extreme form of punishment on society to feel normal about themselves. In so many ways an individual may feels isolated, humiliated, barred. But where is the tipping point?
To what extent do these societal norms contain human bestiality and where does it cause it to spill over? Should all behaviors to be considered normal? So that no fringes are caused to spill and turn into beasts? Or should such divergents be expelled and kept separate from a society that follows its norms? When we imprison our criminals we are doing just this. Formerly no one bothered to probe into the question why. Those who knew kept quiet.

So who is the criminal?
A Government which authorizes carpet bombing of an entire city or a survivor who comes into the former’s gardens and kills its civilians?
Parents who humiliate their child on discovering his/her aberrant sexual behavior or the grown up child who rapes and silences at will?
The police officer who takes law into his hands to punish criminals who would otherwise escape the law or the lawmakers who make lenient rules and give multiple chances to correct.

The world is changing. A person is no longer the inhabitant of a village or a city. We are all global citizens and expose ourselves to global trends and perspectives. 

Stage one is done. We were brave enough to open ourselves to the onslaught of different cultures, religions, philosophies, rights and wrongs ... Now are we strong enough to withstand it? 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Read along

Was writing the review of Daughters of War and read two books in between.
1) The Zealot - Aslan Reza
2) Gone Girl - Gillian Fynn
No more in between readings till I get out the Daughters of War review.
But I have to tell you, the other two books are excellent.

Aslan Reza has written a racy, well researched book on the alternate life of Jesus and the evolution of Christian doctrines.
Gone Girl is a psychological thriller. A watertight case of two murders and the demands of a married life.

If you can get your hands on them, read them. Then write a review before me  :)

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Bartimaeus. The Ring of Solomon

Author – Jonathan Stroud
Publisher – Corgi Books, Random House Children’s Books
First published – 2010
Rating – Excellent
Shortlisted for the 2010 COSTA Children’s Book Award, this book is one of the best Fantasy novels I’ve ever read.  It’s got an evil king with a magic ring, scores of magical creatures and evil magicians at his command, a maiden - a queen none the less in distress, a devoted servant and a mischievous jinni.
History lessons go awry when one realizes that the evil king is none other than Solomon of Palestine. That same Solomon the wise who wrote the beautiful songs to God. Here he is the powerful king who rules with terror. Terror which he can infuse in the greatest of magicians with a twirl of his ring. Because this ring is the portal between Earth and the spirit world. And the master of the ring is the master of the spirits. So while a decent magician may have 4 or 5 spirits at his service and an excellent one a couple of dozen, King Solomon has an entire army.   
Bartimaeus, or Barty as he called by the spirits in lighter moments, is a djinn and a slave of on of King Solomon’s court magicians – Khaba the cruel. The magicians enslave the spirits though incantations and bind them to do their will. The spirits have amazing powers and can build temples, pyramids, forts, canals, roads etc in weeks with their magic. However the spirits are dangerous slaves. They hate their captivity and look for the slightest mistake from the magician to devour him or any other human for that matter. Nothing stops them from making the most of life in the meantime – making merry, bantering, fighting etc.  even in their slavery. 

Now King Solomon is enamored by the Queen of Sheeba. However, things turn nasty when with his fourth proposal, he also sends a threat. Sheeba should accept King Solomon as it’s sovereign and send Palestine royalty in frankincense or else face the wrath of it’s king. A small nation, Sheeba does not have the means to defend itself. In a desperate bid, the queen sends her personal bodyguard to assassinate the king.
The bodyguard is a chit of a seventeen year old girl! A girl with uncompromising fealty to her queen and a youthful straightness of purpose which does not cause her to pause and question her queen’s orders – that she be too young, inexperienced, with no magical abilities to go on such a dangerous rendezvous.  She is a wide eyed girl filled with thrill at her queen’s confidence on her.

With sheer luck and foolhardy courage, the girl Asmira overcomes some low ranking spirits on the highway and meets Barty – who was patrolling the highway at that moment. Her shoddy alias story, request to be taken to King Solomon and skill with the knife made Bartimaeus hesitate and he does not eat her as he was wont to.
Through twists of destiny and Asmira’s pluck Barty finds himself her slave on the diehard mission to kill the king and steal the ring. Disobeying a master would mean the spirit would have to face the deep hole for all eternity. So against his better judgement Bartimaeus complies. The resourceful Bartimaeus reaches Asmira to the King’s chamber.

And there they discover the secret of the ring. The ring feeds of its master. King Solomon is thus and old man much before his time. The king understands the cruel power of the ring and seeks to use it sparingly.  Asmira learns that it was Khaba who had sent the subordination message to her queen. King Solomon was unaware of such a message.
Asmira realises that the king is not evil and is unable to assassinate as per her orders. She however takes the ring which is given without resistance by Solomon for her Queen. However Khaba intercedes her. Unable to get herself to wield the power of the ring, she unwittingly lets the ring go into Khaba’s hands. Khaba unleashes the power of the ring for personal power. He wants to destroy Palestine and establish the seat of power at Egypt once more.  Asmira sees the destruction the ring can bring in the wrong hands. She appreciates that Solomon had curtailed the power of the ring and used it mostly for good.
A last attempt ensues in which Asmira retrieves the ring from Khaba and returns it to King Solomon. King Solomon takes the weight of ring again on his wise shoulders.
For Asmira however, the world has turned upside down – Her Queen is not infallible, in fact she is selfish and foolish, unable to appreciate the service given to her.  She discovers her ingrained sense of duty to the queen made her a slave just like Bartimaeus. However unlike Bartimaeus her chains were so doused in a sense of duty and patriotism that she did not recognize her servility.  

And Bartimaeus is free at last. Until someone else manages to snare him into his pentagram.

Monday, 12 August 2013

The Help

Author – Kathryn Stockett
Publisher – Penguin Books
First published – 2009
Rating – Awesome
Here is a simple book filled with light hearted humour and heart warming moments dealing with the complex issue of apartheid in a newly free society.
Written in a style I was personally new to – it is an autobiography of the book. It added a fifth dimension to the already vivid book.
The other side of “Gone with the wind”, “The Help’ is about confidences. Set in 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi, the book is about what domestic helps - all coloured in this case encounter. Slavery has ended, the lot of the black people is better, they get paid, their children go to school, and they have their own homes. However with race triggered white backlashings like beatings, lychings, branding and even shootings, equality is still a dream.
The women have gumption, I give them that. The coloured and the whites. A battle of the males is quick. A woman’s battle is long drawn.
Aibileen is a gentle coloured maid who has raised 17 children in town. She fights apartheid in her own way. By teaching the little ones of kindness and equality and love. Minnie is a sassy maid, but because her cooking is great, she still manages to get hired. The woman, become the unwitting leaders of their community when they decide to take a bold step -to contribute their stories for a book.
The stories of these women could be of domestic helps anywhere in the world. The employers want them to be like elves. Magically doing all our work without making any demands and better without being seen.
The help sits on the floor.
Thats the way its been!
On the other side of the fence are the white women.  The white women of the South stick together. They fight wars through their clubs, benefits and balls. The ring leader is Hilly. An autocratic woman who believes in the segregation of white and coloured race.
When Euginia, a close friend shows integrationist tendencies, she uses all arsenals in her kitty – exclusion from various clubs, eviction from posts, cold shoulder from friends, even telling on her boyfriend, to intimidate her former friend.
However, Sheeter as Euginia is known to friends and family has something else to fill her empty space. She is onto a project. A project with the househelps under aliases of course, recording their testimonies on the white ladies they serve.
At first there is reluctance. Skeeter has to work hard to win Aibileen’s trust. Aibileen has to work hard to get Minnie to trust Skeeter. But when Hilly gets her maid thrown in jail for a petty theft, the other maids too decide to include their testimonies.
So stories are told and eccentricities are recorded.  The separate bathroom for helps drive by Hilly, how a white lady is too caught up in herself to even love her child, the failed  attempts of a poor white woman now married to a rich white man to join the genteel women society, the cleaning of the help's hands with bleach. There are good stories as well.  White women going out of their way to help a maid’s son injured in racial clashes, white woman defending her maid from a pervert with a fire poker in hand.....
The woman hope that something good will come of this book. It is not a way of getting back at their employers but to cast the helps in a human light, something the employers would prefer to forget.
In a scenario where I myself employ a help at home, I cannot but empathise with the white woman sometimes. After all we are all at the mercy and whims of our bai’s. But these bai’s and mausi’s have a life and want to be treated as equals. Would we treat them so?
 Indian households even today segregate utensils used by their help. The help generally sleeps in the kitchen. Their clothes are stowed away in some corner. How are we to let them lead the lives of decent humans if we are to maintain our superiority and thus make them do our dirty work see?
At work we want our holidays, lunch breaks, bonus, notice periods, the occasional office trip or picnic. But for the help to have these perks? Hah... who will do the work then?
Imagine if your maids came out and wrote a book about you ladies!! OMG!!
Even speaking for myself I have a long road to go.....

Our Kaamwaali bai.