The Example of a Donkey

Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J.

I believe that this story of a donkey is well known. I have heard it before. Recently I got it again through internet from a friend in U.S.A. I was deeply touched by the story. The story has a beautiful moral lesson to all of us but especially to those persons who are surrounded by problems and difficulties.

The story is about a farmer’s donkey. One day the donkey fell into an abandoned well without much water. Finding itself in danger at the bottom of the well the donkey began to bray loudly. The loud asinine utterance brought the farmer running to the well.

Now what to do? The farmer began to think. The donkey is very old and is not much use for work. Then, the dried up well is also useless. It is time to fill and cover the well. So the farmer decided to fill the well with mud. He called his neighbour for help.

The farmer and his neighbour began to gather mud and throw the mud into the well to fill it. The donkey inside the well realized that he is in great danger of being buried alive! He began to bray evermore loudly. After a little while his braying stopped.

After sometime the farmer looked into the half filled well. The sight surprised him. As the mud was falling on the back of the donkey, it shook of the mud from its back and put the mud under its fact.

The farmer and his neighbour continued throwing the mud into the well. The well began to be filled. The donkey too continued shaking the mud off its back and put the mud under its fact. At the end when the well was nearly filled the donkey jumped ever the parapet of the well and went away to freedom!

This is also the story of our lives. People will throw mud on you. Sometimes the problems and difficulties surround and pressurized us so much that it is difficult to come out of them, if not impossible. We feel that we are getting buried under the weight of the problems and difficulties! Sir Winston Churchill’s advice here is, “Don’t argue about difficulties. The difficulties will argue for themselves.” From experiences we know that when difficulties come, many a times they come together. In the words of a famous writer, (Is it Shakespeare?) “difficulties come in legions.”

The situation may be shocking. Even then without giving in to the difficulties situations, let us look for solutions. The donkey found a way out of being buried alive. If we look persistently we will find a way out from any and every difficulty. Remember that behind the thickest dark clouds there shines the sun even though we do not see it. Let us keep our hope alive and shining like the sun behind the cloud.

Someone has said that hope is immortal. Every person cherishes hopes. Perhaps that hope is built upon coming out well from of an earlier experience. Or perhaps the hope is built upon an inspiring author or an interesting book or an article. A person may also build his hope from his faith that God is with me, he will come to my assistance in times of need.

Mother Teresa believed that all types of difficulties are opportunities to carry on our lives! That farmer and his neighbour were filling the well in order to bury and get rid of the donkey. But the donkey found a way out of the life-threatening situation. Every person who hopefully seeks a way out of his problem will find one.

A person seeking solutions to his problems should not do so blindly. Hate and unforgiveness make a person blind to realities. So without ever submitting oneself to hate and enemity a person, who seeks to solve his problems and difficulties with love and attitude of forgiveness, will always find a way out of them. Love and forgiveness will certainly help a person to overcome even those problems which seem impossible.

Knowingly or unknowingly people create or take upon themselves many problems! They simply worry about many things. Some worries are about future events. Many of those future events will never take place! So the worry is useless. So it is better and wise for the person never to worry about such imagined events. Some worry about their past. But by worrying about the past one cannot do away with the past nor change the past. The past is past. Learn from the past whatever lesson we can learn and then forget it by accepting it as one’s past reality. The donkey got rid of the mud thrown on its back. Let us also do away the past as the donkey shook off the mud from its back and concentrated on the present of climping on the mud at its fact.

A person can save oneself like the donkey by giving up consumerism and other forces which create problems by simple living. A person can create a habit of appreciating what one has and what one possesses instead of worrying about what one does not have. Simple living and high thinking will help a person to get rid of the tendency to collect and
keep unnecessary and superfluous things or from craving for more Happy and contented life will certainly help a person to get rid of a lot of worries and problems.

Many problems and worries are created by a person’s desire for many things. The desire creates expectations from relative and other people to get many things. When the desire us not satisfied, problems of interpersonal relationship are created. Without expecting and receiving things from others, if we create a habit of giving what we can, then many interpersonal problems and difficulties are solved. The Bible says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20, 35)

These thoughts arguments and the example of the donkey proclaim one thing. The happiness of a person totally depends on himself or herself. A person himself/herself is responsible for his/her happiness.

Finally let us give a thought to a piece of poetry by Saif Palanpuri:

“Problems are sleeping at ease Solutions of the problems are in waking up.”

The Triveni Sangam

(of Jews, Christians & Muslims)
Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ Some years back in March 1979 during the presidency of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) an international summit of three heads of states was held in USA. The summit known as Camp David was attended by three great men of history. They signed the “Treaty of Peace Between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the State of Israel.”

A number of outstanding factors made Camp David a unique summit. One unique factor of the summit was the religion of the three participants. President Jimmy Carter of USA a devout Christian was the host. The two other participants were President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, a devout Muslim and Prime Minister Menachim Begin of Israel a devout Jew.

These three men, as all Christians, Muslims and Jews, believed in Monotheism and claimed Abraham as their common father in the faith. God had promised Abraham that he would be “the ancestor of many nations.” (Gen. 17, 4)

Muslims, the Descendent of Ishmael

Patriarch Abraham had two sons. The first son born to Abraham was Ishmael from an Egyptian slave-girl Hagar. Sarah, Abraham’s wife gave her slave Hagar to Abraham as his concubine because she had not borne him any children. (Gen. 16, 1-15)

The Bible says that as a sign of Abraham’s covenant with God, Abraham circumcised his son Ishmael and all males in his household the slaves and Abraham himself. (Gen. 17, 23-27).

But God had promised Abraham a child by Sarah. That promise was fulfilled when Sarah gave birth to Isaac. God said to Abraham, “I promise that I will give you as many descendants as there are stars in the sky or grains of sand along the seashore.” (Gen. 22, 17)

But after the birth of Isaac to Sarah, Ishmael and his mother Hagar were expelled from Abraham’s house. Ishmael survived the expulsion and lived as a desert nomad and a skillful archer.

The Bible mentions that “Abrahams’s sons Ishmael and Isaac burried him in Machpelah Cave, in the field east of Mamre.” (Gen. 25, 9). Ishmael is the ancestor of a number of Arabian tribes. (Gen. 25, 12-18). The Muslims believe that they are the descendants of Ishmael. So they trace their ancestry to Abraham as the Father of their faith through Ishmael. For the Muslims according to Koran Abraham is the highest example of the purest Islamic faith and a model for all believers through Ishmael.

Islam as religion began in the 7th century with Mohammed (c.A.D. 570-632) as the last prophet of Allah in the traditions of Abraham, Moses and Jesus; and Koran as the revealed Holy Book of the all Muslims.

Koran contains many things found in the Holy Bible and the Jewish Scripture, which is the Old Testament of the Bible.

Mohammed’s name is mentioned in Koran only a few times. But, the Mother of Jesus, Mary’s name is mentioned in Quran many more times, in fact, more times than Mary’s name appears in the New Testament of the Bible! So in Koran we find many things common in Bible and in the Jewish Scriptures.

Jews as a People and Nation

Like the Muslims the Jewish people too trace their anscertory to Patriarch Abraham through his son Isaac. Isaac had two sons by Rebekah: Esau and Jacob. The later came a little after his twin brother Esau appeared. So Jacob is called the younger brother. Through craftiness and deceitfulness, Jacob bargained and got the right of his elder brother. Then, thanks to his mother’s special love and partiality, Jacob also got his father Isaac’s special blessing.

Ancestor Jacob had also two special spiritual experiences at Bethel and Peniel. At Bethel Jacob had a dream of “a stairway reaching from earth to heaven, with angels going up and coming down on it. And there was the lord standing beside him I am the lord, the God of Abraham and Isaac,’ he said, ‘I will give to you and to your descendants this land on which you are lying. They will be as numerous as the specks of dust on the earth. They will extend their territory in all directions, and through you and your descendants I will bless all the nations” (Gen. 28,12-14).

At Peniel Jacob wrestled with a man who gave Jacob a new name Israel. Here is the whole story from Genesis “Then a man came and wrestled with him until just before daybreak. When the man saw that he was not winning the struggle, he struck Jacob on the hip, and it was thrown out of joint. The man said, ‘Let me go; daylight is coming.’

Then, Jacob asked the Man and got his blessings.

“Jacob said, ‘I have seen God face to face, and I am still alive’, so he named the place Peniel. The sun rose as Jacob was leaving Peniel” (Gen. 32, 24-31).

Then, God asked Jacob to go to Bethel. When Jacob return to Bethel from Mesopotamia, “God appeared to him again and blessed him. God said to him ‘Your name is Jacob, but form now on it will be Israel.’ So God named him Israel. And God said to him, ‘I am almighty God. Have many children. Nations will be descended from you, and you will be the ancestor of kings. I will give you the land which I gave to Abraham and to Isaac, and I will also give it to your descendants after you.’ Then God left him” (Gen.35, 10-13).

“Jacob had twelve sons. The sons of Leah were Reuben (Jacob’s eldest son), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Rachel’s slave Bilhah were Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Leah’s slave Zilpah were Gad and Asher. These sons were born in Mesopotamia. (Gen 35, 22-26).

The twelve Israelite tribes are named after the twelve sons of Jacob. The tribal family of Jacob is called by ‘Sons of Jacob’ and ‘Sons of Israel!’. Israel began as tribal confederation with a covenant with Yahweh as the only God and Israel as the specially chosen people of Yahweh. So the Israelites are called also the people of the covenant and the chosen people. The name Israel appears frequently in the Bible. It is used alone or it appears in phrases like ‘Sons of Israel’, ‘house of Israel,’ and ‘Kingdom of Israel.’

After the times of Patriarchs, the sons of Israel were led first by prophets and judges like Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Samuel. The house of Israel is a loose tribal organization. The people were united by the worship of Yahweh.

Then, influenced by their neighbours the Israelites asked their leaders for a king. Monarchy was introduced among the people of Israel with Saul as their first king followed by king David. David’s reign started first over Judah in the South and then extended to north to cover the whole nation of Israel.

The life and achievement of King David impressed the people of Israel that in later years when they were in trouble, they longed for another king like David from the family of David. King Solomon succeeded David.

When Israelites were conquered and exiled by foreign rulers, the Israelites longed for a king, a descendent from David. Many of the exiled Jews came back to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple. Then, the Israelites were conquered again by foreigners like the Romans. But the religious life of the Israelites continued around the temple at Jerusalem. The Jewish people looked forward to the promised Messiah, the annointed one of God, a descendant of King David.

The word ‘Jew’ designates a member of the tribe of Judah. Later the word Jew meant a habitant of the Persian province of Judah, which consisted of Jerusalem and its surrounding area.

At the time of Jesus, Jews were the people who worshipped Yahweh, the one God and they looked eagerly forward to the redeemer, a descendant of King David who would deliver them from the foreign rulers, the Romans.

In the Gospels ‘Israel’ is used for the Jewish people and also for the their religion. Later in 1948 when the Jewish people got freedom from the England they called their country Israel as a political society. The Jewish people proudly Patriarch Abraham as their Father in Faith.

Jesus Christ and Christianity

Jesus came into our world as the promised Messiah, the anointed one of God, the descendant of King David. He preached the kingdom of God for about three years and died on the Cross.

In the heart of Jesus’ preaching is the message of God’s love for humankind. St. John’s Gospel tells us Jesus’ mission in Jesus’ own words: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its Saviour” (John 3, 16-17).

A prayer of the Catholic Church beautifully articulates the sum and substance of the Christian faith.

“Father, we acknowledge your greatness: all your actions show your wisdom and love. You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you, his creator, and to rule over all creatures.

“Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon him to the power of death, but helped all men to seek and find you. Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation.

“Father, you so loved the world that in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Saviour. He was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary, a man like us in all things but sin.

“To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to those in sorrow, joy. In fulfillment of your will he gave himself up to death; but by rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life.

“And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace.” (Eucharistic Prayer 4)

Most Jewish people did not accept Jesus in his time but saw him as a sinner who claimed equality with God, who made himself one with God. But many Jewish people accepted Jesus as the promised and anointed one of God. Many other peoples and nations too joined the Jewish followers of Jesus or accepted Jesus as their Saviour and Redeemer independent of Jewish people. They are all called Christians, the followers of Jesus.

The Christians accept the Jewish Scripture, as part of their Bible, called Old Testament. The Old Testament is seen as God’s dealing with people and as a preparation for the coming of Christ. The second part of the Bible, the New Testament, deals with the life and message of Jesus and the life and teachings of the first Christians.

Like the Muslims and Jews, the Christians too accept Abraham as their Father in Faith and worship one God.

The Triveni Sangam

Apart from monotheism and Abraham as common father of faith, there are also other common factors among the Jews, Christians and Muslims. The followers of all three religions worship in community on fixed days and times. There have been mystics in all three religions whose vision and teaching go beyond the boundaries of their religion.

The monotheist believers also find common things in the sacred scriptures. If something is not absolutely clear in the Scripture of one religion, then going into the scripture of another may help the understanding.

In fact, I think, it was the great thinker, Augustine of Hippo who said that in the Old Testament (Jewish Scripture) the New Testament lay hidden and in the New Testament the Old Testament stands revealed.

The Jews, Muslims and Christians find their oneness in the acceptance of one God. So all the three religions are called monotheist and All three religions also accept Abraham as their common Father in Faith.

Like the three Indian rivers – Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati – meet at Triveni Sangam, the three religious of Jews, Muslims and Christians, worshipping one God, find their meeting point in Patriarch Abraham, the Father of all the three faiths.

When the followers of all the three religions believing in one God, recognize themselves as the children of one God and brothers and sisters of one another, then, there will be peace and true faith in the world.

Pledge to Protect the Enviornment

Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ

“We pledge that we shall, at all times, protect and preserve our planet and will not, in thought, word or action, endanger or destroy the environment. Let us together cherish an earth on which we can live long, healthy lives and enjoy fully her boundless beauty and abundant wealth.”

This pledge is not an oath taken by the forest officials. This pledge is not an oath taken by the members of a non-government organization like Taru-Mitra (friends of tress). This pledge is not an oath taken by the members of some international organization engaged in forestry and forestation. Certainly all these people could take this pledge.

This pledge is actually taken by the students of Mount Carmel School at Ahmedabad. I was happy to see this pledge printed in the invitation card of the annual function 2006 of the school with the chief guest Smt. Mrinalini Sarabhai who is a great lover and protector of trees and the environment.

I believe that in the school annual day function the students and their guardians must have seen cultural programmes and have heard speeches about the importance of protecting and keeping our environment clean. They must have been inspired to protect and preserve the environment of our planet to the best of their abilities.

Today we live in a “do or die situation”. It is a challenging situation of protect the environment or perish. Not only our external environment but also the human life and the life of all living beings are at stake. The newspapers and other media call our attention time to time to the ill effects exploiting the nature without any concern for our environment. This mindless exploitation of the nature is the proof that we are not yet fully aware of dangerous situation of our environment. We are not even aware of the possibilities of our own contribution to protect and preserve our own neighbourhood environment!

We call our planet with respect ‘mother earth’. What relation a person keeps with his/her mother, what love a person shows with his/her mother, what attitude a person shows to his/her mother, such a relation of love, respect and kindness we should keep with our mother earth. The elephants have different tooth to show and to eat. We cannot afford to have two different type of relationship with our life-giving mother and life-nourishing mother earth. Different types of attitude or relationship do not do any credit to us.

The earth is really our mother. We are all the children of mother earth. The effects of what the mother earth experiences will certainly affect her children. If we destroy the earth directly or indirectly, we will feel it effects sooner or later. We are not the owners of the earth. We are living beings on earth like other organic or inorganic beings. We don’t posses the earth; but the earth possesses us. Someone has said that we have not inherited the earth from our ancestors. But we have loaned the earth from our children. So we are bound to return the earth with interest; that is to say, we should give the earth in a better situation than we got it.

In other words we should pass the earth and its environment to the new generation in a better condition to live than the present situation. But instead of making our environment better, we are destroying it!

The destruction of environment has become a big problem for humanity. We pollute our rivers, lakes and seas by sending to them chemicals and other poisonous substances which pollute the waters. Consequently the water is not potable and we also destroy the wealth of fish and other creatures living in the water!

The poisonous gas let out in the air by lakhs of vehicles and our factories contribute enormously to destroy the environment. Through the uncontrolled use of plastics, insecticides, artificial manure we destroy the natural fertility of the earth. If we have to pay for the oxygen in the air, we have to spend crores of rupees for the oxygen which is produced by the trees and yet we cut the trees!

These are a few of many and varied ways through which we are destroying our water, the earth and the atmosphere. The environmental experts tell us that till now our life-span has steadily increased in the past. But now pollution of our environment ever on the increase. If we do not reverse the trend, then, first time in human history, the life-span will decrease with the next generation!

The environmental pollution has reached in life-threatening situation around the world. There are many programmes and projects at national and international level to control environmental pollution and reduce it. For instance, public prohibitions against spitting, smoking, throwing waste and defecating in public places or in the open are meant to control the environmental pollution.

Every citizen can contribute his/her share to clean environment by taking care of these things. Today’s young generation with its own examples can take leadership in these things. About 60 to 65 percent of India population is young. If these youth take the leadership, then there is no doubt that the cleanliness of the environment will increase and pollution will decrease.

I would like to recall here an environmental poem “I Listen” by Dr. Charles Roper written in 1992.

I Listen to the trees, and the say:
“Stand tall and yield.
Be tolerant and flexible.
Be true to yourself.
Stand alone, and stand together.
Be brave.
Br patient.
With time, you will grow.”
I Listen to the wind, and it says:
Take care of yourself –
Body, mind and spirit.
Take time.
Be quiet.
Listen from your heart.
I Listen to the sun, and it says:
“Nurture others,
Let your warmth radiate for other to feel.
Give yourself without
I Listen to the creek, and it says:
“Relax; go with the flow.
Tend to what’s really important,
And let the rest go by.
Keep moving – don’t be
hesitant or afraid.
Lighten up – laugh, giggle.”
I Listen to the mountains, and they say:
“Be there.
Be honest.
Be trustworthy.
Do what you say you’re going to do.
Be true, genuine, and real.
Speak from the heart.
Don’t cheat.”
I Listen to the birds, and they says:
“Set yourself free
I Listen to the clouds, and they say:
“Be creative.
Be expressive.
Let you spirit run free.
Let yourself be light and gay,
but let yourself be heavy and sad.
Cry when you feel like it.”
I Listen to the sky, and it says:
“Open up.
Let go of the boundaries and barriers
which you have created to protect yourself.
Experience change.
I Listen to the flowers and
small plants, and they say:
“Be humble
Be simple
Respect the beauty of small things.
Respect the beauty of humility and truth.
Let go of perfectionism
Love yourself as you are; it
opens the door to change.
Practice acceptance.”
I Listen to the bugs and flying insects, and then say:
Be productive.
Use your hands.
Focus on what’s in front of you.
Ignore the past; there is only the present.”
I Listen to the moon, and it says:
Share love.
Make love.
Be romantic – touch and caress.
Allow yourself to be loved.
Be gentle, kind, and understanding.
Use candles.”
I Listen to the stars, and they wink and say:
Dance, be silly, have fun.”
I Listen to the earth, and it says:
“I am your mother.
I give you life.
Respect all that is around you.
Find beauty in all things
– living and not – including
yourself; for we are all one – not separate.
Be especially respectful to th
e very young and the very old,
for they are both very near God.
Give up the belief that you are a higher form of life;
there is no higher form of life.
We are equal because we are the same.
When you return to me, I will welcome you,
and I will set your spirit free.
Love and nurture your children; cook good food for them,
and hold them very close to you often.
Hold me close to you often as well,
and I will hold you in return; I will support you.
Have faith.

Let us become consciously aware of our environment like Dr. Charles Roper. Let us listen to all the organic and inorganic beings. Then, we will understand many things of our environment. We will be able to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of creation. We will enjoy the healthy environment. If we become conscious of our environment, then we will be aware of the polluting factors and we will be able to protect and preserve better the environment. Let us decide firmly to protect and preserve our environment. Our pledge to preserve the environment will help us in this task.

The Curse of Hunger and Malnutrition

The Curse of Hunger and Malnutrition
Fr Varghese Paul, S.J.

Though more than half a century has passed since India got independence the starvation deaths and wide-spread malnutrition are sad realities even today! Recently daily newspapers and the audio-visual media have highlighted the death of 11 children due to malnutrition and hunger in the Dongriguda area of Norangpur District in Orissa. The fortnightly magazine “Frontline” dated August 27, 2004 has published an article on the sad situation of deaths due to hunger and malnutrition in Orissa.

Every year the newspapers and other mass media organizations inform us that poor people are dying of hunger and malnutrition in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, etc. It is a pity that our politicians as well as the executive and the administrative ‘babus’ fail to face the problems squarely and find a permanent solution.

Some years ago when there was widespread draught in 14 states in India, the Director of Action Aid India, Mr Harsh Mandar brought to light that 60 million tones of grain were getting rotten in government go-downs and open storage grounds!

In the World Social Forum which met at Mumbai from 16 to 21, January 2004 a Mr Hari of the “Musahar” caste of Bihar said that the first thing they teach their children was the important lesson to live with hunger. “When the child is small it cries with hunger. If the child does not keep quset we will give him a little opium which will make him sleep. When the child grows a little older, we will make him understand that there is no escape from living with hunger” said Hari.

Lakhs and even crores of people have to face hunger and live with it, even today in the continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Many times it is not the lack of grain and other eatable things which cause death by hunger and malnutrition; but it is the corruption and the callous attitude of the administrative and executive officials and the negligence or incompetence of our power-hungry politicians.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organizations of the United Nations Organization (UNO) there are 8420 lakh people who experience in-security in food in the world. And 25 percent of the people without food security live in India! Though India has only 17% of the world population, the 25% of the world population suffering from malnutrition and hunger are in India today!

Taking this situation of malnutrition and hunger in the world the UNO has declared 2004 as the International Year of RICE. And the motto of the International Year of Rice is “Rice means Life”. Rice is the stable food for half the world population. Rice is not only food for crores of people, but rice is also the life-sustaining means of labour and business. As the population increases in many countries, so also the demand for rice increases. So the motto of the International Year of Rice is very appropriate : “Rice means Life”.

By observing the International Year of Rice, the UNO hopes to increase the world production of rice and create food security for crores of people. It this way the UNO plans to complete stop deaths due to hunger and malnutrition.

People engaged in agriculture need equipment and other means of production so that they can produce more and attain food security. They also need the freedom and the facilities to do business with rice and related products.

Also, the rights of farmers over their products and over the local markets need to be acknowledged and respected. We need to see that the agricultural products of the means of livelihood of farmers are not affected by importing cheap agricultural goods which are produced with government subsidy in foreign countries.

The basic human right for food is acknowledged today all over the world. The right for food was included in the Universal Declaration Human Rights by the UNO in 1948. In the same way the Universal Declaration of 1974 against death by malnutrition and hunger has acknowledged the freedom of every individual from malnutrition and hunger and also the right of everyone to develop one’s mental and bodily powers with proper nourishment.

I believe that everybody has the right for nutritious food and freedom from hunger and malnutrition. This can be seen in the fact that the government budgets usually allot crores of rupees to help the poor. According to the INDIAN CURRENTS issue of August 15, 2004, the subsidy for food in the 2003-04 budget is a staggering amount of Rs.27,800 crores.

The article in the INDIAN CURRENTS commenting on the 2003-04 budget says: “All pro-poor subsidies comes to a total of Rs.2,74,352 crore. If the same amount is directly transfered to 30 crore BPL (below poverty level) people, each individual will get Rs.9,145 a year, amounting to nearly Rs.46,000/- per household. If this transfer had actually occurred, there would not have been any destitution in India”. But this does not happen.

From this ideal thinking let us come to the world of reality. What can you and I do to make our contribution so that all men and women within our reach get the food which is their basic right?

First, let us be aware of the social evils which keep the poor away from getting their basic right for nutritious food. In the present social order if the daily wage earners and the workers in the unorganized sector do not find jobs and get minimum wages, then they have no other way than suffer hunger and malnutrition. We all need to be sensitive to this problem and concerned people need to be informed of this plight of the poor.

Second, let us make sure that we give just wages to the poor people who work for us. The poor are helpless and work for whatever remuneration offered. Let us not exploit this helpless situation of the poor people.

Third, let us support the government and non-government organizations which work for the removal of death by hunger and malnutrition. Poverty is a social and moral evil with many manifestations. They need to be confronted squarely.

And finally, let us be convinced of one thing that the death caused by hunger and malnutrition in India is a blot on every citizen of this country. India can remove this blot with political will and concerted efforts of all concerned people.

I hope that the Mr Manmohan Singh government will give priority to stop the recurring deaths due to hunger and malnutrition in different parts of India. The government needs to fight against all man-made and natural forces which cause hunger and malnutrition. In this way, let us hope that during the next five years hunger and malnutrition are totally done away with from India. This is possible through every citizen becoming aware of the problems and taking appropriate steps within his/her reach and power.

The Teachers are the Key to Education

The Teachers are the Key to Education
Fr Varghese Paul, S.J.

Recently on the occassion of India’s 58th Independence Day a fortnightly from Chennai, THE NEW LEADER, published a cover story on ‘Suggestions to Manmohan Singh’. The New Leader asked some eminent persons of different walks of life for ‘Ten Suggestions to the Prime Minister.’ The cover story published the suggestions of 7 people. All the 7 persons representing different professions without exception have mentioned education as one of their suggestions as top priority for Dr Manmohan Singh’s government.

Let me mention as examples the suggestions of three persons. Swami Sachidananda Bharathi, the founder of the Dharma Bharathi National Institute of Peace and Value Education has two suggestions. First, “Introduce urgently ‘Citizenship Training’ and ‘Value Education’ in all schools and make them an integral part of Teachers’ Training Courses and Programmes in the country in order to lay a strong foundation for national integration and moral regeneration.” Second, “Make school education a national priority and make primary education compulsory and free for all children. Set apart at least 5 per cent of the total national income specifically for this purpose.”

An eminent journalist and former editor of Bombay Mid-day and Free Press Journal, Mr Michael Gonsalves suggests: “Make primary education compulsory for all children and entrust the responsibility to a government agency.”

A professor of religions, Sr Shalini suggests: “Revamp our education system. Promote co-education of boys and girls in schools and colleges. Include sex education and psychology in the school syllabus.”

The suggestions of all the 7 eminent respondents can be reduced to two appeals: First, work for total literacy and second provide total quality education.

In both the cases of total literacy and quality education, one person stands out. She or he is the teacher. His/her contribution and his/her training to impart proper total quality education is paramount. But the naked fact is that in India the role of a teacher is not recognized and appreciated in terms of their social standing and their remuneration, especially in private institutions.

However, we continue celebrating Teacher’s Day on September 5 every year on the birthday of a great educationalist and philosopher, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. As a life-long teacher Dr Radhakrishnan has set an example of extensive reading and reflection for all teachers.

The teachers may not produce books like Dr Radhakrishnan who wrote on a wide rang of topics as a result of their reading and reflection. But the teachers without exemption are certainly expected to read and reflect especially on their profession to be competent not only in the subject of teaching but also in dealing with the pupils with love.

Education is an on-going process. The teachers who do not read, reflect and update themselves are out-dated people. They are to be discarded from teaching like out-dated machinery. Only those who read, reflect and go prepared to their class rooms to impart the latest knowledge and insights should be teachers. Only those who inspire their pupils through their lives and teaching should be called teachers.

I would like to emphasis here both the aspects of a teacher’s personal life and his/her teaching. Both are inter-related and are very important because true education, they say, is not taught but caught.

Teacher’s Day gives us the occassion and opportunity to look at our teachers. Are they happy and contented people so that they are able to do their best for their pupils? A basic need of a teacher is that he/she should be adequately paid. What can the people do to see that the teachers are not exploited by private educational institutions? What can we do to see that the teachers do a good job?

When I look at my school days, I realize one thing: I did very well in studies often standing first in a subject or even in the whole class when a teacher of a particular subject or a class teacher was very loving and competent. The loving teachers were also better teachers as they came to the class well prepared.

I remember one particular instant. Thomas Sir was teaching us English in the 7th standard. He always came prepared with text book and notes to the class. He taught us also very well. Still some boys must have found English difficult. So they went to the principal and complained that Thomas Sir was not teaching well in the class.

In the next class Thomas Sir told us frankly that the Principal has told him about the complaint: Then, without naming anybody he said that any student who does not follow this his teaching, should please let him know, he would be prepared to explain the lesson again and again in the class and if need be, even outside the class. By the way he communicated with us, we felt that he was more sad because some boys did not understand his lessons than because they complained to the principal.

The ones who had complained must have felt bad. Anyway, almost everybody said, “Sir, we did not complaint against you. You are teaching us very well. We follow the lessons well.”

For me a good teacher imparts much more that the knowledge of the text book lessons. He/she prepares the students according to their age for life. Through both his/her life’s message and through lessons taught a teacher communicates human values and ideals.

I believe that all teachers, whatever lessons they teach, should teach only in the Elite School of Love. In the elite school of love, the teacher is the most loved and respected person not only by the students on the school campus but also by people in the society at large. People accept him/her as a respected and loving person. These types of teachers and their students feel proud of each other.

Let all teachers remember that by their calling they are not just teaching a few pupils but through their profession they are contributing to nation building. And we all need to remember that the teachers are the key to education and support them. Let us pledge that support on this Teachers’ Day.

Ode to an Old Friend

At 89 he is hardly able to move around freely and yet his spirit soars high. His adventurous spirit takes him to Mount Abu. His love of people and nature burst forth in poetry. He is Bother Amaro Mattos of the Society of Jesus in Gujarat. I had the privilege of knowing him from the late 1970s. When I took the editorship of DOOT as my first job as a newly ordained Jesuit priest, Brother Mattos used to send me news reports from Vadodara related to the Rosary Parish Church or on important events of Rosary School.

My association with Br Mattos has continued uninterruptedly even when I went to New Delhi as the Executive Director of a South Asian Church News Service SAR News. Brother Mattos was then my only reporter from Gujarat. Over the years our professional relationship has ceased but our friendship has grown with the exchange of letters and occasional visits.

Recently I had the opportunity of spending a few days at Mount Abu with Brother Mattos. My love and appreciation for him has grown by leaps and bounds at Mount Abu. I watched him with admiration sitting alone in the Church and playing his favourite tunes to the Lord on his mouth organ. Occasionally he also played his mouth organ for us, a few fellow Jesuits enjoying the
holidays with him.

“Varghese, I have a copy of my poetry book for you,” said Brother Mattos when I reached Mount Abu and accosted him for first time. “That’s great,” I said simply responding to his infectious smile and the simplicity of a child. Then, Brother Mattos gave me his second collection of poems entitled “THE PSALMS OF MY LIFE”. There are 39 poems. They reveal Brother Mattos as a wise and contented man in love with nature, God and His people.

Most of his poems are his prayers like the following stanza of his poem entitled “Moments Brief Yet Blissful”: May I find thee in ev’ry moment of my life – In sorrow, pain, distress. Even in joy that overflows heart’s brim. I know of your loving presence that wills it so And I own it to you before hence I go! Wide be the range of my wanderings. Another poem entitled “Moments Sweets And Amiss” reveal the wisdom of Brother Mattos and his prayerful attitude. Brother Mattos advises us in the poem to pause for a moment. When you are too busy to do so; then you will find peace, he says: Moments there are, just sweet and never amiss Midst the world’s pain or bliss; Take time on the run, pause a moment To catch up some meaningful thought on the wing That may help a change for the better in the next move, To bring you to that point wherein you’ll find Doubts, fear sorted out by assurance that reminds That God’s grace is in full evidence!

Brother Mattos knows that he has lived several decades in hope, commitment in efficient services as an educationalist. He has acquired knowledge and wisdom as well as experienced love and joy, which has faithfully passed on to his hundreds and thousands of students over the years.

And yet Brother Mattos is not a spent force but he is replete with new energies and a new spirit of love and joy. Today his mission, as he revealed at Mount Abu, is one of being rather than doing, one of witness rather than of action. In his being and witness he reveals God’s faithful love. So he sings: Every moment in His Divine Service Is one of unique grace -Let each footstep of mine lead me on Nearer to Thee, O Christ!”

It is a great pleasure to converse with Brother Mattos. He will have words of appreciation for you and for others whom he knows. But you will never hear a complaint or a disparaging word about another person. Once in his room at Vadodara he played a special tune for me on his mouth organ. Then, he read out a few new compositions of his poems. I do not know the literary quality of his poems, as I am not qualified to evaluate them, yet I can appreciate his poems as Brother Mattos communicates his wisdom and love to me through them.

What is marvelous for me is that even in his old age his grace is undiminished. His love for people and nature is as deep as ever. He is a man with no guile. His love knows no malice against anyone. What St Augustine wrote of old age is literally
true about Brother Mattos: “When we grow old, we do not lose what we were before; we build on it. It is too late to change much in the later years of our lives. We need not worry about being graceful in old age, if we were graceful as a child and as an adolescent and as a youth. And so, now that we have come of age, we should stop worrying about how we will be a year from now and begin trying to be as pleasant as we can be today.”

Enjoy old Age

“Fr. Varghese, when are you retiring?” a friend, who came to greet me on my birthday on May 31st, asked.“Instead of coming to Gujarat if I had remained in Kerala and if I had selected teaching profession like my brother and my eldest sister,my uncle and my aunt, then I would have been celebrating today a decade of my retired life. In Kerala the retiring age is 55 years. But today at 65, I am working full-time and some times over-time in my office. So I do not even think about retiring”, I said.
“The average life-span of an Indian today is little less than sixty-five years. I have completed 65 years. Now I have crossed the average life-span for an Indian. So whatever time I get now is like grace marks given to a student to get through an examination. Now whatever days or years I get,I consider them as God’s special grace to me,”I said to another friend who wanted to know my age on my birthday.

“Old age is the crown of life and it is also the last scene of our life,” said Shakespeare commenting on old age. But I consider old age like an ‘arangetram’. I found the word ‘arangetram’ in a Gujarati invitation card which I received. But I think that the word is not Gujarati but Malayalam. ‘Arangetram’ means the public exhibition of classical dance, which a student has been studying and practicing for several years.If a person spends most of his life very busy doing a lot of things, then reaching a respectable senior age, may be compared to ‘arangetram’. So old age is an ‘a rangetram’ of the dance of life,which a person has been doing all his life.

Usually ‘arangetram’ is performed at a young age. So, when I compare old age with ‘arangetram’ the old age disappears in my mind as old age and I experience the energy and restlessness of a youth. So I feel the restlessness and the impatience of a youth to pursue new goals and more achievements.Today the salaried people retire at 55 years in Kerala and 58 to 60 or even 62 to 65 years in other states. But many people do not retired on account of their age. Perhaps, they may get away from the job, which they have done all their lives but now they look for new fields for engagement and thrive in them.

As an observer of human life, I see some people suddenly getting old within a week or a fortnight after their retirement from service.They do not know what to do with their lives. So there is no freshness on their face. There is no enthusiasm in their voice. On the contrary, they appear lonely, gloomy and dejected. They are like the snake charmer whose snake has just died,and has lost his only means of livelihood. They sitidle whole day as if they are just waiting for the arrival of ‘Yamdev’, the god of death.

But the life of many people retired from their service or business,are filled with activities and they are full of life. They are able to enjoy life and they do enjoy living their old age. They do not retire from life even when they have retired from their old job. They look for new ways of leading and enjoying their old age.They look at the old age as a new opportunity to live a full life.

It is an opportunity to pursue those goals and achievements, which they always wanted to do but could not do during their life of service or business. Old age is a time to make one’s dream a reality. It is an opportunity to do pleasant and enjoyable things with a lot of leisure without being a slave to the timing of one’s
wristwatch or the wall clock of one’s office.In my youth I considered a person old at the age of 65. But at my 65 years I have discovered that adding years to one’s life have nothing to do with old age. An attitude of mind makes the difference. It is true that after certain age the physical strength of a person begins to diminish
with the years. He/she experiences certain limitations. Aging is a natural phenomenon. But with advancing age a person gains more and more valuable experiences. He/she becomes seasoned and mature. He/she looks at life in a new and true perspective.

Even though the physical strength diminishes with advancing age, the spiritual and mental powers need not diminish automatically. In fact,as age increases a person can develop his/her spiritual and mental powers. A friend of mine is pursuing doctoral studies at the age of 70 plus.People do ask my friend, “Sir, why do you pursue th
e doctorate studies at your advanced age?” “I have been a student all my life even when I was doing business and making money. Now I believe in continuing my studies till I die,”my friend says to his solicitous inquirers.

In old age we get opportunities to make progress in different areas of our lives. We can widen our knowledge by reading books and travelling to new destinations. With small and big services at home and outside home we can share our joy of serving with the people concerned. We can visit peoples in our neighborhood,who are confined to their homes, or the people in hospitals and in prisons and thus make life meaningful to us and to others.With selfless services offered to orphanages or voluntary agencies,we can share our joy of selfless service with many people.We can do a lot with our good will even when our movements are restricted with old age. We can smile and appreciate the people who look after our needs. Accepting joyfully the pain and suffering, which may come on our way due to old age, we can share our joy and contentedness of life with people who are with us at home and with those who visit us. Even when we feel loneliness and abandonment, with our good will and prayer we can get in touch with ourselves and with deep inner life we can cherish others and bless them.

In old age we need to be sure of one thing that we need not be a slave to our old age. While welcoming our advancing age we can be master of our old age by enjoyi
ng all the benefits of advanced age. In this our attitude is very important. Let us keep our attitude always positive and creative. The English poet Robert Frost comes to our assistance here. Let us cultivate the attitude of poet Frost. He says,“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.But I have promises to keep,And miles to go before I sleep.And miles to go before I sleep.

Without being overtaken by old age we specially need to keep another thing in mind. Some elders engage themselves in various activities much more than they were regularly doing during the time of their job or business. I think that it is not a good thing. People need rest in their everyday life. The elderly people need much more rest and relaxation than say, a middle agedperson. A person, who is fully occupied in endless activities in the whole day, will not find time and leisure to think and engage in creative activities.

The book of Sirach in the Bible says, “A law student acquires wisdom during his leisure hours;free from business he is capableof becoming wise”. (38, 24)

In our days, thanks to the discoveries and achievements, the average life span is on the increase.So naturally the population of the elderly people is also on the increase. So I dedicate this articleto the elderly people and I wish that their lives become more and more meaningful and happy.(contact the author:

Media Challenges Amidst Cultural and Religious Pluralism

In a Multi-cultural and pluralistic religions situation of India the greatest challenges of the mass media recently was the pogrom in Gujarat. The mass media in English reported that there was a planned genocide of the Muslims in Gujarat following the gruesome burning of a compartment of the Sabarmati Express Train at Godhra on Feb 27, 2002, which resulted in the death of 57 the devotees of God Ram.

Day after the incident the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (The World Hindu Council) announced a national strike. But strike or no strike, many groups of people went around on the day of the strike and on the following days, weeks and months attacking Muslims all over Gujarat. Some people in the government machinery either supported the communal attack or sat at the fence.The minority community of Muslims was no match for the systematically organized attacks of the fanatical and fundamentalist groups. The results were more than 2000 Muslims killed and about a lakh Muslims were made refugees in camps in their own country!

The main targets the communal attacks was small and big business establishments as well as the residence of the Muslims all over Gujarat. Consequently the Muslims suffered also loss of properties worth crores of rupees and got crippled economically. In Ahmedabad alone more than 500 small and big restaurants and hotels owned by Muslims were raised to the ground.

These attacks on Muslims all over Gujarat were carried out as if spontaneous outburst of anger of ordinary people as a reaction to burning to death of devotees of God Ram in railway compartment of Sabarmati Express. But to any discerning observer the Gujarat carnage was a well planned and executed in minute details by the politicized Hindu fanatics and fundamentalists with the approval and sometimes open support of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and the followers of the Sangh Parivar.

The Gujarat carnage threw up great changes to the media in the state. The reaction to the carnage varied from paper to paper and from one television broadcaster to another. Radio and Government controlled Doordarshan gave the ruling parties’ views. But the English press and the International Press and other media gave a totally different picture. A well known Gujarati columnist Mr Gunvant Shah was so exasperated with the English Media that he wrote in his Sunday column in “Sandesh”Gujarati daily.

“Tell a lie, but do it in English Write a lie, but do it in English Print a lie, but do it in English This way you will make threefold profits:You will be considered secular,You will be considered intellectual,You will be considered large-hearted.”
Sad to say that, like fishing in the troubled waters, some Gujarati language newspapers were concerned not with fair reporting of the daily happenings but only on the money they can make and the circulation they can build up by supporting and fanning the communal tension.The cultural and religious pluralism of India is very much in evidence in the north western state of Gujarat. This multi-cultural and religious pluralism made the communal situation worse and the challengers of the media even greater.

In the past the media especially the print media were mainly responsible for building up a society deeply rooted in tolerance and harmony in India.So during independence struggle the followers of different culture and religions came together. Hindus and Muslims, Jains and Buddhists, Christians and Parsis, stood shoulder to shoulder and they all unitedly opposed the British rulers for an independent India. The newspapers irrespective of their communal or political affiliation promoted communal harmony and a secular society in the face of cultural and religious diversities.

In a South Asian Seminar at Cochin in Kerala in February 2003 a speaker Dr Daniel Acharuparambil speaking on the theme “Media for Peace in South Asia” quoted Pope John Paul II:“The men and women of the media are bound to contribute to peace by breaking down barriers of mistrust, fostering considerations of other points of view, and striving to bring people together in understanding and respect.”

Here lies the great challenges of the print and broadcasting media. How can we break down the barriers of mistrust? How can we foster consideration of others’ points of view? and how can we bring people together in understanding and respect? The task for the mass media is indeed enormous. Herculean efforts are required.But the people in the media need not get afraid of the enormous task if one is prepared for a step by step approach. The first step is shed ignorance and prejudice against the people of other religions cultures.

In India people are deeply religious of different religions irrespective of their But, Religions unit them. The perceived or imagined danger to one’s religion make him or her to fight to protect his or her religion. Writers and journalists need to be fully aware of this situation where there is much ignorance and prejudices.

One way to fight against the ignorance and prejudice is to establish contact and good relationship between people of different religions. In my Christian and Hindu environment and culture I see a lot of enmity against the Muslims. Seeing that this enemity is created mainly by the ignorance and prejudice, I have been trying to establish contact with a few Muslim brothers and learn more about their religion, Islam as well as to portray the Mu slims in my writing as human being not different from the people of any other religion.

In a concrete instance, I wrote an article in my weekly newspaper column that a Muslim man came to my rescue when my jeep had breakdown in a deserted road late at night,I got very good response to my article through a few letters and other personal compliments. In my article I praised the Muslim Samaritan for two things. First, he help me as a person in need without knowing my identity, my religion or my organization. Second, he help me in a situation when Gujarat was totally
unsafe for anybody especially the Muslims after the Godhra holocaust on February 27, 2002 and subsequent anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat.

Another concrete step to break down the barriers of mistrust is my recruiting for the first time a Muslim youth for my In-Service Training in Professional Journalism programme. The trainee Mr Imran Asmat Shekhani is a good boy that he easily mixes with other two trainees: one tribal girl and a Catholic Dalit boy and my staff personnel too feel at home with Imran. This is also the first personal contact with a Muslim at this deep level for all my staff and trainee personnel and I am sure
that this interaction with a Muslim will leave lasting good impression on my staff and me.

Fostering the consideration of others’ points of view is something I took seriously in my profession as a journalist. The prevailing context of anti-Muslim feeling and enmity in Gujarat certainly calls for the consideration others’ point of view. In this context two books have helped me : Dr Sebastian Vempany’s bulky volume of 504 pages – book “MINORITIES IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA.”

The book’s portrayal of Muslims by the Islamologist has been so impressive and enlightening for me that I studied the book deeply and wrote a long review. A shortened review is being published by the “Third Millennium” quarterly from Rajkot.The second book is entitled “THE SHADES OF SWORDS” by an acclaimed journalist and author,Mr M J Akbar. The subtitle of the book “Jihadand the conflict between Islam and Christianity” gives a fair idea of the content of the book. In it Akbar “explains how jihad thrives on complex and shifting notions of persecution, victory and sacrifice.”

I found M J Akbar’s book a great help in considering the Muslim’s point of view about a host of things especially about current developments and trends in the world. In “The shades of Swords” Akbar as a Muslim reveals the Muslim’s point of view of history in contrast to Western and Christian points of view and I found it Akbar’s point of view very refreshing.

But in the multi-cultural and multi-religious context of Gujarat and for that matter, the whole of India, the biggest challenge to the journalists and writers is to bring people together in understanding and respect. While differences of any sort contribute to division and separation,understanding and respect bring people together.

Truth and genuine knowledge about various religions and different cultures contribute to understanding and appreciation of people different from one own religion and culture. Similarly journalists’ attitude of love and respect also contribute to bringing together the people of different religions and cultures. Here lies the challenges for writers and journalists.
A media person ‘has to tell the truth, nothing but the whole truth in love and charity.Communications of truth in love without religio-cultural bias foster understanding and commands respect. Such understanding and respect will certainl
y help people of different religions and cultures to came together in mutual love and appreciati on because knowing the truth helps people to breakdown the barriers of ignorance and prejudices.

A media person has to make positive efforts in his or her works to cover and highlight the positive sides and genuine qualities and achievements of people of different religions and cultures. Such efforts will certainly help to bring together people of different religions and cultures.In short, personnel in mass media can give leader ship to face and overcome the challenges possed by cultural and religious pluralism for peace and amity in the world.Here I suggest a few concrete steps.

First, study and understand sympathetically different religions and cultures.Second, speak, write, broadcast positively about different religions and cultures.Third, mingle and get involved with inter-cultural and inter-religious organizations and groups.Fourth, have an open mind to accept and appreciate whatever is noble and up-lighting in different cultures and religions.

And fifth, cultivate and foster friendship with people of different cultures and religions.This way a media person can not only become enriched but can also contribute substantially towards bringing people to face the challenges squarely amidst religious and cultural pluralism.