Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Malayali Genius in Philology: K. Luke (1927-2010)

Following the youtube link suggested by a friend of "Vaakku blog group" I watched the interview with Dr. Rod Moag, an American linguistic professor who speaks grammatically perfect Malayalam, of course, with an Englishman’s slang. He has mastery of  7 languages. Great! However, right then I thought of introducing a simple Malayali linguist who lived among us, away from the limelight, till last year (2010). He is Dr. K. Luke. I had to wait more than a week to write about him because I needed some clarifications from one of his colleagues on certain biographical facts regarding him.

K. Luke after having obtained two Licentiates (from Gregorian University of Rome) joined the Divinity School of Chicago University (1966) and did his doctoral studies in Orientalistics. In 1971 he successfully completed his doctoral studies. His doctoral dissertation is titled “Non-Paradigmatic Forms of Weak Verbs in Masoretic Hebrew.” He had mastery over 42 languages (Mastery in the sense of speaking fluently more than 15, and mastery in the sense of knowing the grammar and syntax – all the rest). At the completion of his doctrinal studies he was offered the chair of Philology (Literary study or classical scholarship)  in the University of Chicago in 1972, which he humbly rejected in view of teaching in his own land, back in India. Such was his greatness that while living practically a very few knew of him, never did anything for publicity, (I had to search a lot for one of his photographs because he never agreed to pose for a snap), quite unassuming, ever ready to help others, and spent old age so meekly without complaints or demands immersing himself fully in research works right up to last months of his life ( I heard that in the beginning of the year of his death - June 10, 2010- he was learning a new language).

With great reverence to my great honorable professor (The Heavens blessed me for that!) here I upload a photo of him from the collection of rarities. His mortal remains are interred in the vault of the cemetery of Assisi Ashram, Bharananganam

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Every man is an Island

"If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake. That will be punishment-as well as the prison." (Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment)

The Island is 2006 best Russian film. It is a biographical film on the life of a 20th
century monk who lived in an Eastern Orthodox monastery.

Plot Summary: During World War II, the sailor Anatoly and his captain, Tikhon, are captured by the Nazis when they board their barge and tugboat which is carrying a shipment of coal. The Nazi officer leading the raid offers Anatoly the choice to shoot Tikhon and stay alive which Anatoly reluctantly takes, and Tikhon falls overboard. The Nazis blow up the ship but Anatoly is found by Russian Orthodox monks on the shore the next morning. He survives and becomes a stoker at the monastery but is perpetually overcome with guilt.

Thirty years pass. Anatoly now has the gift of clairvoyance and healing. But the other monks do not really understand him. People come to see Anatoly for cures and guidance, but even now, he remains in a perpetual state of repentance. He often gets in a boat and goes to an uninhabited island where he prays for mercy and forgiveness.

A prominent admiral arrives to see Anatoly with his daughter. The daughter is possessed by demons but Anatoly exorcises them. The admiral turns out to be Tikhon. It is revealed that Anatoly only wounded him during the war. Tikhon forgives Anatoly.

Anatoly announces a death by Wednesday; the monks provide a coffin. Dressed in a white garment such as Jesus wore, he lies in the coffin, wearing a crucifix. Monks, one carrying a large cross representing the risen Christ, are seen rowing the coffin away from the island. (from Wikipedia)

Monk Anatoly is self-awareness is great that he doesn't regard him as being clever or spiritual, but blessed "in the sense that he is an exposed nerve, which connects to the pains of this world. His absolute power is a reaction to the pain of those people who come to it;" while "typically, when the miracle happens, the lay people asking for a miracle are always dissatisfied" because "the world does not tolerate domestic miracles."(by the director Pavel Lungin) There is also something interesting about Pyotr Mamonov who played the character of Monk Anatoly. He was formerly one of the few rock musicians in the USSR, later he got converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in the 1990s and lives now in an isolated village. Pavel Lungin said about him that "to a large extent, he played himself" in the film.

"Go at once, this very minute, stand at the cross-roads, bow down, first kiss the earth which you have defiled, and then bow down to all the world and say to all men aloud, 'I am a murderer!' Then God will send you life again. Will you go, will you go?" (Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment)

“The first step toward finding God, Who is Truth, is to discover the truth about myself: and if I have been in error, this first step to truth is the discovery of my error.” (Thomas Merton)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Nestless on the Branches of Memories

“Please give this to our son Rajan. I trust only you.”

She didn’t utter a word after that. Cold death had already touched her. The next day after her death, I had a nap on the couch. The weight of that packet of coins, which she entrusted to me, was still in my hands. (From “Memories of a Father” by T.V. Eachara Varier)

Piravi is 1988 Malayalam feature film directed by Shaji N. Karun bagging 31 awards. The film is thought to be based based on the 'Rajan Case' that occurred in Kerala during the time of the emergency in 1978. The Chief Minister of the State attended a college function where a boy sang a song against him. The boy was caught by the police, brutally tortured in the police station where he died. After the Emergency, the boy's father filed a case against the government thus sparking off a big debate.

Plot: Raghu is one of two children born to Raghava Chakyar and his wife. Born quite late in his parents' marriage, Raghu is brought up with immense devotion and love until adulthood.

Now studying in an engineering college far from home, Raghu must return home for the engagement ceremony of his sister, but fails to turn up. His father Raghavan waits endlessly for his son to return. Raghavan takes daily trips to the local bus stop, waiting all day in the hope that Raghu will eventually come home. Soon it emerges, and the family come to know through newspapers, that Raghu has been taken into custody by the police for political reasons.

Raghavan sets out to try and find his son, and he eventually reaches police headquarters. However the police pretend not to know about Raghu, or his whereabouts, and furthermore, deny the fact that Raghu was taken into custody. Raghu's sister eventually comes to the realization that her brother probably has died as a result of police torture, but hasn't the heart to tell her father. Raghavan slowly begins to lose grip of reality, and starts to dream of his family reuniting once more.

(Plot summary from Wikipedia film review)

Words of Rajan’s father: “I was caught inbetween the father and the son, or rather, my father and my son. Did my father wait for me like this? Will my son go away like this? My father, the late Sri Premji, acted in the role of this father in the much-acclaimed film Piravi. In my journey through this book he was with me, telling me how painful it was to act out the role of a father who lost his son, but went on waiting for him. My dear father walked along with me into this wilderness, holding my hand. At the end of it, here I am looking back to see whether my son is still there or not. I now know that no sun sets. There is life even after death. Memories are the branches where the dead nest.

It is raining. I too am drenched. The rain cleanses everything, but scars of old wounds remain; they cannot be washed off that easily. Because of these scars, the struggle should continue, to recreate us as more beautiful people. The day has not dawned yet. It is still raining.” (Concluding words from “Memories of a Father”)

“There is life even after death. Memories are the branches where the dead nest.” Will he able to nest on the branches of the memories of our generation even after he is dead and gone….?!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

“All that is not given, is lost”

City of Joy (1992)
In life a person has three choices: to run, to spectate or to commit.
One day a surgeon named Max Lowe walks away from the operating theater and Houston and everything his life stands for. He's dropping out, and maybe in some kind of leftover '60s reflex he decides to travel to Calcutta. He hopes to disappear into the sea of humanity, I guess, and find himself, or peace, or tranquility - he's not quite sure.
Calcutta has other ideas for him. Within a few hours of his arrival he is thrust into the maelstrom of a city where thousands live in the streets, where he is a highly visible rich man, where his medical training is desperately needed. This film of Roland Joffe is based on "City of Joy," a novel by Dominique Lapierre. In the City of joy Max comes in contact with an Irish woman, named Joan Bethel (played by Pauline Collins), who runs a clinic which ministers to the sick and homeless. When she discovers that Max is a surgeon, she exerts quiet but unrelenting pressure on him to help at the clinic. Max resists at first. But later he becomes a convinced and committed doctor cum social worker standing for the downtrodden people and outcaste lepers of the city.
From other side the story develops through Hazari Pal who once lived in a small village in Bihar, India, with his dad, mom, wife, Kamla, daughter, Amrita, and two sons, Shambhu and Manooj. As the Pal was unable to repay the loan they had taken years ago from a moneylender, their land and property were auctioned, and they were rendered homeless. Hazari and his family re-locate to Calcutta with hopes of starting life anew, save some money and go back to Bihar, as well as get Amrita married. Things do not go as planned, as they lose their entire savings to a con-man, Gangooly, who took their money as rent by pretending to be a landlord. Then Hazari gets an opportunity to take up driving a rickshaw manually through a local godfather, Ghatak. Meanwhile Hazari gets to meet Dr. Max and together they strike up a friendship along with Joan Bethel. Misunderstandings crop up between Joan and the Godfather, resulting in the shutting down of their shanty medical clinic. When Hazari sides with Joan, his rickshaw is taken away. Things get worse when the Godfather passes away, leaving his estate to his way-ward son, Ashok Ghatak, who has plans to do away with the slums, especially the lepers who have now started frequenting the locality.
It is the story of a hopeless people who can simply fall into despair; still who live on struggle and glimpses of hope, and much more on the goodness of heart. Dr. Max who arrives in the “city of joy” depressed by the complex life and relations of a plentiful and bureaucratic society of America at the very outset of the film begins to fit in with his fellow slum-dwellers. And he begins to see that his life isn't half bad. There are many around him whose lives are much worse, but they look on each day with a hope that gives new strength to the depressed doctor. (Edited from three review article on the film)

Maybe the world if meant to break your heart. From the moment we're born we're shipwrecked, struggling between hope and despair.” (From ‘City of Joy”)
A man once asked Diogenes what was the proper time of supper, and he made the answer: “If you are a rich man, whenever you please; and if you are poor whenever you can.” And above all the age old saying comes to us thus: “Hope is a poor man’s bread.”

Saturday, January 15, 2011

To all my sister.... With love...

From the short story "On the Road" by Anton P. Chekhov.

(An extract from the conservation between Mr. Liharev and Miss. Ilovaisky who happened to meet on a night on their way in a "traveler's room" while taking refuge from chilling cold and heavy snow fall.)

Liharev's face darkened. "I tell you that woman has been and always will be the slave of man," he said in a bass voice, striking his fist on the table. "She is the soft, tender wax which a man always moulds into anything he likes. . . . My God! for the sake of some trumpery masculine enthusiasm she will cut off her hair, abandon her family, die among strangers! . . . among the ideas for which she has sacrificed herself there is not a single feminine one. . . . An unquestioning, devoted slave! I have not measured skulls, but I say this from hard, bitter experience: the proudest, most independent women, if I have succeeded in communicating to them my enthusiasm, have followed me without criticism, without question, and done anything I chose; I have turned a nun into a Nihilist who, as I heard afterwards, shot a gendarme; my wife never left me for a minute in my wanderings, and like a weathercock changed her faith in step with my changing enthusiasms."  Liharev jumped up and walked up and down the room. "A noble, sublime slavery!" he said, clasping his hands. "It is just in it that the highest meaning of woman's life lies! Of all the fearful medley of thoughts and impressions accumulated in my brain from my association with women my memory, like a filter, has retained no ideas, no clever saying, no philosophy, nothing but that extraordinary, resignation to fate, that wonderful mercifulness, forgiveness of everything."
Liharev clenched his fists, stared at a fixed point, and with a sort of passionate intensity, as though he were savouring each word as he uttered it, hissed through his clenched teeth:"That . . . that great-hearted fortitude, faithfulness unto death, poetry of the heart. . . . The meaning of life lies in just that unrepining martyrdom, in the tears which would soften a stone, in the boundless, all-forgiving love which brings light and warmth into the chaos of life. . . ."
Mlle. Ilovaisky got up slowly, took a step towards Liharev, and fixed her eyes upon his face. From the tears that glittered on his eyelashes, from his quivering, passionate voice, from the flush on his cheeks, it was clear to her that women were not a chance, not a simple subject of conversation. They were the object of his new enthusiasm, or, as he said himself, his new faith! For the first time in her life she saw a man carried away, fervently believing. With his gesticulations, with his flashing eyes he seemed to her mad, frantic, but there was a feeling of such beauty in the fire of his eyes, in his words, in all the movements of his huge body, that without noticing what she was doing she stood facing him as though rooted to the spot, and gazed into his face with delight.
"Take my mother," he said, stretching out his hand to her with an imploring expression on his face, "I poisoned her existence, according to her ideas disgraced the name of Liharev, did her as much harm as the most malignant enemy, and what do you think? My brothers give her little sums for holy bread and church services, and outraging her religious feelings, she saves that money and sends it in secret to her erring Grigory. This trifle alone elevates and ennobles the soul far more than all the theories, all the clever sayings and the 35,000 species. I can give you thousands of instances. Take you, even, for instance! With tempest and darkness outside you are going to your father and your brother to cheer them with your affection in the holiday, though very likely they have forgotten and are not thinking of you. And, wait a bit, and you will love a man and follow him to the North Pole. You would, wouldn't you?”
"Yes, if I loved him."
"There, you see," cried Liharev delighted, and he even stamped with his foot. "Oh dear! How glad I am that I have met you! Fate is kind to me, I am always meeting splendid people. Not a day passes but one makes acquaintance with somebody one would give one's soul for. There are ever so many more good people than bad in this world. Here, see, for instance, how openly and from our hearts we have been talking as though we had known each other a hundred years. Sometimes, I assure you, one restrains oneself for ten years and holds one's tongue, is reserved with one's friends and one's wife, and meets some cadet in a train and babbles one's whole soul out to him. It is the first time I have the honour of seeing you, and yet I have confessed to you as I have never confessed in my life. Why is it?"

Friday, January 14, 2011

"The Circle" caught him in Vicious Circle

The Circle (2000 Iranian film)
Few things reveal a nation better than what it censors. "The Circle" is a banned Iranian. There is not a single shot here that would seem offensive to the audience of a secular and democratic world. Why is it considered dangerous in Iran? Because it argues that under current Iranian law, unattached women are made to feel like hunted animals.
There is no nudity here. No violence. No drugs or alcohol, for sure. No profanity. There is a running joke that the heroines can't even have a cigarette (women cannot smoke in public). Yet the film is profoundly dangerous to the status quo in Iran because it asks us to identify with the plight of women who have done nothing wrong except to be female. "The Circle" is all the more depressing when we consider that Iran is relatively liberal compared to, say, Afghanistan under the Taliban.
Jafar Panahi's film begins and ends with the same image, of a woman talking to someone in authority through a sliding panel in a closed door. In the opening shot, a woman learns that her daughter has given birth to a girl when the ultrasound promised a boy; she fears angry reprisals from the in-laws. In the closing shot, a woman is in prison, talking to a guard. In closing the circle, the second shot suggests that women in strict Muslim societies are always in prison in one way or another.
The film follows a series of women through the streets of a city. We follow first one and then another. We begin with two who have just been released from prison--for what crime, we are not told. They want to take a bus to a city where one of them hopes to find a safe harbor. But they have no money and lack the correct identification. They run through the streets and down back alleys at the sight of policemen, they crouch behind parked cars, they ask a ticket seller to give them a break and sell them a ticket even though they have no ID. At one point it's fairly clear that one of the women prostitutes herself (off-screen) to raise money to help the other. Men all over the world are open-minded about exempting themselves from the laws prohibiting other men from frequenting prostitutes.
If you have no ID, you cannot leave town. If you have no ID, you cannot live in a town. Your crime, obviously, is to be a woman living outside the system of male control of women; with a husband or a brother to vouch for you, you can go anywhere, sort of like baggage. The argument is that this system shows respect for women, just as Bantustans in South Africa gave Africans their own land, and American blacks in Jim Crow days did not have to stand in line to use white restrooms. There is a universal double-speak in which subjugation is described as freedom.
We meet another woman, who has left her little daughter to be found by strangers. She hides behind a car, her eyes filled with tears; as a single mother she cannot care for the girl, and so dresses her up to look nice, and abandons her. We meet another woman, a prostitute, who is found in the car of a man and cannot prove she is related to him. She is arrested; the man seems to go free. Has there ever been a society where the man in this situation is arrested and the woman goes free? The prostitute at least gets to smoke on the prison bus (not when she wants to, but after the men light up, so the smoke will not be noticed).
The movie is not structured tautly like an American street thriller. There are hand-held shots that meander for a minute or two, just following women as they walk here or there. The women seem aimless. They are. In this society, under their circumstances, there is nowhere they can go and nothing they can do, and almost all of the time they have to stay out of doors. They track down rumors: A news vendor, for example, is said to be "friendly" and might help them. From time to time, a passing man will say something oblique, like "Can I help you?" But that is either casual harassment or a test of availability.
The Iranian censors may ban films like "
The Circle," but it got made, and so did the recent "The Day I Became a Woman," about the three ages of women in such a society. One suspects that videotapes give these films wide private circulation; one even suspects the censors know that. I know a director from a communist country where the censor had been his film-school classmate. He submitted a script. The censor read it and told his old friend, "You know what you're really saying, and I know what you're really saying. Now rewrite it so only the audience knows what you're really saying.”
(Review article b y Roger Ebert)
(Director of the film,  Jafar Panahi was arrested last year by the state, and now is sentenced to a 6-year prison sentence by an Iranian court and banned from making films for two decades. Panahi won Camera d’Or honors at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival for his first film, The White Balloon, and he won the Golden Lion in 2000 for The Circle. Another Iranian filmmaker, Muhammad Rasoulof, recently was also dealt a 6-year jail sentence by a regime determined to silence dissident artists. This underscores why the internationality of cinema is so important.
I wish if only some of our malayali directors (and at large Indian film directors) were arrested and silenced lifelong for making worthless films which would no way help to transform our Indian society, other than making the nation a foolish people who serve as customers for their industrial product! And I earnestly wish to have at least a handful of Jafar Panahis in our land).

Discourse of Buddha (4)

Buddha on Compassion

"The Dew of Compassion is a tear"

Buddha says:
I look for no recompense-not even to be reborn in heaven-but I seek the welfare of men to bring back those that have gone astray, to enlighten those that live in the night of error, to banish all pain and all suffering from the world.
Not for the sake of my own well-being I practice universal benevolence; but I love benevolence, because it is my desire to contribute to the happiness of living beings.
Whatsoever may be the cause of your suffering, do not wound another.
Whoso hurts and harms living creatures, destitute of sympathy for any living thing, let him be known as an outcast.
Goodwill toward all beings is the true religion; cherish in your heart boundless goodwill to all that lives.
The distinctive signs of true religion are goodwill, love, truthfulness, purity, nobility of feeling and kindness.
All beings long for happiness; therefore extend your compassion to all.
Hatreds never cease by hatred. By love alone they cease. This is an ancient law.
Forbearing patience is the highest asceticism. Nirvana is supreme-say the Buddhas. For he is not a recluse who harms another, nor is he an ascetic who molests others.
By inflicting pain on others, he who wishes his own happiness is not released from hatred, being himself entangled in the tangles of hatred.
As a mother, even at the risk of her life, protects her son, her only son; so let him who has recognized the truth, cultivate goodwill among all beings without measure.
The charitable man is loved by all; his friendship is prized highly; in death his heart is at rest and full of joy, for he does not suffer from repentance; he receives the opening flower of his reward and the fruit that ripens from it.
Hard it is to understand: By giving away our food, we get more strength; by bestowing clothing on others, we gain more beauty; by founding abodes of purity and truth, we acquire great treasures.
Just as the vigorous warrior goes to battle, so is the man who is able to give. Loving and compassionate, he gives with reverence and banishes all hatred, envy and anger.
The charitable man has found the path of liberation. He is like the man who plants a sapling securing thereby the shade, the flowers and the fruits in future years. Even so is the result of charity, even so the joy of him who helps those that are in need of assistance; even so is the great nirvana.
The immortal can be reached only by    continuous acts of kindness; and perfection is accomplished by compassion and charity.
That which is most needed is a loving heart.
“For those who may not find happiness to exercise religious faith, it's okay to remain a radical atheist, it's absolutely an individual right, but the important thing is with a compassionate heart- then no problem.” (Dalai Lama)

If I had my child to raise all over again...

“White Ribbon”
If I had my child to raise all over again,
I'd build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I'd finger-paint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I'd take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I'd take more hikes and fly more kites.
I'd stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I'd do more hugging and less tugging.
(Diane Loomans, from "If I Had My Child To Raise Over Again")
“White Ribbon” (2009) is a German “Children’s film” directed by Michael Haneke. It is a story about the rise of any kind of terrorism. There is a clear biographical through line between the story of the film and the rise of the Nazi party during World War II. This is a film about the development of Evil. But it is also a personal, relatable story about a community in crisis. However one reads it, the film is a powerful, searing work about the darkness kept hidden not behind just closed doors but sometimes dangerously within the souls of community leaders — religious, medial, political, and educational.
The stroy takes place in Eichwald, Germany in 1913 and 1914. It is a close-knit community led by one doctor, one teacher, one pastor, and one baron who dictate what is right and wrong, overseeing and controlling much of the action in their vicinity. The pastor is rigid; the teacher (who narrates the story as a memory) is kind; the baron is tough on his employees; the doctor is outwardly gentle but hides remarkable evil.
The story opens with an attack on the doctor and his horse and, shortly thereafter, a female worker of the baron dies in his sawmill and the worker’s son seeks revenge, highlighting clear social issues that threaten to tear apart the community. But the outward class conflict of “The White Ribbon” hides something much more sinister. The mystery deepends when the baron’s son is abducted and tortured. Then there is a fire.
Haneke traces the spoor of guilt back to childhood. The White Ribbon, however, is not about a single buried trauma, but a whole culture of repression in which the powerless – children, mostly, but also a disenfranchised working class – are subjected to a system of barbarous punishments. At the centre of the film is the village's fiercely disciplinarian pastor, played by Burghart Klaussner. The pastor insists on a family tradition of the "white ribbon" which his wife dutifully prepares from her sewing box. The pastor disciplines his two oldest children with notable severity, forcing them to wear a badge of humiliation (the white ribbon) to remind each of their lost purity. He whips his oldest boy at the dinner table, and instructs that his hands be tied at bedtime to prevent him indulging any unnatural urges. In one upsettingly horrible edit the film for a moment suggests that the pastor is sexually abusing the boy, but the grunting figures are revealed to be the doctor and his long suffering midwife. Haneke won't let us off that easily, though, and later raises the spectre of incest in a different household.
When the schoolmaster is driving his fiancée home he turns off the road, suggesting a quiet spot where they can "picnic". She demurs, understanding the euphemism, and asks him to resume their journey. He gently confesses that he had no ulterior motive, but he understands her fear ("please") and yields to it.
In the second, the pastor, barely deserving of anything good, is visited by his youngest son, who offers him the pet bird he has nursed back to health. It will replace his father's own dead bird – also mischievously destroyed – and "cheer him up". The pastor's face seems about to crumple under the force of such compassion. So Haneke is not holding up a whole generation to opprobrium; he is never so unambiguous. The White Ribbon remains open-ended, and thus a little frustrating. We have no conclusive proof of the evildoers' identities, however strong are suspicions may be. This cool-headed, watchful film simply invites us to observe, to imagine, to make up our own minds. That's another way of saying it treats its audience as grown-ups.
(Edited from different review articles on the film)

“The great challenge of adulthood is holding on to your idealism after you lose your innocence.”  (Bruce Springsteen)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Silence is a text easy to misread. (A.A. Attanasio, 'The Eagle and the Sword')

A long contemplative documentary on Monastic Life
“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have - for their usefulness.” (Thomas Merton)
Winter, spring, summer, fall...and winter. No, this is not the quasi-eponymous Korean movie. It is the period of time over which the film was shot, around 2002. It is a documentary on the Grande Chartreuse cloister situated in a deep valley above the city of Grenoble, France. A couple of dozen monks live there. There are novices on probation and seniors long having made their vow of permanent ascetic life. The rhythm of their daily cloistered routines is the backbone of the film: frequent prayers, meals eaten alone in individual private apartments, execution of assigned chores, etc. From Monday to Saturday few words are exchanged. The only sounds are those of human movement, work activities, church bells and chirps from the surrounding forest. The only music to be heard is that of liturgical evening chants.
Not every aspect of monastic life is covered. As the director explains, this is not an informational film. It is a long contemplation on ascetic life. It may seem too long after two hours. The tedious repetitiveness is purposeful however. Even on-the-screen quotes are shown multiple times throughout the movie accentuating that repetitiveness. It is enough to convince us that it takes a special individual to commit to such constrained existence, one modulated only by the moods of the seasons. We are presented with snapshots of odd moments: monks frolicking in the snow; preparing a vegetable garden for spring seeding; a summer Sunday outing when monks are free to socialize and, on this day, they discuss the appropriateness of washing one's hands before meals (a contrarian monk has a simple solution: don't get your hands dirty).
Despite the isolation, there are signs the outside world is not too far. Fruits are served with supermarket produce number stickers still attached, correspondence and bills arrive and managed with a laptop computer (no evidence of an Internet connection), and some of the tools are distinctly modern.
It's a quiet film. Too long and soporific for some, possibly inspiring to others. What stayed with me after watching 162 minutes of this is the plain beauty of the cloister and the reminder of a life style that we may have thought extinct in the West.
(Review by Rasecz)
“Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.
“A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.(Thomas Merton)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Never deprive someone of hope -- it may be all they have

Cast Away (2000 film Directed by Robert Zemeckis)

“Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.”  (Lin Yutang)
Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), a FedEx systems engineer, has no time or need for hope; he's too busy flying around the world taking care of business. In Russia, Chuck is a cheerleader telling employees: "Let us not commit the sin of turning our back on time!" Back home for Christmas, he has two minutes for a gift exchange with his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt). She gives him her grandfather's pocket watch with her picture inside the case. He gives her a ring box, hints at a proposal to come, then runs to catch his cargo flight to the Far East where he needs to put out another corporate fire. His last words to her: "I'll be right back."
Not hardly. His plane goes down in the South Pacific during a storm. The crew all die in the crash but Chuck survives and washes up on a deserted island. Now he has all the time in the world to try to stay alive. All he has to do is find food, water, shelter, and learn how to make a fire. Not so easy for a person who has spent a lifetime relying upon modern conveniences. Luckily for Chuck, some FedEx packages have washed up on shore too. Ice skate blades are handy as a knife, netting from a dress becomes a fishing net, videotape is used as rope.
Four years later Chuck has found a cave for shelter. Hope of his eventual reunion with Kelly has kept his spirits up — her picture inside the watch is a sacred talisman for him. As an antidote to his impatience and loneliness, Chuck has painted a face out of his own blood on a volleyball that he found in a FedEx box. He establishes an emotional relationship with "Wilson" that enables him to express his feelings. (Wilson is 2000's year's testament to the soul of things; 1999's was the plastic bag in American Beauty.)
Cast Away is inventively directed by Robert Zemeckis based on a screenplay by William Broyles, Jr. With his everyman image, Tom Hanks is the perfect actor to play Chuck Noland. First he's the archetypal go-getter who does everything conceivable to stay in control of his life. To him the beauty of the island means nothing without the accoutrements of Western culture; the place is a prison, not a South Seas paradise. Over time, he adjusts and creates a life, but he still knows his solitary existence is precarious. Believing in himself, against logic, and out of love, he decides to risk everything to escape aboard a raft. He is motivated purely by hope.
The surprises awaiting Chuck when he returns to Memphis and his long-awaited reunion with Kelly cannot be revealed. But this survivor has discovered the secret long known to spiritual adventurers down through the centuries — the art of giving up the illusion of control and opening oneself to the mysteries of the present moment. By the end, Chuck no longer needs to know exactly what the future will look like. He turns his back on time. His four years of training have set him free for a greater life than the one designed by his ego. Wisdom and love are just down the road.

(Review article By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat)

It is Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man’s torments.” (Human, All Too Human, 1878) Nietzsche is true if he considers hope as a vain expectation to prolong a transitory life somehow. But the question in life is: “if you knew that hope and despair were paths to the same destination, which would you choose?” (Robert Brault) According to an unknown thinker “When the world says, Give up, Hope whispers, Try it one more time.”

Monday, January 10, 2011

“Those committed to the poor must share the same fate as the poor.” (Oscar Romero)

“A church that suffers no persecution but enjoys the privileges and support of the things of the earth - beware! - is not the true church of Jesus Christ. A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the gospel. A preaching that makes sinners feel good, so that they are secured in their sinful state, betrays the gospel's call.” (Oscar Romero)
The film Romero (1989) is based on the life story of Oscar Romero was a priest and bishop in El Salvador. His love for his people who were suffering violence and oppression led him to take their side and to denounce their oppressors. He was killed whilst saying Mass. The film is directed by John Duigan and starred Raúl Juliá and produced by Paulist Productions. Timed for release ten years after Romero's death, it was the first Hollywood feature film ever to be financed by the Roman Catholic Church. The film received respectful, if less than enthusiastic, reviews.  
Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez was born in Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador, on August 15, 1917. His father, the town postmaster and telegraph operator, apprenticed him to a carpenter when he was 13, but the younger Romero felt a vocation for the Roman Catholic priesthood and left home the following year to enter the seminary. He studied in El Salvador and in Rome and was ordained in 1942.
Romero spent the first two and half decades of his ministerial career as a parish priest and diocesan secretary in San Miguel. In 1970 he became auxiliary bishop of San Salvador and served in that position until 1974 when the Vatican named him to the see of Santiago de María, a poor, rural diocese which included his boyhood hometown. In 1977 he returned to the capital to succeed San Salvador's aged metropolitan archbishop, Luis Chávez y González, who had retired after nearly 40 years in office.
Romero's rise to prominence in the Catholic hierarchy coincided with a period of dramatic change in the Church in Latin America. The region's bishops, meeting at Medellín, Colombia, in 1967 to discuss local implementation of the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), had resolved to abandon the hierarchy's traditional role as defender of the status quo and to side, instead, with the continent's poor in their struggle for social justice. This radical departure divided both the faithful and the clergy. Conservative laymen complained of "Communist" priests, while many clerics refused to accept the new role the Church was creating for itself in Latin American society.
In El Salvador, an extremely conservative society where the privileged few enjoyed great wealth at the expense of the impoverished majority, younger priests, among them many foreigners, grasped the new ideas enthusiastically, but the only prelate who encouraged them was Archbishop Chávez y González. During this period Oscar Romero's reputation was as a conservative, and on more than one occasion he showed himself skeptical of both the Vatican II reforms and the Medellín pronouncements. For this reason his appointment as archbishop in 1977 was not popular with the politically active clergy, to whom it appeared to signal the Vatican's desire to restrain them. To their surprise, Romero emerged almost immediately as an outspoken opponent of injustice and defender of the poor.
By Romero's own account, he owed his change of attitude to his brief tenure as bishop of Santiago de María, where he witnessed firsthand the suffering of El Salvador's landless poor. Increasing government violence against politically active priests and laypersons undermined his trust in the good will of the authorities and led him to fear that the Church and religion themselves were under attack. The assassination on March 12, 1977, of his longtime friend Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande brought a stinging denunciation from Romero, who suspended masses in the nation's churches the following Sunday and demanded the punishment of the responsible parties.
As Romero spoke out more and more frequently over the coming months, he gathered a large popular following who crowded into the cathedral to hear him preach or listened to his sermons over YSAX, the archdiocesan radio station. In his youth Romero had been a pioneer of broadcast evangelism in El Salvador, and he now turned the medium to great effect as he denounced both the violence of El Salvador's developing civil war and the deeply-rooted patterns of abuse and injustice which bred it. In a country whose rulers regarded dissent as subversion, Romero used the moral authority of his position as archbishop to speak out on behalf of those who could not do so for themselves. He soon came to be known as the "Voice of the Voiceless."
When a coup d'état overthrew the Salvadoran government on October 15, 1979, Romero expressed cautious support for the reformist junta which replaced it. He soon became disenchanted, however, as the persecution of the poor and the Church did not cease. In February 1980 he addressed an open letter to U.S. President Jimmy Carter in which he called upon the United States to discontinue military aid to the regime. "We are fed up with weapons and bullets," he pleaded.
Romero's campaign for human rights in El Salvador won him many national and international admirers as well as a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. It also won him enemies, however. On March 24, 1980, a group of unidentified gunmen entered a small chapel in San Salvador while Romero was celebrating mass and shot him to death. The archbishop had foreseen the danger of assassination and had spoken of it often, declaring his willingness to accept martyrdom if his blood might contribute to the solution of the nation's problems. "As a Christian," he remarked on one such occasion, "I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people."
(From Gale Encyclopedia of Biography)
"I'm deeply impressed by that moment when Christ stands alone before the world figured in Pilate. The truth is left alone, his own followers have been afraid. Truth is fearfully daring, and only heroes can follow the truth. So much so that Peter, who has said he will die if need be, flees like a coward and Christ stands alone…Let's not be afraid to be left alone if it's for the sake of the truth. Let's be afraid to be demagogs, coveting the people's sham flattery. If we don't tell them the truth, we commit the worst sin: betraying the truth and betraying the people. Christ would rather be left alone, but able to say before the world figured in Pilate: Everyone who hears my voice belongs to the truth.” (Romero)