The reassurance of love

Everyone would have heard the story of the prodigal son in the Bible.  A son wanted his share in his father’s wealth and he took it and went to a faraway place.  After squandering everything, there came a famine.  And this man was given the job of feeding pigs in a farm.  He wished to pacify his hunger by eating the stuff they give to pigs. But nobody gave him even that.  Then he thought about his father and his love.  Remorseful, he went back to his father’s place.  He decided to say to his father to consider him as one of his hired servants; for he is not worthy to be called his son.

He went back and while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion.  He asked his servants to put the best robe on him, and a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet.  He asked to bring the fattened calf and kill it. He ordered to have a feast and celebrate…. For the full version of the parable read the Bible –  Luke: 15: 11-32

Also in the parable, we see the disposition of his elder son.  He head the music and dancing and asked one of his servants what was going on. When he found that his brother has come back he became angry and refused to go in, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”.

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

This was from the Bible. I did not understand the elder brother’s disposition all these years until someone wiser, someone of the Church, explained it to me.  It is ‘jealousy’.

After every debauchery, man would, sooner or later, come back to his senses.  If we have to be fortunate like the prodigal son, we have to stay fortunate.  Be grateful to what we have.  There is no point in squandering everything before we regain sanity.


The convention of naming things

Not so long ago, I came across a Dollar Store or something like that in my hometown in Kerala, India.  Painted in star-spangled-red-and-white, and perched first floor above the ground level; the shop had drawn my attention.  The shop’s name was painted right in front of the building. The name — well I will come back to it later.

I am talking about naming inanimate objects:  businesses and companies, although I might add that our naming of children is far from perfect; especially when we deviate from tradition and find new, interesting names.

Someone who is the son of a very successful builder has named his company. Born Builders. When I heard that name for the first time, I conjured up images of a dog with a big bone right between his teeth. What this particular builder has imagined might be that they are the lineage of a successful builder and that construction, or ‘building’ happens naturally to them.  They are ‘born’ builders.  It might be just that I am a little bit more wicked that normal.

Also, while commuting to work I see a small boutique selling clothes or something. Cattleya Collections.  Well, all right: Cattle Collections.

An aunt who lived in our neighborhood once asked me where I was going.  When I told her that I was going ‘shopping,’ she suggested that I could say that I was going ‘marketing’ because I was literally going to a farmer’s-market-kind-of set-up and buy fresh vegetables.  No. Language is standardized. For me, shopping is buying goods and marketing is selling goods. It is always safe to say that I was going shopping because anyone who hears it is expected to assume that I was going to buy stuff. Snobbery and superciliousness are not good substitutes for good language and meaning.

Good advertisers and marketers are good at naming things. They look at things from different angles.  They look for meaning from every conceivable language and come up with a good name. Mess up and you have got a no-brainer.

Coming back to the star-spangled store, the name of the owner of the shop was obviously Anu. ANUS RETAIL. It seems that the lady had forgotten to apostrophize the possessive.

Merry Christmas to all my readers.

There is something called noblesse oblige

Noblesse oblige is a French word which literally means ‘nobility obligates’.  It refers to the obligation of noble men to behave honorable, responsible, and generous.  But who are noble men? After the demise of monarchy, and with the advent of democracy, the word noblesse oblige is forgotten along with the root word: nobility.

Who are noble men then? A dictionary will tell you that ‘noble men are people who are born into nobility’.  People of high birth, class, or station.  I had known a few of them in my childhood. Our high school headmaster was one.  A Roman Catholic clergyman.  For me, someone who embodied the most noble person mankind has ever seen. Son of man, Jesus Christ himself.

I had known a few others also.  But those times were different.   If one had chosen it himself, one could have lived a life of nobility, bliss, and solitude.  Not now.  There were no mobile phones.  Unlike the present, evil was not communicated fast. Currently, TV and the internet is everywhere. Everyone is inter-connected at a high bandwidth. Evil-and-evil-people get easy access to noble people so that they can tempt them.  Make ‘em do wrong. It needs a very high level of personal integrity, solitude, access to good people and circumstances, and a little bit of luck – blah, blah, blah to remain noble and honorable these days. And I am talking about aristocratic people.

For lesser mortals, things get even more difficult. A lot of things ordinary people think are right are simply just not right. Nobody is there to teach them.  Of course, the holy scriptures are there. The biographies of all the good men are there in all the good libraries. But unless someone embodies them, no one is going to see them.  Nobody is going to do them. All the preaching in this world will not change the world.  Because if preaching alone would have changed the world, the world would have already changed many times over.  Every preaching, including this one; starts with the person who preaches it.  If he does what he preaches, then other people will see it.  And they will believe it.  Only then, people will start to change.

So if there is anyone who considers himself noble, please show it in your deeds. Show others the generosity, compassion, honor, and responsible behavior. And if there is anyone who would like to live nobler – without being born into nobility; do it in your spirit and works. Because you are the chosen ones.  To lead us, so that other ordinary mortals can follow.

The rising cost of healthcare

Two days ago, I had unusually exerted myself physically about the evening. And at night when I went to sleep I noticed some difficulty with breathing and my throat was congested also. It progressively got worse and worse and my breathing became increasingly difficult. Well past midnight, I noticed that my left arm started to become numb and I had immense thirst. I panicked. I was alone at home. Fearing that I was going to get a heart attack, I somehow managed to get into the hospital that was ‘only’  300 meters away.

I asked for a glass of water and they quickly gave me it.  They attached a small clip-like device to my finger (for checking the oxygen saturation in my blood), checked my BP, and immediately they did an EKG.  Oops.  It came out completely normal. Sinus Rhythm. I had also 99% oxygen saturation.  It was something more related to my gastrointestinal system than my heart.  The doctor, a lady, on duty offered to give me an injection for that.  I refused it (Pantoprazole). The next thing she told me is that I can go back home.  So about 3’O clock in the morning, I started to walk back the short distance from the hospital to the place I live in. I went to work that day.

In early days, though people had a more healthier lifestyle, they used to contract with all sorts of diseases. I am not talking about the very-early-times when plague, leprosy, and TB killed a very large number of people all over the world:  In those days, even the demography of a country was changed by the outbreak of a disease like plague. But, I am taking about a period-of-time that was as recent as twenty or thirty years ago.

In those days also, when someone was contracted with an illness he used to get admitted in a hospital. A laboratory was attached to the hospital.  There was an operation theater also. Like now, some doctors were even trained in the UK and US. But the treatment was not at all expensive. Unless one had to perform a cardiac bypass or a kidney transplant, which they had to do in a big hospital, preferably outside the state, treatment costs were under the realm of common man.

But a lot of things have changed.  Drug prices were gradually decontrolled. Surgeries and procedures that were only done in big hospitals, in big cities, started to be done in an average hospital. Hi-tech diagnostic tests have become commonplace. The aftermath: the high cost of healthcare.

Earlier, to visualize the structures inside the human body an x-ray was the one thing what the doctor needed. Currently, we have CT and MRI scans. Ultrasound scanning which was unheard of before has become routine (since it is comparatively cheaper to CT and MRI). CT or MRI essentially serves the purpose of an x-ray machine.  But with much clarity (resolution).  And the price: cost.  Generally, the clearer the type of scan, the more money the patient has to pay.

Also, people’s changed lifestyle may have contributed to the newer diseases people are getting.  I use a Teflon-coated non-stick pan in my kitchen. In my childhood we did not have Teflon. Nobody had.  What is Teflon? Well — some kind of plastic. Is it safe? After its invention it has been ‘tested’ and found to be safe.  How safe? Nobody knows.  What if Teflon causes some kind of cancer or other ailments? Just because no case has been definitely linked with Teflon-coated-utensil-use with some kind of malady, it does not mean that it is 100% safe. Metals we use to cook food like iron and copper were here for billions of years.  Teflon was invented in the last century.

Teflon, and beverages like Coke, and the preservatives we use on processed food are only recent phenomenon. Certain preservatives and certain ingredients of carbonated-bottled-sugary-water like Coke are alleged to be carcinogens.

Even though we lead a more healthy lifestyle, sooner or later we may get admitted to a hospital for a reason that sometimes be not our fault; like a motor-vehicle-accident or a natural catastrophe. If we need expert treatment (read expensive) there has to be a way to pay these bills. That is where medical insurance comes to our help.  Developed countries have a  healthcare system that is almost fully supported by the insurance companies. Treatment costs are not borne by the individuals.

Following suit, I suppose India is also getting world-class doctors and world-class treatment facilities.  So healthcare is going to get even more expensive. I am planning to take healthcare insurance for myself.  And I do it before I buy my next smartphone.

Is charismatism good or bad?

Charisma or the ability to attract people, charm, suaveness, whatever —  is hailed as one of the desirable traits.  It is no wonder that the then-new, now-old, evangelical movement in the Kerala Syro-Malabar Roman Catholic church was called by the name ‘charismatic movement’ or simply ‘charismatism.’

It was the late 1980s, and Kerala Tourism had not officially coined the tagline “God’s Own Country” but the general socioeconomic conditions were quite close to that.  The state had its own television broadcasting station that was less than five years old, thus the culture and civilization were unaffected by the corrupting western influence. (Although that is debatable.) Due to the centuries-old Christian-missionary influence the state had very high literacy levels, high healthcare and low infant mortality rates on par with developed nations.  The standard of living was high.  And the Roman Catholics here (which consisted of the Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara, and Latin rites) lived a pious life.

Along with other changes on the macro-level, a movement called “Charismatic movement” or Charismatism started to grow its roots in Kerala.  I am a practicing Christian, a Roman Catholic from the state who would like to chronicle the timeline like this.

At first a lot of people were skeptical about going to charismatic conventions but a lot were enthusiastic also.  The major factor that attracted the believers was the miraculous healing that took place on those convention sites.  People who had chronic illnesses testified of becoming healed.  The mechanism was like this.  We would hear a lot of in-person testimonies on stage.  If your illness is cured you are also supposed to come on to the stage and testify it before other people.  There was the news of a lot of healing, big and small, but no dead man ever came to life again.

Another news that spread during those initial days was that big businessmen, catholic businessmen, were the biggest sponsors of those conventions spending mind boggling amounts of cash.  What faith, and what a benevolence – it started to feel something like that during those days.

Now, I say something like this.  A businessman wants to make a profit.  If something is beneficial to him he spends money (or invests – in their parlance ) for it.

Then came one-on-one contacts.  One nun told me, “You are from a good family. You are a privileged person.  It is considered something fortunate”.

Now I know.  It is pride. One who obeys the law, the scriptures, is considered even more fortunate.

Another nun told me.  Everyone should come to this ashram and pray. After sometime this ashram will become a big house of prayer.  It shall become world-famous”.

What was that again? Ambition? That too in the Holy Catholic church?

Also people got ‘counseling’ in those initial days.  (Still gets from a qualified counselor.) People used to tell-all to an unskilled counselor only to let that person slip their secrets to someone else.

I once met our teacher, a Catholic priest, on the bus during my journey to another town which is 30 minutes away.  He was embarrassed, at least tried to conceal his embarrassment in his words.  He went something like this, “Some say there is a lot of virtuousness in these conventions.  Let me go and see.”  I saw him a few years ago.  Incidentally, he is the headmaster of the school.

Things changed very rapidly from those days.  Television broadcasting station with one-or-two channels (one-local and one-national) made way to Cable TV with multiple foreign channels, and now DTH services.  Internet and Windows PCs became ubiquitous.  Ladies dress’ changed.  Jeans and cotton-top clad ladies riding the scooter and driving the car became the norm rather than the exception.

People became more ambitious.  The charismatic movement and charismatism had its inroads to every facet of Catholic life in the state.  But after all these years, the church looks something different now.  Evangelists and believers both alike became business-minded rather than holy-minded.  It looks something more similar to Evangelical Protestantism than Catholicism.

As William James, the father of modern American philosophy puts it – you can’t have two opposites at the same time.  As Jesus puts it, you can’t have two masters at the same time.  A businessman wants to amass money, a saint wants to give ‘em all.

It is said that Judas Iscariot knew that Jesus was son of God.  “But why should I forgo 30 talents of silver? Jesus will save himself.  He has done it many times over.”

As Jesus said, if salt loses its saltiness it becomes worthless, only to be thrown outside and trampled under the feet of men.

We shall pray, Jesus saves the world.  Jesus saves the Holy Catholic Church.  Amen.

Slandering should be charged with first-degree murder

Man is unique from other animals that we need other people’s help for our very existence.  Take the case of a motorist.  His life depends not only on how well he can drive, but also on the disposition of the other drivers on the road.  If another driver is inebriated or “intexticated”, no matter how well he can drive, his life is in danger.  That is where the law and law-enforcement comes into play.  If we suspect that somebody is driving under the influence of alcohol, or without a proper license, or while texting on his mobile phone, we can call the nearby police station and pass the information on.  The driver will be arrested and hopefully will be taken off the road.  This is theory.

In practice, every time someone lurks on the border of impropriety; we might not be able to do something about it.  Even law or law enforcement has its limitations.  The offense has to be cognizable.  For non-cognizable offenses, it has to be proven in the court that someone has wronged against the society.  There are always criminal lawyers. There is always the benefit of doubt.

Since man is interdependent for his daily living, even wrongs committed in the dark, in complete privacy, even in our own thoughts are against everyone else in the society.  Because, thoughts are manifested as actions. In the opposite, every benevolent thought is good.  We do what we think. Every prayer is answered.

If every prayer and words-of-encouragement is answered, slander has the opposite effect.  It is murder on the realm of belief.  People who slanders are playing with the belief system of other people.  Only evil people do that.  And there are evil people in this world.  If they say that you are bad, that you have done something that you have not done; they are slandering.  They are committing murder on your image.  They are attempting to kill you in the society you live in.  Because man has a tendency to believe what he hear. Unfortunately, there isn’t any law against it.  I am not talking about infamous news in the newspaper.  I am not talking about false accusations in the media.  You can move court and file a libel suit in such cases.  But what about the slander spread in your society by people with certain vested interests?

How to tackle slander then?  By its inverse.  By prayer. By praying, and asking other people to pray for you.  Even people who slanders takes food everyday.  It is a virtue in its own right.  So these people are not all that bad.  Slandering should be dealt with charges of first-degree murder.  Until that day comes, let us pray that, “God they do not know what they are doing.  Please forgive them.”


True lies

A doctor was giving testimony in a court. A lawyer was examining him.

The lawyer asked, “ What did the patient tell you when you decided that it was you who was going to do the autopsy”?

—  What?”

For the second  question the doctor at least had a reply.

“ How did you know that this patient had died?”

“Because I had his brain put in a jar, in a solution, and kept before me in my table”.

Lawyers’ questions can be ridiculous at times,  and the court patiently goes through the procedure of scrutinizing  facts and figures in the quest of finding the truth.

We live in a world where information is readily available.  News is spread faster than wildfire. But how much of what is being popularized  is really true is debatable.  It is not a matter of contention that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a man on January 30 , 1948. It is widely reported that Gandhiji had said “Hey Ram” as his final words.  How?  Because the people who were standing closer to Gandhi reported it. What if Gandhi had said something else and these people were not able to truly construe it at that time? What if they just thought that Gandhi had said “Hey Ram” as his final words? What if Gandhi did not say anything ?  What the media reported that day we still believe as true.

A few years back, I was reading the news of the death of a Kerala businessman’s young son in a car accident.  The young son and his cousin was driving a car about 3 ‘o clock in the morning when he lost control of the vehicle and it capsized. The cousin who survived the accident had told the media,  “We were going really slow”.

Nonsense. For me, the cousin was lying blatantly. The accident was caused by a car that had lost control and capsized.  What was the reason? Speed, obviously.

The world’s 99% of the wealth is concentrated on 1% of the people. Even news are paid now.  To sell their ideas and wares these businessmen manipulate everything.  News, events, people, even our own brains. Beware!