Volume XXVIII, Issue 6, April-May 2011

Editorial: Talent, Art & Culture

You can’t miss the banner announcing the Creativity Workshops as you enter the Matunga Campus. This talent development programme, initiated by Peter Gonsalves well over a decade ago, has grown to be the most popular service offered by Tejprasarini. Eager youngsters, with determination written large across their faces, excitedly troop into the campus and passionately immerse themselves into the music, dance, acting and other classes. Come the summer vacations and these workshops are brimming with young people happily developing their talents. A great way to spend the holidays!

And what about us Salesians? Could we also not set aside some time during the holiday season to brush up our own talents?

Down the years, certain talents or skills were considered to be of great value in Salesian life—they were in fact the defining elements of our culture. Today, unfortunately, these skills are on the brink of extinction and in some cases have even totally disappeared from our lives.

Take music for example. Music has grown to be a massive industry the world over, with youngsters being its chief clientele. And not only are youth consumers of music, they are also the crafters and creators of it. I am overawed by the children who often give performances here in our city, finding their way with grace and ease through complex Bach and Beethoven compositions. So why aren’t we attaining similar standards of perfection? Why aren’t we producing Isaac Sterns and Arthur Rubinsteins from among our Salesians? No, I don’t buy the argument that it is sufficient for us to know just enough music to keep the kids entertained—to strum the guitar at a picnic or to accompany the singing in church. That is not an exhibition of our modesty; it is but an excuse for our mediocrity. It is time we get our musically talented young Salesians to work their way through Trinity College examinations and emerge as maestros in the musical arena.

And the art of writing. I recall Fr Arokiam, our Regional, at a recent meeting talking about the power of the novel and its influence on the thinking and behaviour of people. We Salesians should consider writing novels if we want to reach a large audience, he suggested. Certainly a ‘novel’ idea! But good writing doesn’t just happen—it is an art that needs to be painstakingly perfected. The free moments that the holidays afford us would be an excellent time to put pen to paper and embark on our literary pursuits. And yes, we live in fortunate times when we don’t have to chase publishers—it is enough to launch your own blog and post your works there. And if we work hard and long, we will certainly have a Rohinton Mistry or an Amitav Ghosh rising from our ranks.

Reviving these ‘lost arts’ will not only keep alive the ‘Salesian culture’ but also enable us to be ‘cultured Salesians’. I have always admired the refinement and grace of the Parsees. Undoubtedly their elegance comes from their prolonged exposure to the arts. Immersing ourselves in music, theatre, literature and the other arts will definitely have a similar refining effect on our personalities.

Cultivating our talents, mastering the skills, growing into cultured persons—now that is more than a holiday agenda, but the holidays are the best time to begin.

Savio Silveira sdb

The Stuff of Writers

Ian Doulton sdb

Among the many photographs of Don Bosco preserved in the central archive there are some that those who knew him, considered as the truest representation of the saint. They were taken on March 16, 1886 by Angelo Ferretto for the Genoa firm of Gustavo Luzzati when Don Bosco was over seventy years of age. He was on his way to Spain at the time, and had stayed a few days at the Salesian school of Sampierdarena (Genoa). In this portrait Don Bosco’s eyes have a brightness about them that fascinates and impresses the viewer. It is hard to believe that when these photographs were taken Don Bosco was practically blind – he had lost sight out from his right eye, and his left eye was weak and barely functioning [1] . When he posed for the famous Luzzati photographs (mentioned above) Don Bosco was practically blind. It appears that by that time he was suffering from irreversible macular degeneration—but managed withal to write. In spite of being plagued with near blindness and other handicaps, Don Bosco never stopped working untiringly at the apostolate of the written word—making use, in his later years, of helpers to further his efforts. The output is enormous. Both Pietro Stella and Francis Desramaut have compiled lists of books and pamphlets authored by Don Bosco and published over the years 1844-1888, lists that run to hundreds of titles. Stella [2]lists 403 titles of books and pamphlets in their various editions in various languages. Desramaut [3]lists 145 titles: 108 signed or claimed by Don Bosco; 37 attributed to Don Bosco – quite an achievement by a person so handicapped!

For the sake of my article, I am inclined to envision him as exhausted and old with tired eyes squinting slightly as he struggles to read what he has just been writing. He bends down again and his pen rages across the paper as he writes by the light of a lamp in his first floor room at Valdocco. He writes with the fury of a prophet, his pen scarcely keeping pace with his thoughts.

Just observe the urgency with which he wrote to the Salesians in 1885:I beg and beseech you therefore—do not neglect this important sector of our mission (spreading good literature). Begin by working with the young people that Providence has entrusted to you; and then by word and example inspire them to be, in their turn, apostles for the spreading of good books.” He felt urged to write and publish what he wrote for all kinds of people, for peasants, paupers and princes, for the intelligentsia and the clergy but most importantly for his boys who eagerly lapped up whatever he wrote. How blessed the reader to have been able to connect with so prolific a writer!

He would write while he was sitting in shaky stagecoaches as they trundled through the towns of Northern Italy or he would busy himself correcting proofs of The Catholic Readings while taking the train from Turin to Pistoia and Piacenza with Fr. Costamagna. [4] Occasionally gazing out of the window…he was not admiring the countryside but only slowing down his trend of thought and if he closed his eyes it was to rummage through his treasure chest of words for one that would precisely fit the idea he wished to put into words. No lazy verbs, no vanilla adjectives. His sentences were graphic and concise. Immorality and squalor, bourgeois decadence and highhanded aristocracy certainly upset him and he wrote compulsively in order to protect his youngsters from becoming victims of this dangerous and unstable environment. At times he might have been very tired, frustrated and even upset but he was never confusing in the way he let his thoughts leave his pen. They were meant for his boys (and simple folk) so they had to be, not just readable but interesting. He wasn’t writing some learned tome, he was writing to grip the hearts of his boys and his Salesians. He wasn’t crafting encyclicals; he was inspiring souls, admonishing the wayward, addressing issues and solving problems. Probably he did not realise it, but as he wrote about the issues of his time, his writings would affect future generations. While he was writing he made certain that he addressed himself above all, to his boys and his Salesians in the various communities of his fledgling congregation, his main aim being “the salvation of their souls.”

An Early Start

Just think of little Johnny Bosco, a young stable boy at the Moglia farmstead of Moncucco who spent his spare moments reading.[5] And whatever he read sank into his mind, firing his little soul with thoughts about his future mission – the care of youngsters. While he was in Chieri and working as bartender’s assistant, he slept every night beneath the staircase at Café Pianta but not before he had read a few pages from a book that his spiritual director had given him. Obviously his craving to read led to his urge to write. We wonder if God could not use us to do the same.

Don’t we know a couple of confused youngsters, maybe on our college campuses, in our parish youth groups or at our holiday camps? And have we not felt that yearning within our hearts to see things turn out right for this “most vulnerable part of society”? For so many other social and personal reasons haven’t we, at least mentally, written articles, blogs or even stories? Maybe not as prolific like Don Bosco, or Fr. Lemoyne, Fr. Braido or so many others, even our very own Fr. Chavez whose letters we so unanimously hail as moving, relevant and powerful? We’re not unlike them, because, we, like them, have that yearning to serve youngsters that so tempts us to take up the pen or turn on the PC.

Begin with a thought

Admit it; we have had our moments of inspiration, sandwiched between hours of perspiration, for sure, but we have had our moments—mystical moments of pounding heart and pounding keyboard. We have felt the wind behind our backs and sensed a holy hand guiding ours. We, like our Creator, have beheld our creations and declared, “It’s good.” (Or, at least, “It’s not so bad.”) And we have asked: Is this our call? Our assignment? To use words to touch young lives and shape youthful souls? Our first attempts may frighten us. Many of us might dread a writing assignment, but gradually we will come to cherish this labour of putting words to our ideas and pen to paper so that our thoughts may give life and our words may take flesh. Sometimes with a notebook nearby I have waited for a thought, at other times I have just retreated with pad and pen and waited until something happened…and it did.

Believe me, with such desire and commitment, something is bound to happen and before you know it your pen will be flying across a page or your fingers will fling themselves recklessly over a keyboard as your thoughts flow. And then is there any sweeter moment than the writing of your final sentence?

An Influential Task

Actually there is: the appreciation thereof. When someone comes up to you and tells you that what you wrote touched them ‘spot-on;’ while another photocopied your article to pass it on to friends and yet someone else asked for a soft-copy to be able to send it on to friends abroad. You will then feel it was all worth your while. But then comes the suggestion from someone: why not write for publication? You might be a bit amused because you never dreamt you would ever hear such a suggestion. It’s one thing to write. It’s quite another to be read.

I believe that good words are worth the work. Well-written words can change a life. Why is this? Because words go where we never go— across continents like Africa, Australia, Indonesia…and descend to depths you’ll never believe fathomable, into the personal lives of those who needed just a thought to help them make a choice.

Think of this:

Readers invite the author to a private moment. They clear their schedules, find the corner, switch on a bedside lamp, turn off the television or just glance through your ‘opus’ while taking the train or sitting at an air terminal. They set the table, pull out the chair and invite you: “Come, talk to me for a moment.” It’s an invitation of a lifetime.

Admit it. Your writing is needed. This generation needs the best you can write and the clearest thinking you can render. Pick up the pens left by Don Bosco, Fr. Lemoyne, Fr. Braido…or even our very own Fr. Pascual Chavez. They have shown what writing can do.

The Birthday Cake!

Have you had an experience of going shopping for something, say for instance a birthday cake for a confrere? The administrator knows you’re in town and calls you and you say: “Of course.” But when you get back you find that you’ve bought all the other unnecessary stuff but simply skipped the “birthday cake!”

You forgot the big item. The one thing you promised you’d get – the birthday cake! How embarrassing!

Might we make the same mistake? In an effort to write well, let’s not forget the subject we’re tackling. In an effort to be creative, let’s also be clear.

The most important point – the birthday cake! The early Christian writers remembered it. They made certain that every reader received the unparalleled revelation, the defeat of evil, the beauty of truth, goodness and love. They didn’t forget the cake! Don’t forget it. Entertain, inform, inspire, engage, thrill and stir, but amidst your plots and word-pictures, don’t forget the cake! All our predecessors from Don Bosco right down to our present Rector Major didn’t, they delivered.

Conclusion – Writing from Life

What’s most important is that they wrote with their lives first. They lived the message before they wrote it. Our Salesian writers didn’t inhabit ivory towers or quarantine themselves in a world of un-asked questions. They were truly Salesians with dusty tucked-up cassocks from the playgrounds..., perspiration dripping down their foreheads…and hearts burning with a desire to pass on the fire that burned in their hearts. Like Don Bosco himself, today his sons still respond to a real world embroiled in real problems, with real words. We must do the same.

As Salesians are we not lovers of the young? Loving the grumpy ones, the grubby ones, the hungry ones and those struggling with issues too huge to handle alone; so it’s time to write and write with clarity. Good writing is clear thinking. Don Bosco was his own editor. He auditioned his stories to fit the manuscript. Good writers do this. They tap the delete button to distill the writing. Make every word earn its place on your page. Reread your masterpiece until you’ve thrown out all that stinks.

Ernest Hemingway espoused re-writing: “I rise at first light, and I start by reading and editing everything I have written to the point where I left off. That way I go through a book several hundred times, honing it until it gets an edge like a fighter’s sword. I rewrote the ending of ‘A Farewell to Arms’ 39 times in manuscript and over 30 times in proof trying to get it right.”[6]

And isn’t our aim to put forth the best article possible? We want to offer good stuff so we put forward only our best contribution. Don’t give up. Be stubborn with your standard. Stay faithful in your intent. Don’t begrudge the hard work. It is noble work!

[1] Cf. G. Soldà, Don Bosco nella fotografia dell’800 (Torino: SEI, 1987), p. 183-186]

[2] Cf. P. Stella: Gli Scritti a stampa di S. Giovanni Bosco (Roma: LAS, 1977), p. 25-79

[3] Cf. F. Desramaut: Don Bosco en son temps (Torino: SEI, 1996) p.1369-1381

[4] Mons. James Costamagna, Writings and Life in Salesian Spirituality, edited by Eugene Valentini, LAS Rome, 1979

[5] Cf. G.B. Lemoyne: The Biographical Memoirs of St. John Bosco Vol. I (English Edn.) p. 147

[6] (Readers’ Digest, October 1968, “I Remember ‘Papa’ Hemingway,” by A. E. Hotchner, p. 151.

My Tryst With Music

Kenneth Pereira sdb

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night begins with the immortal words: “If music be the food of love, play on!” Well, whatever music may mean to lovers, my tryst with music inclines me to regard it more as the food of discipline and soulfulness.

One of the things that I noticed early in my childhood is that some people have music in their blood while others simply don’t. And I would discover, by and by, that with music go a whole cluster of other virtues such as gracefulness, rhythm, feeling, expressivity, perseverance and discipline. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that there is an intrinsic connection between these virtues and musicality. But I cannot help noticing that musically gifted people also evince these virtues in a remarkable measure.

During my primary school days, the ‘singing class’ was an inalienable part of our school timetable. It was here that I discovered—to my puzzlement—that there were companions in my class who were tonally insensitive. If our music teacher asked them to sing ‘higher’, the only outcome was a ‘louder’ version of the same melody, lustily rendered in falsetto. I guess they wouldn’t be able to appreciate the difference between C sharp and B flat beyond the one liner: “If there’s a banana peel on the road and you don’t C sharp you will soon B flat!”

My parents were never professionally into music. But yes, they did possess an innate musical sensibility. They combined beautifully whenever they sang duets at parties and get-togethers. Well, when I was about eight or nine years old, they must have realised that I was musically inclined, and so decided to give me the opportunity that they had missed in their childhood: to hone my musical talent by learning to play a musical instrument. So one day, when they asked me which instrument I would like to learn, my first choice was the piano! (Our ‘singing class’ teacher played it so well!) Alas, our home was too pokey to accommo­date a piano—electronic keyboards were unheard of in those days. So I settled for the violin. It was my second choice then, but has become my first love today. My younger siblings were more into sports, and so never pursued music with the same rigor as I did; nevertheless, they too proved to be naturally talented in music, and always carried away prizes at singing competitions.

Mastering the violin was one of the most formidable experiences of my life... and even now, I cannot say that I’ve really ‘mastered’ it. In my earlier years of violin study, I had to bear up with a lot of disparaging remarks from friends and family. Some of them told me that my violin sounded like a cat in agony. Others found the piercing notes of the violin downright irritating. But encouragement also came from a few quarters. They told me that the violin is the king of all musical instruments, and that if I could master it, then I too would be a king of sorts. But it was only when I was exposed to good violin music (on LPs and cassettes) that I realised what I was up to. The music of Paganini and Sarasate, outstanding in brilliance and pyrotechnics, beckoned me to invest my time and my energies in a ‘labour of love’ that I too might be able to achieve such artistry.

Looking back at all those years, I realise on hindsight that my romance with the violin has disciplined me more than any external authority could ever have done. Every musician knows how important it is to have precision in intonation, economy in one’s choice of notes, and accuracy in keeping timing. Cutting corners alla buona is simply unthinkable. No wonder so many musicians are accused of being (tyrannical) perfectionists!

While ‘cold blooded’ perfectionism seems to be a recurrent trait among many musicians, mercifully—and ironically—there is also the other side of the coin: soulfulness. Good music is more than a matter of technique; it is an art. It calls for a good measure of ‘emotional’ intelligence. While on the one hand my favourite violinists have ‘wowed’ me by their virtuosity, I also notice that these same musicians have been able to stir the depths of my soul by the emotions that they evoke through their rendition of other pieces. As a violinist myself, I can candidly say that music has helped me experience a wide gamut of emotions, for one cannot possibly put forth on the violin what one does not feel deep within his heart. Perhaps no other musical instrument can touch the human heart as profoundly as does the violin. I think I owe it to my training in music that I have become such an emotionally sensitive person!

There’s another side to music that I discovered when I became a Salesian: its tremendous potentiality to generate goodwill and friendship. Perhaps this is what Don Bosco had in mind when he said that a Salesian house without music is like a body without a soul! Have you noticed how a stiff and formal atmosphere loosens up when people begin to sing? And the moment a familiar ‘filmy’ tune is struck on an instrument, the youngsters there present go gaga over it, and are all eager to make friends with the player!

Speaking for myself, I can confidently say that music has been my lifeline among alien people. The first time I went to Gujarat in 1982, I did not know a word of Gujarati, but I had carried my violin along... and the moment I started playing it, I knew that I had won the hearts of the people who had gathered around, with curiosity and expectancy, to hear me. With the ice having broken already at that point, moving deeper into Gujarati culture was not as daunting as it first seemed. I had a similar experience the first time I went to Italy to do my theological studies as a cleric.

On a more organised level, music has a tremendous pedagogical value. Salesians who have put up musicals and operettas would surely vouch that they were able to galvanize both staff and students to a collaborative effort, involving multiple skills: dance, drama and music. But why think of operettas only? Even putting up a good choral piece in four voices can be just as exhilarating an experience!

In this regard, Don Bosco is seen to be a man of deep wisdom and insight. He encouraged the setting up of a musical band in every Salesian house. The idea was not simply to lighten the atmosphere with music—a gramophone player would have sufficed for that! Don Bosco realised that music educates! Firstly, it gives youngsters a medium in which to channelize their energies and their creativity in a healthy manner. Secondly it inculcates discipline. Playing in a band or in an orchestra demands teamwork, sensitivity to others, and focused attention on the conductor, even as one plays from his own score. At times it demands the ability to play a merely supportive role with ‘oompahs’ all through, while someone else shines, playing the lead melody.

How sad it is to find that in many of our houses the band has fallen silent, and band instruments have been either sold off or given away. Five-piece beat groups may be able to rival a band in sound output, but they can never achieve the pedagogical fruits of a full-fledged wind and percussion band. I yearn for the day when participatory music evinces a revival in our Salesian houses, when Salsians will be eager to invest their time, their talents and their energies in training youngsters to sing and make music. Would that we experienced at gut level the profound truth in this prayer-song sung by ‘ABBA’ in yesteryears:

Thank You for the music, the songs I’m singing. Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing! Who can live without it? I ask in honesty, what would life be? Without a song or a dance what are we? So I say, “Thank You for the music... for giving it to me!”

Theatre: Creating Persons of Culture

Isaac Arackaparambil sdb

It is said of Ben Kingsley, the versatile film-star, that Ben realized his dream to become an actor, thanks to the encouragement he received from his parents. Fr. Hedwig Louis in his book God Here and Now narrates that when Ben was young, he was inspired by his father who was a doctor, and wanted to go to medical school. However, the summer after he graduated from high school, he attended a Shakespearean play, Richard III, and got totally absorbed in it. During the performance Ben began to imagine himself in the role with such intensity that, drained of energy, he fainted. After the show his parents picked him up at the auditorium and informed him that he had been given an appointment for an interview at medical school. But Ben said to them, “This is where I want to be. This is what I want to do.” His father looked at him thoughtfully, then said, to the future star of Gandhi: “All right. I will encourage you.” And thus Ben got started on his illustrious acting career.

In theatre, Ben discovered the medium in which he could realize the complete or at least a satisfying measure of his self-expression. One of the manifestations of inner confidence in individuals is the ability one has of expressing oneself. Too many interviews are failed and job opportunities lost, because of the inability of individuals of expressing themselves appropriately. A lot of misunderstandings occur in relationships because of the inability of individuals to express their points of view in a way that is understandable to the other. Effective leadership rests on the shoulder of confident self-expression. Entire nations are shaped by the ability of their leaders to express their vision in a way that moves its governments and citizens to adopt and execute whatever leads to the fulfilment of that vision. Religious congregations were founded by charismatic leaders who had an unlimited dose of self-expression up their sleeves.

Self-expression is a vehicle that stands good in any circumstance of life. When one learns the art of self-expression, one also finds it easier to cultivate the capacity to understand others in their forms of self-expression. And if one is in possession of both these skills – one: of self-expression, and the other: of understanding others in their expressions of themselves – one becomes a cultured human being. Jesus was the most cultured human being on earth, and he used this strength in ministering to all the people who came to him. He brought them health and wholeness because of these traits which he cultivated as he grew in the school of Joseph and Mary. As Salesians it is absolutely important for us to hone both these skills. Only then can we call ourselves cultured. Otherwise we stand to remain mere informed individuals with our degrees and qualifications, but without a proper sense of judgment and understanding, and worse still we lose the art of being human. We fail in ministry.

Theatre provides the platform from which an individual can develop his or her skills of self-expression to a measure that builds inner confidence. Don Bosco knew best that youngsters need platforms for self-expression. No wonder he encouraged, games, music, theatre, and numerous other forms of expression that found place in his educational style. In my experience in youth ministry, I have found that the majority of the youngsters I have interacted with manifest a sense of fear in expressing themselves in public forums. They often need to be coaxed out of their shells, fears, inhibitions, and blocks that are posed by their peers in order to stand out and make a statement. My own inner confidence grew thanks to the opportunities I was given to act, sing and recite on stage. If it were not for theatre, I would not flower into the personality I have shaped myself into today. My own experience of growing in confidence, thanks to theatre, made me make the platform of theatre available to the youngsters I was put in charge of during my practical training, among my classmates during the student years of theology, and even now as we train our aspirants at Kapadvanj. I have seen people growing not just in confidence, but also in team spirit, relationships, discipline, multi-tasking, alertness, diction, expression, smartness and all other trappings that make one an expressive and confident person.

Theatre also provides the ropes that assist individuals to come to a fair understanding of others in their expressions of themselves. In fact theatre dramatizes the dynamic between expression and understanding. In theatre one sees that scripts that are ‘fossilized’ within the pages of a book come alive in the characters that play out the message in those scripts. The more one exposes oneself to the medium of theatre, the more one begins to understand the drama of human communication, the ah ah of human tragedy, the ha ha of human comedy, the la la of human melody, the saga of human history, and the jigsaw of human mystery. It helps both artists and audience to enter into an intellectual dialogue in which perceptions to life and issues are challenged. It stirs sentiments of patriotism as well as passions that spark revolutions for causes that need to be addressed. It makes available a space for relaxation and a sense of wonder amidst the stress in life. In short theatre reminds society of its humanity.

Theatre has helped many a nation preserve its culture especially when cultures faced the threat of annihilation from enemies. The story of Pope John Paul II tells of how as a young man, Karol Woytela dedicated time to theatre and was also instrumental in taking the theatre underground during the onslaught of the second world war, for the sole purpose of preserving and promoting Polish culture which was on the brink of eclipse due to the repressive policies of the Nazis. A similar story repeated itself in Sarajevo. During the war which broke out in Bosnia-Herzegovina in mid 1992. It was the Youth Theatre directed by Nermin Tulić that fully participated in the defense of the city and culture against aggression and primitivism.

Theatre has helped not only to preserve culture, but it also depicts how life styles have changed, while also subtly being responsible for those changes. Hence, if we as educators happen to keep ourselves out of touch with this dynamic medium, we gradually loose touch with the reality of the young who today are the most dramatic of human beings, and who not only script but enact theatre on the stage of life. Hence we need to get back to viewing theatre, appreciating this form of art and promoting it in our settings. It is consoling to observe that in some of our schools and formation houses we have carried on the tradition of putting up plays on auspicious occasions. But we seem to be happy doing the same old musicals and plays in cycles. We need to summon our creative sides to write new scripts, compose new songs and stage plays that are not limited to the classics but those that speak the idiom of our times.

We have got to be participants in the drama of life by immersing our intellects in the ongoing dialogue with the changing culture of our times, especially when the culture being created by popular media goes against the spirit of the Gospel. We as Salesians need to enter main stream media and promote the values of Christ’s kingdom by creating value-themed-theatre, songs, movies, and invest in making the gospel more attractive than the attractions that absorb this techno savvy generation of youngsters in our day. In doing so, I believe we will be growing to become cultured as persons in the first place, and effective as God’s ministers to his people.

I propose the following in order to promote theatre in our settings:

1. Create theatrical resources on the lines of the twelve diamond values launched by Fr. Glenford Lowe through AVEC.

2. Have a media club of interested Salesians who are not necessarily in the media commission, who could come together with lay collaborators and youth, and have a media production workshop in English as well as in the vernacular, on contemporary issues, biblical plays, music videos, power point presentations, documentaries and whatever else, to generate a value-projecting-media as a response and counter culture to the damaging influences of the evil and sin promoted in popular media today.

3. Have a Province Year for Theatre just as we have International Years dedicated to some issue. During this year we could celebrate Theatre by making it a point to watch theatrical performances when staged in the cities. We could create new theatrical resources and present them in various venues during the year. You could add your suggestions.

4. Collect all the original theatrical productions that have been put up around the province in the yester years, and make videos of the same for wider distribution.

5. Have a system in which when any institution makes a theatrical presentation, the entire presentation is video-graphed professionally so that the efforts are not lost and more over, so that the efforts need not be repeated if one feels that a recording should have been done in retrospect.

6. Make a province or regional library of theatrical material, audio, video, script, costumes, backdrops, light and sound equipment so that every house has access to these whenever they need to make a presentation. It would also generate a sense of solidarity in the region/province, and save on replication of expenses if every institution desired to have all the equipment.

May Don Bosco who saw it wise to offer to the young a medium of expression through theatre, help us preserve and promote this legacy for the growth and benefit of our own beings into cultured humans, and for the integral growth of the young.

Expressions of Art

Michael Bansode sdb

I can tell you that art plays a large part in making our lives infinitely rich. Imagine, just for a moment, a world without art! Art gives us insights into our being, fills our emotions, and helps us understand reality. Art gives us a way to be creative and it is through art that we express ourselves. For some people, art is the entire reason they get out of bed in the morning. Therefore, you could say that art makes us more thoughtful and well-rounded humans.

On the other hand, art is such a large part of our everyday lives that we may hardly even stop to think about it. Look at the desk or table you are sitting at right this minute—someone designed it; it is art. Our shoes are art. Our coffee cup is art. All functional design, well done, is art. So, we can say that art is something that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Art is in a constant state of change, and change is a very important element of our lives. To change is to grow. Our culture changes and our language too, keeps changing. Such constant change is part and parcel of our lives.

It can also be said that art is subjective, and means something different to each person.

While all the above statements contain elements of truth, they are largely based on opinion. And my frank opinion is that there is art in everyone’s life. But I must say this—many things that were originally necessities have now been developed into forms of art. The desire to create something special is characteristic of the artistic process.

What is the connection between beauty and art? Art is not just beauty; it also emphasizes reality. Sometimes, art may remain inaccessible because it requires some background knowledge in order to be understood. In fact, not all art can be considered beauty—it may not always be ‘pretty’. So what does art do for us? The answer will be different for each person. But it is important to know that art requires no language in order to be understood.

Why do I talk about art? That is because it has fascinated me all my life, and in a way, it rules my life. Whenever I see the paintings of other artists (e.g., Ravi Varma, John Fernandes, Sr. Claire) I learn a lot from them, and they have inspired me in many ways. Artists like Angela Trinidade, Marie Pinto, Sr. Genevieve, Jyoti Sahi and Sr. Claire have contributed much to the popularization of Indian Christian Art. I too, feel that it is my responsibility to contribute something to the church through my art. I have realized that paintings can handle many subjects that would otherwise leave us mystified.

There are many types of paintings, but personally, I prefer realistic art, and I find the life of Jesus to be the best and most enriching subject. I am constantly trying to create realistic pictures of Jesus and the context he lived in. I believe that realistic art is an easy book to read, and an exhibition of such paintings that I once held in Bangalore was well-appreciated. On the other hand, I also believe that abstract art can convey broader ideas and perspectives, and I have created a few pieces in this style.

Much of my interest in and love for art developed in the Salesian congregation, and many Salesians have encouraged me in this field. Today, whatever I do invariably contains art in some fashion; art adds meaning to my life and is an integral part of it. I try to convey this through my paintings, some of which are as follows.

The painting of the Nativity depicts the new-born Jesus and his parents in the foreground, with the eyes of Mary and Joseph focused on the child. The vast expanse of the city of Jerusalem is in the background, seen as if through a window. The moon shines bright over the pillar and post where the new born King is born, showing that this is his house and home, not the manger which is popularly depicted by other artists. We are forced to contemplate head-on the primordial event of the birth of the creator.

The scene is awash with shadows and hues of dark purple and grey, indicating that Jesus is the birth-light of creation, the best fruit of God’s masterpiece. Jesus wrapped in white swaddling clothes is the center of the scene, while the landscape conveys meaning and also serves as an attractive component.

Shyla Coutinho, a mother and catechism teacher, declared that this painting expressed ‘caring and concern’. The magic of Christmas and the arrival of the Saviour is conveyed to the entire nation, which is seen in the background. Paradoxically, a tiny baby comes to rescue the whole of Israel and the Jewish Nation.

Similar to this midnight vision of Christ is the painting of the Last Supper, which takes place in twilight. Normally, supper is eaten at sun-down, unlike what we see in many paintings of the Last Supper. I am trying to depict Jesus and His apostles reclining in the hours of evening sunset. There will be lamps to illumine the faces of the relaxing apostles celebrating a memorable meal before the Passion commences, before Jesus enters the Garden of Gethsemane to prepare His chosen ones for the agony of His crucifixion.

In conclusion, I feel that even today, art is one of the most powerful means of communication. Unfortunately, many of us have an attitude that sidelines art. There are quite a few in our province who have been using art to communicate, but there are others who don’t. Let us start trying to enter and understand the wonderful world of art.

Volume XXVIII, Issue 4, December 2010 - January 2011

Editorial: New Year, New Avenues

Savio Silveira sdb

The recent months have seen the passing away of two of our great stalwarts, Br. Ludvik Zabret and Br. Thomas Putur. Both were outstanding persons, who have left an indelible mark on the history and culture of the Mumbai province. They were phenomenal personalities, men of deep convictions, extremely passionate Salesians. Both had strong and definite ideas, and spoke their minds vociferously at every given opportunity. They were persons with a clear focus on the Salesian mission, with absolutely no hidden personal agenda. They laboured long hours and believed that others too should do likewise. They were both giants in their field of work, men who spent a lifetime fulfilling their chosen ministry. And they were both path breakers.

Br. Ludvik was a pioneer in every sense of the word. From the waste-lands of Sagayathottam to the wooded-lands of Sulcorna, and finally on to Nashik, he undertook the daunting task of converting these rough and rugged tracts into flourishing farmlands. This type of work itself was new. Agriculture, at least in these parts of the world, was not considered a typical Salesian activity. And yet he plunged decidedly into it, realizing that this was the need of the place and the necessity of the hour. The harvest was not always plentiful, but that did not deter him. He had literally put his hand to the plough and was determined to keep plodding ahead. Well, even today there may still be no convincing conclusion to the debate whether we Salesians should engage in agriculture, that too in commercial cultivation, but one thing is amply clear – with over half our labour force engaged in agriculture, this is not a field we can shy away from.

Br. Thomas was not only a path breaker, but he also broke the stereotype image of the Salesian Brother as someone who should only confine himself to the technical workshop. Tracing a different path for himself, Br. Thomas walked the academic corridors for well over three decades, not just as teacher, but as leader of these institutions. And not only did he break new ground, but went on to climb to the peak of the ground he was standing on, earning himself a PhD in Education. While his demeanour may have led some to dismiss him as traditional conservative, he was in fact progressive and farsighted, pushing for the establishment of educational institutions in the rural areas of our province, advocating the need to train teachers in the use of child psychology, and insisting that students should be assisted to chart out a clear career path for themselves before they leave school. Today, much of this may sound commonplace, but thirty years back these were novel, and even revolutionary ideas.

As the old adage puts it, ‘if today we can see far, it is because we have been sitting on the shoulders of giants’. We have had men who had the ‘audacity’ to look beyond the horizon and the ‘recklessness’ to actually forge a path to towards it. But now those horizons have been reached, those thresholds crossed. And we cannot endlessly celebrate those past achievements. The world around us is constantly evolving and we have to keep pace with it. Changing situations throw up fresh challenges that demand relevant responses. It is time to break new ground, to tread new paths. We need to be ‘giants’ today, persons who are willing to boldly walk down new avenues.

New Approaches to Formation

Ashley Miranda sdb

Formation is a topic that always generates a lot of heated debate. The recently held Seminar on the Personalization of Formation is a tangible testimony of this truth. It was wonderful and heartening to see how passionately and enthusiastically different confreres expressed their views about the current state of formation and what needs to be done to set things right.

One viewpoint that comes up repeatedly whenever formation is discussed, be it in a formal setting like that of a seminar or at informal table conversations, is the one that holds that the current crop of young Salesians is just not up to the mark. There seems to be something lacking in them and they don’t simply match up in terms of commitment, hard work, love for the young, spirit of self sacrifice, openness to learning, care for the community, good manners, and spirit of faith. Those who express this view may have good reasons to do so but letting our experience of a few young Salesians colour our attitude to all of them does not help us. This attitude is neither Salesian nor helpful. Surely, we have got to be honest but that doesn’t mean that we must let ourselves become slaves of pessimism. Salesian honesty is an honesty that is backed by a strong faith, not only in God but also in our confreres, especially our young confreres. If we believe in their goodness and help them believe in their own potentialities we can make things happen; we can bring about not only change but revolution.

When it comes to formation, as we can only expect, there are many different approaches. We are all Salesians and share in the same charism but as human beings we have our own temperaments, our sensibilities, our perspectives on life, and our own particular relationship skills. These particularities are bound to show up in the way we approach formation. Yes, there is the Ratio to guide us but all directives need to be interpreted and given flesh in real life situations. In the attempt to do so differences are bound to arise. They are not altogether unhealthy provided, of course, we do not work at cross purposes. Provided we do not seek to dismantle, because of our own pettiness, what has been built up in some previous stage.

One approach to formation is the top-down, ‘Do as you are told’ approach. In this approach the formators have the central place. They know what is good for those in formation. They have the overall vision and they give directions which the one in formation is expected to follow. Here the focus is on conformity, on following directives to the letter, on obedience, on accepting without asking too many questions. In theory, very few see virtue in this approach, but in practice, this approach is quite popular. It is an approach that both formators and those in formation are quite comfortable with. Provided formators are not too whimsical and inconsistent, this approach has the advantage of clarity. Those in formation know clearly what is expected of them. Formators too have clear criteria on which to evaluate those in formation.

Another approach to formation is one that seeks to test ‘gold in fire’. The logic is that in order to get people to grow we need to keep them on their toes and call a spade a spade. Salesian life is not easy after all and if we can toughen up our young Salesians early in life then by the time there are in active ministry hopefully they will have it within them to face the challenges of the aposolate. This approach does strengthen some, but when taken to the extreme, breaks some others. Of those who are broken, some opt out of the Salesian life, while others stay but they tend to be bitter and carry their bitterness into all their relationships and into everything they do.

Yet another approach is one that seeks to create a ‘loving supportive family’ in which the young Salesian feels affirmed and accepted and helped to grow. Understood wrongly, this approach could do a great deal of harm. Excessive mollycoddling and treating young Salesians with kid gloves may only serve to weaken them and insulate them from the real world. Overprotection from the challenges and crosses of life may end up creating big babies who need constant and excessive affirmation to be able to do anything. If not constantly acknowledged these young Salesians could begin to sulk and act like victims. Love and affection must foster freedom and responsibility. Love that smothers and creates narcissists is something we need to be wary about. A fourth approach is that which makes the ‘rule supreme’. Every initiative, every decision, every strategy is guided by the rules. The mantra is “fit in or ship out”. The young Salesian is evaluated on his ability to follow rules, or more precisely on how adept he is at not breaking them. While it is true that rules are for our good and they ensure to a certain extent fidelity to our charism, an approach that deifies rules ends up producing Salesians who are either too rigid or too smart for their own good and the good of the province and its apostolate.

One could speak of other approaches as well, but we could bypass them for now and go right away to consider two approaches which are very much the need of our times. One that stresses ‘personalization’ and the other that seeks to foster ‘integrated immersion.’ Both these approaches go hand in hand. In fact, one calls for the other and vice versa.

The ‘personalization’ approach is one that places first responsibility for formation on the young Salesian himself. No one can form him; at best formators and others can contribute to creating an ambient conducive to personal responsibility and formation. But it is the young Salesian who in the ultimate analysis has to take personal responsibility for his growth and life understood as ‘discipleship’; as a close following of Jesus Christ. The presupposition here is that the one in formation may be young but he is not a child incapable of making decisions or taking responsibility for his growth. The formators do have an important role in this approach but not as people who have the difficult task of taking care of irresponsible and malicious boys. Instead formators are called to see themselves as mentors entrusted with the delicate task of guiding conscientious and motivated young men eager to live the Salesian life to the full and give themselves wholeheartedly to the mission. In the personalization approach the young Salesian is helped to view himself as one who is called personally by the Lord. This call is one that invites a personal ‘yes’ on the part of the young Salesian. No one else can say ‘yes’ to the Lord in his stead. The ‘personalization approach’ focuses on the inner world of the young Salesian. The one in formation is helped to look inside himself, to accept himself honestly, to work on his weaknesses and immaturity, to build up his convictions, to strengthen his conscience, to act with personal convictions and to assume responsibility for his own growth.

The ‘Immersion’ approach is one that requires a close inter-collaboration between formation guides and those in formation. Going beyond concepts of ‘us’ and ‘them’, formation guides introduce those in initial formation to concrete life experiences that expose them to the pains and difficulties of the poor and the young, that challenge, that raise questions, that call for a response on our part as Salesians. This could happen through means of study seminars, symposiums, exposure camps, live-in experiences, etc. during the years of formal studies in the initial years of formation. Village or slum experiences are not something new. They have great formative value, provided however, they are followed by formal moments of reflection and introspection. An experience that is not backed by reflection is not an experience at all. When reflection is absent, formators and those in formation tend to make the mistake of thinking that because they have spent a few days in villages or slums they really know what the poor are going through. Without reflection these experiences become just another ‘feather in our caps’ or a ‘trophy in our cupboards’.

In the ‘immersion’ approach to formation care is taken not to insulate the one in formation [in our case the young Salesian] from the cares and the vagaries of life. Formal formation structures are required and serious study may also require a certain isolation from the hustle and bustle of the street. But immersion would require that the young Salesian is abreast with what is happening around him, in the state and the country. He needs to know not only what is happening to young people but also to all categories of people in general. Sometimes, the extent to which not only our young Salesians but also we who are older are oblivious of what is happening in the world around us is really alarming. In our formation settings especially, we have got to foster good habits of keeping in touch with the news in the papers, television and other contemporary media. We have got the encourage the habit of serious reading, not only on issues of academic interest but also those that have political, social, religious and ethical significance. I am of the view that the ‘immersion approach’ needs that our young Salesians are given the reasonable opportunity to manage finances – both their own and that of the house they belong to. They need to know that money does not come easy and that rising costs usually mean a decreased spending capacity. If they are really given the opportunity to be involved in the budgeting of limited resources in a house and making decisions on how to spend money, I am sure we would have less wastage of food, better care of community belongings and greater conscientiousness when it came to personal expenditure.

In addition to what has been said so far, I think, the ‘immersion approach’ to formation would require that young Salesian be given not only information about but also the actual possibility of participating to the extent possible in the whole gamut of initiatives characteristic of the apostolate of our province. The Salesian apostolate has undergone an evolution over these years in terms of the people we reach out to and also in the kinds of work we are involved in. But many view, practical training for example, as a time of assisting boys in the dormitory, study hall and at games in a boarding setting. Assisting, understood as ‘being qualitatively present’ is something that our charism demands not only from the practical trainee but from all of us. And if our charism has evolved to included settings that go beyond the almost mandatory boarding in each Salesian house of the past days then formation at the stage of practical training but include experiences besides that of keeping the order in formal boarding setups.

By way of conclusion, I would just like to say a few words on the rationale behind the ‘immersion approach’. The ‘immersion approach’ draws its inspiration from the great truth of the incarnation. Out his great love for us, Jesus the son of God, chose to become one like us. Instead of loving us from afar, he immersed himself totally in the drama of human life. This immersion expressed itself in his amazing ability to sense what exactly was happening in people’s hearts, his sensitivity to their anxieties and struggles and his immense compassion for the last and the lost. Formation that combines ‘immersion’ with ‘personalization’ would make a deep impact not only in the lives of our young Salesians but also on the quality of the life and apostolate of the province as a whole.


Savio Silveira sdb

Climate Catastrophe

The unprecedented environmental destruction that the world has witnessed during the past century, and more especially during the last few decades, is already having disastrous effects on our life. We can no longer talk about ‘Climate Change’ as something that will happen in the future; rather, it is ‘Climate Changed’. What we thought were prophecies for the future are now reports in our daily newspapers.

Take the recent ‘onion crisis’, for example. The unbelievable and almost vulgar price of Rs. 100 for a mere kilo of ordinary onions may have set a new Guinness record, but it was not an achievement that called for a celebration. Rather, as the tweet going around said, ‘sky rocketing onion prices have literally brought tears to the eyes’. So why are we paying a kingly price for this poor man’s food? ‘Unseasonal rains have caused havoc across the nation. Onion crop being sensitive to water has been damaged leading to the shortfall in supply and resulting in high prices,’ explained Changdev Holkar, an onion farmer from Nashik in Maharashtra, who is also a director at the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India. This year the monsoon extended well into November and this was not conducive to harvesting of the onion crop. Unseasonal rains, damaged crops, rising prices. Simple logic.

And talking about the rains, the monsoon pattern has drastically changed over these past few years. While in 2009 the monsoon played truant and the country was subjected to long dry spells during the traditionally wet season, in 2010 it was a swing to the next extreme – the rains held the country in their soggy embrace well beyond the normal monsoon period. But if India was bad, Pakistan was worse! While we grumbled about the incessant rains, Pakistan literally struggled to keep afloat as it was battered by torrential downpours. One fifth of the country was submerged underwater and its famous Indus River reached its highest water level ever recorded in the 110 years since regular record keeping began.

So what brought on this deluge? Scientists from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a specialized agency of the United Nations, were categorical in their assertion that rising global temperatures were behind the floods. ‘There is no doubt that clearly the climate change is contributing, it is a major contributing factor’, said Ghassem Asrar, Director of the World Climate Research Programme. He also pointed out that the atmospheric anomalies that had led to the floods in Pakistan were also directly related to the same weather phenomena that caused the record heat wave in Russia and flooding and mudslides in western China. Speaking on the same issue, R K Pachauri, the Chief of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the 2007 Nobel Prize, warned that there is ample evidence to show an increase in the frequency and intensity of floods, droughts and extreme precipitation events worldwide. He further cautioned that, ‘The floods of the kind that hit Pakistan may become more frequent and more intense in the future in this and other parts of the world’. That prophecy has just come true in Australia, where over 20 towns have been submerged by the December floods in the state of Queensland.

The writing is clearly on the wall. And if we are not convinced by reading ‘the signs of the times’, there are several well researched documents that we should begin reading.

A recent report, ‘Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2010: The State of the Climate Crisis’, that was released simultaneously at London and Cancun on 3rd December 2010 paints a bleak scenario. It states: ‘The artificial heating of our planet fuelled by human activities already interferes with earth’s delicate climate leading to effects that are dangerous for people and nature. The alarming rate of change and spiralling effects of heat, wind, rain, deserts, sea levels, and other impacts on the world’s populations leave a human toll of 350,000 deaths every single year’.

Weather disasters will lead to sever adverse impacts on habitat, livelihoods and health. According to this report: ‘An estimated 350,000 people die each year due to major diseases and health disorders related to climate change. Unless measures are taken, by 2030 climate change will increase its toll to more than 800,000 deaths per year.’ India is one of the countries that will be badly affected by climate change related health problems. The report states that: ‘In absolute terms, India is the country that will face the highest number of excess deaths due to the health impacts of climate change. It alone will carry more than a third of the total global health burden.’

However, this report also reminds us that: ‘Climate change is the most urgent challenge of our time. The future of the environment and the life it supports rests on the decisions we take over the coming years. This represents an enormous responsibility on our shoulders, which is not only a burden – but also a tremendous opportunity for us all.’

Our Response: GreenLine

The Mumbai Salesian Province is keenly aware of this ‘enormous responsibility’ and ‘tremendous opportunity’ that climate change poses to us. Traditionally, we have been involved in a host of environment conservation and enhancement projects. But the present crisis demands a more focused and resolute response. Hence, our Provincial Chapter 2010 decided that we would begin a new ‘Grey to Green Initiative’ as one of the priorities of the province. Accordingly, in October 2010, the Development Office launched a new initiative called GreenLine to take forward different environmental projects.

GreenLine works on the premise of ‘Greener People, Greener World’. The focus is not so much on launching ‘green projects’, but rather on increasing the Green Quotient (GQ) of people. GQ is defined as the degree of environmental consciousness within a person which determines how much one cares, understands and is determined to do something favourable for the environment. Most often people are just not aware of the environmental crisis the world is facing, or at the most they have a superficial idea about the same. Or even if they are conscious of the gravity of the situation, they are at a loss on how to contribute towards the solution. GreenLine seeks to address this gap – it aims at providing comprehensive information on environmental issues and practical ideas for involvement. It is a platform that brings together individuals, institutions and organizations to share possibilities and plans. It is movement that creates ‘greener people’ who in turn will create a ‘greener world’.

Green Schools Campaign

As its first project, GreenLine has launched the ‘Green Schools Campaign’. This campaign aims at educating children on their responsibility towards the environment and to offer them the opportunity to actually be involved in ‘greening’ projects. The participating schools are being assisted to enhance the green projects which they may have already begun, or to launch a new green initiative that would be relevant and beneficial to the school and its neighbourhood (example: Waste Management, Water Recycling, Organic Gardens, Eco Club, etc). This campaign is being held from October 2010 to March 2011, and is open to all schools, for students up to Std. X, within the Mumbai metro area. The performance of the participating schools will be judged on the following criteria: Relevance of the project being implemented by the school; Creativity of ideas used in this project; Participation of teachers and students; Impact of the project on the school and neighbourhood environment; Sustainability measures woven into the project to ensure its continuity. At the close of the campaign, the ‘greenest school’ will receive the ‘Maschio Foundation GreenLine Award’.

Zegarb Campaign

Next on the anvil is the Zegarb (Zero Garbage) Campaign. This campaign will be launched in June 2011 and will involve various schools in the Mumbai metro area. Mumbai generates close to 7,000 tonnes of waste per day; of this approximately 5,000 tonnes is mixed waste (biodegradable and recyclable), while 2,000 tonnes are construction debris and silt. Unfortunately, since we neither have good personal habits of waste disposal, nor does the municipality have an efficient system of waste management, the entire city has degenerated into a garbage cesspool. ‘We are 50 or 60 years behind the US and European nations in treating garbage and implementing waste technologies. Mumbai is even behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,’ declares Almitra Patel, a garbologist who was on the Supreme Court committee that framed the Municipal Solid Waste Rules for the country, and a person who has spent the last 12 years studying garbage disposal.

The Zegarb Campaign aims at training students in proficient and professional methods of managing the waste they produce – be it paper, plastic, glass, e-waste or other biodegradable materials. The end result will not only be that zero garbage goes out of the school, but the school will also earn revenue from the waste it produces. Recycling garbage has another critical benefit; it reduces the wasteful use of resources, since the same materials get reused. Enlarging the impact, we hope to then take the campaign to the homes and housing colonies of the students. Organizations like the Centre for Environmental Research and Education, Daily Dump and Stree Mukti Sangatna that have the expertise in waste management will be consultants to this campaign.


Beyond campaigns with schools, GreenLine is looking at an involvement with corporate bodies and civil society organizations. Creating a greener world requires the active commitment of all the stakeholders. Eliciting this commitment and translating it into relevant action, that’s the mission of GreenLine.