Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Avila and Fatima

The next day after an early breakfast we set out to visit Avila, which is about an hour's drive from Madrid.
A video of the landscape in Spain...
Here, we've just reached Avila... these Walls of Avila were completed between the 11th and 14th centuries and they are the city's defining image. We had a lovely guide, Maria, and she took us around this quaint city explaining about the fortress and the cathedrals.
Another video depicting the welcoming sounds of Avila... the constantly chirping birds over the walled city of Avila are quite captivating, they seem to beckon you in.
Avila's charm... 
The sun, spilling her beams... 

The church of St. Teresa of Avila
Inside the church, mass was just getting over...
The chapel dedicated to St. Teresa
The main square in Avila
So after checking out the church of St. Teresa and the museum where her finger is displayed, we started on our way to Fatima in Portugal which is about a five hour drive from Avila.

Stopped on the way to have a packed lunch of vegetable rice, puri, channa masala & yogurt... a panoramic view of the little roadside picnic. 
Reached the hotel in Fatima, a nice place
Our room at Lux Fatima Park
Dinner was soup, pork with potatoes and some custard... 
Mass was held in this ground opposite the hotel. The whole setting was beautiful... out in the open under the sky and trees, pretty much like how Jesus preached to His people.
I liked this rustic setting
First glimpse of the sanctuary at Fatima, this giant cross welcomes you
Fatima Santucary, this main shrine was closed due to renovation 
The 9:30pm candlelight rosary in front of the open chapel where Mother Mary appeared to three shepherd children...
The candlelight procession... and singing of Ave Maria (you can check out the instagram video)
Our Lady of Fatima on procession
What an experience... 
The candlelight recitation of the rosary in different languages is an experience that gets etched into your being. Everybody in the crowd lifts up their candles as the song Ave Maria is sung after every decade, and the beautiful singing along with the waving sea of candlelights fills you with a certain warmth and peace, it’s almost magical. Everybody was moved by this procession... we walked back slowly to our rooms, enchanted to be part of this beautiful day in Fatima. 

P.S: Thanks Uncle Mark Doyle and Joe Ben for your pictures used here without permission.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Landing in Madrid

Our flight from Chennai was at 4am, so after a small midnight prayer in church, after all the airport drama and the waiting, we finally settled into our seats for the four hour flight to Qatar. I was instantly asleep, and in Qatar after going through a security check again, we boarded the transit flight to Madrid. This was also mostly spent in a sleep daze... except when the food arrived.  
This was some good breakfast: eggs, mushrooms in some gravy, sausage and hash browns. 
A mid day snack: a calzone kinda roll which wasn't that great and an almond cake. 
So we landed in Madrid (which was an quite an ordeal, it was like one of those autorickshaw rides, where everything bounces and careens out of control, I almost started panicking and thinking 'just because I wrote this article, doesn't mean it has to come true, Lord...' it was one scary landing) and the airport here is quite interesting. We follow the crowd and reach these doors that say baggage claim above them, and I'm wondering why nobody was entering those doors. Then I figured that they were waiting for a train, yeah a train, that ran for a good ten minutes to reach the baggage claim section of the airport, which I thought was pretty cool! In between all this I saw a David Villa look alike and started freaking out... I think that poor guy freaked out even more, I kept looking at him to make sure he wasn't the real David Villa. 
So anyway, since the time we got off the plane and till we left two weeks later, this was our double decker tour bus driven by two really nice Polish brothers. 
So we drove through Madrid, which is quite beautiful... and for me pleasantly surprising, cause I saw that Javier Bardem movie, Biutiful, a few years back and it was depressing. The movie is set in Barcelona, and I don't know...  I think I related that depressing quality to Barcelona and Spain in general. Which only goes to show that one should never judge a city by a movie, cause the old town of Madrid is quite extravagant. 
As is proved here, in this picture of the Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid) which is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, but is only used for state ceremonies and contains 3418 rooms...  
Opposite the royal palace is the Almudena Cathedral
Which is also quite extravagant... 
and colourful.
This is the relic of St. Pope John Paul II in the Cathedral... 
There is a stunning blessed sacrament chapel here, couldn't take pictures cause people were praying... but every wall was covered in such beautiful mosaic work...so if you happen to be in this cathedral, be sure to check out the blessed sacrament chapel.
After roaming around we were taken to a nice hotel, nH Barajas. And like I wrote in the previous post, I didn't even know my brother was here, staying in one of the rooms. So after meeting him, we decided to split from the group and go out for dinner. 
This was what he ordered, an octopus dish... this was the first time I tasted octopus, didn't really like the rubbery bland taste... 
This was what me and mom had, a ham and egg sandwich...
We came back from dinner to find that mass had started... Since four priests were travelling with us, they celebrated mass everyday... and made the trip even more meaningful. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Madcap Road Trip...

Just got back from a madcap road trip across five countries in Europe and I am still reeling from the effects of the past two weeks. There were about seventy of us on this pilgrimage trip (thirty from my parish) and I was wondering how it would be... We landed in Madrid and traversed through Spain, to reach Fatima in Portugal, then went on to Lourdes and Paris in France, stopped in the mountains in Switzerland for a day, then on to Turin, Padua, Venice, Assisi, Rome and Milan in Italy. Stayed in eleven hotels and received wake up calls at insane hours like 4:30 am... the wake up call from our hotel in Rome was quite amusing. I answered the phone to hear Michael Bublé crooning to  'I want to go home...', those people at the hotel have a nice sense of humour.

So we arrived in Madrid, roamed around for a bit, then reached the hotel and I started updating the family on whatsapp about our day. They asked for my room number to call on the hotel line, so anyway I'm still checking messages when I hear a knock on the door. Thinking it to be somebody from the group I open the door to find my brother, Vinod, standing there, I blinked and then almost screamed, 'MOM, look who is here!' She was as shocked as me to see him, he wanted to surprise us and boy did it work! It was pretty cool and things only got better as the days went by, we got to know the rest of the group and made many friends along the way. A bunch of us were always up for exploring different cities by night and it was bliss hanging out with them, eating ice cream at midnight and just walking along those well worn cobbled streets... I think I loved the night explorations more than the day visits. During the day it was more or less like being back in school, we were herded from one spot to another and the tour organiser would glare at us if we happened to be a little late or if we walked into any shop. I sometimes felt like Jason Bourne, darting in and out of places surreptitiously trying to avoid being seen... but truth be said, the organiser had a large crowd to handle and he had to hold the reins or people would disappear and that would spell mayhem. 

All in all it was a definitely memorable trip, insanely hectic yet immensely enjoyable. For the bunch of us who used to roam around at nights, we barely had four or five hours of sleep each day, but it was so worth it... we were grateful to be in some of the most historically monumental, extremely vibrant, quaintly charming and stunningly beautiful places and given a chance, I think we'd do it all over again.  
Check out this highlight reel, a new feature on the Moto x that allows you to make a video from a bunch of images... pretty cool feature.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Colour of Paradise

The Colour of Paradise or Rang-e Khodā (which literally means ‘The Colour of God’) is an Iranian movie set in a beautiful little mountain village near Tehran. The film is visually appealing, in fact the landscapes and its accompanying sounds form an important character. They help to establish the world of the blind protagonist, a tender hearted young boy named Mohammed who is a student in a special school in Tehran. The school is quite amazing in the way they train and care for the visually impaired children. Mohammed’s father, a widower, doesn’t seem extremely fond of his blind son whom he considers a burden. When the school closes for summer vacation, he reluctantly takes the boy back to the strikingly beautiful village where Mohammed’s doting grandmother and sisters reside. The outpouring of love that Mohammed experiences from his grandmother and sisters is poignantly portrayed. So much love and warmth abounds in these frames, it’s almost like the beauty of nature is reflective in these female characters who are crucial to Mohammed’s happiness and well-being. When Mohammed accompanies his sisters to the little village school, he surprises everyone with his knowledge and abilities. In the midst of this idyllic summer, the dad has other plans for Mohammed, and takes him to be apprenticed to a blind carpenter in another village.  Mohammed, sad at being taken so far from home and thinking that nobody loves him, evocatively tells the sympathetic blind carpenter:
Our teacher says that God loves the blind more because they can’t see… but I told him if it was so, He would not make us blind so that we can’t see Him. He answered, ‘God is not visible. He is everywhere. You can feel Him. You see Him through your fingertips.’ Now I reach out everywhere for God till the day my hands touch Him and tell Him everything, even all the secrets in my heart.
This powerful scene is quite heart-rending; it shows the innocence and yearning of the blind boy who wants to be like others. The director has given this movie an open ended conclusion; it is up to the viewers to decide what really happens. With an ending open to interpretation the main character becomes more captivating as one ponders over what really happened. Does Mohammed finally feel God with his radiant fingers or is the woodpecker giving him clues about God?
This film essentially belongs to the little boy Mohammed, played poignantly by Mohsen Ramezani, a kid who is blind in real life. After watching this movie, I had to know more about this enchanting little boy, so I contacted the most famous oracle I know - google, and surprisingly there is very little information about him in the virtual world. Majid Majidi, the director has created a masterpiece that will leave you spellbound. It teaches us that even though darkness may surround us (darkness is literally the only thing the Mohammed sees), our spirit should keep seeking God and feeling Him, this is the simple beauty of being alive.                                                        

Sunday, May 24, 2015

In Seven Minutes

What with flights crashing and disappearing, the Germanwings flight that crashed into the mountains because of one man's mental sickness is quite difficult to fathom... 
The transcript of the final moments of the ill-fated Germanwings flight that crashed into the French Alps on March 24th, 2015, gives the chilling account of what occurred in the plane as it went down.

10 am The airplane takes off.

10:30  The captain has gone to the bathroom and the co-pilot Lubitz locks the armoured door with the “Lock” button:  it is no longer possible to open the door from the outside.

10:33 The plane drops 3000 feet per minute. Air traffic controllers detect this and try to contact the plane several times but Lubitz does not respond. The captain’s voice can be heard as he tries to open the door: “It’s me!” The captain grabs an oxygen tank or fire extinguisher in order to break down the door. No response from Lubitz.  The captain yells: “For the love of God, open this door!”

10:35 The captain asks for the crowbar hidden in the back of the plane. Louder bangs can be heard hitting the door, followed by metallic sounds. The captain tries to bend the door with the crowbar. The captain yells: “Open this f… door!”

10:38 Despite the deafening noises, Lubitz’s breathing can clearly be heard through an oxygen mask he put on.  He is breathing normally.

10:40 A violent sound can be heard outside.  At the same time, screaming is heard inside the aircraft. The Airbus hits the mountain with its right wing. No other sound, save for the alarms and the screaming passengers.

10:40 The airplane hits the mountain range at 5000 feet at 800 km/h.

We (me and a few cousins on a whatsapp group) were discussing how the passengers would have felt during their final seven minutes. One minute they are looking down marvelling at the majestic snow clad alps, the next they are hurtling towards it at a frightening velocity. The conversation steered towards how we would react in a similar situation. One of the cousins said she would have probably removed her rosary which she wears round her neck and clutching it tight, she would have thought, ‘help me come to You, Lord.’ I mean what else would you do in a similar situation, when your gut tells you that this is it, this is the end. The others in the group said they would have prayed to be saved. They would still hold on to hope, cause the most common human emotion is to hope for the best in the midst of the worst. What do you think… what would you do in a similar situation?

Like the thief on the cross who gained last minute access to His kingdom, I hope that the people on this flight and the flights that crashed/disappeared last year are all safe and happy in His eternal care.

P.S: In case you are wondering, the co-pilot apparently suffered from depression and he was known to have suicidal tendencies and it is believed that he deliberately crashed the plane into the mountains killing all the 150 people aboard.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Second edition of Whatsapp quotes...

Suddenly I seem to be a part of so many whatsapp groups, first the college group was formed and we're just getting to know each other after thirteen years. Then a school group was created and the faces of school friends with their double plaited folded up braids came rushing in (to my mind's eye), today I got added to my church group. Needless to say there's been an influx of information... Anyway, this is the second edition of whatsapp quotes, that I keep saving on my phone to note down here. Here's a link to first edition of whatsapp quotes ... in case you would like to read it.

  • Cousin P: It's the traditional disrespect and disdain shown for testers by developers. (Two nerd cousins who are into coding were discussing a product and one cousin didn't like what one of the testers in his company was doing.)
  • Cousin P: I'd rather be in 12 months of cold weather than slow roasting my ass in 120F heat. (While discussing the heat in India and the frigid winter in his place in US)
  • Cousin P: Girls who drive pickup trucks are cool. (Cousin P gives his opinion on girls in cars)
  • Cousin A: My Facebook stream is a cesspool of sappiness. (while discussing some of the stuff people post on facebook)
  • Cousin P: I generally do things that are spectacular. (Cousin P likes to polish his own halo regularly)
  • Cousin P: Speaking of hell, where is Karen?
    Cousin C:Trying to fend off Lucifer
    Cousin P: It should be other way around, Lucifer trying to fend her off
    (While trying to figure out why I wasn't replying)
  •  Cousin P: Red john was a better person.
    (another snide remark aimed at me)
  • Cousin A: But can they refund broken dreams.
    (Cousin A's flight was cancelled due to the weather and he received an email from the company, telling him that his ticket money would be refunded...)
  • Cousin P: Would you have liked Sherlock if it was played by vijaykanth.
    Cousin A: Molly would have jumped off the building if vijayakanth had kissed her.
    (Discussing why Sherlock the TV show is pretty awesome...)
  • Cousin A: But it's obviously lost on you digital heathens.
    (Cousin A was raving away about some gadget... but we were hardly bothered)
  • Shilpa: Anyway, am not gettin anything checked unless I pass out.
    (A crazy friend's. crazy policy about not going to the hospital...)
  • Karen: What if another PMS meltdown occurs by some innocuous stuff that is playfully uttered? (Addressing a disagreement in the group...)
  • Cousin P: Maybe the gentle caressing of his neck by her sylph-like fingers has put him into a state of pleasurable coma. (while discussing why Cousin A was not replying... probably because he was getting his sore neck massaged)
  • Jude: Where were you Megs
    Megs: I was out
    Jude: As in unconscious?
    Megs: I was out, Jude. Not out cold.
    (Questioning a cousin who likes to party...)
  • Cousin P: I like girls whose thighs don't touch each other on the inside. It's a sign of good fitness levels usually. (Cousin P who is into fitness, now expects the same from everybody else...)
  • Cousin P: Megha leaves home at 11 pm and comes back at 5 am. All the criminals go into hiding at that point.(while discussing the cousin who likes to party and the reputation of India as not being safe for women)
  • Cousin A: When they view their happiness and their partners happiness over the nebulous religious sanctity of marriage. (while discussing why people cheat...)
  • Cousin A: Sinning is not Transitive.
    (This was when Cousin P was texting while in church, and I told him to switch off his phone cause I felt that by chatting with him we both were probably sinning...)
  • Cousin A: Why is there quinoa on the display pic, Food fit for the khaleesi...
    (While discussing Cousin P's preference for quinoa and how he made it the group display picture. Khaleesi is a reference to Game of Thrones.)
  • Shil: I encourage wild nonsense.
  • Manoj: I'm bringing tequila.
    Me: How can you bring him in the train?
    (My dog is named Tequila, and for a minute I was wondering how he would bring Tequila in the train with him to Chennai. That's when I realised he was referring to the real drink, tequila.)
  • Cousin P and C: Money is trivial. When you have tonnes of it.
    (A cousin stating the obvious... and another cousin reminding him about it)
  • Karen: Your faith is what religion is all about... I am not talking about organised religion, cause we all know that sucks. (while discussing religion...)
  • Cousin P: I think India is the only place that has this craze for marble flooring inside the house. I think my foot will burn if it's anything other than hardwood or carpet. (Throwing some US attitude around...)
  • Cousin P: Sadly it's basic human nature. We all like to blame others and hold people against something.
    Me: Mass murderers don't have Human nature...
    Cousin C: They are politicians. Their past will always matter.
    (while discussing the mass murderers who go on to win elections)
  • Cousin C: The church of intoxication.
    (While asking Cousin C what her plans were for Sunday...)
  • Nameeta: These are my parents, my brothers and that is my parents mistake. (When I asked my sister how she would introduce us to some relatives... by 'that' she means me)
  • Cousin A, quoting Lord Alfred Tennyson: 
    Though much is taken, much abides; and though
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
  • Cousin A, quoting John Milton: How soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth stolen your year.
  • Cousin P: Cristiano is there, 15 mins from your house
    Cousin A: Yeah, NJ is glowing with the warmth of his presence
    (Cousin P, obsessed with Cristiano Ronaldo constantly gives us updates about him...)
  • Michelle: Na theriyama Hindu aiite. (My six year old niece, who thought that she became a Hindu because she put sandalwood paste on her forehead while she was hanging out with her friend)
  • Cousin C: Porn should be on your phone, not outside. (Cousin P wanted a ridiculous phone cover with a scantily clad woman on it...)
  • Cousin P: Paavakai sucks. No wonder God created it in the shape of Satan's dick. (Discussing bitter gourd...)
  • Karen: Everybody hopes for the same end okay... that's our religion.
    (You may or may not believe in God, but when the end is near everybody thinks/prays to Him. Another discussion on religion... )
  • Cousin A: A trip is measured by the quality and quantity of selfies taken.
    (Sarcastic observation while seeing pictures posted on facebook...)
  • Cousin P: Our family is like cauliflower curry.
    (Everybody clustered together.... floating in the curry of life)
  • Cousin P: The vagaries of time has taken its toll on her once irreproachable unimpeachable virtuous heart. (discussing why I wasn't getting offended by something...)
  • Cousin P: They feel it's sacred, so don't eat it. But then we drink and eat the blood and flesh of our own God. (Discussing the beef ban...)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How will it end?

Well, today marks one year since more than 200 girls in Nigeria were kidnapped in 2014 and so far, they haven't been rescued. I have thought about these girls quite often over the past year, wondering about their plight. I hoped that they would be rescued soon, the girls must have felt the same... that people would come for them. It's been a year now and I wonder what they are thinking... 

How will it end? 

This is something I jotted down after reading headline after headline of all the horrors perpetuated in the name of religion. I sometimes think this world is way too crazy to make any sense of it. When people take their religious beliefs too seriously, the very purpose of religion gets defeated. Isn't religion supposed to enlighten us and set us free, why do people then make the fatal mistake of letting it enslave them and turn them into raving fanatics? Religion is supposed to propagate hope, peace, forgiveness, brotherhood, love and joy. Any religion that does not strive to uphold these basic human qualities cannot be good. The power of our religion should reflect in our thoughts, words and deeds. Faith should be strong enough to move mountains, not dumb enough to erect barriers and dig graves. Loads of ideas and theories are bound to come tumbling out of the myriad races that populate this planet; one cannot go around waging wars and denouncing every single ideology. The spine chilling barbarity with which persecutions are carried out makes one wonder whether some portal to the depths of hell suddenly opened up. In April 2014, more than 200 school girls were kidnapped by the Boko Haram (an Islamist terrorist organisation which has recently pledged allegiance to the ISIS, another terrorist organization that is wreaking untold havoc in Iraq), and so far they haven’t been rescued. It’s going to be a year and they are still held captive, it’s a difficult fact to accept. It’s even more disturbing to know that the rest of the world looks on helplessly… 

I don’t know how this is going to end… but I’ll stop for now with this quote:
Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people. Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me how much you love all his children. Before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through compassion for your neighbours. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give. - Cory Booker

Note: Wrote this for my church magazine...