Rescue by unlikely Hero

17 Apr

The Picnic with a Story
Kornelius had no plans to join the college picnic that morning in January 2014. He just could not afford the fee. A close friend, with a load of pocket money to spare, paid the extra Rs.300 (app $4.00) and got him on board. The annual picnic serves as a breather between the intense period of academic activities with projects and examinations. With the harsh winter gradually wearing off in this busy town, Siliguri, at the foothills of the Himalayas, the college Staff felt that January 15 would be the ideal date for the picnic convenient for all the faculties.

Kornelius Hembram, 18, was fortunate to get on to this graduate (BA) course in English Honours in this prestigious and popular700-strong college in West Bengal that caters to a wide range of social groups. His family, who were Santhals residing in the Malda district also in the state of West Bengal, India, about 250 km away from Siliguri, earned their livelihood by farming. The Santhals, the third largest tribal group in India belong to the Austro-Asiatic family whose migrations go back to pre-Aryan times. They have established settlements in Jharkhand, their considered ‘home’ state, and in other states in India like Assam and Odisha, as well as in Bangladesh and Nepal. In earlier times, they hunted game the traditional bow-and-arrow way. The animal sanctuary craze drove these natural skills underground, but the Santhals survived on forestry, fishing and agriculture. They integrated into broader Indian society and culture contributing effectively towards India’s development and progress without losing their identity and values. At one point in history, they had to fight the British colonial power as well to establish their rights and their existence.

Kornelius’ parents, using their own limited resources, tried to keep pace with the growing aspirations of an emerging India. They too wanted the best for their children and had put together their savings to get him through high school. He did them proud by scoring over 70% in the state Madhyamik (Class 10 –end of High School) exam. The stringent evaluation systems used in some states in India are sometimes equated in other states (or indeed outside India) at a much higher value, A Grades in the ICSE (Anglo-Indian equivalent exam) or in the IGCSE (UK equivalent exam) especially in progression or employability terms. So, in reality, Kornelius did brilliantly and showed he was capable of higher academic goals.

However, it was a different ball game passing the entrance procedures at Salesian College, Siliguri, affiliated to the University of North Bengal. Kornelius qualified in the academic tests but nearly stumbled when faced with the financial requirements. Fortunately, the college selection committee had a backup fund to support deserving students who show talent and ability. A college club, Savio Youth Centre Society, more than willingly offered to pay his college fees for his second-year studies as his application to study and his achievements were impressive.

The Fun Day
The students at college go through a range of activities, including drama, music, dance and creative projects in addition to their academic work. Yet they need more than the typical day-off or academic break to re-charge their batteries. The annual picnic is possibly that outlet when they can literally let their hair down and enjoy a carefree and fun-filled day. The college authorities always do a careful spot choice keeping in mind that these motivated college students have the opportunity to experience an outing that is both entertaining and refreshing. The idea is also to give the students a chance to meet up with students from different departments in an atmosphere that offers a reasonably free social interaction. It is important as well that security concerns are addressed and basic facilities are provided at this once-a-year outing.

The 500 students out for the picnic that day were off to two different destinations, not really far apart. One group of around 350 students went to Sevoke, an hour’s drive from Siliguri, a little town on the River Teesta while the other group went to Panighata, a village not far from Sevoke. One of the Lecturers, Father James, took charge of the first group, where Kornelius was, and headed for Sevoke. Mr Peter (another Lecturer) also assisted with the first group, while the other group was led by Father George (the Principal).

The River Story
The River Teesta is the lifeline of the Indian state of Sikkim, flowing through almost the entire length of the state. It originates in the Pauhunri glacier, nearly 7,000 metres high (23,000 ft) in the Sikkim-Himalayas and gathers momentum and bulk as it takes in water from three rivulets flowing into it at this point near Sevoke. In fact, it was originally called ‘Trisrote’ (Three Streams). While generally providing a verdant Himalayan and tropical vegetation along its path, in its ‘monsoon’ moods it has also caused incalculable damage to the surrounding villages with floods. The river then forms the border between the states of Sikkim and West Bengal before joining the River Brahmaputra as a tributary in Bangladesh.

The rivers in India besides being among the largest in the world are also some of the most unpredictable especially after the peak monsoon seasons but can also be quite a problem off-season if dam and barrage controls along their tributaries or rivulets are not properly regulated. The Brahmaputra and the Ganges, two of the largest rivers in India, belong to this category.

The Sand-Banks and the Dam

The morning started off brilliantly for both groups, with the pleasant bus ride and then the informal pleasantries that help to form little posses that generally tend to wander off to exchange news and college gossip. The Sevoke group encamped on the banks of the River Teesta which had wide sand-banks with large rocks and little dry islands in the middle of the river at that time of the year. With low rainfall in the winter months, there wasn’t an exceptionally large flow of water in the river. In spite of the scorching sun, the cool breezes added to the pleasant atmosphere full of happy chatter and fun. However, at around midday, after about two hours that the students had been at the Teesta, the situation suddenly took a dramatic turn.

Before the picnic, the planners had checked out the feasibility of the location with the authorities in the Sevoke area, including the controllers of the upstream dam nearby. They had got the all-clear for any student activities on the bank. However, without informing even the Police authorities of the area, the controllers of the dam sluices suddenly decided to release water either because of pressure building up in the dam or because of requests from the users of the water downstream.

Whatever may have been the reasoning of those in charge of water controls, and apart from the fact that even the Police authorities were not informed about plans, our bunch of students were totally unaware of the gush of water flowing towards them almost like a tsunami. However, Lecturers James and Peter noticed the speed at which the levels of water were rising and issued warning calls especially to the students on the sand stretches in the river to move away to the safety of the higher sand banks on the sides. Gradually all the students got the message but two girl students who had wandered off a bit further failed to hear the initial warnings. By the time they realized what was happening the water flow had almost become a giant wave. At first these two girls rushed for safety to the top of a large rock. However, the water-flow soon became a massive power and eventually washed the girls off their perch.

The Agony and the Suspense
The two girls were soon engulfed and it was agonizing for everyone watching the two of them being sucked away in the water and finally disappearing. James attempted to reach out to them with bamboo poles and ropes from the safety of the side banks but the sudden rise of the current was too powerful for the girls to grab the lifeline thrown to them. The horrified onlookers looked on helplessly, just praying and hoping that someone would do something. It would appear, in poetic more than in dramatic terms, that ‘time’ was the better gambler over ‘fate’, as something happened. ‘Time’ would appear to have stood still and to have recorded one of its most incredible moments.

Nothing can really prepare us for desperate times or for emergencies. Plane crash and sea-wreck survivors, and injured victims of terrorist attacks, usually have stories to tell that they themselves cannot truly explain. The fact is that no amount of training can save human beings when the odds are stacked against them. However, human survival instincts combined with personal skills, ingenuity, quick thinking, courage and daring have often rescued people from disastrous situations.

For our second-year student, Kornelius, this was his moment. He had not planned it. It just happened. All that was human in him pressed the ‘emergency-button’ and he swung into action. He acted instinctively. He had the presence of mind and the practical intuition to run downstream along the bank and then plunge into the raging river close to the point where the two girls were floundering. From that point on it was just Kornelius all the way: fighting to save others while trying to survive himself. In those vital moments all the tribal skills he had acquired in forestry, fishing and swimming just fell into place. For the bystanders it was painful agony watching the two girls disappear. For Kornelius it was just focus and action even though his wildest dreams may not have thrown this up ever.

Though not very tall his sturdy build had to take the brunt of the challenge he never imagined he would ever face. He kept forging ahead in the raging tide trying to spot the girls. As soon as their heads surfaced he swam towards them struggling to grab them as they kept sinking due to the water they had taken in. Kornelius, however, drew from his reserves and kept holding on to them. In just about fifteen minutes, he brought them both out, one by one, to the safety of the higher sand bank to everyone’s relief. Saving the first girl wasn’t too difficult as the adrenalin rush was strong, but it took a lot more power, determination and effort to save the second girl as he was nearly exhausted with the energy he had used up.

Selfless Heroism
Kornelius had not planned on being at the picnic that day but his presence made the difference that mattered. The girls were first given artificial respiration by the college first-aid team. The Police, as seems to happen in all dramas, then turned up, before the ambulance could, and rushed the two girls to Dr Nayak’s Nursing Home nearby.

Kornelius when asked why he threw himself so selflessly into the rescue, perhaps aware that his own life could be in danger, said quite simply, ‘I just wanted to save my fellow human beings in danger. I somehow knew I could. ….Someone had to do something. …I don’t think I did anything great.’

Actually he did. The College thought his quick thinking and his rescue were super-human. His mates just can’t stop talking about their quiet hero whose actions spoke more eloquently than his words. The two girls will have a lifetime to tell their grand-children how someone they didn’t really know gave new meaning to their lives. Paul Olaf Bodding (1865 – 1938), the famous Norwegian anthropologist who pioneered records of Santhal social history in India would probably have put Kornelius on a pedestal, a model for Santhal youth. Kornelius is indeed the pride of his family, the glory of his college and the star for young people today.

[Story and facts from Fr George T, Fr Nirmol G, Wikipedia] Edited by T.D’Souza for TRODZA-240315

Anastasia Redeemed

17 Apr

The Anastasia theme
The Author would appear to have latched on to an ‘Anastasia’ theme that seemed to have captured people’s attention during that particular time when the book idea was conceived. Readers apparently were eager to explore human physicality when enmeshed in ‘shady’ areas emotionally over-played. But his Anastasia experiences emotional tensions in another dimension. Her natural spontaneity and exuberance get reined in by manipulative and intransigent control-freaks almost with impunity.

Yet, in the book, Anastasia Redeemed, Anastasia courageously sings her song! She somehow uses her inner strength and her reliance on prayer to confront her partial and dodgy Managers. She needs to be heard and to be taken seriously even if her simplicity gets mistaken for naivety and her honesty for arrogance. She plainly doesn’t need to escape to ‘shady’ areas that her Managers escape to in clandestine ways to relieve their own tensions. She’s outspokenly clear and simple, sincere yet powerful.

‘Anastasia’ is the story of a Kenyan girl who wants to dedicate her life to serving others. The Author, Trophy D’Souza, in his third book, cleverly disguises powerful argument and passion in descriptions and details that make the book an exciting read! It’s a tale that resonates with Kenyan folklore and is packed with African snippets and religious insights. In some ways it is a delicious banquet served up, not with run-of-the-mill dishes, but with a succulent Kenyan main course and a tasty African dessert. Anastasia who goes through painful traumas at the hands of incapable religious Managers uses her faith and self belief to come out triumphant. It is a book that Managers who are Trainers should read. Managers who are responsible for mentoring trainees for religious living have valuable lessons to learn. The average ‘lay’ reader has a story that touches deep human emotion and cries out for justice and for solutions to situations that will always be part of growing up.

Reactions to the Book
The book may not have got the wide publicity it might have needed possibly because themes of a religious setting by their very nature get read only in certain circles. Yet apparently the response has been encouraging wherever the book was read.

A Nun, who is responsible for training postulants in a city in East Africa, said, ‘The book opened my eyes to issues I may not have looked at earlier. I have got my team of trainers to read the book and to discuss how we could avoid some of the pitfalls identified in the book….I have also made the book available in the Community Reading Room where other Nuns too could have access to it.’

A Manager in a multi-tasking ‘Call Centre’ in the UK said, ‘I found the book threw up some problems that may have escaped me. We get many young trainees who need to be understood. In spite of the busy schedule we run I think we need to give some space and time to help them grow up not only to be effective workers but also into better social human beings. ‘

A Director in a College in India, that doubles up as a centre for religious studies as well as for university studies, found ‘gems of wisdom’ and ‘practical advice’ to guide him in his task of training future religious and priests. He had to admit, ‘I didn’t realize that power could be used to control and hinder the growth of sensitive and needy human souls. It clearly needs to be used more positively.’

Reviewers of the Book
‘An easy read and a compelling book,’ said Menon, who trains teachers for the British Council in India. She added, ‘Anastasia’s trials….. have been presented through a sensitively crafted narrative, which seem to speak to the reader from deep within Anastasia’s being.’

‘The story is truly gripping, full of the realities that life throws up….’ said Gomes, who has a varied education experience in Australia and in India. He believes that the Author’s ‘inimitable style’ helps ‘to blend the African setting’ with ‘the Christian influences that seem to guide the outcomes.’

While Menezes, a Media and Library Specialist in New York, feels that the typical ‘western’ reader,’ immersed in a hi-tech world, should relish this exotic experience presented in an easy-to-read style’, Lazar, a training consultant for Religious Training Services in East Africa, believes that the book is more about Anastasia’s ‘search for meaning in life by staying close to her culture and…to the spiritual values of her religion.’

Other Books with similar themes
The Author, who has experience of dealing with people in different settings in life, has a way with words in dealing with dysfunctional situations. His first book, A Bumpy Ride, shows how ‘incompetent Managers’ can affect people’s lives, very much the way Anastasia’s ‘bumpy ride’ hits an iceberg [‘intolerant Management’] that nearly destroys her. His second book, The Singh Saga, elaborates how ‘shady’ characters can make a family dysfunctional, while his fourth book, The Silence Beyond the Pain, once again explores how arrogant Managers can make life unbearable for unsuspecting and genuine clients. Always concerned about a reader’s possible emotional spill-over his books provide inspiration and resolution. Realization and repentance find redemption in his books which constantly seek not to disparage but to explore human dimensions and possibilities!
Details of the Author’s books can be seen at his blog: . Trophy D’Souza is on FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Anastasia Redeemed, published in March 2013, is available from New Generation Publishing and from Amazon.

The Story and the Issues
Anastasia needs to be heard and to be taken seriously even if she does not dabble in ‘shady’ areas that usually get headlines. She’s outspokenly pure and simple, honest yet powerful. It is a tale that resonates with Kenyan folklore, packed with African snippets. In some ways it is a delicious banquet served up, not with run-of-the-mill dishes, but with a succulent Kenyan main course and a tasty African dessert. Anastasia who goes through painful traumas at the hands of incapable religious Managers uses her faith and self belief to come out triumphant and successful. It is a book religious Managers who are Trainers must read and keep alongside their Bibles! It offers insights for the average lay reader as well, exposing the ‘fault lines’ in this African ‘rift valley’!

‘Anastasia’s trials with facing the loss of her family, with living up to her brave decision to stick with Akamba tradition and with accepting her fatherless child have been presented through a sensitively crafted narrative, which seems to speak to the reader from deep within Anastasia’s being. It is as if her voice grows, from that of a little girl with a simple and naive perspective of the world and from that of a young woman in her quest of the Almighty, into a strong woman who has matured through the challenges life has thrown at her.’

Delta Flight 15

6 Mar

The amazing story of how good people always turn up.

Frankfurt Flight diverted
On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, we were about 5 hours out of Frankfurt, flying over the North Atlantic. We were more than half-way to our destination in the USA suddenly the aisle curtains parted and I was told to go to the cockpit, to see the captain. As soon as I got there I noticed that the crew had that strained business look on their faces. The Captain handed me a printed message from Delta’s main office in Atlanta, ‘All airways over the Continental United States are closed to commercial air traffic. Land a.s.a.p. at the nearest airport. Advise your destination.’

No one said a word. We knew it was a serious situation and that we needed to land quickly. The Captain determined that the nearest airport was 400 miles behind us in Gander, Newfoundland (Canada). He requested approval for a route change from the Canadian traffic controller and approval was granted immediately. We found out later, of course, why no questions were asked and there was no delay in getting the request approved.

While the flight crew prepared for landing, another message came through from Atlanta telling us that there had been some terrorist activity in the New York area. A few minutes later the news got a bit clearer when we were told about the hijackings and the attacks on New York. We decided not to tell the passengers any of these bits while we were still in the air. We told them the plane had a minor technical problem and that we needed to land at the nearest airport, Gander, to check it out.

More planes grounded at Gander
We promised to give the passengers more information once we’d landed in Gander. There was quite naturally a bit of murmuring among the passengers which is understandable. Forty minutes later, we landed in Gander; at 12:30 p.m.! [11:00 a.m. EST]. As we were landing the passengers couldn’t help noticing that there were already around 20 other airplanes of different world airlines on the ground that had also taken this detour on their way to the USA. Did all of them have technical problems at about the same time?

After we had parked on the ramp, the Captain made the much-awaited announcement, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same technical problem as we had. The reality is that we are here for a totally different reason.’ Then he went on to explain the little bits we were told about the situation in the USA. There were loud gasps and stares of disbelief. The Captain then informed the passengers that Ground Control in Gander had informed all aircraft to stay put.

The Canadian Government was in charge of our situation and no one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground either was allowed to come near any of the aircrafts. Only airport police would come around periodically to look us over. In the next hour as we waited more planes landed and soon Gander had 53 airplanes cramped into the little airport, 27 of which were US commercial jets.

The ‘plain truth’ of the situation
Meanwhile, bits of news started trickling in over the aircraft radio and for the first time we learned that airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York and into the Pentagon, in Washington DC. Some passengers were trying to use their cell phones, but were unable to connect due to a different cell system in Canada. Some did get through but were only able to get to the Canadian operator who would tell them that the lines to the USA were either blocked or jammed.

Some hours later, in the evening, the news filtered to us that the World Trade Centre buildings had collapsed and that a fourth hijacking had resulted in a crash. By now the passengers were emotionally and physically exhausted, not to mention frightened, but everyone stayed amazingly calm. We had only to look out the window at the 52 other stranded aircraft to realize that we were not the only ones in this predicament.

We had been told earlier that they would be allowing people off the planes one plane at a time. At 6 p.m., Gander airport authorities told us that our turn to deplane would be 11 a.m. the next morning. The passengers were not at all happy about this but stayed calm as they prepared themselves to spend the night on the airplane. The Gander authorities promised us medical attention, water, provisions and satisfactory toilet facilities. They were true to their word. We had no medical situations to worry about, but we did have a young lady who was 33 weeks into her pregnancy. Many of the experienced mothers and medically trained women stepped forward to take really good care of her. The night passed without incident in spite of the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements.

No ‘Red Alert’ –but Red Cross
About 10:30 on the morning of the 12th September a convoy of school buses showed up. We got off the plane and were taken to the terminal for Immigration and Customs. We then had to register with the Red Cross who took charge. We (the crew) were then separated from the passengers and taken in vans to a small hotel. We had no idea where our passengers had been taken. The Red Cross told us that the town of Gander which had a population of 10,400 people was faced with the challenging task of taking care of about 10,500 passengers who had got off the planes! The Red Cross told us to relax in our hotels and that we would be contacted when the US airports opened again, but that we should not expect that call for a while. Only after we got to our hotels and turned on the TV, 24 hours after it had all started, did we really find out what had actually happened.

Meanwhile, as we began to settle into our situation, with quite a bit of time on our hands, the passengers soon found out that the people of Gander were really an extremely friendly bunch. They started by calling us ‘our friends the plane people’. We enjoyed their hospitality, explored the town of Gander and ended up comfortable and cared for, almost as though we were back in our homes.
Two days later, we got that call and were taken back to Gander airport. Back on our planes, we were reunited with our passengers and began finding out what care and kindness they had experienced over the two days that they had been away from the airplane. We heard incredible stories of kindness, friendliness and generosity.

Lewis Porte and ‘people support’
Gander rose to the occasion. All the surrounding communities (within about a 75 km radius) had closed all high schools, meeting halls, lodges and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities into mass lodging areas for all the stranded travellers. Some had cots set up, others had mats with sleeping bags and pillows set up.

All the high school students were required to volunteer their time to take care of the ‘guests’. The 218 passengers on our plane ended up in a town called Lewis Porte, about 45 km from Gander where they were put up in a high school. If any women wanted to be in a women-only facility, that was arranged too. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were taken to private homes.

What about that young pregnant lady? She was put up in a private home right across the street from a 24-hour Urgent Care facility. There was a dentist on call and both male and female nurses remained with the crowd for the duration. Phone calls and e-mails to the US and around the world were available to everyone once a day. During the day, passengers were offered ‘excursion’ trips. Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbours. Others went for hikes in the local forests. Local bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread for the guests.

Food was prepared by all the residents and brought to the schools. People were driven to restaurants of their choice and offered wonderful meals. Everyone was given tokens for local laundry mats to wash their clothes, since luggage was still on the aircraft. In other words, every single need was met for the stranded travellers.

The passengers were literally in tears just recounting the kindness they were shown. Finally, when they were told that US airports had reopened, they were dropped off to the airport right on time and without a single passenger missing their flights or getting there late. The Red Cross had all the information about the whereabouts of each and every passenger and knew which plane they needed to be on and the departures of all the flights. They coordinated everything beautifully. It was absolutely incredible.

The flight back –a party mood
When passengers came on board, it was like they had been on a cruise. Everyone suddenly knew everyone by name. They were swapping stories of their stay, impressing each other with who had experienced the better time. Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a chartered flight with everyone in a party mood. The crew wisely just stayed out of this friendly reunion of people who hadn’t really known each other. It was mind-boggling. Passengers bonded and were on first-name terms, exchanging phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses. But perhaps the best was yet to come. Something unusual happened.

One of the passengers, on our plane, approached me and asked if he could make an announcement over the PA system. We never ever allow that. But on this occasion the mood was different. ‘Of course,’ I said and handed him the mike. He picked up the mike and reminded everyone about what they had just gone through in the last few days. He reminded them of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He continued by saying that he would like to do something in return for the kind folk of Lewis Porte.

He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund under the name of DELTA 15 (our flight number). The purpose of the trust fund would be to provide college scholarships for the high school students of Lewis Porte. He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travellers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, the total was more than $14,000!

A Gentleman’s word
The gentleman, an MD from Virginia, promised to match the donations and to start the administrative work on the scholarship. He also said that he would forward this proposal to Delta Corporate and ask them to donate as well. As I sat to write this account, some weeks after I got back to base I had reliable news that the trust fund had reached more than $1.5 million and that it has already assisted 134 students with their college funding.

I just wanted to share this story because the world needs good stories. It gives me hope to know that some people in a faraway place were kind to some strangers who literally dropped in on them. It reminds me of how much good there is in the world. In spite of all the not-so-good things we see going on in today’s world this story confirms that there are still a lot of good people in the world and that in moments of need they will always come forward.

–Story narrated by Jerry Brown: attendant on Flight Delta 15 on 09.11.2001]
[Thanks to Isabel Roche fmm, Gabriela Martins fmm & PeterLourdes sdb for circulating the story]
—Edited by T.D’Souza for TRODZA – 050315

A Taste of Convent Life

3 Mar

When Akiko and Fumiko arrived at the Trappist° Convent of Our Lady of Imari in the Saga Prefecture° (northwest of Kyushu island in Japan), they were not there to join the Order. They were not casual visitors either. They had set aside three months in their lives for a program in which they would live with the Nuns as temporary members of the community. The Convent started this program to give young people a chance to make prayer the center of their lives, not only during their stay but in their lives later too. The Convent sits on a mountain overlooking Imari Bay in Saga Prefecture, some 940 km west of Tokyo.

Prayer is like the pulse of this convent. The first prayers begin promptly at 3:50 am, and the day ends with a Marian hymn at 7:40 in the evening. The traditional form of Christian devotion at Our Lady of Imari focuses on the Mass° and the daily office°. Akiko and Fumiko joined in this experience and devoted more than four hours to prayer each day, in addition to three and a half hours set aside for study and about three hours for manual labor.

Fumiko (23), who lives in Fukuoka Prefecture (Kyushu Island- southern Japan), heard about this program by word of mouth. ‘I was in a tough spot psychologically, so I wanted to get to know God and find my path in life,’ she says of her motivation to participate. Akiko (28), from Aichi Prefecture (between Osaka and Tokyo), had embarked on a career but maintained an interest in the consecrated life. She learned of this opportunity during a chance visit to a church that she did not usually visit. She quit her job, persuaded her non-Christian family members to give her decision their blessing, and filled out the application.

When they first joined the program, the two women primarily worked in the garden ‘with a sickle in the hand, morning and afternoon,’ says Fumiko. ‘It was really hard at first,’ she added with a pained laugh. Under the Nuns’ instructions and supervision, Fumiko and Akiko not only helped grow rice and vegetables for the community’s table but also assisted with the production and packaging jelly to be sold.

It was about a month into their participation in the program before they were admitted to the private cloistral living area of the nuns and, thus, into the innermost communal life of the convent.
The two had bedrooms on the second floor. ‘Really, there’s the bed, and there’s the dresser, and that’s it,’ says Akiko. In this new life, they exchanged cell phones for simple poverty. They prayed from early morning until night. It is a life they could scarcely have imagined before, but it helped them turn toward God. As with all Benedictine orders, the Rule of Saint Benedict° governs life here. ‘I don’t really know much about the specifics of the Rule,’ says Fumiko, ‘but I can see it is aimed at helping people love both God and man.’

For Our Lady of Imari Convent, the program was something of a trial run. Sister Setsuko Shibuya, Prioress at the Convent, says, ‘The life of this community is something that you can’t really grasp just by thinking about it. We take joy in coming together to praise God; that’s really what it is. We think of it as ‘getting close to God,’ but that’s something that you can’t do if you don’t make space for it.’

That is why the Nuns made this ‘wholehearted’ decision to open a portion of these ‘religious practices dating back to the sixth century’ to women who are not consecrated. For Fumiko, occupying the space provided by the program had a crucial impact on her faith. ‘When I was working, I would not even go to Mass on Sundays. But now, I really understand the meaning of the words, Happy are those who are called to his supper.’

[Edited for TRODZA by T.D’Souza: taken from –Sept 2013]

Notes: [signposted at these words in the text with a ° sign]
Benedict: Sant Benedict (480-547 AD), is the patron saint of Europe. He founded 12 communities of monks in Subiaco, Italy (about 60 km to the east of Rome). His main achievement is the ‘Rule of Saint Benedict which has precepts for his monks, which later influenced many religious Orders.
Mass: the main liturgical function, held daily, in the Catholic religious belief and practices.
Office: a set of psalms, readings and prayers: said seven times a day –basically a call to prayer.
Prefecture: an administrative division in Japan, with a Governor at the head.
Trappist: The Cistercian Order had become lax in their observances in the monastery in La Trappe, in France, and so the Abbot there enforced stricter discipline. Later, all monks and nuns who follow these new revised laws are called Trappists. Ordinarily the Cistercians are also known as Trappists.

Indian Treat in Charleston

3 Mar

It’s really a misnomer. It’s not so much a dish for the Charleston tables as a feast for the South Carolina music world. Vaibhav, now 16, hit the headlines with his music compositions. It isn’t easy to imagine that a talent from Orissa [Odisha] in India would capture the imagination of music enthusiasts in America.

He began playing the piano when he was four and saxophone at the age of nine, the same year he composed his first original western music piece. He composed ‘Floodgate of Happiness’, which won the first prize at the school and later the state level. His composition also received an honourable mention at a national level.

‘Altitude,’ which he wrote when he was 13, was performed by Piedmont Wind Symphony at Winston-Salem, North Carolina by about 50 musicians and by All-National Honour Band of National Association for Music Education at Grand Ole Opry House, Nashville, Tennessee, using more than two dozen instruments. The winner of the National Young Arts Foundation award later showcased his musical talent in Miami, Florida, during the National Young Arts week where he was selected by Young Arts as a gene U. S. Presidential scholar (academics).

‘Verve Street’ which Vaibhav wrote at 15, was performed by 20 professional musicians of Charleston Jazz Orchestra in October 2014. He was honoured at the South Carolina Music Educators’ Conference as the gifted young musician of the year. Earlier he also won six national and international music competitions. After turning into a professional music composer, JPM Music Pushing in Festus, Missouri, USA, published his music compositions: ‘Scherzo’, ‘Train Ride’ and ‘Humoresque’; while Lighthouse Music Publishing in Ontario, Canada will publish: ‘Altitude’ soon. Several of his compositions are in the process of review for publication.

Vaibhav Mohanty lives with his parents in Charleston in South Carolina. He loves to compose for concert bands, small ensembles and jazz bands. The Odisha press ( reported that his performances have brought him several national and international awards leading to performances at different venues in America, including one at the world famous Grand Ole Opry House. ‘We are extremely happy with our son’s achievements,’ said his parents Bidyut Mohanty and Sangeeta Mohanty, speaking over the phone from the USA to the Odisha correspondent.

Vaibhav has got admission to Harvard University and plans to pursue his studies there. Music, however, which would appear to be his first love, will for sure still be on his agenda. He said, ‘I want to compose more and more music and win laurels.’ When asked about his future plans, Vaibhav said, ‘I want to be a doctor.’

[Adapted by T.D’Souza for TRODZA – Original story by Malay Ray in Matters India- 260215]

The Final Interview

3 Mar


The soldier stood and faced God,
which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining,
Just as brightly as his brass.

‘Step forward now, you soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To My precepts have you been true?’

The soldier squared his shoulders and said,
‘No, Lord, I guess I haven’t.
Because those of us who carry guns,
Can’t always be the saint.

I’ve had to work most Sundays,
And at times my talk was tough.
And sometimes I’ve been violent,
Because the world is awfully rough.

But, I never took a penny,
That wasn’t mine to keep…
Though I worked a lot of overtime,
When the bills got just too steep.

And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear.
And sometimes, God, forgive me,
I’ve wept unmanly tears.

I know I don’t deserve a place,
Among the people here.
They never wanted me around,
Except to calm their fears.

If you’ve a place for me here, Lord,
It needn’t be so grand.
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don’t, I’ll understand.

There was a silence all around the throne,
Where the saints had often trod.
As the soldier waited quietly,
For the judgment of his God.

‘Step forward now, you soldier,
You’ve borne your burdens well.
Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets,
You’ve done your time in Hell.’

Honour to them who help us live our day!
Bless them, O God, we humbly pray!

It’s the Military, (not the reporter), who have given us the freedom of the press. It’s the Military, (not the poet), who have given us the freedom of speech. It’s the Military, (not the politicians), that ensure our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s the Military who salute the flag, who serve beneath the flag, and whose coffins are draped by the flag.

If you care to offer the smallest token of recognition and appreciation for the military, please pray for our men and women who have served and are currently serving their duty-times, and pray for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

[Source: unknown. Edited by T.D’Souza for TRODZA – 030315]-bna

Selfless in Adversity

22 Feb

Athena: Living Life to the full
She was just a 12-year-old school-girl enjoying life to the full in Leicester when life suddenly changed for her. When Athena Orchard knew she wouldn’t survive her bone cancer diagnosis, she wrote a 3,000-word inspirational secret message, using a black marker, at the back of her bedroom mirror. The mirror was always kept leaning against the wall and so the family never noticed that she had written those soul-searching words at the back.

At Christmas, 2012, Athena collapsed at home and was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (one of the most common types of bone cancer) in December 2013 when they found a lump on her head. The malignant bone tumour affected her spine, left shoulder and head. In the following months, she underwent intense chemotherapy. She had to have a seven-and-a-half-hour operation to remove the tumour on her spine and wore a wig to cover her hair-loss.

Her father, Dean, who discovered this positive message a few days after she had passed away, admits that he was ‘blown away’ by it. He told the local paper, Leicester Mercury, ‘I started reading it but before long I had to stop because it was too much. It was heartbreaking.’

He also stumbled upon a bundle of self-penned songs. Her mirror writings and her songs detail the innermost feelings of a girl who had put up a courageous fight for her life.

Athena: the impact of her words
Dean, 33, said of the note, ‘She never mentioned her mirror message, but it’s the kind of thing she’d do. She was a very spiritual person, she’d go on about stuff that I could never understand – she was so clever.’

Athena left behind six sisters and three brothers. But her mother, Caroline, 37, said that the mirror-note Athena bequeathed the family will help ensure that her memory stays very much alive.
‘We’re keeping the mirror forever. It is a part of her we can keep in the house. It will always be in her room,’ she said. ‘Just reading her words felt like she was still here with us. She had such an incredible spirit.’

When she finally passed away, at just 13, on May 28, 2014 she left a family reeling from the awesome power of her selfless realism, encapsulated in her stoic acceptance of suffering and her moving words. Her life just raced by faster than those around her could even realize the beauty of the wonderful soul that had enriched their lives. Some of her words ring true, ‘You know my name, not my story.’ She suffered in silence, all through the intense chemotherapy, fully appreciative of the time life gave her, constantly concerned more about those around her than about herself.

The poignant words written by a dying teenage cancer victim on the back of her bedroom mirror have touched the hearts and minds of millions of people worldwide. The 1,000-word message of 13-year-old Athena Orchard, of New Parks, Leicester (England) has become headline news all over the world. Newspapers, websites and television channels in many countries have retold the story of Athena’s message from beyond the grave. Athena’s mum, Caroline Orchard, said she felt proud and humbled that her daughter’s words have touched and inspired so many.

Athena’s Message: in her own words
(Extracts from the lengthy yet inspiring message she left for her family and friends):
On Happiness
*Happiness depends upon ourselves. Maybe it’s not about the happy ending, maybe it’s about the story.
*The purpose of life is a life of purpose. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.
*Happiness is a direction not a destination. Thank you for existing. Be happy, be free, believe, forever young. You know my name, not my story.
On Love
*Love is like glass, looks so lovely but it’s easy to shatter.
*Love is rare, life is strange, nothing lasts and people change.
*If someone loves you, then they wouldn’t let you slip away no matter how hard the situation is. Remember that life is full of ups and downs.
*Love is not about how much you say I love you – it’s about how much you can prove it’s true.
* Love is like the wind, you can feel it but you can’t see it.
* I’m waiting to fall in love with someone I can open my heart to.
*Love is not about who you can see spending your future with. It’s about who you can’t see spending your life without.
* Life is a game for everyone but love is the prize. Only I can judge me.
*Sometimes love hurts. Now I’m fighting myself. Baby I can feel your pain.
On Steadfastness and Purpose
*Every day is special, so make the most of it, you could get a life ending illness tomorrow so make the most of every day. Life is only bad if you make it bad.
*Dreams are my reality. It hurts but it’s okay, I’m used to it.
*You have heard what I’ve done, but not what I’ve been through.
*Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about. I want to be that girl who makes the bad days better and the one that makes you say my life has changed since I met her!
*Don’t be quick to judge me. You only see what I choose to show you… you don’t know the truth. I just want to have fun and be happy without being judged.
*This is my life, not yours. Don’t worry about what I do.
*People gonna hate you, rate you, break you, but how strong you stand, that’s what makes you… you!
*There’s no need to cry because I know you’ll be by my side.

[Extracts and facts taken from Leicester Mercury, and online sites of The Metro, The Telegraph and Caters News Agency, with some comment credits to A.Troughton, P.Warzynski, H.Whitehouse & P.Boucher.]
–Edited and written by T.D’Souza for TRODZA blog : 22.02.15


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