Happy Diwali, Rajoo and you can certainly put my writing in your blog. Love and blessings
—– Original Message —–
From: Rajendra Trivedi, MD
To: ‘Carlos G. Vallés’
Cc: ‘Jay Trivedi’ ; ‘Rageen Trivedi’ ; ‘Dhaval Trivedi’ ; firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Friday, October 16, 2009 1:41 AM
Subject: HAPPY DIWALI
Hope you are back to Spain and recovered from the recent visit to India.
If you give me permission I like to put your writing in Our Father’s Blog – “Tulsidal”.
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back – MEDITATION – 01/10/09
MAKING HINDUS LOVE CHRIST
Something was missing. I lived fifty years in India and left without a farewell. It’s true, I kept coming back for some years, but visits were becoming fewer and far between, and I began to wonder whether each would be the last. So I grabbed at the invitation to come for the Silver Jubilee of the CISS (Catholic Information Service Society) in September 2009 in Ahmedabad, as I had helped Fr Sontag in that pioneer ministry in Pune in the fifties, and my book Khristidarshan had become the textbook for the course in Gujarati in the eighties. I would come, hug friends, make speeches, neck garlands, record the event in my web site, and formally close the best chapter of my life.
I never chose coming to India. After World War II, pope Pius XII thought Japan would open to the gospel and asked the Jesuit General Father Janssens to send to Japan as many Jesuits as possible from all parts of the world to gather in the expected harvest. I volunteered. My Jesuit Provincial in Spain answered me: ‘Japan, no. India, yes. We’ve just taken charge of the Gujarat Mission as separate from the Bombay Mission in India, and I’m planning to start a College in Ahmedabad. You are hereby appointed to that non existing College.’ Once in India, people often asked me what had attracted me to India. I soon learned my answer: ‘In the West’ – I would say – ‘people first fall in love, and then marry; in India, people first marry, and then fall in love. Mine with India is an Indian marriage.’
I arrived at Loyola College, Chennai, for my maths honours degree in January 1950 on the precise day when College Day was being celebrated, and I sat in my brand new white cassock on the benches reserved for the fathers. I had never in my life seen such a glamorous display of youth, sport, art, dances, sheer beauty and glorious spectacle as that. I sat fascinated. At the same time I kept praying within myself in the solitude of my fresh arrival: ‘Lord, what a pity that these magnificent people, men and women, young and old, must all go to hell!’ This is not a joke. It was anguish to me. The Catholic doctrine ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation’ was in full force at the time, and the recent encyclical Mystici Corporis had emphasised that water baptism was necessary to enter heaven. Still, I wrote to my teacher in Spain, later to be the dean of moral theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, Fr Marcelino Zalba, who died last year in his 100th year, asking him how had I to understand that teaching when surrounded by non-baptised people. He promptly answered: ‘Have you just now arrived in India and you are already losing your faith? Be careful lest you fall into hell yourself!’ Cold comfort. Yet, I knew already in my heart of hearts that things could not be that way. Years later, a Council would come to prove me right.
One thing I had observed in Chennai. Teachers and students knew perfectly well English – with a lovely Tamil lilt to it – but as soon as they jumped out of the classroom they all started talking in their swift Tamil among themselves. It was then that I made the resolution that changed my life: If I come to Gujarat, I will learn Gujarati first. I went to Anand in Gujarat to its language school for a year, realised that one year was not enough to master the language, and asked for one more year to perfect it before going to Pune for theology.
But then something happened that threatened my resolution. There was an anti-Christian move in the new government, and the Catholic M.P. Mrs. Violet Alva was asked to inform us privately but officially that we, foreign Catholic missionaries who had arrived after independence in India on a temporary visa to be renewed each year, would certainly be allowed to complete our studies in India, but after that our visas would not be renewed and we would have to return to our countries of origin. There were enough Catholic priests in India to minister to the Catholics in the country, and proselytising missionaries were not welcome. In such circumstances it looked foolish to stay for one more year of Gujarati before Pune.
Yet I stayed. I took a room for a year in a Hindu hostel at Vallabh Vidyanagar University in Gujarat where I attended classes, mixed with students, took a vow never to speak English with them, wrote endless compositions, even took part in a Gujarati drama, and came out speaking the language. My Jesuit companions who went ahead to Pune charged my conscience (no joke) with the reproach that I would have to give an account to God for having said 365 masses less than they in my life, having delayed my priestly ordination for a year quite uselessly. It didn’t quite turn out that way, though. The Indian government soon changed its policy and we were allowed to remain.
Once in Pune I dedicated the first two hours of my study time each morning without fail to writing Gujarati. Just filling up sheets of paper and tearing them up. I’ve always said that my teacher in the art of writing was the wastepaper basket. I loved theology, specially Scripture, and I studied it with gusto, but I never cared much about exams. Not even the dreaded ‘ad auds’ for hearing confessions moved me. The summer months between our second and third year were meant to prepare for that exam, but I made use of them to write, behind close doors to prevent detection, a book in Gujarati, Sadachar, that was to become my introduction to the reading public in Gujarat. Not too easily, though. When I reached Gujarat after ordination and tertianship, I showed my manuscript to the publisher at Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya. The book purported to be a moral guide for students. The publisher paged through it, threw it on the table with such a bad grace that it fell to the floor and said, ‘Who would ever read this?’ I gathered the pages, wrote to get some money from my mother in Spain, and printed the book privately in our Anand Press. A copy reached somehow the education minister, Shrimati Indumatiben Sheth, who recommended it for all schools. The magazine Kumar asked me for similar articles each month. The daily Gujarat Samachar gave me the whole last page of its Sunday supplement each weak for a column I titled To the New Generation. With it I entered the Gujarati homes in times where there was no television, and the Sunday supplement of the newspapers was the only entertainment of Sunday morning for all members of the family. Since then, as I was once introduced to a Gujarati audience and I quote without blushing, ‘Each home in Gujarat has two fathers. The father of the family, and father Valles.’
The Jain community in Mumbai celebrated each year their Paryushan Parva with religious lectures in eight consecutive days by well known and well accepted scholars. After many consultations, as I later learned, they decided to risk inviting me, a foreign Christian missionary, to address them. As a precaution they set Shri Chimanbhai Chakubhai Shah, a forceful personality who was at the time a member of the Indian delegation at the UN, to preside over my talks so as to check any trespass on my side. My talks went well, and that was the beginning of my love affair with the Jains that has led them to call me an ‘honorary Jain’ and to be their guest at innumerable functions from India to America – passing, of course, through Africa, Australia and Japan.
On the last day of that first Paryushan, at a tea party in a flat overlooking The Queen’s Necklace in Mumbai, I was walking among groups with my teacup in hand when I noticed some speaking about me. ‘What are you saying about me?’ I cheerfully asked. They told me: ‘You’ll take it ill if we tell you.’ ‘Now you have to tell me’, I insisted. One of them finally spoke: ‘Forgive us, father, but we were saying that you appear to us as such a fine person that… you could not possibly be a Christian!’
We all laughed, but the incident stuck in my mind, and I quietly thought about it and began to shape within me what I wanted my life in India to be. I would endeavour to live and to appear and to be such that Hindus and Muslims and Parsis and Jains would accept me as a Christian, breaking down old prejudices and making it possible for us to speak about religious matters with the direct testimony of our own faith. This, I think, I have done in my measure. It is significant that my book Khristidarshan, whose use in the CISS courses has prompted my coming now to India as I’ve mentioned at the beginning, was commissioned not by any Catholic publisher but by Vallabh Vidyanagar University as a purely secular institution of the country. They wanted to make the knowledge of Christ’s person and teaching available to the general public, and they asked me to do it. I readily accepted. A schoolboy once wrote to me from Bhavnagar: ‘I’ve read your books and I like them. While I’m reading them I feel the need to imagine your face, as I feel as though you were talking to me. But I haven’t seen you or any photo of yours. In our World Religions textbook there is a lesson on Christ with his photo (?) on it. So I imagine your face as that face of Christ. Do you mind my doing so?’ Thank you, Himansu. You defined my life ideal.
In Chennai I had been lucky to have the French Jesuit Fr Racine as a teacher in Modern Algebra. He had introduced us to the then new subjects of set theory, group theory, ring theory, field theory, vector spaces, matrix theory, linear algebra, Boolean algebra, that were unknown in the universities at the time, and so, when I came to Gujarat, I was requested to introduce them in the Gujarat University, which I was glad to do. I had to work at the very terminology. ‘Pure mathematics’ became, at my hands, Kevalganit in consonance with Shankaracharya’s Kevaladvaita; ‘ring theory’ became Mandalshastra, and for ‘one-one and one-many correspondence’ I proposed Sita sambandh and Draupadi sambandh which any Indian with a sense of humour would readily understand, but this was not accepted by the University authorities. I enjoyed teaching mathematics as much as writing books.
Another translation work, even more rewarding, presented itself at about that time. For the first time vernacular versions were allowed for the mass in place of Latin. The new Eucharistic prayer, ‘Lord, you are holy indeed…’ had to be translated into Gujarati and I was asked to do it. I found the British ‘indeed’ unbearably prosaic indeed, and worked from the Latin, which was not much better. The sentence had to come after the ‘Holy, holy, holy’, of the Sanctus, and so my Gujarati became: ‘Holiness is your name, oh Lord…’ (Pavitrata tamarum nama chhe, Prabhu…), and so down the line to the ‘lotus hands’ of the Lord at the consecration, and the Balidan Murti for the ‘Lamb of God’ which was an expression foreign to India and put our vernaculars to the test. (Father Segundo Llorente, popular Jesuit missionary in Alaska, faced with the same situation chose to proclaim, ‘This is the Seal of God’ before Eskimos who new no lambs and lived on seals.) And then on to other canons and prefaces, though the rest of the missal was done by other and very capable hands. Honestly, I felt inspired while doing that work. Today nobody knows that is my work, as missals do not show credits, but it is a matter of deep satisfaction to me that wherever a priest says mass in Gujarati, I am secretly present at the altar. There was only a snag. My version was sent to Rome for approval, but in Rome nobody knew Gujarati. So they sent back my text, a holy missionary, Fr Pariza, translated my Gujarati back into Latin (I told him just to copy the original Latin but he didn’t listen to me), this was duly sent to Rome and the approval came. ‘Holiness is your name, oh Lord!’
My books and articles had brought me closer to the people, but then I noticed the existential gap between me, in my safe and comfortable Jesuit residence at St Xavier’s College, and my readers in the narrow lanes of the walled city. And I conceived the idea of going to live as a guest among them, asking for hospitality from house to house, staying with them full time day and night including all meals, and coming to the College only for classes in the morning and back in the evening to my temporary home as any other teacher. There is an Indian word, vihar, which refers to the wandering monk, and there is the tradition of hospitality that makes it possible what would be unthinkable in any other country. I asked the permission of father Provincial, got on my bike, and started knocking at doors. For ten years I lived in that guise, and felt a member of as many families that adopted me for a week each and made me feel like one of them. My experiences in my vihar filled three books, and their imprint has stayed with me. And with many neighbourhoods in Ahmedabad.
When Fr Tony de Mello announced the first month retreat he would direct in Khandala, I applied for it and went. Later, when he started his Sadhana courses I did not apply, but my Provincial proposed to me to go for the maxi (9 months) or the mini (3 months) Sadhana. I answered him: ‘No minis for me. I’ll go for the maxi.’ And I went. I’ll be for ever grateful to Tony for that year. Inner freedom, contact with myself, Gestalt, ‘lose your mind and come to your senses’, deep relationships, ‘choiceless, effortless, purposeless awareness’ (Krishnamurti). A way of life that, in my hope and in my measure, has come to be a part of myself. People have told me I am jealous of Tony. I admit that. But in the matter of jealousy I’ve been more sinned against than sinned. Success is paid for dearly among us. And I’ve had a good deal of it. As for Tony, I willingly and spontaneously paid my debt back to him with my book ‘Unencumbered by Baggage’, which remains to this day the standard book on Tony, given the (amazing!) lack of any biography of his. When Tony stopped giving thirty-day retreats he passed on to me those he had already accepted, and I gave them. Then, unexpectedly, our General, Fr Arrupe, gave orders personally from Rome that I should give the long retreat to Jesuits in their last year in formation (Tertianship) in our two institutions for the purpose in India, which I did for a number of years (and for which the Tertian Masters, obviously, hated me), coming always back to my teaching in St Xavier’s College and my weekly writings. I do wonder at my hectic activity those years.
One of the results of my retreats was that I for the first time agreed to write a book in English. For years I had written only in Gujarati. Suggestions were made to me to write in English, but I used to answer that many Jesuits knew English in India better than me, and I owed myself entirely to Gujarati. For a time I fooled myself with that answer, till I avowed to myself the true answer: If I wrote in English, other Jesuits would read me, and I was afraid of their criticism. Finally the genial director of Gujarat Sahitya Prakash in Anand, Fr Diaz de Río, convinced me, I put together some talks I had given in a retreat to the Andhra Loyola College Jesuit community, and that was my first book in English, ‘Living Together’. Many more were to follow.
When arriving in India I had asked my spiritual father, the Alsatian Fr Froehly in Madurai Mission, for permission to make a vow never to leave India. He refused permission. I remembered him when I was chosen to represent India at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Moscow in 1968. Fr Froehly was a wise man, and to Russia I went. Once in Europe I visited Spain and rediscovered the West. The director of the Jesuit publishing house, Sal Terrae, in Spain asked me for permission to translate my book ‘Living Together’ into Spanish. I did my own translation, and gradually did the same with all my English books. That was how I became writing in three languages. From Gujarati, however, I never translated my books into English or Spanish, as the backgrounds were too different. In fact, when giving now talks and answering questions in Spain, people often expressed surprise at my answers. Finally some questioner revealed the explanation to me when she exclaimed: ‘But of course, you are an Indian!’ I treasured the compliment.
My Spanish books crossed the Atlantic and reached Latin America. And soon the call came for talks and courses there. First to Argentina, then year by year to neighbouring countries, and higher up all along the New World. For a Spaniard to ‘discover’ Latin America, to speak Spanish in twenty countries whose mother tongue it is, to identify Spanish features in gently coloured faces, to read in their own backgrounds books by Borges and Neruda and Vargas Llosa and García Márquez, to taste mate in Uruguay and tacos in Mexico, to meet a faith strong and alive in the sanctuaries of its geography and in the hearts of its inhabitants is a soul-shaking experience that, added in my case to my Indian avatar, enriched and blissfully bewildered my soul beyond measure. And back to India again.
Dattatreya Balkrishna Kalelkar, or Kakasaheb Kalelkar as he came to be fondly called in Gujarat, was the Maharashtrian scholar Gandhiji had entrusted with his educational work and the founding of his Gujarat Vidhyapith in Ahmedabad. Circumstances brought me into a close friendship with him. He knew me well, and we shared for hours on end our respective backgrounds, experiences, beliefs and dreams for a closer understanding and a mutual enrichment. Once I invited him to deliver a lecture in our St Xavier’s College, and at the beginning of his talk he referred to me and said before the assembled staff and the whole student body: ‘Other Christian missionaries make Hindus Christian; father Valles makes Hindus love Christ.’
I pause to delve on those words. They are in no way any comparison or judgement or disparagement of the work of any of my brothers whom I deeply revere and admire; they are only my way of presenting my own life. I am entitled to it. Bishop Charles Gomes, known for his missionary zeal, told me once in the presence of my Jesuit companions at St Xavier’s College: ‘You may be a great person and have a good name, but you are wasting your life because you have not converted anybody.’ We all knew that wasn’t true, but it did hurt none the less.
Pope Paul VI wrote in his encyclical on the missions:
‘What matters most is the evangelisation of the cultures of man.’
(Evangelii nuntiandi, 20)
I give an example. Love and service of neighbour is a fundamental and characteristic Christian value. ‘Whatever you did for any of these little ones, you did it for me.’ It is not a Hindu value though, since the doctrine of karma teaches that whatever a person suffers in this life is the unavoidable result of what they did in their past one and they cannot and should not be helped in their payment for past deeds. A thief in his past life becomes in consequence a beggar in this life. If I now help the beggar out of his poverty, I do give him a passing relief, but in reality I do him a bad turn, as I only delay his paying for his karma which he will have to do in any case. Vivekananda knew this weakness of Hinduism in the face of Christianity, and solved it in his own way: ‘If the beggar’s karma is to suffer, my karma is to help the beggar.’ This is a purely dialectic answer, much in line with Vivekananda’s rhetorical approach to Hinduism, but it leaves the beggar with his karmic debt to be paid for anyway. Thus, charity to the neighbour is a Christian, not a Hindu value. And yet, Indian mentality has changed in this respect due to its long contact with Christianity; social projects and help to the poor are widely undertaken, and when the country is now faced with a flood, an earthquake, a drought, Hindus today do not leave people to their karma but rush to their help in a clearly, though anonymously, Christian way. The Gujarati word for ‘hospital’ is ‘ispital’ which linguistically shows that there were no hospitals before the (Christian) British since there was not even the word for them; while now devout Hindus and Jains found hospitals for the poor. Here we have evangelised a culture. A basic Christian value has quietly seeped into the Hindu conscience without any fuss. We don’t even need to be given public credit for it. Society has been ‘baptised’, and this is what matters according to the pope. This is our missionary task. And we achieve it by our example, our joy, our presence, our service, our love.
It might even happen that baptising individuals would at times prove an obstacle to baptising cultures, as converting some Hindus may cause other Hindus to oppose Christianity. Maybe that is what our present pope had in mind when he wrote in his first encyclical:
“Charity cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends. Those who practise charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous (Latin ‘in gratuitate’ = free of charge) love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love.”
(Benedict XVI, God is Love, 31, c)
When my widowed mother was 90 she wrote to me that she was weak and alone, and requested me to come and look after her at the end of her life. I had by then retired from teaching, asked due permission, and went to help her. She lived to be 102, and by then my field of work had shifted to Spain. I stayed.
The electronic typewriter, on which I had written all my books for years, eventually broke down. That led me to my first computer. And soon to Internet. And to the daily emails. I did a course on websites and started my own, in English and Spanish, ten years ago to the date this October. The section ‘I Tell You’ brings to readers my latest thoughts, experiences, anecdotes. In ‘You Tell Me’ they react to my ideas, ask their questions and add their comments. Then comes a commentary to a Psalm and a Meditation. Apart from its update every fifteen days, it takes up several hours of my working day each day to answer emails. I call it ‘my virtual parish’, and people have asked me to hear their confessions via Internet, but the time has not yet arrived. Emails take time but they bring their consolation with them. Readers of my books write to thank for the help, guidance, and inspiration received through them, and their spontaneity and their closeness warm my heart. A reader wrote: ‘Please, tell me this is true, father. Isn’t it that you have written all your books only and exclusively for me?’ Yes, my dear Laura from Chile, only for you. ‘Thank you for reading me’ is a repeated blessing, and I always personally answer every message.
In fact that is what I intend my lifework to be. Cheering people up. The papal bull that founded the Society of Jesus, Regimini militantis Ecclesiae’, expressed St Ignatius’ aim in founding it as ‘ad consolationem animarum’. ‘For the encouragement of souls.’ ‘Consolatio’ in the Latin and Spanish of the time did not mean ‘consolation’ but ‘encouragement’, as in the Rules of Discernment of Spirits in the Exercises, and ‘soul’ is the term for the human person. We have been founded to encourage people, to lift up people’s hearts, to cheer people up. When life is so dreary, so senseless at times, so unkind to many, we stand at their side to say a kind word, to smile into faces, to kindle faith anew, to pronounce Jesus’ name with them. This I understand my Jesuit vocation to be.
I hope this reading has done something of that for you, dear reader. Cheer up and love Jesus Christ.
And now, yes. Farewell to India! With all my heart.
Carlos G. Vallés, SJ
Nutan varshna pranam