February 26, 2012

Moments Of Quiet With Our Lady Of Glory

The Sunday morning mass is over. The pews have emptied out. Light streams in through coloured glass windows, echoing a bright and sprightly Bombay morning outside as parishioners file quietly to the front of the church to receive Holy Communion from a priest in white robes before turning back from the altar and making for the exit.

On the way out they stop by the Baptismal font and dip their hands in holy water before taking the steps out to the front where they catch up with neighbours and friends in happy banter, waving out to faces familiar from attending Sunday Mass together over the years, revelling in the comfort of fellowship enabled by shared faith, and humanity.

The Priest has followed them to the front-yard and soon becomes busy returning greetings from his parishioners as they stop by to talk to him. There’re smiles all around. In the shade of the towering Gothic church dedicated to Our Lady Of Glory, in the gaze of Jesus, his arms extended, I can feel the warmth about me, floating on voices rising from the Sunday crowd. Soon the grounds will empty and the caretaker will close the doors behind him.

However, a few stay back for a quiet moment with Mother Mary carrying infant Jesus, closing their eyes to say a prayer, make a petition, offer thanks for favours done, or wish for good health for self and loved ones before reaching out with their hands to the Mother, pausing to let the moment linger in a private communication with the almighty benefactor.

A few prayer books rest on pews where some parishioners left them behind. There’s barely a whisper around me. The caretaker looks at me from across the pews. He is old. Wrinkles have just as surely mellowed his face as soulful hymns. Both hard times and good times mellow people, even if differently, one out of compulsion, and the other out of choice.

He’s waiting for me to finish up so he can close the doors. He is patient.

I pick up a prayer book and turn the pages, pausing at Novena Prayers. And, voices that were ringing out only minutes before as the Mass wound down now rise again, in silence, before joining up with solemn voices from memory, from another place and another time long, long, ago.

The weight of time can make memories seem like they belong to another lifetime, even to another person.

My eyes trail each word as they resonate in my ears, voices that silence shapes into faces from memory.

Gracious Father, we thank you for having given us a tender loving Mother to watch over our Parish, to protect and intercede for us. Your son, Jesus has said, “Whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done to you by my Father in heaven.”

And so, now as one family through the intercession of Our Lady of Glory and by her precious son, Jesus, we ask you to build our Parish into units of close fellowship, alive and vibrant in faith, where the needs of everyone are taken care of.

Here, I pause for a non-existent chorus to take over, for words muttered under a thousand breaths. Words that shape into personal petitions hurrying to finish before the voice from the front of the church sounds again:

Our Lady of Glory,

And pauses for a rejoinder from the parishioners.

Pray for us.

Before the chorus sounds off thrice with,

Hail Mary.

I make way back along the wall, skirting the empty pews. The caretaker smiles at me before leaning against the door and walking it across.

Mass Timings at Our Lady Of Glory Church

Weekdays: 7:00 am, and 7:00 pm.
Sundays: 6:00 am, 7:00 am (Konkani), and 9:30 am.

February 12, 2012

NCC Cadets Enroute To NCC Camp At Neral

As the train pulled into the railway station at half past six in the morning today, I was pleasantly surprised to see school students neatly turned out in NCC uniforms, two rows positioned for each bogie, their backpacks in place, caps sporting sprightly red feathers, hands by their side military style, and standing to attention as senior instructors patrolled the platform for signs of the Karjat bound train that’d take them to Neral, the site of their National Cadet Corps (NCC) camp.

They were barely ten years old. Freshly ironed for the occasion, their crisp fatigues that’d do professional soldiers proud only barely managed to hide their childlike enthusiasm but you wouldn’t have imagined it from the enthusiastic YES SIRs that followed each instruction their ‘Sir’, a middle-aged man in checked shirt and regular trousers, issued to them in Marathi, the local language.

Even a ‘So, you’ll have fun for three days’ invited a spirited YES SIR from the young students of Saraswati Vidyalaya, their demeanour barely hiding their excitement about the trip. It soon became apparent that the middle-aged man wouldn’t be accompanying the young NCC cadets when he turned to senior school students carrying rifles slung over shoulders and leading the groups and said ‘Take proper care of them.’

To the back, along the wall, parents come to see them off milled around, watching their wards while keeping an eye out for the train. It was still dark with barely a hint of dawn breaking over the city. A sharp breeze blew in the wake of each train.

Along the way, I had changed my seat to escape the strong, cold wind blowing into the bogie as the train had picked up speed. Half-asleep passengers, mostly men out for work, sat stiffly on wooden seats, their ears covered to keep the cold out. Not many people remember the last time a Mumbai winter had spilled into the second week of February, but no one was complaining. It was a welcome change from the humid coastal climate and the perspiration that accompanies a day out about the city in the summer.

A pair of drums used to accompany march-pasts sat on the platform by the feet of cadets tasked with their responsibility.

The drums reminded me of my time in school when march-pasts would happen to the beating of drums. While I never had the opportunity to enrol as a NCC cadet, for it was restricted to students attending the afternoon shift, whose logic I could never really fathom, I delighted in the sight of crisp uniforms, though different from those I saw today.

Over the loudspeaker the announcer announced the arrival of a Karjat-bound train. In orderly twos and threes the NCC cadets filed into the train in three separate bogies, a far cry from the everyday jostling Mumbai train commuters put up with.

Their parents crowded the windows, wishing them on their way. Just as the train pulled out of the station, an accompanying senior cadet in a white and blue windcheater, a rucksack on his back and a rifle in a cloth bag slung from his shoulder raised his voice and cried out:

Ganapati Bappa

before pausing for the choreographed response from those seeing them off on the platform and the ones inside. Sure enough a chorus returned with:


Then he cupped his palm to the face a la Tarzan, lifted his head and cried out even louder:

Shivaji Maharaj Ki

before pausing for the response.

On cue the chorus sounded from the platform and inside the train:


With the mandatory invocation to the Maratha King out of the way, quiet returned to the platform as the train picked up speed and soon disappeared into the gathering dawn, carrying a bunch of excited kids learning to behave like disciplined adults. I’d imagine only the uniform kept them from being themselves.

And I stepped out of the station and into the commotion of rickshaws revving their engines while calling out to passengers emerging from the railway station.

I woke up early today, at quarter past three in the morning and had every intention to return to bed later in the day and catch up on sleep if only to do justice to the Sunday morning. But the sight of the energetic lot on the platform has lent a Friday spirit to my Sunday morning.

I believe it’s no different on other Sundays, for only a few weeks ago, alighting from the train in VT on my way for a Sunday morning meandering about the city, I happened upon high school students in Sea Cadet Corps uniforms, Navy Whites, returning from their Sunday drills on their training ship Jawahar based out of Colaba’s Navy Nagar. They were heading back home by train. A few, no doubt hungry from their exertions of the morning, including sailing and other water activities, were tucking into Chaat and Samosas.

The two Sea Cadets I spoke to were in their first year of their training and said they won’t be making their next grade anytime soon. ‘We’re still junior.’ The Sea Cadet Corps (SSC) is a Non Government Voluntary Youth Organisation supported by the Indian Navy. On May 13, 2013, it will complete 75 years of existence in India.

On the other platform, school girls in matching Sea Cadet uniforms awaited their train. Soon enough more Sea Cadets arrived, turning the railway platforms into a sea of white, their distinctive caps and demeanour reminding of the men they’re trying to be.

Many years from now when they’ve settled into professions they chose or those that chose them, they’ll probably look back and remember these Sunday mornings when their day off from school bound them in a camaraderie that connected them to a long and rich heritage of service to the nation, and as a consequence, service to self.

It’s an experience I believe will hold them in good stead.

Related Links

1. National Cadet Corps (NCC), India

2. Sea Cadet Corps (SCC), Jawahar, Mumbai

3. Pictures of SCC Training Ship, Jawahar

4. Sea Cadet Corps, India, Facebook Group

February 03, 2012

Gateway Photographers By The Taj Mahal Palace

Watching crowds whiling away their evening at the Gateway Of India across the road from the legendary Taj Mahal Palace Hotel facing the Arabian Sea, I’m convinced that not all Mumbai local trains disgorge passengers on their way to work and back, some will send them on their way to Colaba for an evening by the sea, to be charmed by the historic monument and inspired by the survival of the majestic Taj Hotel in face of a relentless terrorist attack launched by Pakistani Islamists on 26/11.

And like a river down the bridge, time too has flown past even if in circles, the radius getting bigger with every circle completed, dampening the ripple the further it curves away from the epicentre but never quite deadening it.

And like a bubble, time grows bigger, and bigger, offering you a transitory view in the momentary cocoon each bubble builds before it breaks, leaving you with a memory of the fleeting moment.

It’s this fleeting moment many visitors to the seafront in Colaba seek to capture with their cameras. Those who cannot afford a camera or haven’t brought one along and wish to frame their day by the Taj and the Gateway will pose for a Gateway Photographer to have their picture taken for a fee.

For a time after the Islamist terrorist attacks on Mumbai the Gateway Photographers were nowhere to be seen. The police had shooed them away, against their wishes. Now they are back, their DSLRs, mostly Nikon, hanging from the neck and waving albums of pictures showing tourists posing by the Taj and the Gateway, pictures of pretty girls smiling into the camera, and beyond.

Every once in while a Gateway Photographer conscious of his looks will seek to make himself more presentable than the stiff breeze blowing in from the sea will allow him, using the camera preview screen for a mirror as he adjusts his hair and wipes his face clean of dust before walking back among milling crowds scouting for visitors looking to have their pictures taken.

He is their medium, the bridge between their moment and its memory.