My Travels : Notes & Thoughts
11 March 1996: The much awaited appointment with a doctor to have a routine blood sugar check came after a long time. The appointment was with a good friend— Dr. Francis Spain, an Englishman. He took my blood for a thorough investigation. Thank God, in India we can just walk into a doctor’s clinic or a lab for a routine check-up without much ado. True, Americans have a very sophisticated health care programmes, and everything is monitored in detail. But from my little experience, the long time you wait for the appointment may make you reach your grave!
I was quite amused how Francis became Spain. “Have you any Spanish connections, Dr. Spain?” “You come with me to London, and find out for yourself,” was his polite English reply. Jokes apart, he was going to London in April. I would have loved to visit that country along with him.
15 March: Ides of March—I remembered Julius Caesar’s assassination. I was going through a terrible bout of fear that the Ides of March might turn out to be true for me too. “Will I be confirmed a glaucoma victim?” My rescheduled appointment with Dr. Quinn Smith of Palouse Ophthalmology was at 10:30 a.m.
I waited in the lounge recollecting Milton’s “On his Blindness” when he was afflicted by guttaserena and became blind almost at my age. I cannot imagine what life must be with a pair of dying eyes. A friend of mine became blind all of a sudden from this obscure disease.
Fear loomed large, though I was only a glaucoma suspect, as declared by one of the best ophthalmology centres in India, Sankara Nethralaya, Chennai. Glaucoma, an insidious disease of the eye, is marked by increased tension within the eyeball and growing dimness of vision.
I felt a tension and dimness more out of fear than fact. However, Dr. Smith made me feel at ease, observing the tension written large on my face. He went through my reports of the past and began a detailed investigation. Slides of the eyes were taken for comparative study later on. There was a slight cupping of the eye. Since it had remained at the same level as before, they categorized me as “glaucoma suspect”. This sitting on the fence made me feel so stupid —”neither-nor” drives one crazy. At the end of all the detailed observations, Dr. Smith re-confirmed the Sankara Nethralaya findings. “Since you are a diabetic, you should be very careful,” he said.
18 March: Dr. Jeff is a Professor of Mathematics at the Washington State University, whom I had met when I visited the University in February. I received a surprise visit from him—and he wanted to discuss some of his personal problems too. He had been an agnostic for many years and was going through a very difficult time after his wife left him with their three kids. Jeff was broken-hearted, and was finding it difficult to make sense of his situation. Grappling with the problem of faith, he had been reading Newman’s writings on the Church and its traditions. “Life isn’t mere mathematical calculations.” The Eucharist seems to be the key factor that attracted him to his newfound faith. He is striving to fill the vacuum in his life, with the Lord, and hopes his family gets reconciled with him in due time.
19 March: 1 am on the road to Spokane, a city I love. But it is with a heavy heart that I went to visit Gonzaga University, after a span of six years in the absence of my Hopkins Guru, Fr. Bischoff, who was no more. He passed away in 1994. I paid a brief visit to the Hopkins’ Collections at the Crosby Library. But the old staff was no more there. The fresh, unfamiliar faces didn’t recognize me either.
Dennis Thomas, my companion, took me to the Immigration & Naturalization Service Office to get my visa extended. I requested the lady officer to renew my visa for six more months. Looking at the passport she gave a curt reply, “You have to get it done from Calcutta.” I was shocked that I had to go back to Calcutta for renewal of my visa. Dennis interrupted her, “Wait a minute!” He continued, “He wants to stay here for six more months. Is there a form for this?” Soon enough she was back with a form for me and impolitely threw it at me. I felt sorry for her uncouth behaviour. My American friend felt insulted. He was about to yell at her. I pulled him away, keeping my cool. 1 recalled the words of wisdom from John Powell who refers to anger as a sign of weakness. When I get angry with someone it is a clear indication that he has conquered my will. Why should I surrender my will in anger to some flimsy person? Just keep cool and never surrender. I wished I had her name and address—I could have sent a “Thank you” card “from an Indian friend”. One in a thousand may be of her sort—like the previous visa officer in Calcutta. But my contact with most Americans has been very pleasant. They take you for what you are—without prejudice.
The teddy bear toy has become part of nearly every American kid’s life. Even adults hang on to teddy bears. During the drive back home we dropped in at the Washington State University at Pullman where they have a research centre for the grizzly bear—the largest of the bear family.
We found a huge area where they keep the bears. Most of them were in hibernation. These bears hibernate for about 7 months during the year. They keep sleeping and live on the fat gathered throughout the year and wake up looking skinny. Some of them weigh over 700 kg and follow a philosophy of “eat well—sleep well”. During an active season they can eat up to 40 kg a day of leaves, berries and fish. These grizzly bears are also called brown bears as they are brown in colour with silver tips. They have large feet and five long claws on the front paws.
25 March: Being a diabetic patient, I have been taking some herbal medicines I got from a doctor in Bangalore. Most of them were in powder form. While taking a dose, the dry power got stuck in my throat. There was a perfect glottal stop. I tried to gulp down some water. I choked and stopped breathing. I thought that was the end of it. It was a real death experience. Lee, the housekeeper, came rushing, hearing me choking and struggling for breath. My agony came to an end as I vomited out the sticky powder. That was the end of my herbal treatment. Down went all the bottles into the garbage can.
2 April: I went by Greyhound to Grangeville to visit Rev. William Dohman at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church. . He had invited me to give a talk on India to his friends. Grangeville is a farming area and the farmer folks being close to nature, are extraordinarily down-to-earth people. Mark Schumacher hails from this farm setting, though his know-all attitude doesn’t vouch for it. I was glad to meet his father who is also the maintenance man at the local church.
There was such simplicity in his gentleness and humour. I found him poles apart from his ill-tempered son—it is not always “like father like son”. After a brief rest we went to a neighbour’s house for dinner. We were quick to return as the folks were expected for my “India talk”. In that short time, someone had burgled the house and had gotten away with the loose cash from the Sunday collection. Luckily the scoundrel didn’t decamp with my bag containing all my documents, camera and a little money. Even thieves are understanding and charitable in that part of the world. Thank you, Mr. Thief, for sparing my baggage and money!
3 April: Cathy Burton, the secretary at St. Mark’s, informed me that her husband Greig had called her asking for an appointment with me. I told her to confirm an appointment at 6 p.m. A tall, bearded man, Greig looked very composed and handsome. He gave me the impression of young John in Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. There was a touch of delicacy in his conversation as he referred to the point at issue. “I’m having a difficult time with my colleagues at work,” he said. “They deride my values and engage in filthy and foul conversations, just to get on my nerves. I can’t stand it any longer.” I had no solution for him either. All I could suggest was: “Keep up your spirits—by your patience and kindness you may be able to win them over.” And it did work. In due time he transformed them with his gentleness and charity. Meeting Greig was a lesson for me—”here was a man who stood for what he held dear and honourable and the others followed suit.”
3 April: Maundy Thursday, the “Day of Jesus’ mandate” to his disciples to love one another as he loved them, was celebrated in the context of the Jewish Passover Seder at St Augustine’s. The day is associated with the Lord’s Last Supper with his disciples before his Crucifixion. It was the meal of the Jewish Passover, in celebration of the Jewish deliverance from Egypt. Christ, during the meal, took bread and wine and changed them into his own body and blood saying, “Do this in memory of me.” The Eucharist in the Church is the re-enactment of the Last Supper.
The celebrations began with the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet in commemoration of Jesus washing his own disciples’ feet, the supreme sign of the humility of the God Incarnate. After the Eucharist, for which a large crowd had gathered, there was a Seder meal for the whole community. It was a unique experience for the Jews and the Christians alike. Seder being a Jewish meal, we had invited the Jewish community to conduct it according to their traditions. The local Rabbi of the Jewish Synagogue conducted the service with their readings and rituals. At Passover, the Jews eat special meals including bitter herbs and unleavened bread. When the family eelebrates, the youngest asks the question about the origin of the feast. The head of the family answers by narrating how Moses led them to safety by crossing the Red Sea miraculously.
6 April: There was a sizable Polish community in Moscow and Spokane. They all gathered together for Easter at St. Augustine’s for a traditional Polish Easter Celebration. They invited me to join their festivities. It is a custom in Poland to hold the celebration on Holy Saturday before the Easter Vigil.
The ceremony begins with the cutting of an Easter egg into tiny pieces and sharing among the participants. It is a symbolic gesture of their union with the Lord—a symbol of the Eucharistic sharing as well. This is followed by sharing of the various goodies brought by the different families. The Poles form a very close knit community. Struggle has been part and parcel of their history for centuries. During the party, I had the fortune of meeting a Polish scientist, Stefan Goszezynschi, who is a senior Professor in the Department of Chemistry in the U.O.I. Finding me struggling to pronounce his name, he had an easy way out. He said, “I am “Gosh!- chin-ski”. Though a man of chemistry, he knew world history quite well, and recalled the Indus Civilization. He took me one day to his lab where he normally spent most of his time conducting experiments and making discoveries. He is respected for a few “inventions” with patent in textile dyes.
7 April: It was Easter Sunday 1996. I had a packed congregation to address my Easter Message of Peace and Love. But I found something very unusual as several people came an hour late. Normally people come on time; Americans are very time conscious. What happened was that it was the “Spring Time Day Saving” all over the country. This is an yearly feature on the first Sunday of April when they set back their clocks by an hour.
In the afternoon I was invited to witness the traditional kid’s Easter egg treasure hunt at the Kapplers’ backyard. All the kids were busy hunting for treasures hidden with messages attached to them. Some of them collected a handful of candles and Easter eggs. This was followed by the Easter dinner with ham, carrots, baked potatoes and salad with cream.
10 April: I had been to the house-warming at Cynthia Feenley’s residence located in the farms in the outskirts of Moscow. The fifteen minutes’ ride through the farm country, with its hillocks and fields with wild bushes and pine groves was a respite in itself.
Cynthia is the music director at St. Augustine’s and many come to services at the Church to hear her angelic singing and her choir. Cynthia’s husband is Professor of Geology at the Boise State University. The professor’s basement was filled with samples of rocks and soils from all over the world. It was a museum in itself to see the different samples. We had a small prayer service to invoke the blessings and protection of God. Though himself not a Catholic, the Professor was very particular that I blessed every nook and corner of the house including his basement with its earth samples. I was surprised to observe him, mumbling prayers with her devout wife, holding on to her rosary beads. They lived an eco-friendly life, breathing fragrance of the meadows, interspersed with clusters of trees of all hues and shapes. I felt for a moment a sense of elation and peace in the lap of nature. I felt as though I was in paradise. Such experiences have influenced my life with a great yearning to fill my surrounding with plants, wherever I am in the midst of our concrete jungles. I fully agree with Wordsworth: “Nature never did betray the heart that loves her.”
11 April: I was delighted to receive an invitation from the Farm House fraternity to conduct a prayer service for the students there. All the arrangements had been made by Kim George, a youth worker, who had sent invitations to other students to take part in the session, irrespective of religious affiliations. And we had over 70 students who turned up. In my message, I exhorted the young on the “Love of God and man”. Lively music provided by Dennis Kreutzer, created an excellent pleasing atmosphere of prayer. The moving spirit behind the programme was Kim and her team. Kim is very zealous in her work with students, to keep them on the right track. Though working on her Ph.D. in History, she wants to do youth work, to give young people a new vision for a better world. Kim is such an inspiration to her peers to be an agent of bringing positive change in her surrounding.
14 April: I was privileged to be present as the main celebrant at the International Day Celebrations’ Mass held at the University Campus. Songs were sung in Spanish, Hebrew, Gaelic, Hindi, Indonesian and English, showing how a shared faith binds people together. I sang at the acclamation a Sanskrit bhajan. “It is beautiful to have all the nations under one roof,” Karla Kappler said, who was the coordinator of the event. Kappler, who comes from Italy, now lives in the United States. “Even though I have been here for decades, I am still a foreigner and it was a very emotional and unifying high to have all these people together.” Readings for the service were given in German and Spanish, and prayers were also in Spanish, Greek, Hindi, Irish, French, Indonesian and German. The local papers gave wide coverage to the Celebrations. The media reported, “Adding even a stronger international touch to the Mass was Father Sebastian who presided as the chief celebrant. He comes from India where he is the Principal of a Catholic school that works with children. He said, ‘No matter what language you speak, what ethnic group you belong to, or traditions you hold … we are one in the Lord. He is the unifier of all Cultures’.”
The diverse crowd faced a giant blue banner with a congregation of flags of different countries, a cross and the figure of Christ. This huge flag was made by the students and was meant to signify the vital connection of culture and religion. The blue material was chosen to represent the globe. The flags depicted the international community of students at the University. Some children were in the traditional costumes of different countries and the choir was a wonderful blend of many ethnic sounds. A finger food social followed. In a world full of fragmentation, the unity of faith and tolerance for diversity keeps love, joy and peace in the tradition of humanness.
14 April: 14th April brought to memory almost two million children killed in the holocaust during World War II. I joined the Jewish memorial service held at the Friendship Square of Moscow in the evening. Several Jews from the entire region had assembled for it. I was glad to meet Johannes, an Indian Jew from Mumbai. He is a teacher at the U.O.I. I was told that there are about 5000 Jews in India. I was glad to know that the Synagogue at Cochin, close to my home town, is considered one of the ten most beautiful synagogues in the world.
16 April: Township known as Joseph, Oregon, is internationally known for its foundries. Visiting it in the company of the Brittons was a real discovery of what a foundry does. We had a guided tour of bronze statue making in progress. They receive orders from all over the world. In one of the main foundries, we found workers giving last minute touches to the bronze monument for the Atlanta Olympics 1996. It was a bronze statue of several horses racing, symbolic of the German unification and the spirit of freedom. One statue had been already shipped to Germany. The Germans gave the second one as a gift to the people of the United States.
19 April: The International Bazar was held at the University of Idaho’s Students’ Ball Room. This was another international cultural exchange programme. Delegates from the various countries presented their cuisine. The popularity of Indian cuisine was seen from the crowd surrounding the Indian stall. The Indians had invited me to taste their preparations, but I didn’t venture into the spilling crowd. Internationalism became part and parcel of life in Moscow, with so many international programmes held at regular intervals.
20 April: The visit to the Spring Collections Sale at the Washington State University at Pullman was a pleasant surprise. I could get a vivid glimpse of the traditional collections of America. Though a cold day, people had come from all over the region for the great sale. It was an yearly feature in Pullman to hold the event for a few days in spring. People from Washington, Idaho and Oregon had their stalls with traditional attractions which included forest products, handicrafts, artifacts, hand-woven items, paintings, portraits and curios of a thousand types. My Moscow friends Cleo and Bill Flemming had a stall exhibiting their photographs. The Flemmings are very popular photographers of Moscow. They have taken part in several such exhibitions and sales all over the United States.
21 April: During my teaching career I have never come across parents requesting me to advise their kids to take their studies less seriously. Sometimes such strange things do happen. There was a Polish lady, herself a Professor, who came to me asking me to advise her only son Pat aged 17 to be more relaxed and to take his studies not too seriously. Pat spends all his time with his computer and in the company of books. He was certainly not a bookworm, but a guy who meant to do well in life. The problem arose when he began to neglect his food and play. His arguments are very rational too: “To survive in a competitive world, I must excel. No other way.” A good tennis player, he had represented his school in tournaments. He tried to be a perfectionist like his scientist father who is a computer wizard. Father-like son, I guess. The boy has taken my advice to be more relaxed, and got his mom relaxed in the bargain!
Friends invite you to a dinner to spend time with you to chat and share. So I had another invitation from Monique and Duncan, a young and enterprising couple from California. Monique is Professor & Associate Dean of Law School at U.O.I. Duncan is a lawyer who is also working on a Ph.D. in Physics. They have an year old boy, who spends most of his time with his pets—a dog and a cat, who are equally friendly with each other. There was perfect peace and harmony in the family. I understood that they were animal lovers and wanted their son to grow up eco-friendly. He was doing pretty well in his animal kingdom. I was sure he would become a modern Tarzan when he grew up!
We chatted on all sorts of issues. To my amazement they were both well versed in very many subjects, besides Law. Suddenly they began discussing British literature, my forte and specialization. Monique went to pull out the relevant books from her literature collection. Rarely have I come across such walking encyclopedias. I didn’t mind the dog & cat smell this time, partly because Monique had sprayed lovely perfume prior to my visit.
24 April: I had seen the movie Dead Man Walking, based on the story of a New Orleans nun. I apply the title to Lissa’s life: “Dead woman walking?” Lissa, 36, is Professor of English Literature at the University of Idaho. I met her several times and was under the impression that she was a very happy and affectionate woman. Indeed she was. She was an excellent match for her tall and handsome husband. A perfect young couple who could realize the American dream in their lives. They had everything: career, wealth and happiness. I came to know from Sr. David Harte that Lissa was a terminal cancer patient, dying minute by minute of leukaemia.
Her head is full of festering sores from which blood keeps oozing out. There is a nurse who attends to her sores daily. Observing her, she is a picture of perfect health. Her serenity hides her pain. She told me of her weird experiences. Her parents abandoned her when she was a few months old and was looked after by her grandma. From the age of two she had mysterious experiences. Her mother sought the help of fortune tellers and took to the occult. She learnt it too from her mother. When seven she was taken back by her mother, and she kept doing occult things with her girlfriend, trying to call back the dead and so on. When 20, Lissa went to Italy on an educational exchange programme.
While in her hotel room, she experienced strange visions like a big bird flying into the room, and objects whirling with fearful thudding noises. Joining the prayer group at St. Augustine’s she was able to get rid of the inexplicable experiences. Now she is ready for death at any time. When she came to meet me, I was at a loss what to tell her. She was teaching me great lessons of endurance through pain. I just mumbled, “Suffering is redemptive, Lissa.” I spent some time with her in prayer, asking her to forgive any lurking unforgiveness. “I feel very warm and serene,” she said as she walked away. I kept looking at her shadow as she passed by in a daze, as if I was in a world of dreams.
26 April: A visit to Steptoe, a tourist site some 50 miles from Moscow, was an uplifting experience of gliding through gentle hillocks like mole hills. The sight from the topmost hill of 1500 feet gave me an aerial view of the hundreds of grassy hillocks all around.
Unlike the vision of Mirzah, I had my vision of grasslands of varying green. My friends Dennis and his wife Julie took me to the smallest township they knew—Anatone. The little town welcomed us with its majestic signboard listing the statistics:
WELCOME TO ANATONE
POPULATION: people 38, dogs 20 , cats 17, Horses 11, Holly 1.
The whole of the animal kingdom was there. I was quite amused with the information and said, “Why don’t they add the rest of nature as well—the number of trees and plants here?”
When I returned to the Presbytery, there was John Yrazabal relaxing in the T.V. lounge after a hectic day mowing grass. He smelt of grass as he had been working on contract for the past couple of weeks. “John! I get the smell of Steptoe.” “How was Steptoe? Did you have a great time?”
I began giving him a panoramic description of the sights and sounds of the magnificent tourist spot. His grassy smell added to the setting. It was indeed “emotions recollected in tranquillity.” I doubt if Wordsworth had such an olfactory background when he wrote his “Lucy Poems”.
“Would you like to come to the Renaissance Fair tomorrow some time?” “I’d love it, John.” Though relaxing, he had been waiting for me there to make sure I would go with him to the fair. This tall, athletic and handsome man had just graduated from the School of Business, U.O.I. There were numerous offers from business enterprises asking him to sign up. As he was the topmost position holder in the Department, he was a “wanted” man. However, his mind was set on Youth Ministry and he was determined to enter the Seminary—he had had deep religious experiences in the past couple of years. His family was dead against the idea, for he was an only son, who had to keep up the family lineage. When asked, my advice was, “Your vocation is your business. As an adult you ought to decide what you want to do with your life.” He appreciated my encouraging words.
27 April: John Yrazabal was excited to take me to the Renaissance fair. He came with a group, “my gang” he called them. They were teenage boys and girls with whom he does his youth work. They hero-worship him as John has been a wonderful friend to them. They aren’t pleased with his moving off to the Seminary.
The Renaissance Fair was held at the Eastern City Park a few blocks away and so, we strolled over to visit the various stalls. There was a pop band performing on the open stage—mostly popular country western stuff. I was shown around the stalls of hemp (marijuana) products like fabrics and curios. They were subtle in infiltrating into the Renaissance festival. The Hemp Society was holding the Hemp Festival in their effort to gather public support to battle the Federal Government to get hemp legalised. It was shocking for me to learn that there was a society trying to get legal status for hemp when the whole world was trying combat its menace. “It’s a commercial battle,” John commented.
28 April: Brad Neeley made it possible for me to attend U.O.I. Alumni Vandaliers’ Choir singing Mozart’s Coronation Mass. The soloists included popular names like Linda Weeks, Marian Partner, Milton Barrus, Roger Vineet, Viki Yoden, Craig Davis and others. Mozart’s beautiful harmony in Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, brought back my childhood memories of attending Latin Mass, as altar boy, in my Parish Church, prior to Second Vatican Council. The Vandaliers’ performance was technically exquisite but I wondered if they knew the deep significance of all that they sang so mechanically: “Kyrie Eleison (Lord, Have Mercy)….Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the Highest)”. Tears of joy welled up in my eyes as the Gregorian Chant enveloped me with a feeling of being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. It was a moment of adoration of the Divine Godhead.
10 May: “I’m Dan from Grangeville, I work in a drug prevention programme…” I was meeting the early morning visitor aged 50, for the first time. He looked tired after a long drive from Grangeville, the farmland region, I had visited earlier. I enquired about my friends there. That also gave me clues into his story. He is a convert from agnosticism since the early seventies. He had a great career at the Oxford University Press, as an editor and worked for a considerable number of years with The New York Times. Tragedy struck in 1976, when he lost his wife and two kids in a plane crash. He was inconsolable for a long time and then got involved with the Shelter Programmes for young delinquents in California. He had come to Idaho to start similarly, programmes for young people. But working to better society at times, brings unwarranted threats from evil designers. Some men were determined to give him trouble and he had to flee to safety.
I couldn’t do anything for him, except to pray over him, and give him my Priestly blessing in the Church. I could see the former agnostic, break into tears of joy and peace. Out of his new found joy, he hugged me so hard, nearly squeezing out my breath. I was always scared of such royal American hug and would show my friends “Namaste” sign to ward of such expressions of joy. It was an eye opener for me to know, how simple the American people were, in being very spontaneous in expressing their heartfelt affection.
May 11: Students of U.O.I. have been very busy this fortnight for their Semester Examinations. Some of them have been utilising the study room at St. Augustine’s. I found a few of them spending the whole night in study and sleeping on couches, clasping their books. Examination fever of students is similar everywhere. Nevertheless, I noticed something new and strange, in the way some of them dressed. They were apparently, sporting a new fashion, their T-shirts worn inside out with tattered jeans.
When I enquired I was told they were too busy to do their laundry. They substitute it with sweet smelling perfumes. I kept my spontaneous giggle under control and said, “Smart kids’.” I showed them some pictures of our Northeastern students in traditional tribal attire. They borrowed the snaps to make similar outfits for themselves. Youngsters! Mind you! How lovely you look in your traditional attire! Don’t ever depreciate it for passing styles you see. Unfortunately, our kids blindly imitate what is projected in the media, without knowing the truth of the matter.
May 18: Graduation Day at the University of Idaho. Many of my student friends were getting degrees that day. I had so many invitations. I promised to be present for the main function at the Kibbie Dome in the afternoon.
I had a photo session with some of them, after the ceremony in their graduation paraphernalia. My thoughts ran down my memory lane, when in the late eighties, I had been awarded a gold medal in a similar convocation. These students were all so excited to receive their medals and certificates. Their parents and dear ones were present to salute their efforts.
There was a party hosted to honour the St. Augustine’s students who graduated. It was a Karaoke music party which is becoming very popular among the young people. As they danced and sang with musical scores and scripts on T.V, I also attempted singing some of my favourite numbers of Lennon and Campbell.
22 May: It was a week-long music festival for Moscovites, when the African Children’s Choir was in the city, performing with their message of “Walking in the Light”. There was much spontaneity in their performance, which was a moving expression of God’s love on display. They had a joy that melted our hearts. Every child in the choir, could tell a unique story of triumph over suffering and grief. They represented thousands of other kids in the care of “Friends in the West”, the choir’s parent organization. It caters to over 5000 needy children in the East African countries of Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Sudan. The organization provides food, shelter and education to children. They are raised in an atmosphere of Christian love that overflows in their playtime and their songs. The children are trained to become quality leaders with vision and moral strength.
I met a number of kids after their performance. Some of them from Rwanda had very sad tales to recount. Nine-year old Eliphaz’s father was attacked and killed by rampaging soldiers, while his mother disappeared during the panic. Eight-year old Barbara had her sad story too: “My father was killed before I was born, while he was preaching at the Nkowe Church. My mother died of cancer when I was very small.” James, aged 14, saw his father being picked up by the soldiers. He escaped with his little brother and lived in the bush for four months, until the war ended. My eyes were opening to the stark reality of the children in Africa. Life is a constant struggle for them. Poverty is rampant, hunger and disease take millions of lives every year. The little children are exposed to war and fratricide. They are forced to take part in it. Most of them have seen untold bloodshed and violence.
23 May: I had a sleepless night, not the type Mark Twain had, chasing a rat. I suddenly developed a strange pain in the ankle of my left foot. I couldn’t move it due to the splitting pain. As the day dawned, I called Dr. Francis Spain, who told me that I could be suffering from tendinitis.
He told me to meet him prior to his regular appointments at the hospital at 9 am. Dr. Spain had telephoned the receptionist that he would be at his chamber earlier that day to meet his friend from India. My friend Dennis was at the presbytery by 8 am to take me to the hospital. As the doctor examined, I could listen to the grinding roar of my tendons through his stethoscope. The cable network of my tendons got jammed due to swelling. I had to be on crutches for the whole day, until , Brinda, a physiotherapist, applied cold therapy. It was a wretched experience I would never forget all my life.
Thank God! I had the timely assistance of Dr. Spain, being his special guest.
In India, we can approach a doctor any time of the day or night. But, in the West, every medical appointment is made far in advance. Friends!, Don’t ever forget to remember with gratitude, our precious doctors in India, who are ever available. Do utter a prayer for their Healing Ministry!!!
26 May: It was parting party-time at a brunch after Mass. I had to bid farewell to the people I had known and loved for the past so many months. I was absorbed into their community, by the wonderful people. Though we were worlds apart, love was the cementing force, that brought us together. They had prepared a big cake with the inscription “Thank you! We love you”. I could see some of my friends wipe away tears. I was almost moved to tears when I had to say “thank you” to the community. Among the crowd were also my old acquaintances from Boise, Arthur and Elois Hebling. They were away in California and came to know that I was in their midst, only the day before. I joined them for a barbecue that evening.
Visiting the store with Elois, I found her pulling out several paper clippings on reduction sales of grocery items, saying, “I save these pennies for the poor in the world.” She had been helping a lot of deprived people the world over, with whatever she saved from her business. They had a farm equipment dealership. Arthur is a terminal cancer patient, who is counting his days. But he refuses to succumb to pain and moves around. Their only daughter Kathy died a few years ago, leaving her only son with the Heblings. Their only world is around the little grandson. But, they have widened their hands, in Christian charity to the poor, in different parts of the world, including India.
28 May: Bye-bye Moscow! My Greyhound bus, bound for Boise, was at 11 a.m. Dennis Thomas and family and Karla Cappler took me out to a brunch at Best Western. As I was about to board the bus, Professor Rich Keenan and his wife Betty, turned up to see me off. Betty gave me a little memento. When I opened it I found the pocket edition of Anthony De Mello’s Last Meditations, The Way to Love. I didn’t know that Indian authors were popular in that part of the world. The pocket book was a good companion, for my long journey. When I arrived at Boise, Rev. Dennis Falk was there to pick me up.
I was put up at the Nazareth Retreat House, where retired Bishop Treinen stayed. He was an excellent company. He took me out for dinner and we talked a lot on India, as he was planning a visit in a few months, with the Heblings. Bishop Treinen is a pastor, who reaches out to people in need.
Bishop Treinen invited me to join him in one of his fishing expeditions. Since my flight was already booked, I couldn’t oblige the great Bishop. I was informed of his sudden demise in September that year. He had contracted double pneumonia. I cherish the fond memories of my contact with this holy Bishop, whenever I see his pictures. In one of the photos, I clicked, he is literally enveloped in a bright light. I have deep down in my heart, the belief, that he is shining in the heavenly light of the beatific vision.
31 May: Month of May—End of May—Mother Mary’s Day! I began my trip back to New Orleans. Deacon Jim Bowen, the Chancellor, gave me a lift to the airport for my flight at 7:15 a.m. I would be passing through Phoenix, Las Vegas and Houston. At Phoenix I had to change my flight. While awaiting the flight, I saw an elderly lady, next to me, make the sign of the cross and pray the chaplet of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
She kissed the picture and devoured her prayers, as I devoured my pizza. At the South West Airlines counter, I bumped into an Indian looking young man. I’d hit the nail on the head. But it was a Robinson Crusoe type story that he had in store for me; he was over eager to tell me in brief of his Indian connection. His family came to British Guyana two generations ago. He came to the U.S.A. when barely 9 years and grew up in Florida. He knew nothing about his roots. He had only an atlas knowledge of India, though people who tagged him Indian, by his looks. “My folks are from Calcutta.” “So you must be a Bengali.” “I don’t know. My mother knows some sort of Hindi.” “Have you ever been to India?” “No. I’d love to, someday.” It is a longing in every one of us, to search for our rootedness in our culture wherever we are stationed. If you are engrossed in your career in the hustle and bustle of the mega-cities, take a break to visit your village to be in contact with your past… It will certainly sooth you!!!
To Mark Twain’s Mississippi
3 June: i set out with my brother to new Orleans around 8 a.m. There was heavy rainfall due to a hurricane. After the 4 hour drive, we checked into the West End Hotel, very close to the airport and went on a sightseeing of the city’s downtown. We took a walking tour of the French Quarter, to learn about the real history and legends of the people and places in this area. We walked past the sidewalks of Royal, Bourbon and other quaint streets, named after the saints and sinners from the European past. The typical architecture and homes were of the early 1700’s. We had a view of the balcony, where Elvis Presley sang ”Crawfish,” in his hit movie King Creole.
On our way back, we bought some boiled crawfish, to savour this prized Louisiana speciality. The special attraction of New Orleans is the jazz musicians, performing in the streets. New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz. We did follow the memory of Jean Lefitte, William Faulkner, and Tennessee Williams en-route to Jackson Square, the Washington Artillery Park and the Moonwalk on the Mississippi River. We paid a visit to the residence of the celebrated author, Anne Rice, as well as the house, where Jefferson Davis died in 1899.
4 June: We had a splendid panoramic view of Lake Pontchartrain and travelled over the Bonnet Carre Spillway.
The motor-coach tour took us past six Antebellum Plantation homes surrounded by massive oaks, sugarcane fields, pecan groves and Louisiana countryside. The guide told us the story of the plantation families. In the afternoon we had a thrilling boat trip into the Louisiana swamps and Bayous to experience the beauty of the marshes, swamps and Bayous of southern Louisiana. We marvelled seeing the nesting grounds of alligators, egrets, racoons, nutria, ducks and many species of water snakes. These waters support the most abundant swamp life in the United States. We boarded the historic steamboat Natchez to experience the sights and sounds of river life that enchanted characters of history and literature like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.
The guide told us that the Mississippi name came from the Ojibawa Indians for whom it was the “Great River”. Steamboats were called “swimming volcanoes”. But these were very vital to the economic and commercial growth of the entire Mississippi region before the civil war. These steamboats made New Orleans grow so rapidly. Their owners amassed enormous fortunes in the plantations and they aided the growth of slavery and cotton trade. In his Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain has a very interesting discussion with the pilot who told him, “… get this entire river by heart. Know it just like ABC …. It is all that is left to steer by on a very dark night. Everything else is blotted out and gone.”
In my earlier visit to Natchez I had the opportunity to visit a Winter Quarters Plantation on Lake St. Joseph in Newellton, Louisiana. The owner of the Winter Quarters before the War was a scientific man whose contributions to cotton culture determined the varieties grown in America today. There the guide was kind enough to give me a copy of the original owner Dr. Haller Nutt’s Book of Receipts, Prescriptions, Useful Rules for Plantation and Other Purposes, written in 1843.
Only a man of his stature and background could have created such a practical handbook for the planter of the mid-1800’s. His medical training equipped him to set down prescriptions for the ills that might befall the plantation family and its slaves. He also gave guidelines on many other practical matters like killing cockroaches, making a whitewash to last a century, and cure for an egg-sucking dog. Some of these helpful hints might be useful to us as well.
- Cockroaches: “Mix up fly stone (cobalt) with molasses and place it where they are found.”
- To kill lice in cattle: “Wash them with the water in which Irish Potatoes have been boiled.”
- To keep varmints from corn: “To prevent birds, squirrels etc from pulling up corn, soak it in Salt Petre before Planting.”
- To drive nails into hard wood: “Dip their end into a lump of lard or tallow.”
- For Diarrhoea: “In children, let them eat a few strawberry leaves or drink a tea made of the leaves.”
- To kill rats: “Take a small quantity of strychnine; mix it with meal and place it where rats only are liable to touch it.”
- To prevent woollen goods from being moth-eaten: “Put them in boxes made of cedar or in closets made of the same—or even to put cedar shavings in among the clothes, carpets etc.”
- Cure an egg-sucking dog: “Bake an egg for him with grains tartar emetic and two spoonsful of grated Indian Turnip.”
- To drive off horse-flies and striped bugs: “The following plants are obnoxious to horse-flies, striped bugs on vines and other insects. The walnut leaves or juice from them, chida-berries or leaves, elder, tansy, penny royal tomatoes.”
- Ants: “Ants are said not to travel over salt, and legs of a safe put on little pans holding salt will protect the safe from them.”
10 June: my brother and i were put up at the best Western Inn, New Orleans. We began our tour of Orlando, Florida this morning. Our North West flight to Orlando via Memphis took off at 11:30 local time. We landed as scheduled at Memphis, the city of Elvis Presley.
An announcement came over the speakers: “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Our flight to Orlando will be delayed by a few minutes due to technical problems. Please do not leave the aircraft.” I was sure it was going to be all right. But, the waiting became rather long. After an hour, there was another announcement, asking us to leave the aircraft and contact the NW counter for the connecting flight. We went straight to the counter and were told that the flight to Orlando was cancelled for that day. My brother insisted that we be given some other flight to Orlando, as we had to reach the city that day. The lady at the counter was considerate in offering us a trip via Atlanta by Delta Airlines. I found that we were the only lucky ones, to get the offer. I could see the others evidently jealous of us. Landing in Atlanta we had to board another flight to Orlando.
Atlanta being groomed for Olympics, was beautiful, but very confusing for new-comers. The airport is so large that we had to take the monorail to the various flights. We kept running frantically to reach our flight. Since we had a lot of time in Atlanta, we took a walk around the airport to imbibe the Olympic flavour. The security had been beefed up for the Olympics. I was glad to be in the city of the great Martin Luther King, who fought for the democratic rights of blacks.
Our late flight reached Orlando by 11 p.m. As we had booked a car and a hotel room in advance, we drove straight to our destination on landing. The car rental was arranged: we took a brand new Mitsubishi on hire for three days. Reaching the Econo Lodge, we found that it belonged to an Indian from U.P. The service was excellent and very economical.
11-13 June: Since we had a hectic day, we got up early morning to make our trip to the MGM Studios, to experience the world’s most popular movie and T.V. studios. As we reached the venue, we could hear wild screaming. “Must be some accident somewhere,” I told my brother. “Don’t worry, it is from the Tower of Terror.” I found people looking up at the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror which was the new talk of everyone. It is a hair-raising experience of terror and horror— your elevator drops some 12 floors at such speed that one gets scared to death—and what you spontaneously do is to scream your scare out. The Catastrophe Canyon gave us a taste of the special effects in movies. There was thunder, rain, flood and an avalanche. The trolley car in which we sped through the canyon, shook so violently, I thought we were in a real flood.
“You want to see the kids’ show? Are you kidding?” said ray brother when I expressed my desire to visit the various shows for kids. Since there is a kid in all of us, I thought it fit to visit the imaginative attractions for kids. The Toy Story Parade was a marvellous first—a computer animated film. Next we moved on to plunge into the fantasy world in Voyage of the Little Mermaid showing the undersea adventures of Aerial and her friends. I always loved the fable “Beauty and the Beast” which was presented as a live musical on stage. “The Muppets” was a popular wild 3D show of Kermit, Miss Piggy and friends produced by Jim Henson for kids.
Since I had seen the movie Honey I Shrunk the Kid years back, it was interesting to walk through the sets of the comedy. The tall grass, weeds and the computerized bee are preserved in the studios. I have also seen its sequel Honey I Have Blown up the Kid which describes the giant kid’s thrilling escapades in Las Vegas.
The visit to the Epcot was an experience of the latest in technological revolution. I was eager to visit as many of the attractions presented there. The presentation of Honey I Shrunk the Audience in a theatre kept us in non-stop stitches. The pleasant surprise came when the yelping dog let out its huge tongue to swallow us alive.
I never liked animation films, considering them kid stuff. When the movie The Lion King was released, I was drawn to it by the song of the hit song of Elton John, Circle of Life. I couldn’t resist the temptation to listen to the song in the movie. That was the end of my aversion for animation films. When The Lion King was being presented in a new computerized doll show, I didn’t want to miss it either for its theme and song.
The sci-fi Neighbourhood took us to the future world searching through the universe; while Body Wars took us through the inside of the human body.
There was the World Showcase around the lagoon. There were eleven nations that had their representative architecture and buildings with a museum to exhibit their people and culture, their entertainment and cuisine. To climax our visit to the Epcot, we had an extraordinary illumination of the campus, coupled with a laser show and fireworks from the General Electric Company.
“Space Ship Earth” presented by AT & T took us spiralling 18 stories. It was scary even though we were belted safe on the seats. Going at top speed spiralling upside down is no joke. We were forewarned that heart patients shouldn’t attempt the feat. We went round and round, upside and inside out in the great “football building” as I call it. In fact, this has remained the most memorable single event of my journey to the Disney World. The structure of the 18 storey building itself in a circular shape is a marvellous feat of modern technology.
“The Magic Kingdom” offered a modern-day magic indeed. There were far too many things to visit and experience. We had to run through as many places as possible within a day. We began our day with the “New Tomorrow Land” which was an adventure of the third millennium.
The “Astro Orbiter” was a trip to the stars on rockets. The “Jungle Cruise” was a ride through the Amazon and meeting the animal kingdom. The computerized animals in their various activities looked so real. Someone asked, “Is it a real zoo with no protection for us?” The elephants bathing in the river scared my friend.
It was quite an adventure meeting the “Pirates of the Sea”. I felt a chill in the marrow of my bones in “The Haunted Mansion”. Interested in the great presidents of the United States, I was delighted to be with them in “The Hall of Presidents”. All the presidents were present in a computerized programme. Some of them spoke to us. President Clinton had the final word for us in his husky voice. The “Mickey Mania Parade” was a carnival time with much fun and frolic.
I also marched with the funny people for a while for the fun of it. Meanwhile a huge queue formed for a picture with Mickey Mouse. I hurried to get to one corner to click a memorial snap with the cartoon hero created in 1928 by Walt Disney, in whose name the entire Disney world grows.
Since we had no much time, the Typhoon Lagoon with its adventures, was hurriedly visited. It is a spectacular man-made lagoon with a mechanized wave pool. We could see people manoeuvre through the caves and waterfalls. Abundant tropical beauty with creeks and forests! There was also the shark reef at the lagoon, where people were given time to explore. The water thrill slide was richly adventurous, but, hair-raising for those who went for it. I could hear the groans and shrill screams of those enjoying in agony and ecstasy.
The visit to Pleasure Island was also brief. We had to rush through it to get an idea of the musical entertainment and pleasure provided there in the night. It is an Island for people to spend their whole night attending live concerts, clubs and restaurants. Everything in the musical world was there—rock, jazz, disco music, country western and pop. The new year celebration too is presented every day. The West End Stage belted out exciting music for pop-lovers.
It is rather difficult to see the whole of the Disney World, as there are far too many attractions. Some homework has to be done, prior to the visit, to make a list that suits your need. If you intend to see everything, be ready to spend at least three days —one day in each of the three sections: Disney MGM Studios, Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.
Disney MGM Studios presents 24 attractions: The Story Parade, Jim Henson’s Muppet Vision 3D, Star Tours, Chevy Chase, Indiana Jones, Superstar Television, Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Magic of Disney Animation, The Hollywood Brown Derby, Backstage Studio Tour, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, The Great Movie Ride, Working Sound Stages, Inside the Magic: Special Effects and Production Tour, New York Street on the Backlot, Catastrophe Canyon, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Golden Girls House, Empty Nest House, The Making of the Toy Story, AFI Showcase.
In the Epcot there are roughly 19 attractions: Horizons, Wonders of Life, Innovations, Spaceship Earth, The Living Seas, The Land, Journey into Imagination, World Showcase (Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, The American Adventure, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Illuminations).
in the Magic Kingdom there are 30 attractions categorized into 6 sections:
- Adventureland: Swiss Family Treehouse, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tropical Serenade.
- Frontierland: Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Tom Sawyer Island, Country Bear Jamboree, Diamond Horseshoe Jamboree.
- Liberty Squar: The Hall of Presidents, Liberty Square Riverboat, Mike Fink Keelboats, The Haunted Mansion.
- Fantasyland: It’s Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, Legend of the Lion King, Cinderella’s Golden Carousel, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Snow White’s Adventure, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Mad Tea Party.
- Mickey’s Star land: Mickey’s House, Mickey’s Starland Show, Mickey’s Hollywood Theatre.
- New Tomorrowlands: Grand Prix Raceway, Space Mountain, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, Dreamflight, The Timekeeper, Alien Encounter. Disney World presents the best in the world for information and entertainment. It has attractions for every age group. Hence the tour becomes very thrilling indeed.
On the last day of our stay at Orlando, we did a quick tour of the “Sea World” with its various interesting programmes. “Baywatch” has been a very popular adventure Star TV serial on lifeguards; I occasionally watch it. At the Sea World I saw a live performance of the Bay Watch in the lake with all the thrilling stunts. The ski-stunts were risky yet artfully presented with pyramid formations. The entire programme was with special effects and appropriate music.
There was the Terror of the Deep with all the possible dangerous creatures of the sea observed at almost touch
level in the glass tunnel. The sharks swim right over your nose. You can count their teeth. I took a photograph of the shark as it grinned at me. But he wasn’t scared by the shot. He had seen thousands flash cameras on him. He knew it and readily gave me his grin for a souvenir. Thank you, Mr. Shark. Other creatures like moray eels, lionfish, barracuda etc. swam past as though in a parade to show off their beauty and strength.
In the Freeze Frame, the inhabitants of the “Penguin Encounter” were a feast for the eyes. The Antarctic penguins swam and dived to keep their cool in the freezing cold. The Polar bears were there too in the “Wild Arctic” giving a firsthand experience of the icy polar regions through an imaginative helicopter ride in a blizzard.
The star attraction was the night show of the killer whale Shamu. The commentary was provided by the actress Jane Seymour. Shamu, the killer whale, is trained to do many dives, jumps and bows. He even plays tricks on spectators by surprise splashing of water. We were far enough not to be drowned by one. Suddenly his master waves to him and he is out of the water and on the floor showing himself as the proud Olympic Hero. Shamu was being trained for the Olympic attraction, at the Atlanta Olympics, in the following month. Other killer whales also joined Shamu in their group events. I got my first-hand contact with a killer whale, though through the Willy movies I had had a taste of these great mammals. We were able to have a very close look at them, with the help of bi-level viewing facilities.
The Mermaids, Myths & Monsters was a spectacular night programme on a huge water screen of about 60 feet made in the middle of the lake by a clever spraying device. On it holographic illusions were also made besides laser and fireworks display. Animal lovers would see the gentle natured manatees, a dying species. The sea lions were smart too in their intelligent performance. Though bulky and comical to look at, they are lovely creatures. The seal show was unique with a comedy acted out trying to fool them. But they proved more intelligent than man. These comedians could be closely observed fed with snacks at the Pacific Point Preserve.
It is worth visiting the U.S.A. just for the Disney World and the Sea World. Why not save a little money from your yearly Birthday, Christmas and New Year bash, and may be after a few years you may have sufficient to visit places of interest: MY TRAVELS… MY TEACHER.
2 July: All that begins well ends well! So now it was time to wind up. My TWA direct flight from New Orleans to New York took just three hours. After an hour’s break I boarded my Kuwait Airways flight to London at 10:15 p.m. The aerial view of an early morning London was a welcome sight.
At Heathrow there was a thorough security check before we boarded the aircraft bound for Kuwait. I took the time in between to have a dekko of the airport. Landing at Kuwait International at 8:15 p.m., brought us an illuminated city, rebuilt after the war.
Touching down at Delhi International Airport, I heaved a sigh of relief. A tour around the world is fine, but three is nothing like being back home again.
My Travels: Notes & Thoughts