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  Greetings to all our readers and patrons
Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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  By A J Philip  
USUALLY retirement and depression go hand in hand. Many people are unable to bear the loss of power and esteem and die, as a result, in the first few years of retirement. But there are a few, who find a new meaning in life, once they are freed from the demands of a regular job. Senior journalist J. Sri Raman who died after a brief illness at Kochi on November 8 was one such.

He joined the "Hindustan Times" as a leader writer after a short stint in the "Patriot" and a few years in Kabul when, to the US rulers, the Taliban were freedom fighters. Within a few days, he won the respect of all by his sheer writing skill, excellent command of the English language and profundity of thought.

He was the most reticent at the daily editorial conference, where he accepted any subject assigned to him. He was happy the editor exploited his love for literature and cricket for edits he churned out day after day. After a small gap, we found ourselves working together at the “Indian Express”.

At the Express too, he continued as a silent, sincere writer. He believed that as an editorial writer he had to express the editor's viewpoint, no matter what his own was. He specialized in edits, written in a lighter vein, drawing upon his vast repertoire of anecdotes and quotes.

Unfortunately, a change of guard at the helm hit him hard and his edits in the "classical mould" no longer were in demand. When a transfer to Chennai was offered, he accepted it as fait accompli, all the while waiting for the job contract to expire. By then an idea had germinated in his mind. Why not do something to oppose the bomb culture, spewed by Pokharan-II?

Soon he founded an organization called Journalists Against Nuclear Weapons (JANW), a part of the Movement Against Nuclear Weapons (MANW). His wife Papri and daughters Taranga and Varna were with him as he moved in the slums and workers' colonies educating them on the dangers of a nuclear war.

His group brought out several anti-bomb pamphlets and organised meetings and conferences to spread its message. It was at one such conference that Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy read out an essay that later became "The End of Imagination". The high-water mark of the campaign was an international peace conference in Delhi.

I persuaded the editor of the Indian Currents to organise a dinner for the JANW delegates. It was at that dinner that I first heard him deliver a speech, a thunderous one at that. I never knew he had such oratorical skills. I also noticed that he had become an expert on the nuclear issue.

Later, he articulated his thoughts in a well-written book "Flashpoint" (Common Courage Press). But all this did not affect his journalistic output. Calling himself an Indo-Pakistan journalist, he wrote a regular column for the Pakistani "Daily Times", contributed to several Indian and foreign newspapers and websites like "The Tribune" and "Counter Currents". He regularly reviewed books for "The Hindu".

All the while, acute bronchitis dogged him. Last month when he shifted to Kochi where he bought a flat, I began looking forward to spending a day with him. Alas, that was not to be as a kidney ailment cut short his life. In J. Sri Raman's death, his family, friends and acquaintances have lost a true gentleman and journalist.
  By A.J. Philip  
  MY admiration for P K Krupakaran began when I started reading his reports in the 'Indian Express' in the Seventies when the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement against corruption was at its peak.

As a student of Bihar politics, I found his reports most illuminating. What particularly attracted me were his political despatches that revealed his analytical skill and deep knowledge of the state and its people.

Thus when I went to Patna to join 'The Searchlight' as assistant editor in 1981, the only person I knew, though not in person, other than editor R K Mukker, was Krupakaran.

So eager was I to meet him that the first thing I did on checking into a hotel on Fraser Road was to call him. I was happy that his office-cum-residence was a stone's throw from the hotel. I just had to cross the road and get into a small lane to reach him. He wore a lungi and was bare-chested when he welcomed me into his house. What I noticed first about him was the way he spoke English. His spoken English was not different from his written English. His sentences were short and crisp, though idiomatic.

Krupakaran was a Tamil from Pondicherry, who fell for the charms of Patna when he reached there in 1966. But he had not given up his fondness for the South Indian distilled coffee that he offered me in a steel tumbler.

During the one hour or so that I spent with him, he gave me a lowdown on what pulled down Bihar. "Once Bihar is freed of the bane of casteism and corruption, it will regain its past glory."

It is quite natural for any person to develop vested interests if he is posted at a centre for as long as 40 years. But nobody could ever say that Krupakaran favoured any political party or leader. He had become a byword for integrity, a measure of which was his inability to build a house.

Though our meetings were infrequent, I would call him whenever I wanted background information on Bihar politics. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Bihar and Orissa, which too he covered from Patna, that I could always bank upon. He never spoke ill of others and encouraged his younger colleagues in the Patna bureau, first, Arun Sinha and, later, Hemendra Narayan.

As he told me once, his ambition was never to become an editor but a good reporter. And he had himself set such exacting standards of reporting that he always struggled to attain them. In the process, the readers of the 'Indian Express' received news reports and analyses that were benchmarks in state reporting.

A quintessential reporter, he is survived by his wife, a son, who is with 'The Hindu', and three daughters, one whom is with 'The Times of India'. A grateful Bihar will give him a state funeral on Monday. In Krupakaran's death, journalism has lost one of its stellar practitioners.
(Courtesy: The New Indian Express (
  By Michael Kelly, SJ  
  THE sun broke through as we rolled into the remote town where Bishop Francisco Claver wanted to meet parishioners and their priest. It was August 1981, the height of the Ferdinand Marcos Martial Law regime that was to go on for another five years.

Cisco asked me the night before if I would like to accompany him the next day to this isolated parish in his mountain diocese in the southern Philippines island of Mindanao. There had been some trouble in the previous couple of weeks and he wanted to support the people and their priest.

A bone-jarring three-hour drive along unmade roads in his four-wheel drive later, we arrived, got out and knocked on the parish priest's door. The 34-year-old pastor emerged in shorts and thongs from a wooden hut with a dirt floor, pleased to see his bishop but looking timid and anxious.

After donning a T-shirt, the pastor took us immediately to the nearby church -- an open-air barn of a building typical of the variety in the Philippines. On the way, he told us how two more bodies were found floating down the river yesterday, bringing the number in the last fortnight to 12, murder victims of either or both the local land holders and planters or the Communist New People's Army.

We enter the church to find hundreds of people, some of whom had been in the church overnight, huddled in silence -- uncharacteristic for Filipinos. The introductions began, the atmosphere thawed, engagement followed and after what seemed to me like hours -- it was probably no more than an hour -- Mass began, the singing started and some joy and confidence returned.

To a naive and seminarised Australian, this was gobsmacking stuff. For Cisco Claver, it was his regular ministry. He had been bishop of Malaybalay for 12 years already though he was still not far past 50.

Jesuit Bishop Francisco Claver

His diocese had been set up as a Jesuit mission territory in the 1950s. As soon as the number of diocesan priests outnumbered the Jesuits in the diocese, he handed it over to a secular priest to run. But that wasn't for another four years.

These experiences and his unusual instincts for people were what marked Cisco -- he engaged and listened to people; he cared more about the Church than Vatican formulas. He was very Filipino -- he always thought and spoke of "we" (who he belonged to); he was quick witted and, in a dry way, always fun.

But he was different from many Filipinos -- he was an outsider, coming from a tribal group from a mountainous region of the main island in the Philippines -- Luzon. His family only became Christians just before he was born and hundreds of years after the Spanish arrived.

As an outsider, he was instinctively suspicious of the "main group" or the "mainstream," whether the campaign left whose deceit and manipulation he despised or the wealthy elite whose conceit and ruthless disregard for the common folk he derided.

He made plenty of enemies in politics and the Church. One of his arch opponents was the papal nuncio, Archbishop Torpigliani, whose lamentable effect in the Philippines lasted for over 20 years.

A close friend of Imelda Marcos, the nuncio was delighted to receive Cisco's resignation from Malaybalay after 15 years as its bishop so a diocesan priest could succeed him. Little did the nuncio know what he had done.

Drawing on Gandhi

Cisco moved back to Manila to live at the Jesuits' university there and work at the newly founded Institute for Church and Society. There, he began writing, advising and commenting on issues of Church and state and the enduring injustices and divisions in Philippine society under the corrupt Marcos regime.

Drawing on Gandhi and others, a particular emphasis in his work was non-violent resistance to injustices and the power of peaceful demonstration.

Cometh the moment, cometh the man. As the Marcos regime wobbled to its end along with its leader's health, there were unconcealed attempts by former allies like Juan Ponce Enrile to take over and continue to rule by decree. It was 1986, demonstrations were happening regularly and the prospect of change loomed -- for good or much worse.

Enter Cardinal Sin, with his famous pastoral that brought literally millions onto the streets. EDSA happened and People Power prevailed. A peaceful change from a corrupt regime was underway and it started with the cardinal’s letter, written for him by Cisco Claver where his lasting commitment to methods of peaceful change brought a result all hoped for but few expected.

After the tumult of the 1980s, Cisco returned to running a diocese – this time one close to his heart among his own tribal group, their first priest and bishop.

They are what we might call stone masons: they build houses and fences from rock rather than the makings common in the Philippines -- bamboo and grass. All his life and in whatever Jesuit Community he lived, even when he studied theology at Woodstock, USA, in the 1950s, Cisco's hobby and exercise was building fences, ones that would last.

What more apt image of him as a priest, Filipino, tribal, Jesuit and bishop?

Strong local Churches

It was his deepest conviction and the subject of his last book published earlier this year that the best fence for the Church was to build strong local Churches. If the Vatican had difficulties with Cisco, as they did in the 1980s, he had difficulties with it.

I remember him telling me once how frustrated he was at the slow progress being made on the dispensation of a priest we both knew in his Malaybalay diocese. "They let us bishops train and decide to ordain priests, but not dispense them when we know the circumstances far better."

He told the relevant Vatican office that if the priest was not dispensed within a certain time frame, he would do it himself. The priest was quickly laicized.

For all his physical, moral and intellectual strength, it was Cisco's gracious and gentle humility that left the deepest impression on me over the four decades I knew him -- from his first trip to Australia after the last ground-breaking Synod of Bishops in 1971 when he stayed with the Community at the theologate in Melbourne.

An almost natural gift, it seemed, Cisco's humility expressed itself in his simplicity despite the monumental contribution he made to his country’s history. It kept him close to his own people, to the people he served throughout his life and quite evidently to God.

He may well be the last of the great post-Vatican II leaders of the Church in Asia. If you told him, Cisco wouldn't know who you were talking about.
Father Michael Kelly SJ has been executive director of UCA News since Jan. 1, 2009. He has worked in radio and TV production since 1982 and as a journalist in Australia and Asia for various publications, religious and secular.
  By Jose Saramago (November 16, 1922- June 18, 2010)  
  I WAS born in a family of landless peasants, in Azinhaga, a small village in the province of Ribatejo, on the right bank of the Almonda River, around a hundred kilometres north-east of Lisbon. My parents were José de Sousa and Maria da Piedade. José de Sousa would have been my own name had not the Registrar, on his own inititiave added the nickname by which my father's family was known in the village: Saramago. I should add that saramago is a wild herbaceous plant, whose leaves in those times served at need as nourishment for the poor. Not until the age of seven, when I had to present an identification document at primary school, was it realised that my full name was José de Sousa Saramago...

This was not, however, the only identity problem to which I was fated at birth. Though I had come into the world on 16 November 1922, my official documents show that I was born two days later, on the 18th. It was thanks to this petty fraud that my family escaped from paying the fine for not having registered my birth at the proper legal time.

Maybe because he had served in World War I, in France as an artillery soldier, and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman, for which job were required no more "literary qualifications" (a common expression then...) than reading, writing and arithmetic.

A few months after settling in the capital my brother Francisco two years older, died. Though our living conditions had improved a little after moving, we were never going to be well off.

I was already 13 or 14 when we moved, at last, to our own -- but very tiny -- house: till then we had lived in parts of houses, with other families. During all this time, and until I came of age I spent many, and very often quite long, periods in the village with my mother's parents Jerónimo Meirinho and Josefa Caixinha.

I was a good pupil at primary school: in the second class I was writing with no spelling mistakes and the third and fourth classes were done in a single year. Then I was moved up to the grammar school where I stayed two years, with excellent marks in the first year, not so good in the second, but was well liked by classmates and teachers, even being elected (I was then 12...) treasurer of the Students' Union... Meanwhile my parents reached the conclusion that, in the absence of resources, they could not go on keeping me in the grammar school. The only alternative was to go to a technical school. And so it was: for five years I learned to be a mechanic. But surprisingly the syllabus at that time, though obviously technically oriented, included, besides French, a literature subject. As I had no books at home (my own books, bought by myself, however with money borrowed from a friend, I would only have when I was 19) the Portuguese language textbooks, with their "anthological" character, were what opened to me the doors of literary fruition: even today I can recite poetry learnt in that distant era. After finishing the course, I worked for two years as a mechanic at a car repair shop. By that time I had already started to frequent, in its evening opening hours, a public library in Lisbon. And it was there, with no help or guidance except curiosity and the will to learn, that my taste for reading developed and was refined.

When I got married in 1944, I had already changed jobs. I was now working in the Social Welfare Service as an administrative civil servant. My wife, Ilda Reis, then a typist with the Railway Company, was to become, many years later, one of the most important Portuguese engravers. She died in 1998. In 1947, the year of the birth of my only child, Violante, I published my first book, a novel I myself entitled The Widow, but which for editorial reasons appeared as The Land of Sin. I wrote another novel, The Skylight, still unpublished, and started another one, but did not get past the first few pages: its title was to be Honey and Gall, or maybe Louis, son of Tadeus... The matter was settled when I abandoned the project: it was becoming quite clear to me that I had nothing worthwhile to say. For 19 years, till 1966, when I got to publish Possible Poems, I was absent from the Portuguese literary scene, where few people can have noticed my absence.

For political reasons I became unemployed in 1949, but thanks to the goodwill of a former teacher at the technical school, I managed to find work at the metal company where he was a manager.

At the end of the 1950s I started working at a publishing company, Estúdios Cor, as production manager, so returning, but not as an author, to the world of letters I had left some years before. This new activity allowed me acquaintance and friendship with some of the most important Portuguese writers of the time. In 1955, to improve the family budget, but also because I enjoyed it, I started to spend part of my free time in translation, an activity that would continue till 1981: Colette, Pär Lagerkvist, Jean Cassou, Maupassant, André Bonnard, Tolstoi, Baudelaire, Étienne Balibar, Nikos Poulantzas, Henri Focillon, Jacques Roumain, Hegel, Raymond Bayer were some of the authors I translated. Between May 1967 and November 1968, I had another parallel occupation as a literary critic. Meanwhile, in 1966, I had published Possible Poems, a poetry book that marked my return to literature. After that, in 1970, another book of poems, Probably Joy and shortly after, in 1971 and 1973 respectively, under the titles From this World and the Other and The Traveller's Baggage, two collections of newspaper articles which the critics consider essential to the full understanding of my later work. After my divorce in 1970, I initiated a relationship, which would last till 1986, with the Portuguese writer Isabel da Nóbrega.

After leaving the publisher at the end of 1971, I worked for the following two years at the evening newspaper Diário de Lisboa, as manager of a cultural supplement and as an editor.

Published in 1974 with the title The Opinions the DL Had, those texts represent a very precise "reading" of the last time of the dictatorship, which was to be toppled that April. In April 1975, I became deputy director of the morning paper Diário de Nóticias, a post I filled till that November and from which I was sacked in the aftermath of the changes provoked by the politico-military coup of the 25th November which blocked the revolutionary process. Two books mark this era: The Year of 1993, a long poem published in 1975, which some critics consider a herald of the works that two years later would start to appear with Manual of Painting and Calligraphy, a novel, and, under the title of Notes, the political articles I had published in the newspaper of which I had been a director.

Unemployed again and bearing in mind the political situation we were undergoing, without the faintest possibility of finding a job, I decided to devote myself to literature: it was about time to find out what I was worth as a writer. At the beginning of 1976, I settled for some weeks in Lavre, a country village in Alentejo Province. It was that period of study, observation and note-taking that led, in 1980, to the novel Risen from the Ground, where the way of narrating which characterises my novels was born. Meanwhile, in 1978 I had published a collection of short stories, Quasi Object; in 1979 the play The Night, and after that, a few months before Risen from the Ground, a new play, What shall I do with this Book? With the exception of another play, entitled The Second Life of Francis of Assisi, published in 1987, the 1980s were entirely dedicated to the Novel: Baltazar and Blimunda, 1982, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, 1984, The Stone Raft, 1986, The History of the Siege of Lisbon, 1989. In 1986, I met the Spanish journalist Pilar del Río. We got married in 1988.

In consequence of the Portuguese government censorship of The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (1991), vetoing its presentation for the European Literary Prize under the pretext that the book was offensive to Catholics, my wife and I transferred our residence to the island of Lanzarote in the Canaries. At the beginning of that year I published the play In Nomine Dei, which had been written in Lisbon, from which the libretto for the opera Divara would be taken, with music by the Italian composer Azio Corghi and staged for the first time in Münster, Germany in 1993. This was not the first cooperation with Corghi: his also is the music to the opera Blimunda, from my novel Baltazar and Blimunda, staged in Milan, Italy in 1990. In 1993, I started writing a diary, Cadernos de Lanzarote (Lanzarote Diaries), with five volumes so far. In 1995, I published the novel Blindness and in 1997 All the Names. In 1995, I was awarded the Camões Prize and in 1998 the Nobel Prize for Literature.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1998, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1999

This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures.
  By P.K.V  
  KANU SANYAL lit the fire of a violent revolution along with two other members of the Naxal triad that led a peasant uprising in West Bengal in the late 1960s, though in later years he shunned his own anarchist past.

As he battled senility, advancing age, and a blurring eyesight, the bachelor 78-year-old founding leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) abhorred the violence unleashed by present-day Maoists.

He was the last surviving member of the Naxalite triad that included another legendary revolutionary and comrade-in-arms Charu Majumdar and Jungle Santhal.

The three were behind the abortive Naxalite insurrection attempt by radical communist to initiate an "Indian revolution" by violent means.

Sanyal had even actively solicited help from the communist government in China to further his goals, but it could never be established whether this was moral, tactical, or financial.

He was a critic of land acquisition by the Left Front government in Singur and Nandigram and criticised it, calling it capitalist.

Sanyal believed that led by a selfless and strong leadership, the protests in Nandigram had the potential to surpass even the Naxalbari movement.

"Maoism is not the path of Naxalbari. The violence being indulged in can't solve things. I don't support this," he had said of the stepped up violence by Maoists.

"There is a distinctive difference between our way of revolution to that being pursued in the name of Maoism," he had said, dubbing Maoists as people without ideals and direction.

Born in Kurseong in 1932, Sanyal while working as a revenue clerk at the Siliguri court, was first arrested for waving a black flag at then West Bengal chief minister Bidhan Chandra Roy to protest against the Centre's ban on the Communist Party of India.

He was lodged at the Jalpaiguri jail, where he met Majumdar, who was then a CPI district secretariat member.

Influenced by Majumdar's ideology, Sanyal joined the CPI after his release, and later sided with the CPI (Marxist) after the party split over the war with China.

He together with Mazumdar and another leader, however, became disillusioned with the CPI(M) and broke away to found the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969, aiming at an 'Indian revolution through armed struggle'.

The Naxalite movement, started by the three, began from a peasant uprising in Naxalbari village in West Bengal on May 25, 1967, when the officer in charge of Phansidewa police station, Amarendranath Pyne, was shot dead by an arrow.
  By A.J. Philip  
  ON Sunday morning we woke up with the chilling news that Billy, my wife's younger brother, was no more. It did not really surprise us as the news was in many ways anticipated. After all, he had been ailing and the doctors at the Regional Cancer Research Centre at Thiruvananthapuram had indicated he would not live for more than three months.

Yet, we found it difficult to reconcile ourselves to Billy's death. My first encounter with him was long before my marriage when he joined our college. One afternoon as I was leaving the college for home, he virtually intercepted me on the way and began asking a lot of questions, which were annoying.

When I expressed my exasperation, he told me that he was sizing me up for he had heard that I was courting his elder sister. At the end of his "cross-examination", he said he would be with me in my amorous pursuit, for I had passed his test of earnestness and, perhaps, endurance. "What a brother-in-law!" I thought as I wriggled out of his "captivity" with my ribs and jaws intact.

Thereafter, I tried to keep our "encounters" as brief as possible, an uphill task given Billy's penchant to talk. Although he was no prodigy, he was a bright and curious child. As the story goes, a childless couple, a close relation, showed interest in rearing him up as their own child but the whole plan of adoption collapsed like the plan for the tower of Babel when at the first available opportunity, Billy returned home, much to the delight of his distraught parents.

By the time Billy was seven or eight, his relatives had come to consider him bookish and slightly odd. While his siblings rode stick horses, cut paper dolls out of old pattern books and played hide-and-seek in their large house, he could always be found in his upper floor room with his nose buried in a book or magazine.

Billy considered himself a leader in the making when he joined Balajana Sakhyam, nurtured by the Malayala Manorama group, and his oratorical talent was recognised. A short story he wrote for the College Magazine attracted my attention for the dash of brilliance it contained. Based on phoenix, the mythical bird that rises from the ashes, the story dealt with existentialism. For once I realized, he could have a career in literature. He also had a good command of the English language, thanks in the main to his voracious reading and the "Billy's Library" he had built up over the years.

It is said that for Dorothy, wife of William Carey, the famous missionary, grief at losing her child tipped her over the edge of sanity. In the case of Billy, I do not know what happened but he began to lose touch with reality. One day when he talked about extraterrestrial influences on him, I had a rude shock.

When I asked him how a young, well-read person like him could talk like that, his answer startled me. Years later, when I read John Nash's biography where he was asked by a visitor from Harvard, "How could you, a mathematician, believe that extraterrestrials were sending you messages?", the Nobel Prize winner answered with equanimity, "Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously", I realized Billy had given me a similar answer.

Tragically, he internalized all the problems of the world and agonized over them. But never once did he waver in his faith or allegiance to the church he was born into even when some of his fickle-minded siblings sought solace elsewhere.

Like the phoenix in the only story he wrote, he rose when after a paralytic stroke, doctors had virtually given up hope. A year ago when life was ebbing out of him with the blood count reaching perilous level, I happened to rush him to a hospital. After four bottles of blood platelet transfusion, he sat up on the bed and had a regular sumptuous lunch to my delightful surprise.

Because his name was Billy, he was nicknamed "Cat". As I watched him eating food in the hospital room, I realized he was like the cat with its proverbial nine lives. But even cats cannot live beyond their lives.

In the case of John Nash, it was the selflessness of a beautiful woman and the loyalty of the mathematics community that helped the genius to emerge from decades of ghostlike existence to win a Nobel and world acclaim but in the case of Billy, he was destined to live a life of solitude with unwavering faith in God and steadfastness to truth.
  By IANS  
  He was a Marxist to the core who was equally at home with bourgeois democracy and capitalist ideas. If destiny had been on his side, Jyoti Basu would have become India's prime minister in 1996.

But that was not to be, thanks to his dogmatic Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which ruled that no one from its ranks could head a multi-party regime that would not be able to implement Marxist programmes.

Basu swallowed the diktat silently. But within months he questioned the wisdom of fellow Stalinists and described the party's decision not to form the centre-Left United Front government as a "historic blunder".

That perhaps was the only time the very 'bhadralok', or gentleman, Basu broke the CPI-M's strict rules of discipline. He got away with it because he was the prima donna of Indian Communism, a product of aristocracy who embraced Marx in London and became the longest serving chief minister in the country.

By the time he gave up the reins of West Bengal in 2000 citing health grounds, Basu had been the chief minister for an incredible 23 uninterrupted years. He was widely respected across the political spectrum. Many a prime minister consulted him on matters of national importance.

Of course he had his critics. But for someone married to an ideology that has had few takers in India, he was one of the most successful politicians in the world's largest democracy.

Born July 8, 1914, in Kolkata, the son of a doctor was schooled in Loreto and St. Xavier's. He graduated from the Presidency College of Kolkata with an honours in English in 1935.

He then studied law in London where he came in contact with the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), the alma mater of many an Indian Communist.

Basu's early associates included the veteran British Communists Harry Pollitt, Rajani Palme Dutt and Ben Bradley. In London, he joined the India League and the Federation of Indian Students in Great Britain.

On returning to India, Basu joined the then undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) and in 1944, three years before the British Raj ended, started working among railway workers.

He got into electoral politics in 1946, getting elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly.

Winning elections then became a habit for Basu. After independence, he was repeatedly elected to the West Bengal legislature, starting in 1952.

When the CPI split in 1964 parallel to the Sino-Soviet break-up, Basu became one of the nine founding politburo members of the more radical CPI-M.

West Bengal was in turmoil in the late 1960s, with a section of the CPI-M revolting in a small West Bengal village known as Naxalbari and igniting a bloody Maoist movement.

Two shaky and shortlived governments took office in West Bengal in 1967 and 1969, and Basu was the deputy chief minister -- his first stint as an administrator.

It was in June 1977 that Basu became the West Bengal chief minister heading a multi-party Left Front government, a post he himself decided to give up almost a quarter century later.

Under Basu's leadership, the CPI-M expanded its social base in villages. His government brought about sweeping agrarian reforms, devolved power to rural bodies or panchayats and undertook rapid agricultural development.

The Marxists soon developed well-oiled election machinery that ensured victory in one election after another, stunning friends and foes alike and becoming a rarity of sorts in democratic politics around the world.

Basu led the Marxists to power five times in a row in West Bengal.

Along with his scholarly finance minister Ashok Mitra, he vigorously sought more powers for the states. He also played a key role in bringing together non-Congress state governments and parties in the 1980s.

He took an active part in the confabulations in the run up to the formation of non-Congress governments in 1989, 1996, 1997 and 2004, in the process becoming a national figure.

His tenure as chief minister was not without allegations of corruption, especially against his industrialist son. But these remained just allegations.

While the agrarian reforms in West Bengal were hailed as a model across the country, Basu was widely faulted for his poor showing in various other sectors including industry, education and health.

Even after relinquishing office as chief minister in 2000, Basu continued to play a big role in the CPI-M and Indian politics till repeated bouts of illness finally took their toll.(Courtesy: IANS)
  By Chhotebhai  
  FATHER Josef Neuner SJ passed away in early December in Pune, at the grand age of 101. I did not grieve his death, because for a holy man like him, death is but another step forward in the journey of life. Normally the number 101 is associated with the book/movie "101 Dalmatians". Dalmatians are white dogs with black spots, and highly strung by nature. Neuner was quite the opposite.

He was a gentle giant, which may sound like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. 2000 years ago Simeon had prophesised that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction (cf Lk 2:34). Some modern translations use the phrase "a sign that will be opposed", or contradicted. Perhaps a better word would be a "contra-indication"; for words like "contradiction" and "opposition" have today assumed a negative connotation.

The word "contra-indication" would be apt for Neuner; for he was lucid in his thoughts, simple in his lifestyle, very devout with a special love for Mother Mary, and tenacious in his theological convictions. It is for this reason that I have carefully chosen the word "contra-indication" to describe Neuner. He combined the intellectual prowess of the Jesuit with the humility and simplicity of the Franciscan.

Fr. Neuner could not be categorised as a liberal or a conservative, pro or anti liberation theology, charismatic renewal, indigenisation, psychotherapy etc. I happened to be in De Nobili College, Pune, for his 74th birthday on August 19, 1982. Though I was a layman, he especially agreed to guide me in the classic 30-day Ignatian retreat (I had earlier made one under another great Jesuit -- Fr Dan Rice SJ). For Neuner's birthday I made a sketch entitled "The Cup is better than the Bottle", that I presented to him; and it was later put up on the seminary notice board. At that time there was a strong movement to stop the use of feeding bottles, being unhygienic. It was better to feed infants with a cup and a spoon.

This is what I saw in Fr. Neuner. He did not want theologians or priests to be mere bottle suckers, swallowing what was fed to them. He wanted to inculcate in them a spirit of enquiry and a thirst for truth.

What amazed me about Fr Neuner was his clarity of thought. At that time I was living as a layman in a Christian ashram, and trying to discern my future way of life. Fr. Neuner said to me in no uncertain terms, "The life that you are now living finds no place in the Church. You are neither a religious, nor a layman, neither fish nor fowl. You must decide for yourself what you want to be." That is when I felt God speaking to me through Fr Neuner that I should revert to a secular life as a married person, and work for the Church in the temporal order through secular affairs.

I had first met Fr Neuner a couple of years before that at the National Convention of Vocation Promoters in Pune. I was then the founder Secretary of the U.P. Regional Youth & Vocations Bureau. At the convention we were in the same discussion group. Several priests and religious waxed eloquent on the new emphasis on the basic Christian vocation, as against the earlier one on promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I had tried to intervene that we should not discourage specific vocations, but needed to drastically revamp the process of vocation promotion, which then concentrated on catching them young and uncorrupted by the ways of the world! I had tried to advocate more mature vocations, after going through a young person's period of growth in critical awareness. Mine was a lone voice, until Fr Neuner intervened to say that the convention should take serious note of what I was propounding.

It was also at that time that I saw Fr Neuner's book, "The Prophetic Role of the Laity", published by NVSC, Pune. It had a profound impact on me -- the nature of a prophet -- one who stands alone, is unfazed by criticism or ostracism, and speaks in God's name, for the welfare of His people. The book also emphasised the role of the laity in secular/temporal affairs, as envisioned by Vatican II. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the laity, who are blissfully unaware of Vatican II, still thinks that being a member of the parish council, doing the readings or taking the collection in Church on Sundays is the ultimate form of lay participation in the life of the church.

Fr Neuner was probably the greatest contemporary Christologist in India. His monumental work "The Christian Faith", published in 1973, is a standard textbook for theology in every seminary in India. It was first written in German in 1938, and constantly updated, especially to incorporate the teachings of Vatican II. Later editions of this work found appreciation and support from Rev Karl Rahner SJ, undoubtedly the most brilliant theologian of the 20th century. Despite his gigantic standing in the world of theology, Fr Neuner was ever the humble and simple soul. His life and teachings have left an indelible mark on me.

As an expert theologian who assisted in the drafting of the Vatican II documents, he was deeply committed to the radical reforms envisaged by Vatican II ecclesiology. Unfortunately, in India at least, these reforms have been largely cosmetic, and limited to the liturgy. The church has not addressed the core issues of a dialoguing, participatory, indigenous and servant church. It still continues in all its Roman pageantry, triumphalism and hierarchical clericalism. Has Fr Neuner's life been in vain?

Thousands of priests and religious, and perhaps a few laypersons like me, had the unique opportunity of learning the ways of the Lord from Fr Neuner. Now that he has gone ahead I hope and pray that his students and disciples will imbibe his spirit of theological honesty and social praxis; for the cup is better than the bottle. (Courtesy: Indian Currents (
The writer is a former National President of the All India Catholic Union

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