Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Semi" Short Post - Our First Indian Wedding!! (w/ video!!)

We went to our first Indian Wedding last week!!  Well, only Amy Suzanne went to the actual wedding.  The ceremony lasted three days.  However, we both went to the Reception on Saturday night.  And quite a reception it was, too!  Our old driver, Naseer (he was truly great, but now that we have our new Skoda Laura, Krishna is our full-time driver!), got a little "turned around" in the Begumpet district of Hyderabad...and almost dropped us off at the wrong place!!  The reception was at "The Celebrity Club" - - Naseer stopped the car in front of some local dance place called "The Country Club" - - but thank God I caught it before we got stranded at an "Indian disco" instead of the "target" reception!!  After asking a few people and eventually a policeman, good ol' Naseer got us back on track and we found the right location!

I have heard this from a few other ex-pats who have been invited to weddings here:  The family and the newly-married couple treated us like Honored Guests!!  More than that...we were treated more like ROYALTY!!  We arrived in the very nice reception hall just as the professional photographer was posing the family (under some very harsh lighting!) for some official-looking wedding photos.

The next thing we know, we were being grabbed-up and hustled into the picture...despite our vigorous head-shaking and loud protestations!!  Not only were we to be IN the photo...ladies and gentlemen, I kid you not: WE WERE IN THE VERY FRONT ROW....DIRECTLY BETWEEN THE BRIDE AND THE GROOM!!

The wedding was between two of Amy's employees from Deloitte.  This is very exciting for everybody, and many of Amy's group were there, both for the wedding and the reception!  I know this for sure, because our driver took a bunch of them over to the wedding hall on Thursday!!  Also exciting was the fact that this was a "love marriage" - that's the name given nowadays to the very recent innovation of a actually having a "non-arranged" marriage!  The invitation (like most all Indian wedding invitations) had a depiction of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, for good luck and blessings.  I know the happy couple will remain blessed!  Soumya and Keshavan looked so happy together!!  The family was so wonderful and welcoming to us! 

I just have this strange notion running through my head...that someday, Soumya and Keshavan will be a sweet old couple, married for fifty-years...and they are going to be looking back at their wedding pictures.  One will say to the other:  "I still love you, after all of these years, sweetheart!  But, who in the world is this big American guy and his very blond wife between us in the front row??"

We visited with so many wonderful people!  Quite a number of them were from the bride's family...and a few of them had even lived for a time in the U.S., and they were anxious to hear about where we were from and how we were liking Hyderabad.  The food was served buffet-style - and it smelled incredibly good!  As I got up from my seat and started for the growing queue - Amy gave me one of "those" looks.  I stopped and came back to the table where we had been sitting since we got done having our picture taken.  "What?", I asked her.  "You've been eating everything that's not "red-hot-or-nailed-down" since we got here .", she said.  "Remember Rick Wolfe (a Deloitte Partner who got deathly ill the first (and only!) time he came to India) ??  You had better be careful!"

"'s a catered wedding, for goodness' sake!", I challenged.  "Nobody's getting sick from this food...besides, it looks and smells wonderful!!"

She followed me over because I think I had her convinced that all would be well.  We never found out.

As we reached the start of the line, one of the men in the family came up to me and said: "Excuse me, sir, drinks have been arranged".  Huh?  "Arranged"??  What did he mean?  We found out in under ten-seconds.  We were ushered into another, much smaller, banquet room, where the lights were very low.  Groups of men were sitting at round tables.  One of the tables served as a makeshift "bar" - with several bottles of wine, Scotch, rum, and all of the goodies one might expect to see at an "open bar" at a wedding.

And open it was!!  Insisting that Suzanne and I sit at yet another "table of honor" with one of the bride's uncles (a great guy who shared a wealth of knowledge with us about traveling in India and the various cuisines we might find as we travel around this amazing country!) - I asked for a "Teachers 50" (that's an Indian brand of Scotch...I have found that single-malt imported varieties carry a hefty duty and are very pricey!!) with no ice (I'm still a little bit careful!!)  Amy, not being much of a drinker, got a Diet Pepsi.  I drank and I chatted ... and Amy asked a bunch of questions about going to Rajasthan and other possible travel destinations. I had two (oh, perhaps maybe three or four!) drinks as we talked...and people kept bringing food to our table in the "bar".  It seems that we would never have to brave the queue outside!  Another thing to note:  One could not help but notice that this was definitely the "boys club" - - as Suzanne was the only woman in there...and I'm sure she was the only woman to be in there all night long!

We had an early morning planned for the next day (Sunday), so, Amy quietly whispered to me that we really should be calling Nasser and going home.

May I say that there is no possible way to "sneak" out of an Indian wedding reception that is going full-blast!  While we had merely taken leave of our new friends in the "men's club" bar and gone back to the main reception hall to pass along our regrets on having to leave the party early...the family would have none of that!  Amy and I were literally herded into the center of a "dance circle" in the middle of the room.  Think of it as sort-of a Hyderabadi "mosh pit"!  Pounding music, the room having been filled with sweetly-scented "disco smoke" (that's the best description I can come up with! It *looked* kind of like the Sanctuary at St. Mary of the Angels after the Solemn Te Deum on All Saints Day!) - there were flashing colored lights with the occasional green "laser-light" beam that flashed in hypnotic pulses to the throbbing drum beat!  And we were basically, with hand gestures and wide smiles, told to dance!!  And dance we did.

Now, the standard-variety Indian dance step seems to be....well... picture dancing with your left hand in the air - pretending that you are "unscrewing a light bulb".  The other (right) hand is down more at your side... and, with that hand, you pantomime "turning on a water faucet".   Then, after some time doing simply reverse hand positions and "unscrew the light bulb" with the raised left hand, and "turn the faucet" with the right.  All the while, keeping the beat.  Repeat as necessary. Ad infinitum. Got it??

As is becoming quite usual for us here in wife and I really stood out in that crowd.  All the while, the other guests kept encouraging our totally lame dance-moves with whoops and cheers!! Thank you, Soumya and Keshavan, for including us in your special day.  I hope that when your 50th Anniversary arrives, you will remember us as fondly, as we will you!

Here are two brief videos on YouTube that I managed to take with my Blackberry camera!

Our First Indian Wedding Reception!!  (only 43-seconds!)

Now THIS was a wedding reception!!!  (only 18-seconds - but LOUD!!)

Comments, as always, welcome below or on our Facebook pages!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Our New Car Pooja - (i.e. Krishna helps me make Holy Water!)

Bishop Blessing with Holy Water and Hyssop

In an hour of nearly-perfect "Religious Cooperation", our caretaker Radha Krishna and I blessed our new car this afternoon.  Or, more properly stated, Krishna did a puja and I performed "The Blessing of a Carriage or Automobile" directly out of the Priest's Handbook.

How this transpired:  It all started this afternoon, when Krishna's wife Jyothi needed to get in to clean our upstairs bedroom.  The problem is, even as small as she is, Jyothi is still afraid of little Beloved the Lhasa Apso!  So, I had to take The Bee out for a quick walk, and then put her (temporarily) into the downstairs guest bedroom.  (Yes, we have TWO guest bedrooms, in case any of you would like to "drop in" on us any time during the next two years!).  When I was done getting Beloved all situated in the bedroom, Krishna came up and asked me something.  You have to know that Krishna will be our driver now that we have our Skoda Laura.  And you also must grasp the fact that Krishna's English skills are not what our old driver Naseer's were.  But, bless his heart, Krishna really tries... and I am helping him learn as much useful English as I can.  So far I have taught him the phrase "Golden State", the words to the "Scooby Doo Theme Song", the concept of the "Road Trip" - and what a "Switchblade" is.  (Don't ask!  I know I'm headed for a longer time in Purgatory as it is!!)

So...Krishna comes to me to "ask permission" to do something.  He does this a lot.  It's not a part of American culture to have a "servant" - but - that is his job, so - I play along.  Yesterday he asked my permission to go to the market...but that time he sent me a text.  I thought he was asking me... if he went to the store - should he get some "Parmesan".  No...he was actually asking me for "permission".  Hey...his English is 200% better than my or Amy's Telugu, so we give him a lot of slack!!

He asks me - that since the car is brand new - if it was O.K. if he "made puja".  I am pretty knowledgeable about Hindu practices, so I know what he meant...we needed to bless the car.  His two kids were off from school today, so he sent them upstairs to his and Jyothi's apartment, to get the red powder used for making tilak (it's usually made from sandalwood paste and kumkum, a powder made from red tumeric - or sometimes vermilion, if the desired color is more yellow.)  The powder is used create a small red dot on your forehead.  That mark is sometimes put on various other parts of the body as well, but is most noticeable on the forehead, and it is actually called tilak or tilaka...this shows that you are blessed by God!

In the case of the little "car puja" we were going to perform, Krishna wanted to make sure our car was "blessed by God."  So, when the children returned with the red sandalwood powder, Krishna began the puja.  Some puja can be quite long and involved... both ritualistically and ceremonially.  Incense and offerings are used in the worship.  You know...kind of like any Sunday of the year at the Solemn High Mass at St. Mary of the Angels!!  The Hindus believe that the Puja tray (or, sometimes spelled Pooja - which is just another name for "worship") can be a very useful thing for carrying or storing those implements to be used for daily worship. These are the things that are traditionally placed on the pooja tray... along with their traditional meanings - and my "Christian" interpretation:

Incense sticks - For a sweet smell in air (like the air in Sanctuary at Mass!)
Food - To thank God for blessings (Like Offertory - bringing forward Bread and Wine!)
Flowers - A sign of love for God (Like on our altars!)
Bell - To show that it is time to pray (like the Angelus!)
Sandalwood paste - To create tilak (like in our incense boat!)
Water - To make clean in mind and body (like our Holy Water!)
Light/candle - Gets rid of darkness/evil (As with our altar lights!)

Now Krishna did his version of puja - one that was simplicity itself.  He chanted some words of praise and worship in what was probably Sanskrit (kind of like using the original Greek or Latin for Catholic Christians!) - and he and the kids walked around our new Skoda Laura...marking the center of each of the chrome wheels with three red tilak dots - using his little finger...and then... opening the drivers side door, he placed another three tilak dots each on the dashboard and the steering wheel.  (Afterwards when we were sitting and chatting, I asked him, "Krishna?  Why THREE dots?"  He made the same answer that I might have made if I would have been asked something similar.  He said "Indian tradition."  Again I asked: "Yes, I understand "tradition".  But, Krishna: WHY three??"  I think his answer was pretty close to what I expected: "One for Brahma, one for Vishnu amd one for Shiva" - somwhat like we would say "In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."  I went on to try to explain the Trinity to him...then I just shook my head...and shook Krishna's hand.

Back to the puja, (still in progress).  After the car was duly marked with red...with the very tip of his finger, he put a smaller tilak mark on his son and one on his daughter, to bless them as well.  And then he did the same to himself.  I would have had him put the mark on me, as well - - but - I waved Krishna off - I was sweating so much because today it was so hot and humid out, my tilak would have "melted" and simply run down in red streaks onto my nose and cheeks, making me look like I had just taken a .22 caliber bullet to the forehead!!

It looked like we were finished, but the auto puja was not complete.  Krishna gave me the key and told me it was my job as the owner to drive it - he told me to pull up about 2-feet...and then right back again.  I did...first time I've ever been on the driver's side on the wrong side!!  It feels funny, I'll tell you!  Puja was now complete!

A Pooja to Ganesha

Now it was MY turn.  I told Krishna to keep the kids busy...and I'd be right back.  I ran up the stairs and grabbed my Hospital Communion kit and my copy of the Priest's Handbook.  Coming into the kitchen, I donned my stole and told Krishna and the kids we were now going to do "Christian puja"!  I had him fill a glass with water, and the kids went upstairs to get some salt.  I spread my little square of linen on the kitchen counter and placed my empty plastic Holy Water bottle, the glass of water and the salt.  Krishna really got it!!  Without me asking...he got a small spoon out of the drawer and put it in the salt cup....I looked at him and smiled...and he grinned right back!  He's already a good Acolyte on day-one!!

I proceeded to bless Holy Water (the bottles in my kit has leaked during the air-shipment!) while I had Krishna read the proper responses.  His little boy held the book for me!  The scene was just perfect...I wish I had photos.  It was also sort of surreal.  Krishna took his role quite seriously.  We finished with the prayers and - filled the little plastic bottle with newly-blessed Holy Water.

Leaving my stole on...I rounded everybody up and we headed out to the driveway.  Krishna held my Handbook and we began the "Blessing of an Automobile" ritual.  I read:

"Our help is in the Name of the Lord"
Krishna read and repeated: "Who hath made Heaven and Earth"

I walked around the new car and splashed Holy Water on all four tires, like Krishna had done with the tilakaI then made the Sign of the Cross on the hood with my moistened thumb....and, finally, MY "puja" was complete as well!

I am pretty sure now that our little family is safe when we drive around Hyderabad.  A family that now includes Amy, Beloved, Radha Krishna, Jyothi and the two children.  God is truly working here in India!

Monday, June 28, 2010

St. George's "Anglican" Church on Sunday Morning...

It's Monday now, here in Hyderabad.  I just got back from our morning walk to the little park down the hill from us, right next door to the Stone Valley Apartments - it has an iron gate that I can close behind us...and it's the only place I feel relatively safe letting Bee off-leash to run around.  Oh, she can run around our yard when the gate is closed, too...but she ends up torturing poor ol' Scooby, and then the whole neighborhood has to listen to the big guy howl for five additional minutes!

I only mention all of that to get to this point:  Today is far-and-away the nicest day, weather-wise, that we have had since we arrived in India!  The skies are clear and blue, not a cloud can be seen.  There is a nice breeze in the morning - and - I think it's probably in the mid-80's.  It's not quite 10:00 A.M. now...and you can tell it's going to get hot...with a chance of rain later today and tomorrow. says it'll get to 101 F. later in the afternoon! is the detailed account of my yesterday's trip into the Gun Foundry District of town, to attend services at St. George's "Anglican" Church".  FAIR WARNING:  This post contains what may be construed by some people to be derogatory comments about women "priests".  This commentary is my own, it is as Theologically and Biblically sound as it is Orthodox - and is not meant in any way, shape or form to be derogatory towards women!!  My beef, of course, is simply with the notion of this modern Anglican/Episcopal family of churches who believe, quite mistakenly, that women can even BE "priests" in the first place. 

Anyway...this is  MY if you think you even might be offended - go write your own blog and "p--- off!"  In the meantime... please click away now!  Thank you!

While Amy was on her "Road Ride" (BTW...she returned safely this morning after her "second round" of street riding in Banjara Hills!) - Naseer arrived at 8:45 A.M. to take me downtown to St. George's.  I was mistakenly told by a closed-gate security guard two weeks ago that there was an "8:00 A.M. service and a 9:30 A.M. service."  As it turns out...that was bogus information.  The one and only service begins at 8:00 A.M. !!!

Now you may ask yourself: "Why in the world did Father Kingsbury put the word "Anglican" in quotation marks here??"

Well - the full-telling of that story could fill and entire I will spare you all of the gory details.  In a nutshell what has happened is this:

This is 100% my abbreviated version of the "history lesson" I got from The Rev. Zaccheaus Katta, the "Presbyter in Charge" of the parish.  If there are any historical inaccuracies, contact me and I'll change them!!The Church of St. George, as it stands right now,  is 100% "Anglican" in its style of worship - - 1662 Book of Common Prayer all the way...but - you must realize that they seem to quite dislike the term "Anglican" here... as they are not overly keen on "the Brits", in general, don'tcha know?! The originally named "Anglican Church in India" was dissolved in 1947 with the establishment of the Republic of India. Then, it became "The Church of South India"...which was formed as an church, complete with it's own Bishops, and independent from the Crown and the "official" Church of England.  But, you see, as always happens in Anglicanism of any stripe... it didn't take very long for the left-over Anglican Bishops and the C.O.S.I. Bishops to begin fights over property rights.  Sound familiar?  So...over the decades they fought and fought and fought - and in Hyderabad, the fight was over the building of St. George's, and eventually, they went to court (Wow!  Imagine that...they really ARE Anglicans!!)  Well, the whole legal mess took almost 35 years to resolve...and it's still not all the way settled. Whatever Indian Diocese this Church is now in (N.B. - it's waaaaay Low Church!) has only had the building for 4-months!!!

Anyway...back to the Church Review.  I cannot rightly call this one a "Mystery Worshippers Report" - as I attended the service in my black Roman-style cassock and collar.  Let's just say that my presence was - ummmm -  "duly noted" from the start!!

Naseer dropped me off at what I thought was an "early" time for the 9:30 Mass.  As we pulled into the gates and pulled over to the parking ever-knowledgeable driver told me: "Your service is over there, sir.  They are fixing the Church..."  And indeed, the main Sanctuary is under a complete renovation process at the present time....I was taken inside to see the progress (after the service) - and it's going to be BEAUTIFUL!  Gothic but classically Anglican...but with the choir-loft in the back like St. Mary of the Angels.  High ceiling, beautiful apse with big Gothic windows (the stained-glass panels are out for restoration and storage as well!).  And great acoustics!!  Wow!

As I sat down with Fr. Zaccheaus in his office for Indian breakfast (More on this, below.  My Amy swears I'm going to be the first one to get sick...but I doubt it!) and cups of very strong, very sweet coffee after the service, I heard from one of the lay-leaders that there were going to be 17 ceiling fans (the electrical was already stubbed-out!) - sixteen of them in the nave, and one over the Sanctuary.  Also (I think this one was Father's idea!!) - a small but powerful air-conditioning unit in the Sanctuary as well!!

Anyway...the building being used for the service is probably the Parish Hall...but it was nicely apportioned and had pews and a beautiful wood altar.  On the altar, the classic green super-frontal and the standard-issue (but still beautiful) IHS Cross (with no Corpus) and two matching candlesticks.  Outside of the narthex and nave, under a big canopy, were an additional 50-or-so plastic chairs for the overflow congregation.  And there were probably 15-20 people outside!

Still standing outside of the building, I took a position standing at the back of the rows of plastic chairs (how very Anglican!) - but that plan lasted only about a minute!  A lady who was probably an usher of some sort saw me standing there and immediately motioned me to come inside to sit down.  There were a few spots available...but she showed me to a seat right next to a sweet-looking older lady in a saree and her head was covered, seated - but obviously praying.  The pews were comfortable - wood - with cane/rattan seats (theY are NOT going back in the main church!!)

As I smiled at the sweet little lady and sat down, I grabbed one of the two books that were in the pew (one was a small hymnal with words but no music - the other was a Holy Communion and Evening Prayer booklet - straight 1662 Book of Common Prayer!) ...I could hear that they were doing the Great Litany.  A young lad from the choir (up front in this arrangement!) was perfect tone and accent (very British sounding!) - the Litany...the same tone I've heard 1,000 times!  It was really beautifully done! (It was a strange place to do it turned out that the Mass was 3/4 over and had actually begun at 8:00!!  I was over an hour late...and they were still just at the pre-Communion prayers!! It turned out that they were chanting the Litany in place of the "Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church"!  I think the 1662 BCP allows for this, if memory serves...)

As the Litany wrapped up in the traditional way (good, loud and in-tune responses from the congregation!!) - I began to take in the "lay of the land", liturgically-speaking.  The Celebrant was vested much more like a modern Episcopal or RC priest would be.  White, hoodless "cassock/alb" and a green stole, worn pendant.  No Mass vestments.  No Sanctus Bells.  Certainly no smoke!!  But still, because of the clear recitation of the BCP ritual and Traditional ceremonial (Celebrant facing East!!) - it was classically Anglican, no doubt about that. 

The Choir was well-practiced and sweetly sang the old Hymns!  Two that were not in the Hymnal, but in the back as Xeroxed addenda, were done as the "Communion Hymn" and the "Post Communion Anthem".  They were "He leadeth me" and "Amazing Grace".  A "real" (not pipe...but still!) organ and a violin accompanied the choristers, some younger, some older.  A good blend of voices.  Very, very sweet!

The Celebrant read the entire ritual, including the "Comfortable Words" and the "Invitation to Confession"as he faced the people (a pet peeve of mine, but, whatever...) - he had a great speaking voice. Classical British/Indian-educated accent.  I was getting a very warm feeling of familiarity...the kind only a good ol' Traditional BCP Holy Communion Service can give an old Traditional Anglican Clergyman in his heart.

Then...all at once, just before the Communion began...I saw her.  In Sanctuary, in albus, in green pendant stole...a "priestess".  She had been sitting in an Epistle-side chair (about where the sedillia in St. Mary of the Angels' Sanctuary would be...but actually against the wall...) - just out of sight from my rear-of-the-nave, Gospel-side pew.  I felt a wave of...well... I'd say first... "sadness".  Then, a bit of "anger" (that quickly's not MY parish...),  Then a wave of nausea.  Then resignation.  I thought to myself... "Well, Father...there'll be no Holy Communion for you this morning..."

I sang the Communion Hymn with gusto from my spot, as the usher made his way back from sanctuary-to-narthex, as happens in all Anglican parishes...allowing one pew at a time to come forward to receive.  Slowly, he made his way back to where I was sitting.  The little lady in the silk saree (and now her husband, too, who had joined her...) - got out of the pew and went forward.  I did not.  The usher motioned for me to come into the center aisle, but my rear-end stayed glued to my pew and I just smiled and nodded as pleasant a "No, thank you..." as I could muster...without using words.  He grunted something and walked back to the front to receive his own Communion.

As the Post-Communion Hymn was started ("Amazing Grace") - the original lady (also in saree) who had motioned me in to the Nave came and leaned over the couple beside me (who had returned to their spots). 

She said something in a heavy accent that I didn't clearly understand...  I believe what she said was "Pastor would like you to come up..."  I was correct....that's exactly what she said.  I smiled a big Fatherly grin and said "No...I'm sorry...I can't receive Holy Communion here..." - and did not specify the reason.  She looked quizzically at me and stepped away...but only for a moment...

This time she said: "On, no - it''s not for Communion...Pastor wants you to say the closing prayer!"

Oh, dear.  Now what to do??  See "rock".  See "hard place".  See Father squirm!

I thought quickly, and I think the Holy Spirit led me to do the right thing under the circumstances.  I excused myself to the lady and her husband sitting next to me, stepped over their knees and into the center aisle... and followed the usher lady's lead.  I figured to refuse would be really rude under the circumstances....and besides - I had already made my statement by not receiving Communion.

I bowed as I entered the Sanctuary.  I then noticed that the Blessed Sacrament was still on the Altar, ready to be "reverently consumed  Wow.  These people do not "T.A.R.P." - that's right outta the 1662 Book!  I had taken a spot, right next to "her" (our "priestess") - near the altar horn, Epistle side.  I placed my right hand on the altar and genuflected solemnly.  When I got up, I caught the "priestesses'" eye for just a moment.  In that short few seconds, she gave me a look up and down, saw my Romish cassock and my reverence for the Blessed Sacrament...and with one glance her eyes and countenance said: "Uh, oh...this guy is pure trouble..."

The Celebrant (Rev. Zaccheaus Katta, B.A., B.D., S.W.A., M.A. - "Presbyter in charge") motioned for me to come over slightly and stand beside him.  He pointed to an open "Mass Booklet" on the altar...and asked, sotto-voce, "Can you read this prayer??"  I looked down and saw that it was the "General Thanksgiving After Communion".  I smiled at him and said, "With my eyes closed!"  He handed me a small black lapel microphone at the end of a wire, which I clipped to the front of my cassock.  I briefly glanced at the "priestess", who was still standing there, glowering at me!

At the appropriate time, I began, as I have done thousands and thousands of times:

"ALMIGHTY and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us who have duly received these holy mysteries with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby...."

Anybody who has ever seen me Celebrate any Mass, Low, Missa Contata or Solemn High, knows that putting a microphone on Father Kingsbury's lapel is overkill of the first order!  But I read as clearly and deliberately as I could...ending with...

 "...through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen."

As the violinist in the choir began to play the opening notes to the Recessional Hymn (some sweet version of the 23rd Psalm with a catchy melody!) - - he shot me a wide, toothy grin, which I returned wit h an added nod of my head.  Then, we lined up in procession.  I felt conspicuous in just cassock, but away we went, down the center aisle and to the back of the church.  When we arrived at the rear door (no real Narthex in the parish hall arrangement) - Rev. Zaccheaus shook my hand and thanked me...and invited me to his office after for breakfast.  I agreed and thanked him for asking me to assist.  I told him I was T.A.C. and I believe he knew what I was talking about.

I turned to my left, and to be charitable and brotherly, I smiled as best as I could...reached out my hand to shake the "priestesses'" hand and even said the words "Thank you for the warm welcome..."

She gave me a look of "shooting poison darts"... coming out of her dark eyes.  "The Rev. Mrs. Priscilla Rueben, M.Com., M.Phil., B.D., M.Th" then proceeded to give me one of the hardest and chilliest looks that I have ever seen, turned on her heels without acknowledging what I had said...and walked briskly back up the center aisle towards the Sanctuary!! 

I thought:  Whoa!!  All those degrees...all that schooling...and they never taught her any manners???"  I just shook my head and smiled.  "So it's going to be that way, is it?"

(N.B. to Fr. Beau Davis: Of course you have to know that I immediately thought of that delicious tale of Barbara Harris' response to the hearty "good morning, Barbara!" offered-up by one of the SSC Fathers at the PECUSA General Convention many years back:

SSC Father: "Good morning, Barbara!"

"Bishop" Harris: (harshly, while putting out her cigarette and turning to walk away): "F--- you!")

After the "shock" wore off (NOT!! LOL!!) - I shared a lovely time, an Indian-style breakfast (Amy swears I'm going to get sick from all of the "experimental" eating I am doing here...I think that she is wrong...I feel "protected" somehow!) with two small paper-cups-full of hot, sweet, strong coffee..and some wonderful  fellowship with some vestrymen, Rev. Zaccheaus himself, a nice lady who guided me by the hand outside to the parking-lot to pray for her son.  He was a sweet boy, about 25-or-so...who had a whithered arm from some malady.  He said that his mother "always wants him to go to church...but that he prefers "temple" (he's a Hindu..."mom" is a convert to Christianity)

I prayed for him, I laid hands on his head and made the sign of the cross on his forehead.  I whispered to him... "Your mother loves you.  But you keep seeking God, my son...and He will find you!  I guarantee it."

Then he did the sweetest (literally!!) thing I have ever seen. He reached into his shirt pocket and offered me a wrapped piece of Cadbury's chocolate.  With a heavy accent he said: "Mother says sweets are only to be in moderation.."  He grinned widely...and I could tell by the look in his soft black eyes that refusing the chocolate would be taken as an I thanked him, unwrapped it, and ate it right there. 

The friendly "usher-lady" then came and found us in the car-park... and she sort of "rescued me" (I think the mother and son wanted to take me home!!)...and proceeded to give me the Grand Tour of the renovations going on inside the main Church.  As I said's going to be awesome when it's done!!

Returning to the parish office, which was a busy, busy place...Rev. Zaccheaus was sort of "holding court" - still in his white cassock-alb.  He then asked me how I liked the traditional Indian breakfast (I told him I loved it!).  He then gave me the brief history of the Church in India (which I digested, above...) and asked me, point blank, if I would be available to come back and assist from time to time.  I begged-off of that question a bit...admitting that I had yet to hear from Archbishop Prakash...hoping that he might understand from what I was suggesting...that having a "priestess" on his staff was a "deal-breaker" for me.  I thanked him again for the warm welcome...and walked straight out into the courtyard and found driver Naseer, still parked under a big tree, snoozing away!!

You know...I'm a bit sad.  It's really too bad.  Such a beautiful church and wonderful people.  And so very Anglican!

But a completely warped theology of Holy Orders that is simply beyond what I could ever accept in a home parish.

And you know what?? ...I never saw "The Rev. Mrs. Priscilla" again!!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Amy's Sunday "Road Ride"!!

Yesterday, Amy went horseback riding (her "church").  And not her normal hunter-riding, either.  At home in Pasadena, what she did (with her new horse-friend, Deanna) would properly be called a "trail ride".  Deanna (who we met through the HyTEA ex-pats group here) keeps two horses at a little "ranch", right here in Banjara Hills...which, as the crow-flies, is no more than a half-mile from our front door.  Aims and I walked up "just around the corner" (inside joke for Jane and Squint!) to the Hyderabad House Restaurant parking lot where Deanna picked her up.  The saddled up two small mares (Amy rode the little black and white one - he was about 14.2 hands) - and took off out of the "barn". 

Shortly after, as he was coming to pick me up for Church, our driver Naseer actually saw them riding.  If he had not told me, I might not have believed it.  I asked Naseer: "Really - - you saw them?  Where??

"On the road, sir!" was his answer!

Evidently, the "Banjara Hills Version" of a "trail ride" is much more like a "road ride"!!  Amy said it was actually much more like a "freeway ride on the 405 in heavy, speeding traffic"!!  You see, a majority of their ride yesterday morning took them directly out onto our main thoroughfare: the famous "Road No. 2" - - complete with it's scarily-narrow passages on the shoulder, (and that's in a car!) - workmen in cement trucks driving directly toward the horses and riders, the ever-present little yellow taxi rickshaws weaving quickly in and out between the oncoming cars and buses, speeding motorcycles (one was ridden by a young boy, who was tentatively balancing a wooden pole on which were hanging about 100 dead chickens, dangling by their feet!), little kids running at the horses to pet them, and the occasional vicious-looking street dog.

You know, Tracy and Rebecca...just like a quiet day at Windsong or Sunnybrook! was just like a quiet summertime trail-ride in Sycamore Canyon in Malibu! Marion...think a nice winery-tour on horseback through the vineyards of Napa!!  NOT!!!

To be perfectly honest, although she is just fine...Suzanne thought that she would surely die right there.  Thank God for helmets!!  And thank God that these little mares are 100% "bomb proof" - they spook at NOTHING!!  Eventually they turned up a slightly-less treacherous side-street and rode for an hour and a half, weaving in and out of the little neighborhoods here in B.H. 

Evidently, Amy Suzanne must have liked it.  Deanna picked her up today at 6:30 - and they are at it again!!

"Horse People".  You gotta love 'em.  I do.  Especially mine!

"How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head"

Before I can do any justice to telling the story of our visit to the Birla Mandir temple earlier this evening, readers in the West might need a little background on Lord Ganesh, the elephant headed god so very popular in Hindu culture.  I found the story and the symbolism of the Ganesh "icon" pretty facinating.  Indian children hear this stuff from the earliest of their formative years.  Thanks to Harish Johari (1934-1999) for his little book: "How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head". 

I find this stuff extremely interesting... YMMV ("Your mileage may vary!")  Besides...explaining this to my Western friends might prove a lot easier than explaining Cricket!!

Ganesh or, Ganesha — the elephant-deity riding a mouse — has become one of the commonest mnemonics for anything associated with Hinduism. This not only suggests the importance of Ganesha, but also shows how popular and pervasive this deity is in the minds of the masses.

"The Lord of Success"

The son of Shiva and Parvati, Ganesha has an elephantine countenance with a curved trunk and big ears, and a huge pot-bellied body of a human being. He is the Lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is also worshipped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. In fact, Ganesha is one of the five prime Hindu deities (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga being the other four) whose idolatry is glorified as the panchayatana puja.

Significance of the Ganesha Form

Ganesha's head symbolizes the Atman or the soul, which is the ultimate supreme reality of human existence, and his human body signifies Maya or the earthly existence of human beings. The elephant head denotes wisdom and its trunk represents Om, the sound symbol of cosmic reality. In his upper right hand Ganesha holds a goad, which helps him propel mankind forward on the eternal path and remove obstacles from the way. The noose in Ganesha's left hand is a gentle implement to capture all difficulties.

The broken tusk that Ganesha holds like a pen in his lower right hand is a symbol of sacrifice, which he broke for writing the Mahabharata. The rosary in his other hand suggests that the pursuit of knowledge should be continuous. The laddoo (sweet) he holds in his trunk indicates that one must discover the sweetness of the Atman. His fan-like ears convey that he is all ears to our petition. The snake that runs round his waist represents energy in all forms. And he is humble enough to ride the lowest of creatures, a mouse.

And finally...How Ganesha Got His Head

The story of the birth of this zoomorphic deity, as depicted in the Shiva Purana, goes like this: Once goddess Parvati, while bathing, created a boy out of the dirt of her body and assigned him the task of guarding the entrance to her bathroom. When Shiva, her husband returned, he was surprised to find a stranger denying him access, and struck off the boy's head in rage. Parvati broke down in utter grief and to soothe her, Shiva sent out his squad (gana) to fetch the head of any sleeping being who was facing the north. The company found a sleeping elephant and brought back its severed head, which was then attached to the body of the boy. Shiva restored its life and made him the leader (pati) of his troops. Hence his name 'Ganapati'. Shiva also bestowed a boon that people would worship him and invoke his name before undertaking any venture.

Cue the ghost of Paul Harvey: "And now you know....the REST of the story!!"

Friday, June 25, 2010

Saturday Morning Thoughts....

O.K. - the next time you feel like complaining about your commute to work...please think of these poor fellows.  On the road to Gachibowli, on Wednesday about 10:00 A.M. - probably the busiest part of the day to be on the road!  There had to be 100 men packed onto this truck...and I mean packed like sardines!  The guy in the red pants was hanging on tight in traffic, let me tell you!

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Like most of us, I imagine, I am 100% self-taught when it comes to computers.  From the very first computer I owned (4 MB of RAM, "BAUD RATE" of 1200 bps.), it has been "trial and error" - mostly error!  This morning, after we dropped Suzanne off at the office, my project was to print out about 70 photos that she took over the last few days...of all of the Indian employees in her unit. We are using the pics like "flash cards" so she can learn all of the tough-to-pronounce Indian names.  I got off to a fast start using the photo-downloader that comes with Windows Vista (one of the few things I actually LIKE about Vista!) - - I was adjusting the brightness where the photos were too dark, cropping them when there was too much dead background in the shot.  The prints were coming out clear and colorful, due to our new HP C4688 Photosmart printer.  I'm plugging along, and I'd say I was about halfway through, when the power went off.

Now, as happens most times when the power goes off (usually due to some main circuit problem due to overuse in one neighborhood or another) the big gas-powered generator kicks in, and power comes back on within about 30 seconds.  Until I discovered that our radio-alarm clock took batteries and would back-up the power in case of failure, I probably re-set the clock portion a dozen times!!  Like I said...I'm self-taught when it comes to anything more technological than a three-iron!

This time, the typical pattern held and we got power back right away.  The computer went to "battery" mode immediately, but the printer went all the way off and then re-booted itself.  I got back to printing right where I left off.  Except THIS time, the pictures would not print.  I tried every which way I could...I tried printing directly from the camera's memory card (put directly into the slot on the printer!) - I tried downloading the photos to a half-dozen different photo programs I have on this laptop and printing them from those luck.  I even used the photo-download program that came with the Panasonic camera (a program I frankly despise!) - and - began to print the photos one-by-one from there.  The photos took forever to print...PLUS I had no way to adjust the contrast or do any cropping...they were a mess!!

I clicked on a little "printer icon" at the bottom of the Desktop...and - lo-and-behold - it said I had NINE photo files in the "printing queue"!  But I couldn't figure out how to get the printer to actually print them.  Now I was really frustrated.  It had been over an hour since the power went out (we've had 4-5 similar outages in the last few hours, as well!) - and the only thing I had to show for that wasted hour were a bunch of smeared, still damp and unusable photos.

Deciding to re-trace my steps...I started the whole process from scratch.  First, I deleted the files on the computer...and re-uploaded all of the original photos from the camera, re-naming them so they wouldn't get lost (now that would have caused me to throw the whole mess out of our third-story bedroom window!!)  Then - I tried again to print them using the good Windows program.  When the print-window popped up, I noticed that I had no "good/better/best" quality options...and my cropping feature wouldn't save my changes. I decided to click on "printer info" - and it said the on-line printer was "HP Office Jet 6500".  Check.

Hey.  Wait a second.  I checked again.  OUR printer is an "HP Photosmart C4688"!!!  The Office Jet 6500 was our OLD printer - the one we gave to Joe and Kathy Constantino when we left...because U.S. printers tend to choke on the electricity here in Hyderabad!

You see....the hour and a half of pulling out what little hair I have left was coming to a close!!  Finally!!  It turns out that when I installed the new printer software - I never made the Photosmart our default printer.  When the power went off - the computer and the printer stopped talking to each other - - and the computer reset the on-line printer as the "Office Jet".  Clicking the box that put the correct printer on-line...I proceeded to print the nine files from the queue and finished up in about one more hour.

One more computer lesson learned.  Two more handfuls of hair down the drain.

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On Thursday, I got invited to the ex-pats TEA luncheon.  It was being held at the brand new upscale coffee shop in Jubilee Hills, Beyond Coffee - which is sort of half coffee-house and half art gallery.  It was really quite nice.  The food was good and the lattes hot.  In addition to the normal crew (my friend David and I are usually the only two men at these lunches!) - I met a very nice lady from Deloitte named Jennifer (she's also in Tax - and her husband is part owner of Beyond Coffee.)  Also - I met another lady who I hope will become a friend, as seems that she and her husband are Christian missionaries from Sydney Australia...they are planting a new church in Hyderabad, they are affiliated with the City Christian Church in Sydney and are meeting now "just for Bible Study" in their home.  N.B. Since I still have not heard from the Bishop Ordinary from the Hyderabad-area Diocese of Nandyal - I may have to go Pentecostal while I'm here!!  I may try to check out the home Bible Study some Sunday after Mass.  We exchanged phone numbers, so I hope to hear from her and I truly hope to see her again.

My friend David and his driver were going to pick me up.  His wife, Carol, works for Deloitte as well, and he is sort of in the same situation I am in...except he and his wife have kids.  David does ministry with various children's relief groups in Southern India, so he will be a good person to know, in addition to being a nice fellow - who golfs!!  David and his wife took the long weekend off to fly to Singapore, where they are now.  Instead of trying to give his driver exact directions on how to get to the house (which I am not sure I could do, yet!) - I suggested that them pick me up in front of the "Q-Mart" near our home.

One problem.  I was afraid to cross the street!!!  (see video link, below)

To our friend Annette - I'm sorry.  I know what you said about crossing the roads here being like crossing a river...and the traffic, like "water"... just sort of "flows around you" and you need to trust that you will not get hit...  Well, easier said than done.  THIS water is filled with speeding motorcycles, big trucks and buses, and bumper-to-bumper autos!  I just couldn't do it!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Boulder Hills Golf and Country Club...

Yesterday when I woke up, the climate (this seems to be the word used here instread of "weather" - one more thing to get used to!) seemed to be a bit cooler ... and in the first few hours of the day, it looked like the rain would hold-off long enough to get in a quick 18 holes. So, after we (yeah...Beloved goes, too!) took Suzanne to the office at 5:30 A.M. - I came back home to shower and change into "proper golfing attire" (like the Three Stooges here!) - and grab my "golfing sticks"!! (That's what Krishna calls them!)

For some reason (actually, a number of reasons - and none of them valid...heck, I've been playing golf for almost 40-years!), I was really nervous!!  "Will I like the course?  Will it be really hard (it looks pretty darned tough from the roads that bracket Boulder Hills Golf and Country Club on the East and the West!) ?? How would my shoulder hold up?  Did I bring enough golf balls??"

Naseer took me over to the course in the morning...and, as it turned out, through some of the heaviest traffic we have experienced since we've been here.  Evidently, 8:15 A.M. is not the best time of day to try and get from Banjara Hills to Gachibowli if you are in a hurry!  Of course, we were NOT in a hurry (as a matter of fact, nobody in India seems to be in a hurry...if you are late for your tee-time, it must be your karma - so why fight it?).  If I recall - it took us almost forty-minutes to get to Boulder Hills. 

Arrival at the course is like arriving at any nice country club or daily-fee golf course in Southern California.  One could almost forget that you are 8,700-miles away from Goose Creek in Mira Loma!  A nice kid greets you with a friendly "Good morning, sir!" and takes your bag and shoes out of the car and puts them on the "bag drop" rack.  I went in to the main clubhouse (where there were two Indian fellows playing squash on one of the two indoor squash courts in the lobby!! It's actually a game I have some familiarity with...I used to play at the original Venice Squash Club with my good friend Wally Meneley ... back "in the day" when we were young, crazy and in that shape you are only in once..when you are 17-years old!) and asked the nice man behind the counter if there "was room for me" to get out and play 18 holes.  I also asked "if there was a group that he might send me out with", as this would be my first round on the course.  "You don't think there is any chance that I could get lost out there alone, do you?" 

Well, the guy looked at me like I was some sort of moe-ron.  "Sir, all of the members have already played their matches and gone off to work.  You are the only person here, so I am afraid that you'll have to play alone.  And, no, you can't get lost...there are direction signs and cart paths on every hole."  Then ... he proceeded to stab me right in the gut: "But, sir...if YOU get lost, just call the desk and we'll come out and find you!"

It turned out that I bought plenty of golf balls (I brought nine...and - - miracle of miracles - I only lost two of went into the lake on #9 when I hit my drive a little too good and over-cooked it, two bounces, into the drink!  The other one was on hole #15 - I hit a great drive (so I thought!) - but my ball took a couple of hops into some tall grass and I never found it.  I had one birdie, 5 or 6 pars and no triple-bogeys - so I can say that I played very well for my first time out....43 - 43 = 86.  Right on my handicap, which was a 12 when we left.  The drive on #1 went right down the middle and I made my par, despite the fact that the greens are painfully slow!!  You have to remember that Andhra Pradesh had one of the hottest summers of this century, so it needs some recovery time.  The monsoons are helping, and - in just the first week since I saw Boulder Hills, the course has greened-up nicely due to the recent daily downpours!  The greenskeepers are out and working hard...and doing one hell of a good job!

The course is actually only a few years old....but it is frankly, spectacular! Think: "The beauty of The Boulders Course in Carefree, AZ - mixed-in with the trickiness of Mt. Woodson in San Diego County - in an area that looks just like Chatsworth, CA, where Topanga Canyon Blvd. meets the foothills near Rocky Peak."  (Just exactly what my old friend Deacon John Yeager said when he saw the pics I took!!)

The course designer, Peter Harradine (obviously someone who has a bit of a bias - but, still!) has been quoted as saying that "(Boulder Hills) will be one of the ten most photographed golf courses in the world. You can count on it." And I do believe that Mr. Harradine is spot-on!! I know that I will probably take a few hundred of them myself!

Honestly, the course has the look of a fake movie-set for a live-action "Flintstones" movie - - it looks like you are playing "Bedrock C.C." - it's just missing Fred, Barney and Mr. Slate to complete your foursome! In fact, the Men's Club group here is called "The Flintstones" - and the Women's Club is called "The Pebbles".

The club's "19th Hole"  (a great pub called "The Plus 4" - just a quick "Coded Message" to CPK for when you come to Hyderabad... "Talisker 15-year" and "Balvenie Double Wood" are just two of the single-malts that I've seen behind the bar at the Plus 4 - not the cheapest pour in town...but sure goes down smooth!) is a beautiful bar... and the restaurant (called the Bougainvillea Room - run by the same chefs/people who run the food service at the Novotel Hotel!) - they have a "Businessman's Lunch" buffet every day at Noon (it must be good....40-or so Microsoft employees were there yesterday just for buffet!) and a great BBQ (JUST like the one at the Novotel!) every Friday night...the food is great and fairly inexpensive.

O.K.  I'll shut up now...and let these short little videos that I took with the Blackberry motion-picture setting, tell the story:

Boulder Hills CC - Video #1

Boulder Hills CC - Video #2

Boulder Hills CC - Video #3 - The prettiest views of the prettiest hole!

Boulder Hills CC - Video #4

Boulder Hills CC - Video #5 - Featuring the Deloitte E-Block building, right off the course!

Boulder Hills CC - Video #6 - The hole where I saw a big peacock!!

Boulder Hills CC - Video #7 - Par-5 with an interesting view of a cool bit of architecture!

Errata: Know your Gods (and Goddesses!!)

In our "sightseeing" video...I misidentified a painted tile I thought was the god "Vishnu". Turns out it was a "God-ESS" - "Durga". She is often seen riding a tiger or a lion. Maa (Mother) Durga symbolizes the power of the Supreme Being that maintains moral order and righteousness in the universe.

Worship of the goddess Shakti is very popular among the Hindus. Durga stands for the unified symbol of all divine forces (Shaktis). Goddess Durga is the divine mother, who protects people from evil forces of selfishness, jealousy, hatred, anger and ego. Mother's love and her kindness towards her child, is the best example of pure love in this whole universe.

The Goddess is shown with up to eighteen arms, carrying many items in her hands. The red color symbolizes fierceness and it suggests that goddess destroys evil and protects people from pain and misery caused by evil forces. Durga riding a tiger shows that she holds infinite power and uses it to save virtue and destroy evil. The eighteen arms holding weapons signify the unattainable energy that Maa Durga possesses. Different weapons suggest the idea that she can face any evil force without consideration.

The origin of Goddess Durga: It is believed that once the existence of the universe was under a threat by Mahishasura (the demon). The Gods pleaded Shiva to protect their world from the evil forces. Lord Shiva asked the three goddesses, Saraswati, Maa Kali and Maa Lakshami to release their powers (shaktis). The Power emerged in a female form. The Divine light emerged and a goddess of exceptional power appeared with many arms. She was beautiful as well as ferocious.

Durga was an extremely gorgeous girl with full of rage. The gods named her Durga, the invincible one and they furnished her with all their arms. Durga rode on a lion to the top of a mountain. In a violent battle, she killed Mahishasura and thus, saved the world from the demon's threat.

So, now we both know! 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Just "Monkeying" Around (Photo and Video Links)

I'm storing up some new ideas for later blogs this week...(not hard to do around here...there is something bizarre that happens around here at least once a day!!)

In the meantime, here are some links to Facebook Photo Albums and three short YouTube Videos!

Thanks for all your kind comments about this blog.  For us, it's a labor of love.  And we love all of you!

Facebook Photos: Air Shipment, Hussein Sagar, Bee at the Park

Facebook Photos: Our Air Shipment Arrived!!!

More Facebook Photos: Random House Shots - Waiting on the Monsoon

Some Hyderabad Photos... (Featuring pics of the BIGGEST BATS you have ever seen...and I don't mean "Cricket" bats!!)

Video: Waitin' for the monsoon!!!!

Video: The monsoon arrives....

Video: Hyderabad Sightseeeing - Day ONE  (Suzanne's first weekend off!  Short road-trip to Hussein Sagar Lake!) 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mystery Worshipper Report - "Ship of Fools" Style!

In keeping with the tradition of the great website Ship of Fools - I shall now put forth my best but all-too-feeble attempt to describe today's 9:00 A.M. Mass at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad.  I will do my best not to say "Oh, my GOD!!" in every paragraph, so I'll just go ahead and say one BIG one, now!!

Oh, my God!!!!

I'm sorry, but there are no photos of the church this time around!  I purposely did NOT take my camera to Mass today.  I tend to stand out quite enough in these crowds, and there is a tendency for the locals to stare at the big Anglo-looking fellow, anyway - so - snapping photos during my first Holy Eucharist in India didn't seem quite so much like a good idea.  Besides, Bishop Williams taught me right!  I shall attempt, in the style of my hero, David Sedaris, to paint word-pictures of the scenes from earlier this day...

Our day started just as we had planned it.  It was actually the first "normal" weekend day we've had.  Suzanne's "regular" days-off are going to be Sunday and Monday - certainly different than we are used to at home, but I think we're going to settle onto a groove and get used to it.  Her shift during the weekdays will be 5:30 A.M, until 3:30 P.M.  - somewhat to coordinate the first hour-or-so with the West Coast and the Pacific Southwest Region - that's the stateside areas of: So. Cal. and AZ and I think the Las Vegas office with whom she will be doing much of her work.

From my loving wife... my Sunday morning "marching-orders" were quite simple: "Wake me up...and die!!"  We had gone to bed around 9:30 P.M. Saturday night, so I figured that she'd "sleep the clock around" and wouldn't even stir until after I had planned to return from Mass.

At exactly 4:30 A.M. I walked down the stairs with Beloved for her morning pee-run.  Standing on the front patio, waiting her to find the morning sweet-spot, at exactly 4:32 A.M. - - the first Muslim Adhan ("call to prayer") for Fajar ("at dawn") began to be broadcast over loudspeaker systems all over the city.  From mosques big and small, for both the Shi'a and Sunni alike, the large minaret-mounted woofers and tweeters shout out an amplified "Allahu akbar!!" for all within five miles to hear.  I think the closest small mosque to our house is about 3 kilometers.  I also have come to believe that the idea is "the smaller the mosque, the bigger the speakers"!  Kind of like the kid in South L.A. who has a primer-gray '73 Chevy Nova ... with a brand-new pair of $3,000.00 really-bass-y Harmon-Kardon speakers filling his trunk, which he plays so loudly that local shop-windows rattle!

Y'know...I have to wonder if Father Kelley at St. Mary of the Angels in Hollywood could get away with ringing the Angelus Bells every morning at 4:30?!?

For those of you who are not familiar with the Ship of Fools of their regular features is their "Mystery Worshipper" report - - this is where a person will go to a new (or different) church for the first time, and...using the form as developed and used by the SOF regulars - - the church is then "rated" (or, at least "described in great detail"!) for all to read.  My friend Bryan Miller turned me on to the SOF site many years ago, and I know that she has written several honest assessments herself (She is the classical music and opera critic for a large metropolitan daily newspaper in the Midwest - Jerome McAlister - you should meet her, as your blog is getting good!

Here, for what it is worth, is my official "Mystery Worshipper" review for my experience at my first Mass in Hyderabad, yesterday morning.  I have used the exact same format as the Ship of Fools uses!

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Mystery Worshipper: Fr. Scott E. Kingsbury

The church:  St. Alphonsus Parish in Banjara Hills, a suburb of Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India.  Named for the great Catholic Saint Alphonsus Maria Liguori, founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists) in 1732.  When I first heard the name, I thought it was named "St. Alfonzo's" - -so I immediately thought of the great old Frank Zappa song: "St. Alfonzo's Pancake Pancake Breakfast"The parish is in the Diocese of Hyderabad and the Archbishop sits at the Cathedral of St. Joseph.  The current Archbishop (since the year 2000) is Archbishop Marampudi Joji.

Denomination: Roman Catholic.

Building:.  Nice, well-built and nicely painted on the outside...white pillars and the stucco is painted sort of a peachy-color.  Large courtyard with big iron gates.  Probably built in the 70's or 80's. Not huge, but a pretty good-sized church.  There are concrete step leading up to a large set of double front doors.  The doors open right into the rear of the nave and there is no real Narthex, although there is a table at the back where the Celebrant's chasuble and stole are laid-out before Mass.  The Holy Water stoops are actually on either side of the doors at the top step, built-into concrete font-stands.  Large letters over the door say "St. Alphonsus Church" - - so there can be no doubt you are in the right place!  More on the interior of the church below!

The church: There seem to be two congregations.  The early morning Sunday Mass is celebrated by one priest in the Telegu language - still the official language of the state of Andhra Pradesh. This Mass begins at 7:30 A.M. - and the English version is celebrated at - well...the stated time is "8:45 A.M.".  I actually arrived a little later than 8:45 - and - no surprise - the Telegu language service was still going on.  Although I didn't know it (they could have been in the middle of the homily for all I knew!) - it was just the weekly announcements being read from the pulpit!) - the actual Mass was over.  The Telegu group seems to take their shoes off, Indian-style at the outside door and leave them there.  There must have been 200 pairs of sandals and other footwear left all over the steps and lower courtyard.  Not wanting to offend on my very first day (I'm starting to take off my shoes at the front door of our home!) ...I slipped off my black New Balance walking shoes and left them outside the door as well.  I squeezed into the end of a pew in the was standing-room-only - but - I wanted a seat as it was like a steam bath inside.  I had brought a fistful of paper-towels along with me, folded in my pocket, so I could mop my head from time-to-time.  Just as soon as I sat down, the announcements were over - and everybody made for the door.  Not everybody, though.  A large number of the congregation paused to offer flowers, colorful votive candles and prayers at the foot of the statue of Our Lady which was to the left of the sanctuary as you faced the altar.

It soon becomes evident that one congregation is leaving while another congregation (the English-speaking one!) arrives.  Like and good catholic parish, altar guild ladies scurried about (dressed in nice saris !!) changing linens and altar ware.  The choir began to set up microphones and a keyboard (more later!) outside of the sanctuary "stage left".  I would say "Epistle Side" or Gospel Side" - but this is a Novus Ordo parish with the Celebrant facing the people - - so - that might get confusing!!  I had moved up to a pew near the front.  This didn't last long, as I noticed that all of the people filing-in were congregating in clusters under the fast-turning ceiling-fans overhead,  This dumb American chose to sit under the only fan in the nave that wasn't working!!  I moved back a few rows and parked directly under the fastest-spinning fan I could find.

The English-language congregation was still 90% Indian.  The pew-spaces in-between the clusters of "fan worshippers" began to fill up...and I noticed some people fanning themselves with today's bulletin.  I left my pew to go grab one, and noticed that people were grabbing service books (really a hymn book!) and Bibles.  The Bibles were never used.  I grabbed one of each.  Then I remembered!!

Hey...I saw "Slumdog Millionaire" three times before we came!!  There is a scene where the street-kids steal the nice shoes from outside the visitors entrance to the Taj Mahal.  There were dozens of beggars and street-kids milling outside of the gates and courtyard.  While I never had any real fear that somebody would steal my New Balance's - I slipped outside and put them on.  I had noticed that the English-speaking crowd was not nearly so diligent about "shoe removal" as the earlier group.  So at least I was not the only one who re-calced (is that even a word??)

The "8:45" English Mass actually began at around 9:05!  Who would have guessed that "St. Mary's Standard Time" is universal?!?!  (Sorry, Fr. Kelley, I couldn't resist!!)

The neighbourhood: Banjara Hills is one of the two upscale residential neighborhoods in Hyderabad.  Jubilee Hills being the other one...but B.H. is more urban and working-class and J.H. is more truly residential (i.e., gated communities) with nicer homes.  The actual street where the parish is located is Road No. 8 - - and St. Alphonsus High School is directly behind it, on Road No. 9.  You get to the church by taking Road No. 10 from our house, which is on Road No. 3.  Got it???

The cast: Mea maxima culpa...but although I introduced myself to the Celebrant when I re-entered after putting my shoes back on...I did not catch his name.  I informed him who I was and asked if it was O.K. if I made my Communion at his church.  He greeted me as a brother.  If I had one complaint to begin with it would be that there was no real "bulletin" - only those generic RCC "The Sunday Liturgy" bifolds.  There was no way to look for his name after the service when I went home.  I did ask if I could make an appointment for Confession....and asked if they had daily Mass.  Yes.  And, yes.  Mass is celebrated daily at St. Alphonsus at 6:30 A.M.!!  There were two altar boys (yes, they rang the Sanctus Bells with gusto...although, at least for this Ordinary Time Liturgy, the atmosphere was "smokeless" (Sorry to disappoint, Nancy Bluto!)...and the acolyte's vestments for the day were white albs, with "Kelly green" wide belt cinctures and a matching Franciscan-style monk's cowl with no hood.  Very cute kids!!  Another priest joined the sanctuary par-y to assist in the administration of Holy Communion, which went quite quickly, despite the fact that the church was packed with well-over 250 souls by Communion time.  Just like in the U.S....parishioners arrive late, some well-after the reading of the Gospel!  Gasp!!  Still....about 80% of the congregation received Communion.  More on the "choir" below!  There were lay-readers who read the lessons....classic Indian accents but very understandable and well-schooled in English, as so many of the people here are!!  The responses from the congregation were loud and clear and joyful!

The date and time: 20 June 2010, 9.00am.

What was the name of the service?  "Mass (English)"

How full was the building?  About 70% at the beginning....standing-room-only by the time the Sanctus was sung.  My best guess is 250-people-plus.

Did anyone welcome you personally?  Uh.  No.  But I got stared-at a LOT!  There were no "ushers" or "greeters" that I could see.....perhaps there were and I just arrived too early!  I did get a friendly smile and "good morning" from the young man who squeezed into the pew beside me.  I greeted a fellow-Yankee by asking her if she knew how to tell which hymn they were singing.  She had no clue either!

Was your pew comfortable?  Surprisingly - yes!  To look at them you might think, "Uh, oh!"  The pews are arranged in three sections, Epistle Side, Center and Gospel Side - - making two aisles.  Each pew is designed to seat three adults across, although many folks were "two-to-a-pew" - and kids could easily fit four-across.  The seat and back were wood - wide enough in the seat and tall enough in the back to give support....just about every one had a "dedication plaque" from some donor or family name. The kneelers were similarly all wood - - with zero padding!!  Think if pews were made by the company that made your classroom desks in high school.  That's what these pews were like...rugged, functional and built-to-last!!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?  Quiet, very little chit-chat, reverent and prayerful.  People cam in, got situated, and said their prayers.  Some prayed the rosary, families with small children got them seated and calmed down (the cutest kids, I must say!!)  Women were dressed in their "Sunday-go-to-meetin' saris"...the men mostly "slightly less than business-casual" - pretty normal.

What were the exact opening words of the service?  "God is the strength of his people.  In him, we his chosen live in safety.  Save us, Lord, who share in your life, and give us your blessing; be our shepherd for ever."  (The "Entrance Antiphon" for the day)

What books did the congregation use during the service?  I wish I had taken note of the title of the "service book".  It was typical Novus Ordo stuff....with words to hymns but no music - - you know - - hymns of the very type that made Thomas Day write his classic book, "Why Catholics Can't Sing".  Anybody who knows me,  knows this...I am an Anglican.  And a Traditionalist.  There is nothing more beautiful looking, sounding, feeling or smelling than a Anglo-Catholic Solemn High Mass!  In my opinion, the Novus Ordo Mass and accompanying music is simply dreadful...although it can be done with reverence and with liturgical proficiency (for whatever that is worth!!)  Bible were provided, but never cracked.

What musical instruments were played?  Oh, dear!!!!  For this I shall have to turn to the notes I typed on my Blackberry during the sermon.  The choir had six members...all "younger" - four girls and two boys.  They had terrific voices and made the best of some pretty... ummmm... "iffy" musical selections.  The main instrument was a standard-issue electric keyboard.  Of course, the requisite "boom-chucka-boom" rhythm-track was set to "Conga" or sometimes "Rock-a-Billy".  Then there was the electric-guitar player. electric guitar.  But NOT just and electric guitar...the guy who played it wasn't a half-bad musician... but he played it in a country-western style!!  I kid you not!!  On some "hymns" he made it sound more like "Don Ho" than "Garth Brooks"...but over all - - it was pure country!!  The music was actually very sweet, joyful and sung with reverence and true zeal!  No hand-clapping....but you sho' 'nuff felt like tappin' yer foot or slappin' yer knee!!  Yeeee haaawww!

Now...the keyboardists affinity for the rhythm tracks on his instrument were bad enough....but during the closing hymn - - I swear that he added some kind of sound effect that was sort of half-way between the sound made by the "transporter" on the original Star Trek series and an electronic "blowing wind" effect.  Kind of like: "Sccchhhweeeeooooo....scccchhhweeeeoooo.....scccchhhweeeeooooo..." 

Did anything distract you?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME????  OMGDid anything distract me??  Let me count the ways:

The East wall had mosaic tiles just like the ones at St. Mary of the Angels...only just the ORANGE blue, gold or yellow.  On the front of the altar was a bas relief sculpture of DaVinci's "Last Supper" - - the altar looked as if it was cast-plaster...but very nicely done...not sloppy workmanship, that's for sure.  But in this Last Supper scene ....the Apostle's robes and tunics are all painted day-glow colors of red and blue and purple...and the faces are painted in what the Crayola crayon company once named "Flesh Tone" ...sort of a pinkish hue.  Four rows of white Christmas Lights surrounded the archway of the sanctuary apse - - the new-kind - LED encased in plastic strips - we wouldn't want to be tacky, now would we??   The beautiful wooden altar Crucifix is hand-painted ...and very large. Of course it is bordered by brightly-lit electric-laser-blue neon light tubing!!!  The Missal Stand had on the front piece (facing he nave) a red sign with big white letters that said "WORD OF GOD".  The Sanctuary Lamp was electric and glowed brightly.  The actual Tabernacle had a round red sign in front of it...with a Monstrance in gold... painted on the front.  And from behind the sign there were more neon lights...only in red.  It looked as if the Tabernacle was radioactive!!  The nave and Sanctuary are well lit...bare fluorescent-tube fixtures along the side walls (Stations of the Cross are installed backwards to the Traditionalist's eye!  Novus Ordo style!) - -nice chandeliers in the Sanctuary and ceiling fixtures throughout.  A first-rate sound system really helped out because the multiple ceiling fans were set to rotate on "HIGH" (Thanks be to God!!) and were noisy!   Lots and lots of flowers in the apse and around the statue of the Blessed Virgin. 

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?  Reverent, prayerful....JOYFUL!  No doubt whatsoever about the Real Presence of Christ at this Eucharist.  But I don't think He hung around much after Communion!!  A typical modern Roman Catholic Novus Ordo Mass....but - for the Southern Californians and Texans . . . think: "Mariachi Mass" - except without the Mariachi players and in their place, cute girl choristers dressed in silk saris ... a keyboardist who loves his sound-effects buttons...and a jolly Indian guitar player who thinks he's really Toby Keith!!!

Exactly how long was the sermon?  Twenty-five minutes.  A little long.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?  A solid "7".  I gave him and "A+" for diction and language skills.  Very easy to understand (which I'm afraid is not always so easy here in Hyderabad!)...but - he could have ended it at 15-minutes and been more effective.  He said all he needed to say and should have wrapped up.  But don't we all have that problem when we get on a roll!?

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?  Revolved around Jesus' question "Who do you say that I am?" - - and comparing Peter's answer to the answer given by the crowd.  Some questions were then put to the congregation: "Who do you say that Jesus is to you?  Who is Jesus to you?  How do you communicate your faith to the world around you?  This world needs Jesus Christ.  How can we as a parish and a people do a better job?"

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?  The fact that it was a valid Eucharist 8,700-miles away from different - - and yet, Jesus Christ was Truly Present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar...and there is no better place to be here in this world...this Vale of Tears!!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?  I wouldn't ever say that about any Christian worship service!!  But I could have done without the blue neon lights!!  I mean, come on!!  This is Trinitytide!!  At least break out the GREEN Neon!!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?  I recognized a French fellow who Amy and I had met at the HyTEA ex-pats dinner last Friday night at the Walden Club.  I chatted with him and another French ex-pat who works for IBM.  He was there with his three red-headed kids.  Yea...the group of us really stood out in the crowd.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?  There wasn't any.  People filed out and some mingled in the courtyard.  I chatted with my new French bon amis for about ten minutes...found out that there are more traditional parishes to be found in the city.  Outside the gates there were dozens of beggars - many armless or legless or deformed....all in rags...all with thier hands out and saying "Please, sir...please sir..."  - and making eating-motions with their hands, if they had hands.  It just breaks your could hardly not think of those hurting souls who followed Jesus from town to town wanting to be fed or healed.  We have been told by virtually everybody here to NOT give them any rupee - - but that they know where to go to get the church to help them...and help the church does!  Throughout the city!  It's sad but true...many of the beggars are sent to the squares and churches to beg for a central boss-man...and you are not supposed to encourage the begging.. But that doesn't mean it doesn't tear out your heart as a Christian...or as a human being!

Outside the gate, there was one particular man with sad-looking black eyes.  He was one of the ones sitting down with the huddle of of other cripples and begging with great animation....yet he had but one leg.  He got up quickly on his crutch as I passed by and began to follow me...(and I must say...for a one-legged guy, he could really move!!) - - he caught up to me as I was going to the car ... and he kept repeating behind me "Please, sir...please, sir..."  Of course, it was the unwise and tender-hearted part of this fat old Anglican Priest that wanted to reach into his wallet and give him 100 rupees just to get him off of his tail.  But when I got to the ever-protective driver Naseer shooed him away with a shout.  I got in the passenger side and locked the door (after almost getting in the wrong side and sitting on Naseer's lap!).  All the while, the one-legged man is outside knocking on the car-window with the arm-piece of his crutch...

Naseer said:  "Please, sir...don't give them any money."

"No, Dorothy....we're definitely not in Kansas any more!"

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?  I would have to say about a "6+ " It's so close-by may just become my regular parish out of pure proximity alone.  I'll check out several churches, of course.  But I would much prefer have MY Bishop (+Prakash) call me back or return any of the five e-mails I've sent him ... before I head out to the local Gurdwara and become a Sikh! 

Please.  If there are any readers of this blog who have any sway in the TAC, could'ya help a brother out??

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?  Amen!!  I may have joked around here...but to be honest, I fought back the tears throughout.

What is the one thing that you will remember about all of this in seven days' time?