Keep the Sabbath

"You must keep the Sabbath" the Lord said. And irrespective of caste or creed, many of us do follow the command. A day in the week for the Lord, when Hindus go to the temple, the Sikhs to gurdwaras, Muslims to the mosque and Christians to their church. It's another thing that the day is also used for many other chores. In the pace of city life, my family members have become mere 'Sunday' Catholics.

But it wasn't so. Way back in Mangalore, life for us children started every day with the morning mass. At crack of dawn, bundled out of bed and marched off to church- my little brother and I - escorted by our elder brother, seven years my senior. Every Mangalorean mother's dream then was to make her off spring an alter-boy or participate in the choir - and if not lucky in either ambitions, ensure that daily mass was not missed. For some, more keen, the effort was to get us to attend every novena and other seasonal devotion - including 13 ' Our-Father, Hail-Mary, Glory-Bes' on St. Antony's day every Tuesday, the Perpetual Succour Novena on Wednesdays, Infant Jesus devotion on Thursday and the Rosary on every day of the month of May. This of course was in addition to daily prayers that include the evening 'Angelus' and the family Rosary recited by all together, before supper.

One would think all this crammed devotion would have turned us into ' holy Jose - insipid misfits in society - as we in our myopic vision viewed all such ' holy Joe's ' Not really. It did build in us a strong moral fibre to see us through the days ahead. That's about all. As boys, we had our share of fun and pranks, not always innocent, but without malice, indulged in with a sense of adventure and a display of misplaced bravado.

Going back to those 'daily mass' days. I cannot forget the climb up to St. Aloysius' Chapel. We lived in 'Sukh-Sagar', opposite the middle school at the foot of the hill, on top of which stood the century-old edifice of St. Aloysius - my alma mater - and its famed chapel. The short-cut climb to the top via the food track included quite a few stair ways, one particular one numbering 50 steps steep enough to be etched indelibly on the mind of four-year-old. So when finally deposited on the front pews by our 'senior' brother in a state of exhaustion, we were really not fit to kneel through the half our service. Ensconced between the alter and the congregation, we invariably provided every one a display of our distractions, sometimes leading even fisticuffs, that warranted our hurried evacuation in big brother's arms, with hands and feet thrashing and flailing away for release.

The 50 steps assumed further significance on the way back. Near the foot of this stairway was a gap in the fence the senior boys had engineered, leading to the mango grove which the Jesuit fathers jealously nourished and cherished. We little ones were left outside as lookouts, while the seniors raided the orchard. For our pains, we would at times be given a slice of green mango: its sour tang laced with salt tasted great. But today the memory of this refuses to wipe out that tinge of guilt that accompanies it. Maybe that's why sound moral foundations are necessary in early youth. To be able to recognize that sense of guilt within, to know what things were not right when they were not right.

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