Fr  Simone Caelli

Last year on February, after having won 8 Oscar, Slumdog Millionaire has aroused a vivacious debate on the Indian media. A similar story happened around the book The White Tiger , the first work of the young writer Aravind Adiga. The similarities among the two phenomena – on due proportions – are many: similar is the macrocosmo where the histories are taken – the extreme poverty that torments a great slice of the Indian population -, similar is the success gotten by the works, considering that The White Tiger has been awarded the Hand Booker Prize 2008. The novel is constituted by seven letters that the protagonist, Balram Halwai, writes to Wen Jiabao the Chinese premier on the imminence of his visit to Bangalore (the Indian Silicon Valley), to offer him suggestions about the Indian creativities and initiatives. The “white tiger”  is Balram, who is able to go out from the poverty in which is its family in a village of the Bihar, and to become owner of a firm of transports in Bangalore. The novel aroused polemics for the context where they happened – to use the words of Adiga – two castes: “The men with full bellies and those with empty bellies”, but where the national pride stays strong. The critics have defined the work mediocre, consecrated by the usual foreign recognition that fortifies the western stereotyped vision of  India. The supporters, on the other hand, underline what Adiga describes an undeniable reality: India is not only this, but it is also this.

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From 2000 to 2005, father Simone Caelli has been the “soul” of the Office for World Concern at the PIME Center in Milan. Then he left for India.

“My experience in India lasted little more than three years and has been very important for my formation. Unfortunately the possibility to remain in that Country did not matrialized. Meanwhile the other possibility was to work in the Philippines, at the EUNTES, a formation center founded by  PIME in Zamboanga City”.

“In India after the first few months, passed in the PIME-House, I have gone to live alone in a small apartment in Chennai, the capital of the Tamil Nadu State. I enrolled in the Goverment University of Madras, which is one of three more ancient of India,  where I took the master in Christian Studies. This course is attended in greater part by Indians, but it is also the one with the higher number of foreigners. In doing so I had the possibility to enter in contact with the local people and living among them. It is enough to say that  my landlady was amazed that a white man, and religious too, was living in her house alone. Nevertheless she always asked me to pray for her, even if she was going, frequently, to the Induist’s Temple in order to pray.  Then also she would ask me if the food was in enough, etc..  A sort of dialogue of life! My neighborers, moreover, were protestants and muslims”.

“Christians are only 2.5% of the indian population, but in the Tamil Nadu State they go up to 6%. In this southern State of India, in fact, Christianity is present since the beginning. The tradition tells us that saint Thomas has gone there to preach the gospel and in the cathedral of Chennai there is the presumed tumb of the Apostle. At the university I have made a research about the experience of pilgrimages and, for this reason, I have interviewed a hundred of persons who went in pilgrimage to the sanctuary dedicated to sant’Antony of Padova, located in Chennai. Well, the greater part of them where induists! In Chennai there are many devout people to sant’ Antony. It is a typical feature of the Indians. In fact, they are attract by ant kind of spirituality, even if this does not belong to their religion. This, by the way, was the argument of my thesis for the Master”.

“From India to the Philippines. I will work to the Euntes Center with father Giulio Mariani. Once again I will not have an ordinary pastoral work in a parish. The Euntes is a formation place of studies and what I have done in India will help me.  Still, I do not know which language I will speak. In India I never studied one. But in the Philippines I will learn, for shure, one of the languages of the place (Tagalog, Cebuano or Chabacano?).  Anyway it will be less than the hundreds spoken in India !”.                 (Translated from italian)

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