Friend Who Taught Me To “Win”.


When I was studying in Nowrosjee Wadia College doing B.A. in Psychology I was more faithful in attending the Chai ki tapri (tea shop) nearby, debating endlessly about everything under the sun along with six friends of which I was the only one who was from Pune. One of my friends Sudip was a big fan of Rap music and he was so zealous that he made everyone of us love it. It became an obsession with us. But we could make no head nor tail of what the rappers rapped. We who hardly bothered to take notes about our syllabus, started taking printouts of this particular rap Hit em’ Up by Tupac and this was more like our clan anthem. This song ran for 3 pages but mind you no one dared not to memorize it. We were the homies from the hood. When college was about to end we played the song Changes by 2pac. Those were the days. We look back and laugh. GERMAN Bakery was our hang out. It feels sad as some maniac chose to bomb it on 13 february 2010. We used to sit at GB as we called it, for hours. We used to buy one special tea and six of us used to drink from it. And we spoke about army, politics, women, religion, education. We used to call it Group discussion which was certainly never a discussion but a commotion. Our egos were so inflated that we never gave in to any argument, so much so that the decibel levels reached so high that for the first time from GB any group was thrown out with a notice never to come there again.


I am not intending to write a memoir of my college days. Who the hell am I? As I mentioned before all these friends were from different parts of India. So was Biren. He was from Sikkim. One of my friend said he looked like Jacky Chan. The smile, the body language et al. his dressing was very trendy and at times carried the guitar along. His trademark wear was a bandana, a tight fit t-shirt and a track pant. Strangely he had an American accent and the reason he said was that the school he studied had many Americans. We said “rubbish.” He had a ‘killer’ sense of humor. I have heard him say the same joke ten times and every subsequent time my laughter was more earth shattering than the previous. For general knowledge I have been famous for my uncivilized laughter that I am proud of. I take it as a personal evangelism to tell people that one should laugh without inhibitions. Biren very innocently used to say “You Indians are very good at cricket.” We used to get very offended and ask “Who the hell are you?” As I reminded you at times Biren carried his guitar. But he was a very reluctant singer. But once he starts he is in a trance and so are we. I so clearly remember how spellbound we were when he sang November Rain from the band Guns n’ Roses. He was passion personified. Other than singing karate was his passion. Every day he practiced for three hours. One day I stumbled upon the heap of certificates he had. And there I was shocked to see “National Kickboxing Champion 2000”. I was like ‘What?’. He very modestly said, “I have been winning it for past two years”. I had won some intra college debating competition where 3 of us competed and the whole world knew that I had won this very ‘prestigious’ debate. At that time Manish, our friend and Biren’s flatmate said “These days he is practicing for 8 hours to defend his title. The tournament is to be held in August”. The period that I am talking about is July 2001 and the world had not changed yet. 9/11 was yet to happen. Biren became more and more of a rare sight even if he lived 10 minutes from my house. He was practicing. Then came the month of August. It was time for Biren to leave to defend his title. We had seen him very purposefully practice day in and day out. On the day before he was about to embark upon his journey we wished him luck, and in our rap style we banged our chest and said ‘Yo Homie, go conquer the world.’ (Man, we were juveniles). The entire tournament would take 10 days. We were planning as to take a treat from him when he comes back. We loved food for free. I guess we were more excited than him.


But two days after he left, he was back. We were shocked. We speculated that he had an early exit in the tourney. But that was unfathomable. We did not dare to ask him. Then one of us asked “Dude, what happened.” He said “I did not fight.” We all had a blank face. He explained. “Every year the tournament registration fee is Rs. 1500. But this year in Mumbai, they made it Rs 5000.” So I jumped the gun. “You dint have money?” he said “No, not like that. There was a boy who came all the way from Sikkim to participate. He had only Rs 2000. He knew nobody. Even I was seeing him for the first time. But we spoke. I know Sikkim. People go for such tournaments with a lot of expectations. The whole village expects a lot. I gave him the money and told him to win. So here I am.” I was the first to tell him what a loser he was. But was he? A national champion who had the detachment to forsake what was at stake for a complete stranger. This story will always remain with me. It’s a decade back it happened. But even today I have nowhere reached that point. It has become my personal yardstick in my journey to be a human.


P.S. Biren today is a commando with the Indian Army. He was the most focused of the six of us. A true inspiration.


Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Song of Lamech I Hear Blaring (Why I Oppose Capital Punishment)



Text: Matthew 26: 47-56

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.


Before we get to the text let me introduce you to Kenneth Bailey. He is a Scholar of New Testament who worked extensively with the Bedouin Tribe of Palestine. His hypothesis is that this tribe in the contemporary world is representative of the ethos of the audience that Jesus spoke to, and engaged with. This gave an idea of how people reacted to the teachings and actions of Jesus.  Kenneth told them many stories of Jesus and stories told by Jesus. Bedouins loved stories and they always gathered around bonfire to listen to them. There was something significant about their listening. They were not passive listeners like we find in many of our churches. If they loved something about the story they would raise both their hands and wave it. I wish we had such a practice in our churches. At least I would be assured that I did not put people to sleep. Now is the interesting part and I would prefer people sleeping than doing this. If they did not like some aspects of the story they would express their displeasure . How? They would start to spit together into the bonfire. (If this was a practice in the churches where people were allowed to participate in the sermon in this way, I am sure our churches would be flooded. Grouse thought). Kenneth says that in his narration of the parable of the Prodigal Son the listeners started spitting fiercely when he told that the father was ready to accept the wayward son and give a feast on his return. They felt that honor is everything and the son brought disgrace and was fit for being publicly stoned. Revenge had to be taken and forgiveness was cowardice.  But shortly the listeners started to wave vigorously in the air. Take a guess when that was. It was when they heard about the protest of the elder son who had disdain for the father for accepting a loser of a son and if that was not enough he was giving a feast in celebration. The elder son who had revenge in his heart was the ideal. Honour is prime. Revenge is imperative.

I am imagining that had the Beduion tribe heard the passage that is set before us, they would have waved vigorously at the act of bravery of the disciple who cut the ear of the soldier who dared to arrest his master. John 18: 10 says ‘Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)’. So we know that the disciple in question is Peter. So Peter did something commendable in the eyes of the viewers or listeners but Jesus reprimanded him. His ethics and response was not of honour or revenge. And this he had made it very clear to Peter. For this we have to take a flash back. There was a time when Peter went to Jesus with a question

 “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18: 21-22). Peter had an assumption that there is a limit to forgive. The Rabbis of his time taught one could forgive a person three times. So Peter asking 7 times was a very generous question. But Jesus said one has to forgive seventy times seven (that makes it 490 times). Interesting. Now let me introduce you to one more passage.

Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words:

I have killed a man for wounding me,

a young man for injuring me.

If Cain is avenged seven times,

then Lamech seventy-seven times. (Genesis 4.23-24)

This passage is called the Song of Lamech. This song is a song of vengeance. Richard Beck says when Jesus told Peter “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times”, he was refuting the logic of vengeance in the Song of Lamech where it is said “If Cain is avenged seven times,

then Lamech seventy-seven times. ”

 It was the Song of Vengeance that Jesus challenged. At the time of arrest of Jesus the Song of Lamech appealed to Peter more than the Song of Forgiveness. This is where we can see the passionate plea of Jesus screaming in disgust “Put your sword back in its place.” And then we hear his declaration that challenges the culture of violence that was prevalent in his time, “ For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Jesus showed on his journey to the Cross that forgiveness was more scandalous than vengeance.

My dear friends, we live in a time where “The Song of Vengeance” is more popular than the “Song of Forgiveness.” I remember that the people all over India were enraged in reaction to the Delhi rape case where a girl was brutally raped and eventually murdered. This outrage led to people wanting instant justice where the accused be instantly  given capital punishment. Facebook and Internet was flooded with violent images of Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia where criminals were publicly executed or tortured. This was seen as the apt response. ‘The Song of Lamech’ was even more popular than the iconic ‘Gangnam Stye’. It is interesting to note that before Ajmal Kasab was hanged, in 2010 there was a Video Game developed called ‘Hang Kasab’ which gave the gamers an opportunity to hang Kasab vicariously through the video game. It was interesting to note that The Gamer Company promoted it by saying “Show your Patriotism. Hang Kasab.” It is noted that after the event of Hanging Kasab, this game was the most popular game online with maximum hits and usages. It was so popular that Android had a mobile app for the same. ‘The Song of Lamech’ has its own appeal. India again showed its credentials by secretly hanging Afzal Guru. This too was celebrated in many quarters. Song of Lamech is blaring in the air

In the shadows of Good Friday let us remember that “Crucifixion of an Innocent Man” was celebrated by the people who shouted the Song of Lamech “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” The public thought that justice was done when a rebel who taught dangerous ideas like grace and forgiveness was put to the cross.But Jesus sang the Song of Forgiveness on the Cross ““Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23: 34). As a Disciple of Jesus I too denounce the ‘Song of Lamech.’ I am against Capital Punishment where the State has the right to Murder. This is the victory of ‘Song of Lamech.’ I am siding something very dangerous and scandalous. I sing the ‘Song of Forgiveness’. The challenge is daunting. It seems impractical and foolish. Are we foolish enough to expand our minds and hearts to embrace forgiveness? It is a very arduous journey. May the Song of Forgiveness sung by Jesus bring harmony to our lives. 


Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church




Bread of Life: Transforming Crowd into a Eucharistic Community- Reflections Based on the Issue of “Illegal Migrants of Assam”


Text- John 6: 1-15, 25-40.

Jesus feeding the Five Thousand is there in all the 4 Gospels. But the setting and intention in John is different in comparison to the Synoptic Gospels. There is a context of Passover that sets the framework of liberation to the entire text. The Geographical Location of the crowd is on the Other side of the Sea Of Galilee or the Sea Of Tiberias. This says something about the crowd as Tiberias was the major urban centre along the lake. The city was named after Emperor Tiberius and founded by Herod Antipas in about A.D. 19. It is said that the city was built on a graveyard and therefore Jews refused to settle in this city as contact with the dead made people unclean according to the Jewish Law. Therefore, to find residents for his new city, Herod freed slaves and offered free land and house to those who would settle there.  He also built a synagogue but the ‘City of Graveyard’ was the label that city of Tiberias had to carry. The Roman rulers used to placate their vassal states by providing free bread to the people. The people were dependent on this act of charity from rulers. As the crowd is the focus of our meditation, the brief background of the crowd will help us deal with the text keeping the focus on the crowd.


When Jesus saw the crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat? (vs 5). What is interesting is Philip’s reaction to deal with the crowd. “Six Month’s wages would not buy enough bread for these people to eat” (vs 7). We see that His approach was to calculate the enormity of the crowd in monetary terms to dismiss the crowd and their needs. While Andrew searched for a possibility of gathering resources but could only get a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. Andrew tried to solve the problem with available resources but knew that the resources to feed the crowd were meager. But Jesus seeing these responses was not overwhelmed by the Crowd. He made them sit down. Vs 11 is the key of the passage which says “Then Jesus took the loaves and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.” What is very interesting is that Apostle in his emphasis has highlighted the act of Jesus giving thanks taking the loaves and fish. In Vs 23 it says “ Then some boats from Tiberias came where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” The description does not say “The place where the Lord fed the five thousand” but “The place where they had eaten bread after the Lord had given thanks.” So I assume the Apostle was emphasizing on the formation of a crowd that was transformed into a sharing community through the sacramental act of Eucharist or Thanksgiving. The author assumes the miracle of feeding the five thousand with Five Loaves of barley and two fish but he does not stress on the miracle aspect unlike what we find in the Synoptic Gospels. Seeing the provision of bread in abundance provoked the people to make Jesus the King as for them, those who provide bread for free are the rulers. Jesus resisted this attempt. John 6: 25-40 Jesus makes a binary with the earthly bread that perishes with the Body of Jesus which was presented as a “Bread from heaven.” In vs 33 Jesus says “For the Bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The emphasis is giving life which Jesus intended to do. When the Greeks came to seek him it is in this connection that Jesus said those famous words “I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24. So the understanding of Jesus of giving life is not giving bread alone but the need of incarnation into a situation that compels us to forego our ‘Self’ that refuses to die. Jesus challenged us to die to our own selfish needs and compulsions. It challenges us to be Life givers to vast section of people who live on bread without hope and community. Jesus became the Heavenly bread by espousing the biggest sacrifice that the Cross symbolizes. The resurrection gives us hope of bread that never spoils. So we see that the miracle was not Jesus feeding the Five thousand with Five loaves of Bread  and two fish but that Jesus intended to tranform the crowd into a Ecclessial Community by offering himself as a bread to be broken for the World. Jesus presents himself as the bread that was ready to be broken for the Crowd to become a community. This Sacramental Discourse of Jesus at the same time is a mission mandate where he opens himself to be broken for the Jews and the Greeks alike.


In the North East of India there are gamut of issues and crisis. One of the most evident presence one sees is the presence of the so called “illegal immigrants”. The largest labour force is formed by these illegal immigrants. They have been accommodated in places like Dhubri , Kokhrajhar, Gossaingaon areas of Assam. Government settled them in areas  notified as the land of Bodo Territorial Council. The recent ethnic violence in Assam was due to the contention of land and meager resources. These people have a very slave like existence and are deprived of all the human rights and sense of dignity. In most of the cities in the North East, they form a work force that is used as cheap labour. They live under sub-standard conditions and are paid way below the standard minimum wages. Successive governments and movements have treated them as non- entities or as the reason for dispute and disharmony. Their existences as humans are debunked. They too use their labour to win the bread. Bread is the centre of their existence. Successive governments too have only facilitated in providing them bread. Now major of the labour force in Kerala is from this section. The train from Guwahati to Trivandrum is full of these labourers. The Sleeper compartment will have 500 passengers instead of 72. One cannot imagine the conditions which they travel. When I was travelling by A.C. compartment, I ventured into one Sleeper compartment. I was shocked at the human conditions of people desperate for work and bread. When I came back to the A.C. compartment, I ordered for a specific menu. The man of the pantry told me “Sir that food is not for people like you. It is not cooked that well. We give it to the labourers in the sleeper compartment. Why don’t you order something different?” I was shocked at the gross distinction that was being made of humans. Outside the precincts of Guwahati, these people are accomodated in Labour Camps which has the feel of a ghetto. It is also used as a social marker of these dispossessed people. These very people are working on a Church project at my parsonage in Guwahati. All the boys working are between 17-20. One thing that strikes is none of the boys give eye contact and are very uncomfortable in my presence. Their identity, self esteem and dignity have been crushed under the cruelties of life. Noor Ahmed, one of the laborers confided that “ I come from a family of Imams and my father is a Haji as he has gone to Haj. But the 1998 flood devastated us and our 15 acres of land was swallowed by the Brahmaputra River. I was studying in standard 10. After the flood I came to Guwahati from Dhubri and worked day in and day out and learnt to be a maistry as we had lost everything. But once the building is built or a house is built, we are scared to enter into these homes. We are unwanted.” Church here has a lesson to learn from the Example of Jesus. When the expectation of the crowd is to be fulfilled of the needs of the bread, We have to strive for a Eucharistic community where we offer ourselves as bread. Church has to think of new outreach strategies that that transform the crowd into a community. Church at times deals with the Crowd like Philip by seeing people and their needs only in monetary terms. Or at best we try to be like Andrew who searches for resources just to fix a problem. But Jesus was not just interested in satisfying the physical needs of the people. He sees the importance of Bread that satisfies physical hunger. But Jesus was interested in the identity formation of the crowd that formed them into a  community by displaying love on the Cross like a grain of wheat ready to die to give life to many.


Let me conclude with my observations of the Northeast India. Work among the natives, among the tribals has been espoused at length. But in the context of huge migrational displacements, the existence of the illegal migrants has not been engaged with. The issues of justice and peace can only be dealt when Church has a policy or a mission strategy that strives for the rights of the so called illegal migrants. Here we need to dare to go beyond the compulsions of geo-politics and religion. The educational status of these people is abysmal which keeps them in the vortex of poverty and exploitation. They are also easily manipulated on communal lines as the discontent and drudgery of living everyday is a fact. It is the truth of National framework that has termed them as “Illegal”. We need to overcome that blindfold to accept them as humans. Talking to the labourers working on daily wages reveals that the government schools are the only source for education. The bias of teachers against the migrants denies them of quality education which leads to huge rate of school drop outs. So from then on they have believed that they are only fit to be labourers to earn bread. Ali, a painter by profession said “I went to school only till standard 4. Teachers always said we are not fit for studies. So I realized that there is no use studying. I started working from the age of 9.”

  Today the xenophobia of the local communities has forced the migrants to have artificial communities in ghettoes based on striving for bread and the struggle for self preservation. When church produces a community that is committed to die for  these brethrens of theirs so that they may have life and a meaningful community, then and only then can we pray “God of Life, Lead us to Justice and Peace.” Or else the symbol of Cross is a scandal that will judge our hypocrisy and fashionable slogans. May God of life lead us to be breads that feed the hopeless life of many a crowd to justice and peace.


Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Church



(Readers I am aware of my naivity in regards to a complex topic. It is out of my personal struggles with my encounters with these labourers that I have written this. I am also aware that my tone is one that is patronizing)



Biblical Reflections For Onam



 TEXT- GENESIS 4: 1-16

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten[a] a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted?[b] And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for[c] you, but you must rule over it.”8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother.[d] And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.[e] 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod,[f] east of Eden.


The narrative of Cain and Abel is placed after the narrative of the breach in communion between God and Man where man and woman were driven out of the Garden of Eden. Even after being driven out , man was to till the Soil(adamah-{Hebrew word}). So even after the break in communion man still was a co-participant in creation as he carried forward his divine vocation of tilling and keeping the soil as seen in Gen. 2:15. Gen. 4:1 starts with the scene of human procreation where Eve after giving birth to Cain says “I have created man with the help of the Lord.” The word “Qanah” in Hebrew is translated as created and the noun form of “Qanah” is Cain. So here we see that Cain embodies creation in his name and also he is the seed of the man, formed out of soil( adamah). Cain becomes the tiller of the soil like his father. So he is called to carry forward the divine commission given to man in Gen. 2: 15 to till and keep the soil. In Gen. 4.3f we see that in the context of Yahweh worship, Abel’s offering as a shepherd is accepted but the produce of the ground of Cain is rejected. The narrative does not explain the ground of rejection but focuses on Cain’s envy caused by God’s favour towards Abel. This envy drives Cain to murder his brother with whom he shared the womb. As seen earlier he was the tiller ( obed) and keeper( shomer) of the soil( adamah), so that means he is the keeper of all that is a product of the soil. Abel, the seed of Adam, is a product of the soil and therefore protecting and keeping Abel was the divine vocation of Cain. So the question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper” is a denial of this divine vocation. Cain whose name and vocation embodies creation and life paradoxically symbolizes death and destruction. In denial of his Divine vocation, God’s punishment is a sense of poetic justice. Cain is alienated from the soil that defined his being. If he is not the keeper of his brother, a product of the soil, then he is not the keeper of the soil too. He is cursed that his tilling of the ground will bring no yields. Later narratives and genealogy portray the descendants of Cain as city dwellers who represented a culture alienated from soil, promoting violence and evil. This alienation from the soil and embodiment of violence furthers the narrative logic of Yahweh repenting about his creation that He willed and saw “It was good”. This links this narrative to the flood narratives. Gen. 4:16 says that “Cain went from the presence of the Lord.” While in Gen. 6:9 says “Noah walked with God”. Here we see the portrayal of Noah as the anti-type of Cain as intentional. The name Noah means “Out of the soil that the lord has cursed, this one will bring us relief from our work and toil of our hands.” (Gen. 5:29) after Cain was alienated from the soil the next man who established a relationship with soil and celebrated it is Noah, as it is said “Noah, a man of the soil, was first to plant a vineyard” (Gen. 9:20). Noah, whose ark became the symbol of continuity of creation after the destructive flood, was the keeper of every species of bird and animal. He also became the keeper of soil as seen, and he can be seen as an Ecological ideal with whom God makes a covenant, promising the sustenance of life and creation. This celebration of soil and life lead to the fruition of vision of the creative purpose of God and the furtherance of life.

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Community Centre



To Shitole Sir, With Love

Teacher’s day has passed into oblivion only to rear its head next year on September 5th. But I do not choose a Teacher’s Day to realize what my teachers have been to me. From Kindergarten to 10th I had the privilege of studying in St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School, Khadki, Pune. The army of students in light blue shirt and dark blue shorts from 1st – 7th standard and white shirt and white pants for standard 8th – 10th, all standing in “Attention mode”(Saavdhaan), evokes nostalgia. The choir comprising of students always provoked envy as I never made it there, the pledge “India is my country, all Indians are my brothers and sisters (except one)….” were all said with rapid haste with “except one” said with more clarity than any other words. “Jana Gana Mana” sung with precision and vigour. The shouting reached a crescendo when we all declared “Jaya Hai Jaya Hai Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hai” Vishram(Stand at ease). I thought the Vishram is also part of the national anthem and was always disappointed why it was omitted when it was played on Doordarshan. The most memorable part of school life was the short and long breaks. The most melodious music was the bell that announced that the break is here. I remember I used to finish my dabba in the short recess so that in the long one we could play with abandon. I hardly remember eating my own tiffin. I had a Goan friend Craig D’Souza who loved Mallu food and I loved every other food than what I got. So exchange of dabbas was in vogue and my hands were in almost all the dabbas possible. The cardboard cricket, the football, the races with friends, hide and seek, dog and the bone and what not was the flavor of the long breaks. Our school was known for hockey and I tried that for a year until I lost my hockey stick. Next I tried table tennis and found some solace in my otherwise very dim record in sports. I was like the ‘kacha limbu’ (I am sorry I can’t translate that). All these memories have been lingering from many days and the flood of it will make it impossible to ever do justice to pay my tribute to a very special man.

My School was truly gifted with eminent teachers who were dedicated, creative, committed and some; one must acknowledge were very average and highly forgettable. Every teacher I have come across is worth writing about but one always has to choose. Shitole sir as we popularly called him was a maverick teacher who loved to entertain his students while he taught. His razor sharp sense of humor is what made him a legend among the students. The 5 feet 4 inch man who was heavily built with pot belly, evoked laughter no matter what he said. Even his serious face gave us ruptures of chuckles. He officially taught us Hindi and Marathi, but he was remembered for whole lot of other things. He rode a Chetak Bajaj scooter that was brown in colour and his erect posture and serious composure on it betrayed the real him. Even before he started teaching, his teaching methods and style was folklore and part of school legend. First time he entered the class in 9th standard, he marched into the class like a soldier. We erupted with laughter only to be rudely shocked by his howl “Shut up. All stand up”. I was scared we had it today. “Sit down”. We complied with relief. “STAND UP” (with stern intonation), “sit down”. And he caught some of us doing his exercise of initiation into his class very clumsily. “What reKharbuda, you are mathara.” (It is tough to translate Kharbuda which means rough, are you old is the other word in italics). I still remember the graphic spectacle he created on our minds, coming like a storm, and retreating like a thunder, stamping his boots with all his might as he walked away. In the next class because of my loud laughter he noticed me. He asked me a question to frame a sentence. My sense of grammar in Hindi is and was pathetic. I mixed the gender in my statement to the utter shock of my teacher. He roared “ enna da mallya da, stri ling puling , confusion da”(he mocked as I was a malayallee and confused my genders and interchanged it.) He came to beat me holding my collar and said “I Love you but the circumstances…” but then refrained from hitting, leaving me with a warning. That was a narrow escape. He used to call students to write on the black board and with my terrible handwriting he captioned it “maggi noodles”. He used to get annoyed when students forgot to put the line on top of the hindi alphabets encompassing a word. When a student who was besieged for the honours at the board forgot to put the line on top, there came the roar “ Tera Baap takla hai kya re?” (is your father bald as he equated the line not on the alphabets to being bald”, to this the student replied “Ha sir aapko kaisa maalum” (yes sir, how do you know that) to the utter entertainment of the class that refused to stop laughing. He used to have jingles to entertain us. In his question answer sessions when a student rigged with grammar he used to start the jingle in Marathi “Yevda Mottha Ghodda Zaala” ( he has become such a huge horse) and we used to complete it “ Vyakaran Tyaala Yet naahi” ( grammar he does not know). This jingle was our favorite and we used it in out of context several times.

Sir used to make us read our text books loudly and expected us to be involved in the character of the lessons when we read it. most of us did a very dull job at it that evoked his response “Ye Kaadi petti,( you matchstick) hungry kya, Zor se pad (read loudly).” With all his humor, sir while he taught was the most serious man and got involved in the characters of the story. I remember distinctly when he taught a Marathi lesson “ Maaze Kasht Vaaya Zaanar Naahi” (my struggles will not go in vain). It was the story of the mother of a sanyaasi and the struggle she went through to give a good tomorrow to her children. The lesson evoked pain and hope. In middle of the lesson, our sir who read it seemed to have fallen silent. I looked up to see tears flowing from his eyes. We as a class were overwhelmed. We had never seen this part of him. He struggled and read but he broke down only to regain his composure. That memory never leaves me. That lesson of passion of teaching instructs and guides. Like his teaching his evaluation of our answer sheet was unique. It was full of graffiti and dialogues. We used blue ink but he overshadowed the answer sheet with his red ink. The columns were filled with “De Dheel” ( keep faffing), “Malaa Shikavto” (are you teaching me?) and he drew a bed where the student left unwarranted space between two words asking “so ja bed pe” (sleep on that bed). I was part of the luminaries who happened to fail in his subject. So he decided to honour us. “Take the Olympics and go to every class and say ‘I won the Olympics’”. If you are wondering what is Olympics, well it is only the dustbin. The fun of his punishments was that we laughed more than any other. 11 of us went from class to class displaying with pride our newly achieved Olympic trophy. He gave all unique names that we cherished and never found it derogatory. Students with dark complexion were given the title “President of Ghana”. With my superior constitution and great build, he used to call me “refugee from Somalia.” He used to take our books for essay and try to distribute it with distorting our names. Rinoy Samuel became “Reena Shimla”, Merin Mathew became “Meera Maruti” and the laughter went on and on and on.

As a student, the personal life or history of Shitole sir was not my concern. Most of us do not even know his first name. But as a teacher he deflated our egos and taught us to laugh at ourselves and not to take ourselves too seriously. His placid face after cracking a stupendous joke, his horror at our stupidity, his ever rewarding smile if he was ever pleased with what we did remains today as a memory. His passion for Drama and script writing always took him to another realm. His jokes at times were crass, his mannerisms eccentric but his influence and aura transcended all these. As students we were shocked to read about his death in the newspaper. With some sadness, some of us again relived the man, his jokes, his passion, his love. We laughed even at such a sad moment. That I feel is the message of his life. A brand of humor that transcended and defeated the finality of death. The name of Shitole Sir does bring tears knowing that such a man is no more but it is simultaneous with smiles and roars of laughter. As Students, We will always laugh at ourselves, thanks to you. You will always be special to us and your presence will be missed.

P.S. Students of Sir, please add on to the anecdotes and memories you have about this man.

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Community Centre