Fathers’ Day Story

The Right Question

Once upon a time, very long ago, in the land of South India, there was a father and son. Victor and Vicky were their names.

Victor, the father, wanted to teach Vicky how to be a very wise person. So for demonstration they go on a walk. Soon they came across Nanu walking his fat milk cow.

This is not a familiar site now at all – a man walking a cow on the streets! Well, it used to be in olden days, even as recently as 20 – 30 years ago.

Victor made a gesture to Nanu to stop… like this… and Nanu stopped, and he stopped the cow.

“Hey, Nanu, I am going to ask you some questions to teach my son how to learn by asking questions. Is that okay with you?”

“Sure, go on.”

“Tell me, ‘What is your cow’s name?'”


“Okay, do you milk the cow?”

“Yes, I do.”

“And how many liters of milk do you get every day?”

“10 liters.”

“Very good, thank you, Nanu. Have a good day.”

“Good day!”

Victor then asked his son Vicky, “Vicky, did you observe how well I asked questions and learned? This is how you have to learn from observations and questions.

In those very old days, the land was ruled by kings. Kings had all the wealth and they  bossed over all the people of the land. Nobody would dare to question the king and his family. Everyone was afraid of the king and his family because if anyone displeased them, they would be punished.

In those days there were no automobiles. The kings and their families moved around in horses, horse drawn carriages or in palanquins. Palanquins are chairs carried by men, so they don’t have to walk like common people! If you go to the Trichur zoo, for example, you can see a few of these old palanquins on display even today. And of, course, you can see pictures on line.


So here comes  a princess riding in her palanquin. One man walks in front, shouting. He wants to get everyone out of the way. Then there are the palanquin carriers. And finally there is another man at the rear.  The men also carry swords to protect the princess from any attackers. These were very old days!

The father, Victor, and his young son, Vicky, are walking in the opposite direction.

“Hey, stop,” the father shouts to the palanquin carriers. They stop.

Now Victor gestures to Vicky to go on and learn something by asking appropriate and polite questions.

Vicky is very excited. He says to them, “Hey! I want to know how many liters of milk you make out of the Princess?”

Now, everyone knows this is a very bad question to ask. Victor pulled Vicky, and they both started running away because the palanquin bearers already drew their swords.

Asking appropriate and polite questions is a skill.

Here is a famous quote.

“I keep six honest serving men (they taught me all i knew); Theirs names are What and Why and When And How And Where and Who.”

Rudyard Kipling


My grandfather told me this story when I was very young. I am sure all of you would have heard this story or similar stories of wisdom. If only I had learned to ask the right questions!

Here is dedicating the story to the young readers on this Fathers’ Day.



Bleeding Cross of St. Thomas at Chennai- Origin of Mar Thoma Sleeba

Near Guindy, Chennai, South India, is the hilltop church famously known after St. Thomas, but actually dedicated to Holy Mary. The hillock itself is named after St.Thomas and the nearby railway station is called St.Thomas Mount Railway Station.

st.thomas mount rly.stn.st.thomas church

Legend has it that St. Thomas used to live here and was martyred in AD 72 while praying here and clutching the cross depicted below. The church itself was founded by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. The Tamil language name on the sign post reads ‘Parangi Malai’ which is a translation of ‘Portuguese Hill’, attesting to the Portuguese connection. The Tamil language sign on the church facade reads ‘Mariye Vazhka’ or ‘Hail Mary!’

A special stone cross was found during the excavation for the church, which is preserved in this church to this day. The cross is said to have bled publicly from the year 1558 to 1704 on occasions. The ancient inscription seen here is said to translate as  “Through the Cross, the Messiah brought salvation to the world”. The design of this bleeding cross is the symbol of St. Thomas Christians, otherwise called as Mar Thoma Sleeba.


A Government of India postage stamp was released in 1972 to commemorate the martyrdom of St. Thomas and it is shown in the picture here.


Here is another artifact, an ancient oil painting of Madonna with baby Jesus, believed to have been painted by St. Luke and brought here by St.Thomas himself.


A relic of a piece of bone, said to be of St.Thomas, is on display in a monstrance on the wall in the church.


Many miracles have been reported to have occurred with the efficacy of the cross, the painting and the relic.

The church was dedicated to ‘Our Lady of Expectation’ in 1523. The Church is Roman Catholic. In 2011, the then Pope Benedict XVI declared it as a National Shrine. The website of the church contains lots of other information that you may look up by clicking this link.

You may read more details about the mount and the folklore in this New World Encyclopedia article.

And lastly, this is the author’s view. I read that the scientific dating of the cross has placed its engraving around the 7th century. Hence much of the folklore may be just that – folklore.

On a personal note, this was my favorite picnic spot in Chennai during the days I was a student at the Indian Institute of Technology many years ago. I could go all the way up the hill on my motorbike, although I have trodden the seemingly endless flight of stairs many times for fun. It used to be a calm and serene place overlooking the big city of Chennai.

The symbol of Syrian Christians and how the Kaviyoor Sleeba Church was named

Here is a Syriac- Malayalam-English statement. “Mar Thoma Sleeha brought Mar Thoma Sleeba.”

Here is what Mar Thoma purportedly brought –  small stone cross of the design in the pictures below.  Probably he also brought a small picture of Holy Mary and a copy of the bible. The picture is an actual photograph of the bleeding cross at St.Thomas Mount, which is an interesting topic and the subject of another post. 


If the reader is new to Syriac and Malayalam, here is a short primer, a Syriac-Malayalam 101, if you will. Granted, it is going to be hard, but it won’t kill you, and I will keep it real short. Here you go!

Mar = Sir/ Lord

Thoma = Thomas

Sleeha = Apostle

Sleeba = Cross

So the statement actually means, ‘St. Thomas the apostle, brought St.Thomas Cross.”

I grew up speaking these words and other similar words of Syriac with effortless ease just like the mother tongue. I have even heard that St. Thomas brought a small cross of this design, a picture of Holy Mary and a bible with him! However, I personally think those are only myths. Almost the entire New Testament was written after Thomas’s landing on the shores of Kerala, if the landing was indeed in AD 52, Only the first Pauline epistle to Thessalonians predate AD 52! So if at all St.Thomas did bring any part of bible, it must have been the Jewish books.

The best explanation for the St. Thomas Cross and the legacy of St. Thomas is found in this Wikipedia article. Here is the relevant excerpt from  the article.

Saint Thomas Cross

In the 16th-century work Jornada, Antonio Gouvea writes of ornate crosses known as Saint Thomas Crosses. It is also known as Nasrani Menorah or Mar Thoma Sliba. These crosses date from the 6th century and are found in a number of churches in Kerala, Mylapore and Goa. Jornada is the oldest known written document to refer to this type of cross as a St. Thomas Cross. Gouvea also writes about the veneration of the Cross at Cranganore, referring to the cross as “Cross of Christians”. It is widely perceived as the symbol of Saint Thomas Christians. There are several interpretations of the Nasrani symbol. The interpretation based on Christian Jewish tradition assumes that its design was based on Jewish menorah, an ancient symbol of the Hebrews, which consists of seven branched lamp stand (candelabra). The interpretation based on local culture states that the Cross without the figure of Jesus and with flowery arms symbolizing “joyfulness” points to the resurrection theology of St. Paul; the Holy Spirit on the top represents the role of Holy Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The lotus symbolizing Buddhism and the Cross over it shows that Christianity was established in the land of Buddha. The 3 steps indicate Calvary and the rivulets, channels of grace flowing from the Cross.

The fact of the matter is that the following picture is the symbol of St. Thomas Christians today. It can be found in every ancient and modern St.Thomas Christian church, if not as an exact copy, at least with the important features of the floral arms and no effigy. The Kaviyoor Sleeba Church, the church of the family members from inception, is one of the very few churches that  are named after the symbol itself. 640px-Mar_Thoma_Sliva

Kaviyoor Sleeba church uses the spelling ‘Sleeba’ and that is how I used to spell it. There are alternate versions of spelling such as Sliva and Sliba, all meaning the same. However, I personally prefer the long voiced version ‘Sleeba’ for two reasons. One, ‘v’ is not pronounced in the mainstream Middle Eastern languages, so that could not have been the Syriac original, and second, the way the word is spoken by native Syrian Christians like me is with a long vowel, not the short one. It is a wonderful artistic amalgamation of Jewish, Christian and Budhist symbolism and whoever first created it deserves the praises. The artist is unknown, although there are some inscriptions that read the names of Afras and Shapper as the stone cutters, and the city of Nineveh (place in Iraq) is referenced. If the reader likes to know the nine places where the exact copy of the symbol can be found and the scholarly interpretations of the inscriptions, click this link. One of the interpretations is very apt.

Galatians 6:14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Other References: http://marggam.blogspot.ca/2009/12/mar-thoma-sliba.html#comment-form http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suriyani_Malayalam http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Thomas_Christian_crosses http://www.nasrani.net/2007/01/16/ancient-stone-crosses-of-kerala-saint-thomas-cross-nazraney-sthambams-persian-crosses/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Thomas_Christian_churches http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mary%27s_Orthodox_Church,_Kallooppara http://www.kalloopparapally.com/history.php

Ettumanoor axe (1918) and the blacksmith of Vallamkulam (1970)

Let us start with courtesy of Blacksmith Narayanankutty of Ettumanoor. I googled ‘Ettumanoor blacksmiths’ and this is the video I found. Those who don’t know about the dying art of black smithy in rural Kerala villages may take a look at this one. It doesn’t explain everything, but tells something about a bygone era thanks to Narayanankutty.

Now here is the story.

As a recap and for the information of those first-time visitors to these blogs, my grand-dad was a school teacher in Kaduthurtuthy Government School from 1918 for a number of years. His occasional travels to his native village of Vallamkulam were veritable travails in terms of difficulties. One of the bus halts was at Ettumanoor, where one time a blacksmith entered the bus and sold him an axe for 4 ‘annas‘ (‘nalana’ in Malayalam = quarter of an Indian rupee, less than one US cent today). I have seen it and #547 below is how it was looking. He bought it without the handle, though! An anonymous blacksmiths of Ettumanoor made it. I think Narayanankutty of the Youtube may be a descendant because black-smithy used to be a family vocation those days.


What about the blacksmith of Vallamkulam? Well, there was one very near the Chathoth home, and he was a student of my grand-dad too.

Those of my readers who think of Narayanankutty as vestige of the bygone era should also consider the fact that in ancient Israel 3000 years ago, blacksmithy was a sought-after elitist, regulated trade!

1 Samuel 13:19-23English Standard Version (ESV)

19 Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.”20 But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, 21 and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads.

Remembering Caps

Year – 2006

Venue – Mathaichen’s (Levi in the ‘family tree simplified’ chart) house in Bangalore

Occasion – on the sidelines of the burial of his wife Kunjamma

Time – a few days before Mathaichen’s demise

His age – 91

His only sister Baby, aged 85 years, lives in Thiruvalla, Kerala.

His nephew Alex is at the venue. He calls Alex aside and says, “Did you see Baby? How is she? Next visit to Thiruvalla go and meet her”

At cemetery his last words to Alex, “After reaching Ernakulam , please send letter to me or call Reji and inform.”

C.I.Mathew passed away after 3 days on 24/08/2006. He didn’t have a chance to hear from Alex this time.

And his sister Baby passed away five years later in 2011.

Rewind to year 1988.


Mathaichen’s eldest brother Kunjoonju (C.I. Chandy) is in Aswathy hospital in Trichur on treatment for stroke. Mathaichen took the long break from his Bangalore home and stayed in Trichur to look up his brother every day, all day. Those days the daily trips to the hospital would be on the above Lambretta scooter. He was the pillion rider behind me.

I was watching both Mathaichen and Kunjoonju closely when Mathaichen approached Kunjoonju in his bed. Kunjoonju had been down with stroke and couldn’t speak very well, much less move his body. But suddenly Kunjoonju’s face changed, tears started to run down his face, extending his shaking hand he muttered with a huge effort, “Mathaiii….”

Both of them wept.

Rewind again to the year 1971.

Kunjoonju (Chandy) is a retired, but quite an able man living in the old Chathoth house in Vallamkulam. Suddenly the untimely death of his sibling Kochunju (C.I. Abraham) happens in Bangalore. There was no telephone those days in the neighbourhood. The good old telegram arrived in the neighbor’s house because they feared for the life of Kunjoonju!

Alex tells me, “This kind of affection between brothers and sister, we can see in Chathoth family only.”

Well, shall I expand the above love to all families? Let it be so everywhere. That would be super awesome.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalms 133:1 KJV)

May the souls rest in peace.

C I Mathew


DB : 29-10-1915

DD : 24 -08-2006

Annamma Mathew




DB : 02-04-1917

DD : 19-08-2006


Tree house student in the forest saved us from tigers

tree homeThis house saved us!

tigerFrom this one!”

It IS ONE SUMMER NIGHT IN 1940 AND THE LOCATION IS THE FOREST NEAR PALLIVASAL, MOONNAR. The tropical forest is thick and full of dangerous animals. There is no one inhabiting the place anywhere in eye sight. There is a mud track that takes traffic passing through the middle of the forest. A tourist bus comes slowly up the hill through the forest and at one point just stops. All the lights are gone and the engine is dead. Any attempt by the driver to start the bus fails. All the passengers in the bus are now in pitch darkness in the middle of the forest. There is no way to spend the night in the bus as the area is not safe to sleep unprotected in the open.

The passengers start to walk away in panic, aided only by the glimmer of light from the stars. Ruben, a school teacher, spots a light in the distance on a tree top. He walks fast and beats everyone to it and shouts at the top of his voice. A man opens the door of his tree house and peers out.

And then something amazing happened. The man from the tree top lowered the ladder and ran down to Ruben in a hurry.

“Sir, why are you here in the middle of the night? It is dangerous to walk alone in the forest at night. Come stay with us for the night.”

He was one of Ruben’s umpteen students. Ruben remarked to me years and years later that being a teacher has its good moments despite the poor pay, and this was a life-saving one indeed!

Ruben was on his way to visit his brother working in Pallivasal Power Project  inaugurated that year (1940).It was the very first power project in Kerala, meaning that entire Kerala had depended on lamps before that time!

Can you believe this story? Well, you probably cannot, but it is every bit true! Do you know who the two brothers were? My grand dad, C.I. Chandy was the teacher and his brother in Pallivasal was C.I. Abraham.

It was the period of reign of the last King of Tranvancore, Sri Chitra Balaramavarma and his prime minister, called Diwan, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer. C.P. is credited with the success of the Pallivasal project which was otherwise beset with legal troubles.

Family tree simplified – Abrahamic Comparison

In this age and time, we don’t go by Abrahamic (males only) organization of family tree, we go by all the men and women. I get it, but this is easy to remember and fun, so let us do it.  I hope you guys like this post. Let me know, okay?

It is interesting to compare Chathoth family with the biblical Abraham’s new family. It is interesting that
the first three patriarchs are the first three generations, Abraham himself, Isaac and Jacob. Same with Chathoth, Kochandychen -1 started the journey from Konkara and his next two generations are Kochandychen -2 and Icca, both Kochandychen -2 and Icca were their parent’s only sons, so we have three patriarchs – Kochandychen – 1 , Kochandychen – 2  and Icca. Really interesting stuff!

Biblically Jacob, later called Israel, fathered the twelve tribes of Israel. However, Icca Chathoth, the Jacob or Israel of Chathoth family, fathered only five tribes of Chathoth, not twelve. Here is where the comparison ends. We have parallels for Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah and Dan in Chandy, Abraham, Mathew, Thomas and George!

If you spotted your name in the chart above, post the word ‘whoa’ in the comments section.