On 16 Apr 1989, the day I married Marina, still lingers in my mind, as would be for any of us on this auspicious day. I decided to invite all those teachers who taught me Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathinagar (Tamil Nadu) for the wedding. I had requested Mr PT Cherian (PTC), my mentor, house master and physics teacher, to accept the Guru Dakshina (Offering to a Teacher), prior to leaving the home for marriage as per the Syrian Orthodox Christian custom. Mr Cherian accepted the request and I explained him the route to our home. Mr Cherian was married to Ms Shiela Cherian, who taught everyone English in their Grade 5, expressed inability to attend owing to her bad health.
Sainik Schools were the brain child of then Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon, established in 1962 each of the major States of India, manned by senior officers of the armed forces with the objective of turning boys into men who can take on the responsibilities of the armed forces. Mr PT Cherian and Ms Sheela Murphy, an Anglo-Indian lady, were the first teachers to join the school at the time of inception. After a few years, fell in love and got married, while we were in our eighth grade. On the evening of their wedding, we were treated to a never ever seen sumptuous dinner at the Students’ Mess. Thus Ms Sheela Murphy became Mrs Sheela Cherian.
Mrs Sheela Cherian is the first teacher anyone who joins Sainik School, Amaravathinagar would have encountered. Most of us were from Malayalam or Tamil medium schools having very little knowledge of English. The way she taught us English, especially how to write (her handwriting was exceptional), everyone of us would carry it to our graves. She taught us table manners, use of the cutlery and crockery, how to spread butter and jam with the knife, how to eat boiled egg and most importantly, how to eat with our mouth closed.
Mr PT Cherian was our House Master, Physics teacher, Photography Club in-charge, Basket ball and Volley ball coach, mentor, etc etc, all rolled into one. More than teaching physics, he dedicated all his time and energy to turn us into brave and confident young men. We could discuss anything and everything under the sun with him. He was behind every activity that happened in the school and was a great organiser. Standing six feet tall, he had an impressive personality that would give the run for the money to MGR and Sivaji Ganesan.
The marriage was scheduled for 4 PM and I was scheduled to leave home for the church by 3:30 PM. All the friends and relatives gathered at our home for the occasion. Mr AKR Varma – from the Cochin Royalty and our Arts teacher; Mr George Joseph – English teacher, then Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya, Neriamangalam; Kerala, Mr AD George –Botany teacher, Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya, Kottayam; and Mr KS Krishnan Kutty our crafts master, all were there at home to shower their blessings. There was no trace of Mr Cherian and we waited till 3:40 PM and then it was decided that Mr AKR Varma, being the senior most among our teachers present would accept the Guru Dakshina. The Dakshina is a betel nut and a rupee coin wrapped in a betel leaf. I handed over the Dakshina to Mr Varma, touched his feet, accepted his blessings and left for the church. Mr Cherian was standing at the entrance of the church to receive us.
A few months later, we were on vacation in Kerala and attended Mr Varma’s daughter Vanaja’s wedding. Mr Varma said that the Guru Dakshina came as a surprise to him and he was very much moved and that tears had rolled down his eyes, as it was the first time ever he had received such a gift. He said he was unaware of the tradition that the Syrian Christians followed, and it is an ideal Dakshina any Guru could ever ask for.
After five years of marriage, we went to Sainik School Amaravathinagar with our daughter, to attend the Old Boys Association (OBA) meeting. By then Cherians had retired and had settled in the farm they purchased, adjacent to the school. We decided to call on the Cherians in the evening and reached the farm house. The house had about 50 old students, some with their families already there. The Cherians, known for their love for their students, whom they adored as children, as God had been unkind to the couple and had forgotten to bless them with any kids. They were playing excellent hosts to each and everyone, including little children.
We paid our respects to the couple and I handed over a package containing a few bottles of whisky as Mr Cherian enjoyed his drinks in the evenings. Accepting the gift, very well knowing what the contents would be said “Is this the Guru Dakshina I missed in 1989?” I did not understand what he intended by that line. I brooded over it and got no clue. By about nine in the evening, most guests had left and my wife and daughter were closeted with Mrs Cherian with our daughter providing the entertainment with her songs. I was sitting with Mr Cherian enjoying a drink in the coconut grove and suddenly Mr Cherian said “Do you know why I did not come to your home to accept the Guru Dakshina? It is not that I did not love you or adore you, but because my marriage has not been complete as the God has not blessed us with any children and that was the reason why Sheela had declined to come for the marriage. Mr Varma being elder to me in age and having a complete family was the most suitable person to receive the Guru Dakshina”. I just could not speak and our eyes became wet. We both remained silent for the next five minutes and completed the drink.
Mr Cherian fetched another set of drinks and continued “I Married Sheela very well knowing that she would not bear any children for me, due to her gynecological condition. I wanted to set an example for my students by marrying the person I loved. I never wanted my students to tell me that I ditched their teacher”. Tears rolled down my cheeks….
Mr PT Cherian and Mrs Sheela Cherian on the extreme right. Photo taken in 1969, courtesy Mr Steve Robsson (in the middle), who taught at our school in 1969 as an exchange teacher from England. Extreme Left is Mrs Mercy Mathai – our Matron when we joined school in 1971 – with Late Mr Mathai. The children in the pic are Mathais – Robin and Reena.