Guru Dakshina


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 (Thamizh 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.  Ms Sheila Murphy, an Anglo-Indian lady, was among the first group of teachers to join the school at the time of inception.  Mr PT Cherian joined our school a year later in 1963.  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 Cadets’ Mess.  Thus Ms Sheila Murphy became Mrs Sheila Cherian.

Mrs Sheila Cherian is the first teacher anyone who joins Sainik School, Amaravathinagar encountered.  Most of us were from Malayalam or Thamizh 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 will carry it to our graves.  She taught us table manners, how to sit at a table, use of cutlery and crockery, how to spread butter and jam with the knife, how to drink soup, 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 will give 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.


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 Sheila 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 Sheila 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 Sheila Cherian on the extreme right.  Photo taken in 1969, courtesy  Mr Steve Rosson (in the middle), who taught at our school in 1969 as a Voluntary Service Overseas 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.

17 thoughts on “Guru Dakshina

  1. Reji yetta. Really I am in tears after reading this.

    I know how attached you were with Mr.Cherian and I was your next in command in Physics club (Along with Scientist.Srinivasan) and after you left for NDA, I was very close to Mr.Cherian. As we were talking the other day he was a legend, living example and what not. In the initial days without him Schol would not have enjoyed such a rapport from the public.

    When he was in Coimbatore in his last days I used to visit Cherian’s with my family once in a while. The last time I visited him he told me not to visit him any more, as he had put on a huge stomach filled with fluid because of liver cirrhosis. Within few days he passed away. I feel I have imbibed lot of his qualities.

    All of us would have disliked some of our teachers for some reason in our school days. But Mr.Cherian is an exception to that. I think no one would have disliked him for any reason

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  2. A tribute to Mr.Cherian and Mrs. Shiela Cherian indeed. I too have very fond memories of the two Gurus. Murphy madam taught me ABCD…… with such patience. Were we not blessed to have such fine teachers!

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  3. A wonderful tribute to a great couple. SC Ma’m was my english teacher for 3 years and PTC sir was my physics master for a year. Wish and pray my children have as good teachers and mentors that we were blessed with.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amazing…. This is the one word which come to my Mind right now .How come Man married a girl knowing that she cannot bear her a child ,next generation to their family lineage ..Inspired by their thought about Guru Dakshina which tear automatically coming out of my eyes. Such Noble minded People.

    Liked by 1 person

    By Commander M P Joseph, I N, (Retd)

    This is a tribute not just to a teacher, but to someone, who in his teaching career spanning nearly four decades in Sainik School, Amaravathinagar, Tamilnadu, had become an institution in himself. Many like me were entrusted to his hands at the tender age of nine, to be nourished, educated, bred and prepared for entry into that Cradle of Military Leadership, the National Defence Academy. Sainik Schools were conceived during the dawn of our nation with a view to marshalling the immense talent that lay untapped in the rural areas of our vast country, towards filling up the vacuum that resulted from the withdrawal of British Officers from the Indian Armed Forces, on gaining independence.

    When many an alumni of our school were commissioned as officers of the Indian Armed Forces, that vision became a reality. Many a teacher had his role in the fulfilment of this vision, but of all, Late Mr. Cherian stands out, as he had the greatest role in converting our school into an institution. He used to go to great lengths to metamorphose us, rustic lads into potential officers. He has always willing to reason out the hundreds of Why’s from us students, so that we grow up to be Officers and live up to the axiom “Our’s Not to Reason Why, Our’s But to Do and Die” if and when called upon to do so in the Defence of our Nation.

    He was the head of the Physics Department; in addition, he was also House Master of Pandya House, Officer-in-Charge NCC, and the Senior Master of the school. In athletics, even the best of the students could not humble him and in games he was instrumental in our school boys captaining the NDA Basketball team continuously for more than six years in the Seventies, a feat not accomplished by any other Sainik School. In Volleyball his loud & clear “I Shall” injecting into our young minds the need for clarity and accountability for our actions, reverberates in our minds even today.

    No cultural program or extra-curricular activity of the school was complete without his behind-the-stage direction and no sports or annual day went without his finishing touches. He operated the school movie theatre. Most of all, every event of the school was captured by his camera for posterity; in that one field alone he has immortalised himself through his vision.

    He symbolised the attitude of our school motto “CAN DO”, through his untiring commitment. Such was his omnipresence that I cannot but be anxious as to how the school will cope with the vacuum that he has left behind, after decades of service and dedication to the school and its students. He was a giant amongst men, a gem amongst teachers and most of all a father, philosopher and guide to us his foster sons. While many a teacher left our school for greener pastures, he stayed on as a beacon, so that our school could steer by the stars, rather than by passing ships. His placing of his students, above his self, has each one of us who has passed through his hands, identifying ourselves with him, rather than by any other identity, for; he was the Guru who epitomised all the great qualities and nobleness of a teacher.

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  6. I was very interested to read this post. I taught English at the school from 1969-70 as a volunteer from the UK and I lived in the same row of houses as Cherian, Sheela Murphy (as she then was) and Mrs Mercy Mathai and family. They were all so kind and helpful to me – a young man a long way from home. I remember them all so clearly. Anyone reading this who remembers me and would like to get in touch can contact me at steverosson@

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ..I was in tears reading this….written by Reji, an alumni of my old school, about Mr & Mrs. Cherian, our Physics and English teachers and more importantly true life guides…we are truly privileged and blessed to have been mentored by them…..K.T.

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  8. Ty for a great piece – I too was fortunate to know them both well – I attended the funeral of Mr cherian – there were a whole lot of us amaravians at the funeral service – mrs Cherian was her usual brave self – since then I have been keeping in touch with mrs cherian – we always make it a point to meet her when we are in Chennai – its been a year since we met her – we talk to each other on phone – she never misses to call us wish us and the family well – when ever i have had an opportunity I give her example of what it is to be a teacher – and why all of us think so well of her (at school she always maintained – Hariz , dont harass me – and once asked me to remove my shoe laces and tied my feet to the scrawny desk leg – since i had been constantly beating a rhythm on the desk leg)

    As of mr rosson , he taught us English – and the accolades were plenty when i posted your pic you sent on our 1974 batch group – it was our complete class A section with him on his farewell – in that pic you will notice a guy with glasses – thats shashi menon – son of our head master , then Lt Col MMR Menon – and guess what – in Nov last year I met him after School – he lives in Nairobi and was visiting India – and to carry the story forward, – In Nov i also met Mrs Menon at her place in Bangalore – got to meet her daughter Anjali who was born at Amaravathi nagar , and her hubby …..

    Its all the Amaravian karma – keep it alive friends – wishing all our dear friends and their families a wonderful 2016.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I can realise how close you were to the Cherians. They were not only good teachers but great role models. We may forget many people who come across in our life, but teachers like Cherians will remain in our heart and mind for ever. An emotionally touching narration..

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reji,
    You write so well!
    Got to read this nostalgic piece through a forward from our group.
    Mr Cherian was my Pandya House Master after Mr Koshy and his versatility made me admire him. He was the ‘go to’ man for any problem.
    Both Mr Cherian and Murphy Ma’am never got to teach my class but their presence was always felt, be it in the house, ground, mess, choir, on movie days when the projector failed, the English choir, the Madras party traveling to Madras, etc.
    The Cherians married after we left school, but we were witness to their romance, when every other Sunday, Ma’am will miss her bus to Udumelpet to attend the morning Mass and Mr Cherian would gallantly take off with her in
    his Lambretta scooter to chase down the bus!

    Liked by 1 person

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