My memoir tells A Christmas story

Light of truth

Valson Thampu

“Over a world broken up into fragments nature laments” wrote Nietzsche in Birth of Tragedy, “for this dismemberment is the very root of our sorrows.” Nietzsche was an atheist; but many of his insights were spiritual. The words I quote here hold one such. The disruption of the primal unity of creation is the seed of suffering. All relationships are instinct with the longing of parts “to be with other parts” and of all parts “to be one with the whole.”

Human projects are infected with the desire to fragment. Man can exercise control only over fragments. He can appropriate and misuse only fragments. He has no authority or right over the whole. Even in respect of eating a chapati, he has to break it into pieces. Even the broken pieces have to be further masticated into smaller and smaller pieces. His digestive organs continue the progress of breaking down the smaller parts into still smaller bits, till food becomes excreta. Nature accepts this insult and turns muck, yet again, into food, as a silent witness of God’s righteousness.

Predatoriness creeps beneath the skin of prestige. All of man’s achievements stand on the foundation necessarily hidden of violence and hypocrisy. The most universal of all epidemics the one for which no man can devise any inoculation or remedy is human nature as it has come to be. God is physician primarily in relation to human nature. The health sciences for healing human nature is the most radical of all sciences. And the inauguration of that lore is the “tidings of great joy for all humankind” that the Christmas event announces.

The reader might wonder what this has to do with my memoir, On a Stormy Course. Well, it is simple. My book is the story of a Christmas event, with St Stephen’s as the setting. Let me tell you how and why.

But I need to ask two questions first. Why was Jesus born in a cattle-shed? Second, why did He come to preach the good news to the poor?

We corrupt our faith with sentimentality. Sentimentality is a blinker. It helps us to ward off the approach of radical realities. So, a crib becomes a must for Christmas. But it does not matter to us that this birth in a cattle-shed is a creative protest the birth of a revolution. Cattle-sheds are far superior as birthplaces of revolutions than palaces. Revolution is the birth-pang of the new.

We think of preaching the good news to the poor as charity! What an insult! It is the Mother of all revolutions. It upsets the apple carts of man-made structures and systems. I had a vague intuition of this in 2007 when I assumed office as the 12th principal of St Stephen’s College.

There’s this other thing I knew. The poor alone will be your friends. The rich will oppress you and suck your blood to the last drop. Am I overstating the case? Ask yourself: how did the rich become so rich? By the sweat of their brows? Or by the sweat of everyone else’s brows? How come centuries of accumulated suffering does not open our eyes to the truth? Everyone who serves the rich and the elite becomes a slave. Those who serve the poor or work as witnesses to the righteousness of God become free. They grow in stature, self-respect and personal dignity; for they are children of God.

To me this is the heart of the Christmas story the story in which you are re-born as a new creation! My book is a personal testimony to this most scintillating truth.

I decided to bring Christmas into St Stephen’s College. Not that I was unaware of the massacre of the innocents, which expresses the political overtones of the Christmas event in its chilling brutality. It is the reaction of the ruling elite to social justice! When I revealed my plan to open the gates of St Stephen’s till then the bastion of social elitism and State power war was declared on me. I was told by an incensed army of media reporters, “You will not sit in the chair for three days.” That was on the 12th of January 2007.

I replied, “How does it matter, how long I sit here. But if I sit here for three minutes, the college will change.”

So, there it is my friends. Christmas, for me, is an invitation to change the very foundation of our life and personality. It calls us to move out of our set patterns and stereotypes that keep us slaves and midgets.

I have said this before; but it bears repetition. It is with much sadness that I think of what we have done in the name of Christian education. We have armed and equipped a whole crowd of smart predators who now keep their knives at our throats. Yes, of course, we have educated the poor and the marginalized too. But we educated them to be on the fringes of elite privileges. We enabled them to walk into the mainstream of an oppressive system, without challenging them to be change-agents. We never saw education as a means for human regeneration and social transformation. That is because we thought Christian education was a gentler version of elite education. No, Christian education is a counter-model of education. It is the pedagogy of the oppressed as Paulo Freire said in the 70s of the last century.

My memoir chronicles the tremors that my attempt to “Christianize” education caused in St Stephen’s. For nearly nine years, the attention of the country was riveted to the happenings on the campus. If you ask me what’s the greatest recognition I ever received, I would quote what A.K. Antony told me: “You are the most hated man in the corridors of power.” To me, this is far greater than becoming Bharat Ratna.

Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come to die.” I missed that mark; and survived to tell the tale, through which truth, killed and buried, resurrects. Through nine years of unrelenting oppression, I was broken in body and reduced into a bundle of chronic pains and physical disabilities. But I brim with joy and feast on a banquet of memories.

Behold! I bring you tidings of great joy!

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