THAT PEOPLE in India lack a sense of history is received wisdom. We are still not too sure of the age of Kalidasan or Ezhuthacchan. Neither do we know much of Alexander's India invasion from Indian sources.
Is this reason enough to believe that our predecessors missed the significance of their life and times? No, says George Menachery, a path-breaking researcher whose amateur interest in the history of Christians in India, particularly in Kerala, grew into a passion and set new standards of scholarship in the discipline.
He feels that it is because of a keen sense of history that our ancestors indulged in selective amnesia. They remembered and left to posterity only what they wanted to be remembered. The rest is (not) history. They now come in a baggage we call the `dark areas'.
Menachery had more interesting things to say and more cogent arguments to put forward on history as we sat across a table at St. Thomas Mount, Kakkanad, where he was instrumental in setting up a Christian museum.
Museums like the one at Kakkanad has been his prime weapon in an attempt to recreate the past as well as to keep alive the new generation's interest in its traditions.
So far, Menachery has had a free run setting up several museums across the State. The first was the Christian Cultural Museum in Thrissur in 1980. Later, he also set up a museum at Palayoor which has recently been expanded.
He had firmed up the idea of the museum as the carrier of a sense of history at the first World Malayalam Congress in 1977 in which he was in charge of the Christian stall at the Kanakakunnu palace premises. A. L. Basham was among the visitors who spent several hours at the stall, he recalls. Menachery is now busy giving the final touches to the third volume of `St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia', the first volume of which came out in 1973.
`Thomapaedia', as it has come to be called, was intended as a single volume on the history and culture of Christians in Kerala. As the work progressed, its scope was expanded as the materials available swelled. It would now be completed in four volumes with over 300 photographs.
He says that several doctoral theses have been written by students in various parts of the world relying mostly on Thomapaedia.
`The Nazranies', edited by him and the first volume of which is out is expected to run into three volumes. It will be a ready reckoner for any researcher.
More than three decades of research has brought him recognition and respect. It was none other than M. G. S. Narayanan who heaped praises on `Thomapaedia' when it was first published. Kerala History Congress has recently honoured Menachery with the Joseph Nedumkandam Award.
The scope of Menachery's historical research makes it impossible for us to cast him in any other role. That he retired as the head of the department of English at St. Thomas College, Thrissur, may be a quirk of a chance.
And, it is a measure of his success that even the church hierarchy which often seems a little too preoccupied with the present, fell to his ceaseless energy and keen mind as he endeavoured to provided a new perspective to research in church history. In the process, Menachery has carried the day and assured himself of a place in history.
The Editor Prof. George Menachery