Saturday, 26 October 2013


Prof Vera Augustus worked with me for 6 years in CReNIEO and Gurukul in Chennai. We worked together  framing the syllabus for the Woman's Studies Department in Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Center. It was indeed a wonderful learning experience for me - a young faculty, with such a senior, erudite and well accomplished  professor. I treasure the opportunity given to me by God above. No class room learning, no degree per se could ever substitute the selfless teaching mechanism Prof Vera Augustus had in her ways of working and dealing with young faculty members like me. When she passed away on the 15th of August 1999, I realized that i had lost a good friend and teacher. Not to this day have I met any other person ( other than my dear parents and a few others like some of my teachers and Dr. Adella Paul) who has gone the extra mile to teach another, to impart knowledge and share all expertise. The world of Academics, sad to say is a wicked, hypocritical and selfish world. However few gems such as Prof. Vera Augustus shine forth. May her soul ever rest in peace! People may wonder why i am writing this 14 years after she expired - well it is for two reasons 1. I found the script of my talk during the thanks giving service 2. i have yet to meet such a sincere person to work with in academics where i find a whole lot of charlatans and lip service givers!!!

On the 21st of August 1999 GLTC conducted a thanksgiving service to commemorate the  work and life of prof. They asked me to speak during this service. Following is what i spoke:

I first met Prof. Vera Augustus in the late 1980s in Women's Christian College, Chennai when she was introduced to me by my sister's (Dr. Beulah Rajkumar) colleague ( Ms. Anna Abraham) of Lady Doak College, Madurai. I had then gone to Prof Augustus to get some details regarding the status of women, for my Ph.D. program. However, since her subject was History and mine is Economics, she felt she could not fully assist me, and hence sent me to another professor who is an economist.I was a total stranger to Prof. Vera Augustus, yet she went all out to help me.Later on when I came down south to Chennai from Lucknow and joined as faculty in CReNIEO and Gurukul, I met her again - this time she was my colleague in the Department of Women's Studies and soon she became my very good friend! This started my 6 year long association with Prof. Vera Augustus- An experience and friendship I will value for life!

An erudite individual she had so much of knowledge one could just not imagine. She was then my Google search -- you ask her anything ans she knew it - I did not even have to click a button. Not only this but immediately or just the next day she would get you all the references/books/clippings and discussions related to the topic in question! You name a doubt - she had an answer or a very relevant comment.There were very few authors she had not read, and by my association with her i got to know of so many more authors that I  had not read. I used to play a kind of game with her and ask her have you read this or that? nearly always her answer was yes, and if at all she had not read the book, she would pester me to get her that book and read it within a day, and then return it to me with her critique! This game of mine often humbled me as I realized how much I did not know. A Ph.D. degree does not definitely guarantee you with this kind of knowledge, it is no criteria at all. In fact Prof. Vera Augustus was an MA in History - not a Ph.D. holder! I am truly indebted to her as i have learnt such a lot from her, especially in the field of Women's Studies - A Champion of Women's Concerns she was attached to many NGOs in the city of Chennai.She always campaigned that Women's studies should be action oriented, besides having a rigorous theoretical component attached.

Ma'am was a walking encyclopedia - any clarification that was needed we would be drawn to her like a magnet. She was also the news paper for many individuals in college. If one had not had the time to scan the paper in the morning, a brief encounter with her would be enough. 

She was always ready to help yet she was never bossy. She knew so much had such a storehouse of information in her computerized brain, yet she was extremely humble. She had the wonderful ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people. She never ever projected herself, even though she was fully equipped to do so. 

She was also a special friend to my little daughter - she had so many baby books for her to read -- her name in my daughter's baby vocabulary was 'Gurukul Grandma'. 

An extremely conscientious person, she would never leave anything undone.However tired or sick she was she would always insist that we sit and finish what we had begun. Even as she became weaker she fought all ailments and worked relentlessly.
An extremely meticulous person with a fantastic memory she was good at any thing she laid her hands upon. From writing poetry and setting it to music to Origami, from knowledge about plants and the environment to politics and sports, from philosophies and realities - she knew it all. So versatile was she, that very often we at Gurukul were awe struck. Her vast interests, experience, capabilities and above all the desire to share it all, drew her into many committees and she willingly helped. So interested was she in her world of academics that she tended to neglect her health. Even when so many times I advised her to look after her health she kept telling me she was all right. Since my mother is a cancer patient I even told her 'Ma'am I think you have cancer' and she laughed and said "I like the way you are so straight forward" Even when she decided to got to Mangalore for the symposium with all of us towards the end of July 1999, he rill health did not seem to bother her. A number of times she told me that her trip to Mangalore had done her so much of good. Whether it did good to her or no, it surely did us a lot of good as we enjoyed her response to the papers presented there.

After her return from Mangalore when she took so ill that she would only cough and cough, she told me that all along I was right and that she did have a lump in her breast, for a very long time. She just could not eat and so I rushed out of the little staff room we shared in Gurukul, and got her a cup of soup to have, which she enjoyed. She then took me to her room on campus and gave me two books from British Council Library and requested me to return the same. Even in such distress she highlighted to me another of her treasured quality - Absolute Honesty. I took the books and that evening I returned them. Even when she left college on the 4th of August after her health condition was diagnosed, she did not tell me any thing about her health but gave me an outline that she had drawn up for the foreign students who would be coming to Gurukul, and requested me to hand it over to the Rev. Mani Chacko. Till the end she laboured and shamed many of us all along!

When she was admitted in hospital and I went to see her, she held my hand  and told me -- "Crystal it is Cancer -- you were clearly right all along" and then she asked me if I returned the books and I told her - 'yes' - she just smiled and said 'bye' - that was the last I heard her say for on the 15th I got the news that with the first Chemo she suffered a heart attack and went to be with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Speaking on behalf of Gurukul, I can only say that we will miss her tremendously. It has been said that no one is indispensable - but I do have a feeling that the gap ma'am leaves behind will not be ever sufficiently filled!