St. Thomas As A Tourist Product – Ishwar Sharan

T.T. Krishnamachari was a Sunlight soap salesman who made a lot of money from the British Raj. After independence he joined the Congress Party and somehow managed to become Nehru’s finance minister. He is a success story in Madras and has a road named after him in Teynampet―TTK Salai. His sons now preside over a business empire that includes pharmaceuticals, health care, travel, textiles, pressure cookers, condoms, road maps and Catholic propaganda. It is the Catholic propaganda that concerns us here but we cannot ignore the presence of the condoms. Catholics are not supposed to wear condoms―at least they are not supposed to be seen wearing them―and we cannot imagine what the Archbishop of Madras and his patron apostle St. Thomas―who was ideologically against intercourse in the first place―think of their well-wisher and his disparate business interests. But to start our story at the beginning.

In the first edition of this book we made a reference to the 1985 edition of TTK’s A Map’s Guide Book to Madras. We had quoted a line from it regarding the fate of the original Kapaleeswara Temple―that it had been eroded by the sea―which was a piece of wrong information that had been subsequently quoted by Swami Jyotirmayananda in the Indian Express. We had also noted that, “This popular guidebook, like others of its kind, treats the legend of St. Thomas in Madras as accepted historical fact.”

Now because we had made this observation and because we believed that the TTK publisher was simply misinformed about the St. Thomas story―everybody was misinformed about it we had discovered―we had sent him a copy of our book on the St. Thomas myth when it was released in early 1991.

This was done as a courtesy and we had no reason to suspect that the TTK publisher had any interest in repeating the St. Thomas fable in his publications in an unqualified manner if he knew better. We were mistaken. Big business obviously had contingencies and a code of ethics that we could not anticipate or appreciate. And we did not know then that the talented and multi-faceted S. Muthiah, the man who would become editor of Madras Musings and editorial adviser to other Madras newspapers, was a director, consultant and copywriter at TT Maps and Publications Ltd., the TTK company that published the Madras guidebooks.

Muthiah is an informed and articulate local historian[1] and―as we have already noted―a motivated promoter of the St. Thomas tale, and we, unwittingly and in good faith, had given him yet another opportunity to publish abroad―or advise his principal to publish abroad―the great Portuguese lie. The 1993 edition of the TTK Road Guide to Madras is a masterpiece of disinformation. It has a large photograph of the San Thome Cathedral steeple and cross on its cover and a disingenuous commentary inside that presents the St. Thomas story straight across as Indian history, objectively and in detail. Obviously we had provoked this delinquent response from TT Maps and Publications Ltd. with our own St. Thomas book. The Kapaleeswara Temple entry, which had caught our attention in 1990, was now revised and gave the distinct impression that the temple had never been in any other place than it is today. This entry, like others, is a bundle of contradictions and appears to be a crude rewriting of S. Muthiah’s own published Mylapore-San Thome histories.[2]

Now as interesting as what is said in the TTK guidebook, is what is not said. This trend of omission had started with Nanditha Krishna’s St. Thomas article in The Hindu and was copied later in the Indian Express. The new purveyors of the St. Thomas myth, most of them Hindus, are always careful to leave out the Brahmin assassin who allegedly stabbed the saint in the back while he was at prayer. This attempt to accommodate a vicious communal tale directed against themselves and their forefathers by cutting out the offending parts, is sad indeed and it has given the Catholic believer the last laugh. He knows that there is no martyred saint without an assassin―and he could only be a Hindu priest in 72 AD.

We can only wonder at the ostrich-like posture of our Indian intellectuals, their heads stuck deep in the sand and feathered bottoms raised high in the air for everybody to see, and at their continued policy of self-abnegation and appeasement of an intolerant other side in order to keep the peace. We wonder indeed at their intellectual dishonesty. Big Church and big business are not going to change their unprincipled ways until Indian intellectuals themselves find the courage to tell the truth and continue to tell it even when first efforts appear to be counter-productive and overwhelmed by Roman Catholic and secular commercial interests.

1. Muthiah’s pro-Christian histories of Madras were recognised by the British in 2002 when he was made an honorary member of the Order of the British Empire, an award that was presented to him for “service by those who are not British citizens but who have pursued ideals which Britain values and shares”.

2. Our book has been the cause of a massive propaganda effort by Indian Christian writers and Indian secularists of all ideological hues to establish the St. Thomas fable as Indian history. The result is that all India travel books today describe the martyrdom of St. Thomas as a real event in first century Mylapore, and there are hundreds of internet websites that do the same. The irony for this writer is that these Indian writers use his research and books to get their details of the ancient fable, which they then distort and put into a false context or interpret mischievously to create their St. Thomas in India histories. But all is not lost: there is a great number of Indians and foreigners who have listened to our account of the historical crime being committed in the Indian media and have taken serious note of it.