Saturday Evening Post
Making of the Encyclopaedia
From the Horse’s own Mouth
Thus towards the tail end of September, 1970, I dialled the Cardinal House and sought an interview with His Eminence. Fortunately he remembered me and asked me to send an outline of the work I was planning. I had made no such concrete schema, so I hastily sat down to make one. I am happy to record that the outline I made then to post to His Eminence was exhaustive and comprehensive and that plan remained all along the blueprint for the Encyclopaedia. I do not know how I was able to incorporate all relevant points concerning the Church in India, especially the Kerala Churches, in that outline. Sometimes I have even thought that I, an ignorant and un-deserving person, was truly inspired by the Holy Ghost.
I posted the cyclostyled outline to His Eminence. And two days later I received a prompt reply from the Cardinal House, asking me to meet the Cardinal at 10 a. m. on the 15th of October. The librarians of my college were always friendly to me, and often overlooked library rules and regulations to lend me even rare reference books, and often they never bothered me to return books on time. I collected one volume each of the Brittanica, the World Book Encyclopaedia, &c. from the college library to show His Eminence and say that I wanted to make the Encyclopaedia of the same standard as these world famous reference works. To anyone this would have sounded preposterous in those days when there was for example no proper colour printing done at any printing house in the whole of Kerala. The books from India in those days were condemned by foreign reviewers and librarians for their defective proof-reading, shabby paper, bad printing, indifferent referencing, and dreadful binding. I had decided to bring out a work which would give no room for such criticisms. I proceeded to Ernakulam with my little brother Baby (E. J. James) who was on vacation from his Suratkal engineering college helping me to carry my precious burden.
We arrived at the Cardinal House i.e. the Archbishop’s House of Ernakulam, sufficiently early in the morning for the 10 a. m. interview. We were waiting in the visitors’ hall on the ground floor, expecting the Cardinal to come down the huge, right royal, stair case. Then we heard a sudden loud bell. Devassy the Cardinal’s “boy” and afterwards his trusted lifelong driver led us upstairs to the grand hall where the Cardinal was seated at the far end near the window on his royal chair behind a huge, lovely round table. We slowly walked to the end of the hall with our reference books and was motioned by His Eminence to take our seats. Decades later the cardinal’s secretary Fr. Jacob Ernat was to describe my visit to the cardinal carrying a whole library with me. His Eminence had studied my schema thoroughly and therefore I had pretty little to add. Of course we showed the reference books brought and explained that the Encyclopaedia would strive to adhere to the high standards of those works, in content as well as quality of production. After patiently listening to what I had to say he expressed his full satisfaction and expressed his confidence in me. He went on to give his own suggestions and instructions at large. It was suggested that I get into contact with three persons who could be of great help: Fr. Placid Podipara (who was in Rome), Dr. E. R. Hambye, and Fr. Dr. Mathias Mundadan then at Dharmaram, Bangalore. He was so enamoured of the project that our interview lasted more than an hour. At the end he mentioned that if any financial assistance were required he could arrange it from funding agencies. At that time I did not know what I was taking on. And I was ignorant of the existence of funding agencies in India and abroad. To create confidence I boasted that I had set aside the necessary amount for bringing out the work and that if at all I needed some little help at the end, according to my calculation then a shortage of just Rs. eighteen thousands, I shall approach His Eminence. I did not know what I was in for and the difficulties I had to undergo to meet the huge bills later on were really Herculean. At about 11.30 a. m. we descended the stairs after the interview. Two bishops were waiting impatiently at the bottom expecting to be summoned by His Eminence. This showed us the importance His Eminence was attaching to our encyclopaedia project. The first person who fully believed in my ability to bring out such a huge research based publication, almost single-handed, was His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Parecattil. And he kindly accepted my request to be the Patron of the work.
When I returned home straight away I wrote a letter to Fr. Placid in Rome requesting his permission to publish some of his articles in the Encyclopaedia. Within a fortnight his reply came giving me a “blank cheque” so to say in the matter, permitting me to reproduce any article by him published anywhere, without bothering to take any further permissions. This gave me great satisfaction as my first effort was so successful, and as they say a first success makes you go forward confidently and joyfully.
Hambye also responded positively and promised all his help and also consented to be a member of the Encyclopaedia’s Board of Editorial Consultants.
Fr. Mundadan did not send a reply to our letter, although I had mentioned that it was at His Eminence’s suggestion that I was contacting him. He must have felt that an amateur and dilettante like me without any solid background in theology and history or in publishing could convert my tall claims into reality. But more about how he drastically changed his views and why later. Indeed our claims for the Encyclopaedia were somewhat tall. Here are some sentences from a pre-publication brochure we printed. The quotations in bold italics are from reviews that appeared after the publication of the first volume.
“”The first Ecumenical effort of its kind in the world.” “The first Particular Country based Christian Encyclopaedia in the world.” “The first Individual Church oriented Encyclopaedia in the world.” “A Great Cultural Achievement of Indian Christianity.”
"It encompasses within a single work our present knowledge of every aspect of Indian Christianity... Its faith, liturgy, scripture....the culture, habits, trends it has given birth to, its contribution to art, architecture, language, literature, music, education.. to philosophy, social service, medical aid... every other feature of the great Christian Tradition in India... from the most distant past to the present day... from its hold on the far North to its heroic story in the far South... its origins and spread in the West and East of the subcontinent... and its successes and failures in taking the message to hitherto unapproachable areas especially under the changed Indian circumstances now obtaining. The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India is a reference work on India in general and on Indian Christianity in particular. In addition to a wealth of statistical information and directory material, specialist essays have been contributed by hundreds of Archaeologists, Anthropologists, Artists, Historians, Educators, Biographers, Lexicographers, Cartographers and Researchers, most major articles - there are hundreds of them - running into thousands of words each... “All about Indian Christianity and much about India and South Asia in general studded with marvellous graphics.” To bring together the vast store of knowledge required to fulfill the Encyclopaedia’s purpose, an editorial board was constituted consisting of some of the best minds in the field. In order to ensure the authenticity of each entry the editors enlisted the aid of an editorial advisory board of scholars representing the most distinguished men in the world of Christianity. The most brilliant authorities in India and abroad have contributed their special knowledge through hundreds of definitive articles. Whenever possible the person most closely associated with a particular subject was chosen to write upon it. “The classic often considered as the begetter of most books and reference works in the field for four decades.” Separate articles on each Church, Denomination, Mission, State, Area , Organization, Movement, Saint, Pioneer, Missionary… Many articles on land, people, history, culture, scripture, liturgy, art, architecture, archaeology, dialogue, Indianisation, evangelization, ecumenism, anthropology, sculpture, education, social service, Indology, traditions, customs, manners, world religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Islam,… ”A comprehensive word and picture gallery.” The pages of the Encyclopaedia are illustrated with vivid, on the spot photographs and paintings in glorious full colour and striking black & white reproductions, in addition to the many sketches, charts, maps, tables and diagrams. More than 1000 photographs on exquisite art plates of the giant page size - half of them on full colour art plates. ”Autographed, authentic and authoritative articles.” Its articles are invariably autographed and authoritative and in most cases accompanied by comprehensive and invaluable bibliographies and exhaustive end notes. The maps and other graphics will be of use to the scholar and the general reader alike”
There was more of the same.