224 and going; Varghese Joshua has a beautiful mind (Kurian Pampadi)

Published on 26 May, 2024
224 and going; Varghese Joshua has a beautiful mind (Kurian Pampadi)

Into its third century, the College Cotym, as it was known when it opened its portals in 1817, now CMS College Kottayam, will freeze you in time in gay abandon. Its 36-acre campus has a new face with granite statues sandwiched by casuarina tress amidst a dozen heritage buildings and 560 species of plants and 1100 trees tagged with QR code. Some 800 of them are endangered species.  

“A college is called ‘Kalalayam’ (House of Art)  and a university ‘Sarvakalasala’ (House of all Arts). All through my years as Principal, I have strived to turn the campus into a centre of all arts in the classical sense,” Varghese C. Joshua told me over breakfast in the exquisite dining room of the two-story structure built in 1817 in a mix of English and Kerala architectural styles. His Residence, the oldest in the campus, recently received a facelift at a cost Rs. 1.5 crores under RUSA, a Central Government rejuvenation scheme. 

Varghese C. Joshua-a mathematically precise mind

He was proud that he did up to the French philosopher Michel Foucault who said about knowledge and vision: “People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; But what they don’t know is what, what they do, does.” Lord Robert Baden-Powell famously asked his fellowmen ‘leave the place better than you found,”. He does.   

Varghese was born In Mavelikkara and graduated from Bishop Moore College in his home town. He had his Masters, MPhil and PhD in analytical mathematics from Cochin University of Science and Technology.

Celebrating women entry to the College in 1911. 

Varghese’s mathematical mind is as beautiful as Nobel Laureate John Nash’s. Russel Crowe in the 2001 Oscar winning film ‘A Beautiful Mind’, recreated the trials and tribulations of Nash endearingly. Varghese has done to the ancient campus more than anyone else to beautify it in tune with its glorious past. The Benjamin Bailey Museum coming up in the campus showcases all that the College pioneers initiated including the first dictionary and the first printing press. 

Opposite to the museum is a sprawling College stadium where we have witnessed many star players in the making sweating it out in the National Amature Athletic Championship of 1967 and watched MRC Wellington’s  
6’4‘’ tall Olympian Peter Thangaraj flying into the sky to save a crucial goal against FACT to win the crown in the Mammen Mappilai Trophy Football tournament in 1970.  

In the College Theatre along with poet Desamangalam Ramakrishnan

That is where President of India Pranab Kumar Mukherjee inaugurated the year-long bicentenary celebrations of the of the College in 2016. Next year, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Justin Welby graced the concluding ceremony at the College’s Great Hall. 

CMS College has a great tradition with chess. In 1864, the college magazine ‘Vidyasamgraham’ carried a series of 33 articles on chess. It was a first in any periodical in India and that too in a Malayalam journal. Chess legend Manuel Aron in his History of Indian Chess has acknowledged the pioneering effort.   

Five generations of chess players in the family

Joshua’s son and daughter are the fifth generation playing chess in his family. His great grandfather CK John, the vice principal of the Nicholson Institute, Kottayam, the first teacher education school in the country, used to play chess. His grandfather CJ Koruth, who was an Adhikari (Village Officer) in the British administered Madras Province continued playing it. His father CK Joshua, who served the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board, followed suit.  

Varghese as a member of a Central Government scientific team has visited Russia five times to find time to play chess with the likes of World’s number one Garry Kasparov.  Fiercely opposed to Vladimir Putin, Kasparov with family lives in New York now. 
As a chess aficionado, Varghese played host to the National Premier Chess Championship in Kottayam in 2015. Grand Master Nihal Serin took part in the meet as a kid to become the district champion. Future Grand Master SP Sethuraman was the undisputed king of the tourney. 

After three decades of plying brain and brawn together, Varghese retires just a month after India’s chess prodigy D. Gukesh, 17, emerging the world’s youngest player to win the Candidates Chess in Toronto on April 22.  Kasparov also sent a congratulatory note to Gukesh, fast on way to meet World number one Ding Liren of China. If he wins. he will the youngest ever to become numero uno of chess.  

Together in front of the Fenn Bungalow, the Principal’s Residence

The legendary Englishman Benjamin Bailey who conceived the first Malayalam dictionary and the printing press to put it in black and white was the first Principal to live in the campus in 1817 along with his wife Elizabath. He was followed by iconic Principals like Joseph Fenn, Joseph Peet, Richard Collins, Francis Nowell Askwith and Philip Lee. Collins affiliated the college to Madras University when universities came into being in India 50 years after the College took shape.  

Richard Collins’ wife Francess Wright Collins wrote ‘The Salyers Slain’, a novel for her Indian scholars. Her husband translated it into Malayalam as ‘Ghathaka Vadham’, arguably the first novel in the language. He wrote the first Malayalam-Malayalam dictionary, the first grammar book and brought out the first college magazine in India Vidyasamgraham modelled on the magazines of Oxford and Cambridge.

One of the heritage buildings

Philip Lee was Principal when the future President of India K R Narayanan joined the college for his Intermediate class and the college extended full fee concession to the dalit boy. The college archives proudly displays a post card written by Mahatma Gandhi to Lee on some cardinal educational issues. 

In 1911, during the period of Francis Nowell Askwith as Principal, the College admitted three girls for the first time. Five years later the practice had to be stopped because of opposition by the locals. However, in 1938, when Philip Lee was Principal, women were again admitted. He built a hostel for girls named after Askwith.  

Daughter Riya engrossed in Atlas, the College Bicentenary Special

‘’CMS was recognized as the first College in India by the UGC on the basis of evidence that it had introduced  classic works of Greek mathematician Euclid and texts in Hebrew Latin, Sanskrit, English, Malayalam, History, Geography and basics of Chemistry right from its beginning in 1917.”

Varghese C. Joshua, the 28thh Principal, retires on May 31 after serving 30 years as Professor of Mathematics, Vice Principal and Principal. He raised not less than 15 crores to beautify and enrich the campus with sculptures, paintings, green turfs, educational theatre, aquarium, an automated food court named The Hive and an amphitheatre that doubles up as an arena for basketball, tennis, shuttle, roller skating, khabadi, wrestling and kho kho.

Water needed for the entire campus is drawn from spruced up wells numbering five. Fifty percent of the power required in the campus is sourced to solar panels that produce 90 kw of power of which 20 kw is sold to the Kerala State Electricity Board grid.

Addressing a painter’s camp in the campus

It was a pleasant surprise visit the redone swanky four-story Collins Library that houses 79,500 books including 200 year old rare books and College records right from the days of English helmsmen that read like the stories of Thomas Hardy or Emely Bronte.  Librarian Raysh Thomas, himself a PhD scholar, told me the library was equipped with a Smart Entrance Control System that measures the number of footfalls into its parlor besides a lift to its upper floor.  

Dr. Varghese organized a number of painters’ camps in the campus and collected more than 300 paintings that adorn the walls of the Collins Library and the Principal’s Residence. You can’t enter the Campus without viewing its compound wall carrying relief sculptures depicting milestones of the College history including admission to women in 1911. 

Anu, Sreelakshmi and Anju at the relief sculptures on the College wall

CMS College with Autonomous status caters to 3000 students and 150 teachers, most of whom are PhDs, according to the College’s IQAC Director Dr. Joji John Panicker.  The College is bidding her time to become a Deemed University or a full-fledged University. “All the requirement are well in place,” a beaming Dr. Varghese told me.  

Dr. Varghese guided five scholars for their PhD and one for his postdoctoral. One PhD went to Khamis Abdulla Khamis Al Maqball from Oman who joined the College after earning his masters in mathematics from the University of Kent in UK. He returned to Oman to teach at the University of Technology and Applied Sciences at Suhar, some 200 km from Muscat. 

Witness to signing MoU with a Russian University; his books 

While in Kottayam, Khamis was my friendly neighbour. His only regret was that while in Kent, he could not meet Nobel Laureate Abdulrazak Gurna, teaching at the Canterbury University in his neighborhood. Abdulrasak’s novels depicted his flight from the African Island of Zanzibar, once ruled by Omani Sultans.  

In 2018, CMS College signed an MoU with Petrozaodsk State University of Russia for exchange of students, researchers and faculty of the department of mathematics. Petrozaodsk is the capital of the Republic of Karelia bordering Finland in Russia’s north, 1023 km away from Moscow.  Originally it was part of Finland with Finnish capital Helsinki 737 km away. 

Euclid motif on its wall, Collins Library with  Librarian Raysh Thomas & PhD scholars Delsy, Aryamol

Varghese is also the author a few books and some 40 theses on mathematical problems. His most favorite book is Sreenivasa Ramanujan, the life of a mathematical genius, in Malayalam. Perhaps the most precious is Applied Probability and Stochastic Processes, he edited along with Abel Prize winner Padmabhushan SRS Varadhan and Russian national medal winner Vladimir N Vishnevsky. Published by Springer, the book is part of the Infosys Science Foundation Series in Mathematical Sciences. 

Omani scholar Khamis who did his PhD under Dr. Varghese, at a College fete with his family

Annu Vincent, his wife, is a teacher in the Baker Memorial HSS, Kottayam. Son Joshua C. Varghese is doing Chartered Management Accountant course and Riya Mary Varghese finishing B. Arch in RIT, Kottayam. 

The Hive-the new high tec Food Court 

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Elizabeth Beena Alexander, Belfastt 2024-05-26 06:47:09
Nice article by Kurian Pampadi. I like his engaging g writing style that captivates readers. Lovely to read about the outgoing Principal Joshua and his contributions to CMS . May this grand old institution continue to train and educate great minds and its alumni continue to shine is diverse fields all over the world.
Lalitha George, Cairns, Australialialia 2024-05-26 10:51:04
Happy I was able to read A Beautiful Mind on Dr. Varghese C. Joshua of CMS College. I am an alumni of CMS. After graduation in English, I moved to Jabalpur to do my MA. Got married to my classmate George Kalloor to do a decade of teaching in Durban South Africa. Now with my daughter in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. Wherever we are, we hold our alma mater in deep reverence. Looking forward to the day when it becomes a university. Congratulations to Dr VCJ for upkeeping the College's great legacy.
George mampara 2024-05-26 11:22:57
So much info presented in a rather short piece. You seem to be getting better all the time. All luck to you. Thanks
Dr.Aniamma Kuriakose, Former Reader&HOD of English of Bishop Kurialacherry College,Amalagiri,Kottayam 2024-05-29 03:15:53
I was enthralled by the amazing article on Dr.Varghese C.Joshua, the retiring Principal of the esteemed CMS College, written by the veteran journalist Mr.Kurian Pampady. He has not only captured the beauty and brilliance of the Principal, but also unravelled the rich tradition and legacy of our Alma Master. I've personally known Dr.Varghese Joshua as a Principal who welcomes and encourages varied interests. Being an alumna of CMS College, I am particularly happy and proud about Mr.Pampady's article. Every successful milestone that this esteemed Autonomous Institution passes by brings laurels to each of her alumni. I was a student of CMS College from 1966 to 1973 when I passed my MA English Language and Literature. I was involved in many extra-curricular activities, both literary and sports n' games. My whole family is proud of CMS College!
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