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Drawn to her roots

Dr. Hermann Gundert's great, great granddaughter tells K. PRADEEP about her family's deep bond with Kerala.

GERTRAUD FRENZ keeps returning to Kerala, to roots that are always green. For the great, great granddaughter of Dr. Hermann Gundert every visit to this `wonderful land' is an opportunity to fathom the greatness of a legacy that she is proud to preserve. "Kerala is special. It has its postives. You cannot find a place that has so many cultures, living together. The first time I came here was in 1971. Later we were staying in Madurai, where my husband (Dr. Albrecht Frenz), was teaching German at the Kamraj University. It was then I went around all those places so intimately connected with Mr. Gundert's life," Ms. Frenz remembers.

Ms. Frenz, who is actively involved in her husband's projects and in the activities of the Hermann Gundert Society in Stuttgart, now headed by her daughter Dr. Margret Frenz, is a successful homemaker.

All that she saw and heard from people in Thalassery was much more than what she had managed to pick up about Mr. Gundert from the information thrown to her by her relatives. "I had heard my elders talk about him. Once, I came to my grandmother's house, in Calw, south of Germany, where Mr. Gundert stayed after his return from Kerala. I have heard elders say he had always hoped to go back to his beloved Malayalam country. But that was not to be. I think the reason was that the Basle Mission gave him a lot of work and also because of poor health. "

The Tuebingen University in Germany was the alma mater to many Indological scholars like Mr. Gundert and the tradition is that their works are handed over to the universities where they studied. "I never came across any material that Mr. Gundert was supposed to have carried back from India in that house in Calw. There were a number of old books, copies of the originals made by Mr. Gundert's son. Years later an aunt of ours found Mr. Gundert's diary, which she gave me. My husband and I copied it and got it published. The first part, from 1836-59, was about Mr. Gundert's tryst with Malayalam and the second, from 1859-1893, on his days at Calw. The last entry in his diary was two weeks before his death."

All the manuscripts that Mr. Gundert carried back from Kerala have now been well preserved in the Tuebingen Universty library. "This is the place for anyone really interested in his life and works."

Stacked away in a corner of this library for more than hundred years were prized manuscripts. And the man who discovered this was Dr. Scaria Zachariah. "No one could read Malayalam. In 1986 the right man came and at the right time. Dr. Scaria insisted that they be catalogued. The originals now remain in the University Library and the photocopies and microfilms of them must be in your university at Kalady and at the S. B. College, Changanassery." They were subsequently published in five volumes as the Hermann Gundert Series, which had the famous Payyannur Paatu, Pazhassi Rekhakal, etc and in six more volumes, which included the dictionary, grammar, biography, historical scriptures, church history and the Bible.

"There is something that many people do not know about Mr. Gundert. He actually began his work in Tamil Nadu as a private tutor to the son of a British missionary. He had stayed in Madras, then in Tirunelveli, all of which is recorded in his diary. Mr. Gundert was not a missionary, he was never ordained. He was always a teacher. In Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, he had established 10 schools. Very few know that Mr. Gundert had written a Tamil-Greek, a Hebrew-Tamil dictionary and a Church History in Tamil. But this has been lost forever. He had given the manuscripts to possibly the mission press in Nagercoil in October 1838, but our efforts to dig this out has failed," informs Dr. Albrecht Frenz.

"The original Gundert School in Thalassery is not there anymore. It was set up in the bungalow where he stayed from 1839, for nearly 20 years. This place is intact with a brass plate indicating its history. There might have been changes, but the general mentality of the people, the beliefs, the goodness is still there. The spiritual part is still intact. We love to come back. Six generations of the Gundert legacy have come here," Ms. Frenz says, turning emotional.

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