He lived as he wanted to, a servant of the Divine Master, with humility, tenacity and trust in God alone. Baptized Jesus Cueli, he changed his name to Isudas, not wanting to be named after the Master.
Incarnation is the essence of inculturation. Isudas both championed it and became inculturated. His insertion into the culture was total to the extent that he was at times partial to the Gujaratis. He often reminded us that learning Gujarati was not enough; one should be able to think and dream in Gujarati.
Sampurna Bible – his Magnum Opus
While in tertianship (1963) he read of his appointment to translate the Bible into Gujarati in the Province newsletter. Even with a natural flare for languages, a more than ordinary grasp of Hebrew and Greek, and a B.A. in Gujarati Literature under his belt, the task was still a daunting one. Not one to oppose the will of his superior, he took it up with the now legendary figures: Nagindas Parikh, Raymund Parmar, Joseph Kavi, Chandrakant Sheth, and Niranjan Bhagat accomplishing the mission in seventeen years. In 1981 the Gospel of Peace – the Sampurna Bible – was released at the Tagore Hall in Paldi. It was a masterpiece of literature and will remain an enduring literary treasure.
Isudas went on to translate the Missal, Lectionary, Breviary, a Commentary for homilies and the Kirtansagar (a hymnal), making ample provision for an inculturated liturgy. Texts from Vatican II, a graded catechism series for schools also go to his credit. His contribution to Gujarati Catholic religious literature will remain his lasting legacy.
Spartan – Gandhian lifestyle
His room in Shefali Apartments was his work station – more an office than a living room. He consulted a swivel bookstand, laden with the Bible in different languages, comparing translations in each of them. He would work day in and day out seated at his table.
Though this was a regular routine, he also cherished moments of silence in the chapel, noisy recreations with a rambunctious set of scholastics, a game of pallota in the evenings, and an occasional picnic to the banks of the Sabarmati.
I always wondered why a man with such a command over Gujarati did not engage himself in creative writing. He replied once that translation work called for fidelity to the text. A translator sacrifices creativity and imagination in order to be faithful to the text.
Isudas was one among those of his generation who did not qualify themselves with degrees. While on the job they trained themselves becoming experts in their respected fields. Isudas was a self-made man. All he had was a licentiate in Theology; the rest of it came from personal effort.
As scholastics we whined that we did not have models to emulate. How wrong we were when right in the midst of us was Isudas, an integrated person, an exemplar of what it is to be a Jesuit. He toiled at his desk, was pastorally responsive, a man of spiritual and intellectual depth who lived a simple, frugal life, focused and single-minded in his work, one collaborated well with Jesuits and non-Jesuits alike, and had an unmatched love for the people, the culture and the language of Gujarat. What more could one expect?
A couple of years ago Isudas was a picture of health. But age began to catch up with him. One by one the little things he liked to do were taken away from him. The pallota game, trips to the missions, walks in the garden, and his reading. The Lord was with him through it all even in his moments of darkness. He could spend time with the Lord in silent contemplation. Like Moses he would emerge from the chapel with his face all aglow.
Isudas, your mission accomplished, you are privy to the beatific vision of the Divine Master, the one you served single-mindedly till the end. Vahala Isudas, Avjo!
- Keith Abranches, SJ