It was the first time in 33 years I was stepping into an empty room on the North East side of my home. The room belonged to one of the legends in our family, my dearest grandpa, whom we affectionately called Achayan. The majestic teak wood cot that was an ancestral property was lying there strewn with pink oleander flowers. The same cot that was used by Achayan for the most part of his life seemed to be crying in silence. I slowly moved my hand over the wooden railings and I could hear that telling me, “Gone my dear, the man who loved us both will now remain only as a memory”.
The head table was beautifully arranged with a crucifix that came from the church along with two long candles resting on chromium finish stands. Fragrant smoke filled the air from the incense sticks reminding that the body and soul are no longer together. In between all these stood a life-like picture of Achayan wearing his classic pure white shirt adorned with his favourite coloured shoulder towel. The jasmine garland that bordered the photo frame appeared to reflect the fragrance of a life lived to the fullest by a man who shaped the future of multiple generations of the family. Through the black frame of his specs I could see those eyes that have seen every stage of my growth. They seem to tell me, “It is just my body that’s gone; I’m leaving my soul with you forever”!
All his eight children were there, together for one last time to be with their father. It just felt like yesterday when they all came together with their spouses, children and grandchildren to celebrate 100 years of the blessed life of Achayan. They all relived the memory of that moment though it was almost two years back. He was indeed a blessed man to have seen six generations throughout his life and was fortunate to see all his sons and daughters along with his grandchildren and great grandchildren a few days before it was time for his soul to depart this temporary abode. His words towards his final days showed the content of a man who proudly endorsed the verse, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’.
30 October 2014, Thursday
The day progressed with the necessary preparations to bid adieu to a man who deserved every bit of a most respectful farewell. You’ll be surprised to know how well planned Achayan was to have even the expenses for this function kept ready and had instructed my dad to take care of everything as time arrives. He was a fiercely independent man and would’ve loved to remain so even after he was gone.
It was post noon when a few of us from the family left to the hospital where the body was preserved in negative temperature. The man-in-charge of the morgue arrived shortly and after asking all of us to stand aside, opened the sealed door with a dramatic gesture. He waited for a few moments before stepping inside and pulled out a stretcher. It was a multi-cubicle cabinet, but my grandpa was the only occupant of that section. As if, forty long years of living a bachelor life after losing his sweetheart wasn’t enough!
We were asked to wait outside and a few minutes later Achayan was all dressed up in the usual attire including his characteristic shoulder towel. The hands that once held me close were now tied together with a small crucifix kept in between them and decorated with a black threaded rosary. A quick prayer followed before he was taken on an ambulance in a procession back home for one last time; the same home he built 64 years ago.
The entire family was waiting. Those steps in front of the house which Achayan had climbed up and down countless number of times saw him being lifted by a bunch of his beloved ones. He was taken into the room on the North East where the cot welcomed him with open arms. It knew that there won’t be another chance to provide the comfort that it always gave this man. Achayan was then adorned with a crown made of white roses. Shortly after that he was taken to the main hall where a mobile coffin was awaiting him extending a frozen welcome with minus thirteen degree Celsius. This was to be his resting place till the next day morning when the actual coffin will extend a much warmer welcome. A wreath of white flowers gave him company in the coffin on which was a small piece of paper with the words, ‘With lot of prayers – Children’.
It was an evening of avalanche of visitors from different walks of life. Priests of various age dropped in to pay respects to a man with whom they were associated with over decades of service as a Trustee of Changanacherry Metropolitan Church as well as a socio-religious figure who was prominent in the same Diocese. Various families and their representations were among the numerous people who came to see Achayan for the final time. Prayers were flowing incessantly, so were the white flowers both proclaiming to the world the purity of a life well lived spanning a hundred years and more.
...And there was evening and there was morning, it was soon the final day in the life of Chacko Joseph Mukkadan to be physically present among the people whom he loved and who loved him.
31 October 2014, Friday
It was now 101 years, 5 months and 3 days since the world had enjoyed the esteemed presence of Achayan, living or otherwise. As it is with everything mortal it was time for him to rejoin his Creator which he did four days back, to be precise, on the early morning hours of 27 October 2014. Nevertheless the physical remains need to get the required attention through the prayers of fellow beings and loved ones.
Early in the morning itself the coffin that will be Achayan’s resting place below a six feet deep earth was ready with jasmine garlands. He was soon shifted to this new box which is probably the only thing that fits the age-old proverb ‘The buyer doesn’t need it and the user doesn’t know it’. The courtyard next to the house was dressed up in pure white doing away with the traditional black laced design. The coffin was placed amidst an array of white roses. Candles and incense were burning throughout.
Soon the place started getting filled with scores of people flocking in to say a final goodbye to the grandfather of the town. Seven months into his 102nd year on this planet, Achayan was the oldest man in the town. The air was filled with prayers for the departed soul which was meant to give an easier access to the gates of heaven. A few of the priests and a couple of selected guests spoke about Achayan in between. They all reiterated how he led a good life, a real role model for current and future generations.
The final set of prayers at home started sharp at 10:00. The songs that were played would’ve melted even the hardest of the hearts. There was a quick rush of last minute farewell. People were still flowing in and so were the tears from dear ones. Everyone knew one thing for certain. This is not just another moment. Instead, one in perhaps a millennium, when a blessed soul as this, leaves behind a legacy that is unparallel in the society. Those were the final moments to be with this amazing personality who once blessed all of us with his life.
The prayers and songs have reached a pinnacle when the coffin was lifted to be taken to a van that was waiting outside. That was the last time Achayan was to see his home. The home where he lived and raised his children; the home where he built his dreams and taught his children to follow theirs; the home where he decided against all odds to give the best possible education to all his children; the home where all his children became graduates and more, a rare feat 40 years back; a home where he spent quality time with his family and told them how important it is to maintain ones character, health and wealth in that order; the home that saw him lead a very healthy lifestyle in all respects; the home that was this and many more to him. I’m quite sure he wouldn’t have liked to say goodbye but the angel of death gave him no choice. Nevertheless it remains a fact that he was one contented man who performed all his duties well on time and left nothing incomplete. He was all set to take the journey of his eternal life and that’s what he just began.
The van with the coffin carrying Achayan headed towards the church in a procession with near and dear ones for their last walk along with him. The church compound was quite crowded with people coming in to pay their last respects. This was the same church where Achayan spent a considerable amount of his life as a Parish Trustee as well as advisor to various initiatives of the church. The coffin was taken through the same courtyard where he walked with his open umbrella. Interestingly someone decided to hold an umbrella open, protecting him from the sun during his last few moments in this world.
The coffin was placed in the cemetery church where Archbishop Mar Joseph Powathil led the prayers. At the end of these prayers, Achayan was taken outside the church to the centre of the cemetery where the coffin was placed on a stand and the last bunch of prayers began. It was then time for the most difficult of the rituals for the family. The time to bid adieu to your most beloved with a parting kiss! The last of your closest moments with him ever, the moment that will be etched in your minds till the time memories last in you.
The line was long to give a parting kiss. Time went by and the queue became lean. The last person also kissed him goodbye. Achayan’s hands were untied and kept sideways. Before the coffin was sealed, there was one person who wanted to say bye to Achayan again. He stepped forward, closer to the coffin, leaned towards Achayan’s forehead and gave him a final kiss. He was holding a black rosary with him and asked me to keep the rosary inside the coffin with Achayan. I obliged the wish that came from the last of the sibling alive of my dearest Achayan, Antony J Muckaden, whom we all affectionately call Kochapappan!
The coffin’s lid was brought. I stepped in quickly and gave a last kiss on Achayan’s forehead, the same place where I’ve kissed him umpteen times before. I knew this was the end of a beautiful relationship we shared. He lived almost seventy years more than me in this world, but left me enough to carry on for a thousand years ahead! The coffin lid found its place and soon was lowered to the six feet deep trench awaiting him. People showered the coffin with frankincense and in a matter of time the coffin was covered in red soil. Achayan lived his life and fulfilled the verse, ‘For you are dust, And to dust you shall return’.
I knew my Achayan was a legend. So did Mother Nature who held her tears till everything got over. We reached home and except for the closest ones who stayed back home, rest of the folks left. I felt the Angel of Peace flying around filling the huge vacuum that was left behind by Achayan.
That was the moment when emotions overwhelmed Mother Nature. Doors of heavens opened. Showers of blessing started kissing the earth. A fitting tribute to a man who walked this soil and proved that you could live and die as a noble man…
My dearest Achaya, may you enjoy eternal happiness that you very well deserve!