In our younger days, whenever our Appacha puts on his shoes, we would ask him, “Where are you going,Appacha?”

He would immediately reply: “I am going to Attuvarambal.”

For most people, the word Attuvarambal sounds really foreign, even mythical, but it literally means nothing more than the river bank. But, hey, why is our Appacha going to the river bank?

It is part of a riddle,

 

“I am going to Atuvarambal,

Patel vettan poyappol,

My leg theti chetil venapal,

Kazhekan chenapal, no water!”

 

There is a story to it: The riddle is half English and half Malayalam. It simply means: `I am going to the river bank to cut the reeds. My leg slipped, I fell into the mud. When I wanted to wash my legs, there was no water.’ There isn’t any deeper meaning to it, but whenever Appacha recited this riddle, we would laugh along with him. It must be one of those poems he had learnt in school, which he still likes to recite to entertain us, his grandchildren.

 

 

Witty

 

            This is indeed how witty our Appacha can be as a person. As our cousin, Sara puts it vividly, such is the character of our Appacha: “He is quick to joke, and to laugh – these are, in fact, key characteristics that I find important in defining my personal impressions of him. As a child, I remember thinking how funny he was with some of his jokes. But then, even in my teenage years, I still laugh at the old jokes, although I would by now have heard it countless of times.”

            Just pause a while and think of our Appacha, who has never failed to say to us: “You want ice (eyes) cream or nose cream?” Isn’t he witty?

            Our cousin, Anna also has something to say about our Appacha’s jokes. “He never failed to brighten up a tense situation, even when he had a tiff with Grandma. After a little disagreement between them, which we had witnessed, he would always crack a joke, which I think was his way to put us at ease and make it all seem "normal". I always appreciated his openness with us. He has also never failed to show us, his grandchildren the practical way to living a happy married life."

            Our Appacha loves to pun with words. We like to laugh whenever hecalls the names of our three cousins simultaneously just to make it sound like `Anna carries crystal’. Of course, Anna was the eldest, Charis, second, and Krystal, the youngest daughter of Uncle Geevarughese and Aunt Pearly. Sometimes, at breakfast, just to make the conversation interesting, our Appacha would ask, “You like roti canai or canai roti.

            Our cousin, Charis has always enjoyed our Appacha’s song about an accident which nearly took his life. He would sing it in Malayalam, mixed with some English words just to make us laugh. Then, there is another poem about a King with four daughters. "There was once a King who has four daughters: Yamalabai, Namalabai, Kamalabai and Nilabai...," she would tell us. The story always had the same beginning, but the stories would end up differently each time. This is in fact our Cousin Sara’s favourite Appacha story.

            Now, for Krystal, our Appacha has always been fond of teasing her. He would always introduce his granddaughter to his friends: “This is my granddaughter and her name is Krystal clear ….” Occasionally, he would point to the spring hoppers or “Iddiappam”, and ask Krystal, “You know how to make this? I give you a punch!” (“Iddiappam” sounds like the word for a punch in Malayalam). Even if there were no other jokes, our Appachawould just tease Kristal: “I heard that you can eat six bananas….”

            Our Appacha is turning 90 soon, but he has not changed much. He still loves to joke and tease us, his grandchildren. In the words of our cousin Johann, he is a very friendly and a “jovial” person.  He does not stop cracking witty jokes, often involving a cheeky play of words, too.  Few people we know are as creative as he is with words. Appacha is good at using his jokes to help break the ice and see his family always feeling happy. He is so full of jokes and riddles and somehow new ones come out too every now and then. Call it lame jokes if you may but these are the funny jokes that make us giggle and laugh.  

 

Riddles

 

There were times when he also would ask us general knowledge questions like how tall is Mt. Everest. We are always amazed that he could tell us the right answers!

Another one of Appacha’s favourite riddle which Caleb remembers is: “Assuming that there are six tea cups on the table, one fell down, how many are left?” To answer such riddles, we have to be alert, because it depends on how it is pronounced: Six tea cups can sound almost like sixty cups!

A smile was always important for him. He will always want to see a smile on our faces.

 

Energetic

 

            At his age, he is still very active and energetic. When he was in Sungai Petani, we remember him driving around the Volvo he had, even though he was 80 plus years old.

            For our Appacha, age is just another number. He was still very determined to work, but our parents decided that he would have to retire at past 80 years old. In 2002, he had to move from Sungai Petani to Paramount Garden in Petaling Jaya to stay with Uncle Mohan, this being the Malayalee tradition for the parents to live with the youngest son in the family. It wasn’t by choice, but out of necessity that Appacha had to move out of Sungai Petani, the place where his roots had gone deep. One of the reasons was because our Ammachi’ssickness needed specialist attention. The other reason was that four of his children were already living and working in either Kuala Lumpur or Petaling Jaya. It was also a lot easier for his daughter, Pearly and her family from Johor Baru to visit Appacha and Ammachi, if they moved to the Klang Valley. Living in Kuala Lumpur meant that he had to face the hustle and bustle of city life. Although he was always on the go and independent, now he was stuck in the house all the time, unable to drive around and friends were too far to visit. This is probably the biggest sacrifice he has made for the sake of Ammachi. He could have become one of the sour, bad-tempered old people that sit on porches and yell at small children, but our Appacha is still good natured and friendly.

 

 

When Ammachi (Grandma) passed away

 

            One thing that came across strongly is that our Appacha is always a very family-oriented man, who always enjoys his time with his children or grandchildren. His love for Ammachi is always very evident to us, his grandchildren. As Anna recalls, “He used to tease her a lot even when she was upset with him! He never shied away from showing how much he loves her, even in front of us. I will also never forget the way he loved and still loves his wife, children and grandchildren. Whenever we visited him in Sungai Petani, he would always greet us with a hug and a kiss.”

Our cousin, Isaak shares how he is so touched by Appacha’s example. “Despite my grandmother’s condition (suffering from dementia), he was still taking good care of her. He would put his hand around her if she needed help to walk.”

            When our Ammachi passed away on December 21, 2008 at the age of 81, our cousin Anna, being the eldest among us, read out a poem which brought many of us to tears.

 

Dear Ammachi, the time has come for us to temporarily part,

But we would like to recollect our amazing start,

Of the time God formed each of us and sent us into this world,

You were there with arms open wide, no matter if it was a boy or a girl.

To each of us, you remind us of something different,

Your visits to the garden and kitchen were always frequent,

To some of us you represent a figure of amazing grace,

Someone who’d keep going, no matter what the pace.

Yet to some of us, you embodied a strong character of will,

Someone who could also never stand still,

Someone who’d not often say how much you care,

But showed it in each single action while we were all there.

Precious and pleasant memories we will always have of you,

Your life has been one of selfless love that is true,

We pray that we will be able to emulate you,

So that we can have a meaningful life too.

So here’s to you dear Ammachi,

For the life you lived has motivated many,

Ammachi, we will miss you that is for sure,

But we will always remember and love someone that we hold dear.

Farewell Ammachi. We Love You.

By Grand Daughter Anna Geevarughese; 21st December 2008

Our other cousin, Grace Kuruvilla also joined the chorus to share her feelings about our Ammachi:

 

 

Our Ammachi

 

Dear family, relatives and friends,

On behalf of the 18 grandchildren, I would like to share with you about this wonderful lady - our Ammachi.  She holds and will always hold a special place in our hearts. With her passing on, she leaves us with a whole lot of beautiful memories that we will cherish for a life time.

We are grieving today for the loss of a great woman - simple, caring, dignified and everloving!

I always remember the times we used to go to Sungai Petani for our holidays.  She and Appacha would be at the porch awaiting our arrival. Then we would be treated to a delicious meal with each of our favourite dishes on the table. You just had to tell her that you liked something; she would remember it and would take so much trouble to make it for you.  She was a great cook – her Milo, her banana chips, her unda, her appams etc were one of a kind!

She always kept herself busy and we the grandchildren think she had a time table for herself. She was particular about prayer times and meal times. A prayerful lady who always taught us that God is with us always by her actions.

An active and independent person, she was an avid gardener. Gardening was her passion and she always had a garden with flowers in full bloom. And if one of us ever picked a flower or even a leaf, she would be upset. Because to her they were her darlings and she sincerely believed that plants had feelings!

I was always told that she was one of the first lady drivers in Sungai Petani. And what a great driver she was super fast and very confident. Through that buzzling traffic in Pekan Lama she would take us places in her Volvo.

She would be the first person to wish us on our birthdays and many a time had caught us still asleep. She has never missed a single birthday until the last five years, when her memory began to fail.

I could go on and on with many beautiful things she had shared with us. These are just a few in the book of our memories.

She will always have a special place in our hearts, and we are thankful to have had her as our ammachi.  Farewell dear ammachi, we love you and will always miss you.  Sleep in peace till we meet again

By Grace K. Kuruvilla, 21st December 2008.

Grand Daughter.

 

            One thing that we observed of our Appacha was that, although he was mourning over the loss ofAmmachi, yet he was willing to accept the reality that someday, all of us would have to meet our Creator. Yes, most people may respect our Appacha for his outstanding traits but one trait that we will always admire is his love for our Ammachi and his cheery and light-hearted outlook on life. He has shown that there is a bright side to every situation and that true love really never ends.

 

 

Family Oriented

 

            Since most of us are based in the Klang Valley, Appacha never ceases to organise special family functions or dinners even when there was no apparent reason except to see us. He would always look for excuses for the whole family to get together, or just to celebrate someone’s birthday. We know for a fact that he always yearns to see his family coming together to help each other just the way he had provided for our parents when they were under his care. Although at home, he was always dressed smartly with long pants, never short pants. Whenever he goes out, he is always very neat and tidy, wearing his batik shirt or long sleeved shirt.

            As our cousin, Daenielle adds: “If it is my birthday, he would make it a point to call my home to greet me, `Happy Birthday.’ That’s Appacha to me. He likes meeting people. He is also very good at remembering names of people and this trait was handy as he has always been involved in community service.

            Appacha is also always very particular about us being polite to our parents. He wants us to learn the right way to speak to our parents. If an older person is sitting there with legs stretched, you are not supposed to walk over the legs. Appacha would forbid you from doing it.

 

 

Education

 

            Appacha has always emphasized that he wanted all his grandchildren to have a basic university education, with a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree. He has a very high regard for education. However, he never restricted what we should study, like in the case of our cousin, John, who used to like archaeology. Appacha would ask him, “Are you sure?” Yet, he never discouraged John, but he made him think twice. These days, John is thinking of doing something in Finance instead. One of his only dreams is still to have one of his grandchildren graduating as a medical doctor. This may come true as Antony is considering a future in medicine and if so, he would be the first within the John Keerikkattu family to fulfil our Appacha’s wishes. Anthony Kuruvilla says:

 

“Both my grandparents are in the medical field… I am interested in pursuing a course in Medicine. My interest in biochemistry, physics and other Science subjects may be a great help. Although it may be difficult, I am impressed by Appacha’s very own example. He was always very positive minded. He wouldn’t say no to anything. There is nothing impossible as far as he is concerned. This is what I picked up from him.”

 

            All through school, he encouraged us to study hard, by rewarding us with gifts (often cash) for performing well in major public examinations.

Since there are 18 of us grandchildren, there would often be a few of us who would have to take a major exam in a given year; so, he would often present the gifts in a little informal ceremony whenever we had a family reunion. One by one, he would call out our names to present us a gift.  The funniest gift our cousin Johann has ever received was an electronic parrot that could record what was being said to it; it would then repeat it back to you. We understand that Appacha won it at a function and gave it to Johann as a gift.

Our Appacha also always motivated us to do well in whatever we set our minds to. We were often told a story about how Appacha walked bare foot to school and when he first came to Malaya at the time he had barely any possessions. Seeing how he managed to raise five successful children is enough motivation to help us persevere through the tough times. This is largely because he always pushed us to do our best we can in life. Before leaving for his tertiary studies, when asked what would be Appacha’s words that would encourage him, Benjamin replied: “Failures are the pillars of success”. This is his favourite quote.

He takes pride in all his family members and all our achievements, always pushing us to do our best. When our cousin, Krystal received her Public Services Department (PSD) scholarship from the Government to pursue her education, Appacha was the first one who was thankful. “God has been really good to us. Whatever He gives, we have to be thankful,” he keeps reminding us.

 


Punctual

 

            As one who is not just punctual, Appacha is the type of person who always gets himself ready a few hours earlier. This is something which we never seem to understand why. Say if dinner is at 8pm, he would be ready by 4pm. When we asked him, he had once told us: “Dinner is soon. Better be on time than late.”

           

Caring

 

            Appacha impresses us as someone who is genuinely concerned about the well-being of each of his grandchildren. He has never failed to care for every one of us, always making sure that we didn’t get into trouble or hurt ourselves or do anything dangerous.

Whenever we bid him farewell before leaving for overseas, he never fails to ask all his grandchildren when they are coming back to Malaysia. And, his memory is so good that he can remember what is going on in the whole family.

            As our cousin, Rose recalls:

 

“Recently, when some of my university mates were doing a project, they came around to interview our Appacha. They were able to get their interview done because he was really very accommodating to my group of friends. The idea came across how proud he was of his family. Yet, of all things, I noticed that he feels his greatest achievement is his wife. He spoke so highly of her.”

 

When our cousin, Caleb was being mugged a second time, Appacha was quick to comfort him:

 

"When I was your age, and if someone came to me and tried to take money from me, I would have slapped the person and told him to go home. This is because I used to live in a small town and everyone knew everyone else. But nowadays, people carry guns and parangs and there are many cases of people getting hurt or dying by being a hero or trying to fight back. You did the right thing by just giving them your money.”

 

            Caleb said that this incident has taught him two things. One is that Appacha wanted him to feel better, and he was sensitive about Caleb’s feelings. What Appacha said did strike him that, in actual fact, there was nothing he could do to stop the mugging. The second lesson is Appacha has apparently demonstrated from this example that he was able to change with the times.

            Another way our Appacha has demonstrated his care was when the other cousins were rough with Sonia while playing, Appacha would be protective and remind them to be gentle with her.

 

 

Generous

 

            Generosity is also a very prominent trait in our Appacha. Besides being very generous with his friends, he has never failed to reward all of us in cash whenever we excelled in our studies. As a matter of fact, he also used to give even when we didn’t do well just to encourage us to try harder. He knew how to appreciate excellence. To him, rewarding an achievement was more important than giving away birthday gifts. To reward achievement, ourAppacha’s gift was always to make someone feel special.

            In order for him to make us feel that the rewards came with a lot of love and care, he would personally handwrite or type on the envelope, in which he placed some money. According to Rose, when she went to study in the United Kingdom, Appacha sent her a cheque from Sungai Petani for the amount of RM2000 as a bon voyage gift. “It really surprised me, but I was delighted by his loving tender care as my Appacha. Even on his birthdays, he would give something to each of the grandchildren. For his 50th wedding anniversary, I remember he gave each family a gold sovereign coin.”

            In many ways, our Appacha’s generosity has made an impact in our lives, and we fully agree with our cousin, Charis’ observation which represents our own:

 

“To me, I would always give our Appacha the recognition that he deserves. Even before I go to the US to do my PhD, or settle down in the US, I would also give him the credit for being a great man of God, who cares for his family. He has made an impact in our lives.”

 

 

             One With Incredible Memory

 

 

            Despite his age, Appacha can beat any of us at his favourite card game, called ‘Twenty Eight’. It is a game played by four players playing in pairs – a real test of one’s memory, capability and intelligence. It takes a lot of intelligence and memory to play the game. In the past, he would play with our uncles and aunties at the dining table after dinner. Now, he plays with us, and it would usually last for at least an hour or two every weekend whenever we met. He has such a fantastic memory that he can remember exactly what cards were thrown out. A round of cards is all that is needed to cheer him up when he is not feeling well. We think that is how he keeps his mind very sharp. The fact is he always wins because he has such a good memory. The nice feelings are when we play the game with him, we feel like being in one big happy family.

            His incredible memory has also helped him to relate incidences from a long time back. We have heard stories about the history of our family and our ancestors. This is a heritage that he has passed on to us as part of the Keerikkattu family. He always made sure that we understood our roots and where we originated. He would tell us stories that dated back to his early years in his hometown in Kerala. These childhood experiences must have meant a lot for him. There were also occasions when he would tell us a lot of stories about his life experiences, including the suffering that he had gone through during the Japanese Occupation. Interestingly, despite the scars, he does not show any resentment against the Japanese people; instead, he took up Japanese classes and learnt a few Japanese words, which he would use with us.

Johann recalls: “I remember him telling me about his personal experience during the Japanese Occupation. They used to have soldiers stationed at main intersections and roundabouts, and people were supposed to bow to them as they passed by.  Appacha said he once went past a Japanese soldier and forgot to bow. The soldier called him over.  He said he apologized and bowed many times, and was very relieved that the soldier sent him away without punishing him.  This story gave me an insight into the hardship many Malaysians went through during the Japanese occupation, and also the incredible history and changes that my grandfather has lived through and seen in his lifetime.”

            According to Jeshua, Appacha is also a great lover of mathematical arithmetic, riddles and jokes. “Sometimes, he would ask us, `What do you get when you multiply five by 25, and divide by 10, and then add 20?’ He does this just to tickle our brains. And, he usually has the answers without having to use the calculator.” This is interesting because Appacha is still very alert mentally at his age.

Cousin Isaak tells his own experience with Appacha:

 

“When I was eight years old, he asked me to name him the tallest waterfall in the world. He then told me the answer, Angel Falls in Venezuela. Once, he asked me a well-known riddle: ` Nine birds sitting on the tree, shoot one, how many are left?’ I answered: `None!’ He would give me a pat for the correct answer. I always find his story-telling, riddles and jokes very exciting. Whenever I am around him and other cousins these days, he tells us his stories of the time when he was young. He is also fond of telling us the naughty things he did as a boy in school. I remember one particular story: One day, he caught a rat and put it inside the classroom. Of course, everyone screamed, and he was punished by the teacher. That was how naughty my Appacha was when he was younger. That’s why he can understand us whenever we are caught doing naughty things. He has been through it. I cannot say how much I have always admired him for his generosity and his wise sayings. One of his favourite saying which he uses to encourage us when we lose the game of Twenty Eight is: `Failures are the pillars of success.”

 

Phobia for snakes

 

            Now, it is not as if our Appacha is a superman. Nor are we trying to paint our Appacha as being heroic all the way. We share this one aspect of his life which makes him as human as can be, like any of us. He has a phobia for snakes. He cannot even see pictures of snakes. As far as he is concerned, the very sight of a snake stresses him.

            Being the youngest of our cousins, John was playing with some rubber snakes on the couch one day inAppacha’s home in Sungai Petani. When Appacha saw it, he immediately asked the toy to be removed. On another occasion, Anna brought back a plastic snake to the Sungai Petani home. Appacha also made sure that Anna threw it away or burnt it. Ironically, as our Uncle Vijayan puts it: “The family name Keerikkattu came from the name of a place, where you get the mongoose and the cobra.” He could have developed his phobia for the snakes from young.

 

 

His prayers

 

Finally, as one of Appacha’s ex-neighbour, Uncle John Williams puts it in his pages about our Appacha – he was “a man of the earth who knows God’s holiness, his own weaknesses and celebrates God’s grace.” What he realized to be his weakness, he was able to supplement it with his prayers. He never forgets to pray for his children and grandchildren, and nearly for everyone he meets along the way. One thing we will never forget about our Appacha is his unfailing prayers for us, which is aptly described by Cousin Johann: “Appacha has been a man of faith for as long as I have known him, and he deeply trusts God to take care and watch over him and his family.  He commits us to prayer whenever we are facing major transitions. He has without fail prayed blessing over us all the time. We are blessed to have a grandfather like Appacha.”

He is also a God fearing man who loves God and his family. Every night, he would read the Bible aloud and sometimes sing a hymn in Malayalam. We can hear him even with the door closed!

            This is our Appacha, who has never ceased to amaze us! He is a true role model of a hardworking, determined, loving, light-hearted and God-fearing man. He has set a definition of work, life and love that is lacking in our generation. To him, our beloved Appacha, we dedicate a poem: (can one of the grandchildren compose the poem?)

 

 

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