SPOTLIGHT

Farewell Appappan

Published : Mar 21, 2024 11:00 IST - 6 MINS READ

I never sensed that Appappan had fun with life. He seemed perpetually intertwined with miseries of myriad hues.

I never sensed that Appappan had fun with life. He seemed perpetually intertwined with miseries of myriad hues. | Photo Credit: Illustration by Siddharth Sengupta

Tall and seasoned, my grandfather had encountered seven witches, two giant trolls, and countless imps and chaathans in his lifetime.

It rained in Kombodinjamakkal the day my grandfather Palathingal Devassy Ouseph passed away. It was in July 1996, and the world seemed indifferent to the departure of an old man. Appappan, as I fondly called him, had stomach cancer, but he departed oblivious to the stealthy invasion of mischievous cells conquering every inch of his insides. No one had the heart to inform him about the nature of his ailment and that his days were numbered. With seven children—five sons and two daughters—and a decent gathering of grandchildren, the collective decision was to let the old man part in peace, clinging to hope.

Can one depart with hope? I did not comprehend it then. I felt that in that final moment, with the realisation that one is leaving behind everything one loves, all forms of hope should cease to flutter, and one should succumb to the inevitable in disgrace. I was a mere 13, and each visit to the hospital fuelled my desire to tell him the harsh truth about his imminent demise. However, the radiant hope in his eyes restrained me. “I’m going to jump out of this bed and start running in just a week, kdaave,” he consoled me one sombre evening. I could not meet his weary yet shining eyes and his pallid, wrinkled cheeks. Wrinkles, the uniform of the dying, adorned him abundantly. His skin at times retreated into itself and occasionally expanded unwittingly, forming disorderly patterns, especially on his neck and cheeks. Even young people in the village wore wrinkles on their bodies before their demise. I had seen this myself.

Yes, not everyone experiences a tangible death; some die within and are buried decades later, like my uncle Kunjuvareeth Peppan. He bid farewell to this world the day he lost his job at an arrack shop when a Congress government banned the sale of the humble brew. Losing nearly all his money, he became a curse that missed its target.

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“Your peppan died that very day, traa-kdaave” (roughly meaning, “right, my dear”), he told me later, “what is left now is the burial.” Some years later, cirrhosis of the liver claimed him.

But Appappan was not a loser like his son; he was a survivor. He exuded the aura of a “been-there-done-that” hero. Tall and seasoned, he had encountered seven witches, two giant trolls, and countless imps and chaathans in his lifetime. Although he seldom visited us, his tales of confronting evil filled our small house, which was just a stone’s throw from a towering peepul tree that every night assumed the shape of eerie creatures.

To him, evil was not entirely malevolent; it was a form of karmic retribution. “We all have to compensate for our mistakes; these fellows do that a few births later,” he reasoned. I bought into that logic; night crawling was merely a return on their investment. “Will you become a giant troll once you’re dead?” I asked him once. “Sheesh! Never, never,” he shrugged it off. “I am not a sinner. I am just having fun with life. And Jesus knows that very well. He had so much fun with his life.”

A lamp on rainy nights

But I never sensed that Appappan had fun with life. He seemed perpetually intertwined with miseries of myriad hues. At one point in history, he was an Anchal Sipayi, a postman. A neighbour once recounted seeing him dashing through market crowds, ringing the postman’s bell. It must have been a challenging job then, considering that during my stint as a postman’s assistant in Kombodinjamakkal years later, deciphering addresses was still confusing. Punnelipparambil Thomas had many claimants, and unravelling the intended recipient was a daunting task.

However, my grandfather was spared any continued confusion by persistent stomach issues. Falling ill, he relinquished the job to his brother and resorted to odd jobs: painting houses, selling jaggery-tea at local festivals, trading marotti nuts, or even climbing trees. He never earned more than what was necessary to feed his family. Despite maintaining a measured distance from his children, they orbited around him like moths drawn to a lamp on rainy nights.

The day he passed away, all his children wept, concealing their grief from their siblings. I did not cry because I was still grappling with the idea of sitting next to a lifeless body the next day—an unnerving thought. I felt tense. I despised Catholic dirges; the mournful melodies made me feel like the departed.

In the morning, I avoided my uncle’s house where Appappan’s body lay. Instead, accompanied by a cousin, I took charge of distributing maranakkuri (literally, notice of death) in the neighbourhood. It took us an hour, and we returned home panting like dogs, thinking of a much-needed bath. But my cousin was sent away to fetch flowers for the funeral, and as I entered the narrow lane leading to my house, I heard a faint click-clack noise emanating from the house. Everyone was supposed to be in the tharavadu, the ancestral home, so I peeked in, wondering who was inside.

Mournful sky

There sat my father, steeped in what seemed like agonising melancholy. A tailor by profession, he was fumbling through a stack of white cotton cloth in a wooden box. Then he selected the best piece and began cutting and stitching it. My father always smiled when he sat at his sewing machine, but this time he was not smiling. I saw his eyes well up as he touched the cotton cloth he was stitching. “Appacha, what are you doing here?” I asked hesitantly. He looked at me and forced a smile. “I am stitching a shirt for Appappan. Let’s make him wear it once the coffin is prepared.”

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I remained silent and glanced around. The morning sky appeared mournful, with a few crows and parrots perched on an electric post nearby. “I’m the luckiest of his children,” I heard my father say. “He will be wearing the shirt I stitched on his last journey!” I took my bicycle and pedalled fast towards our tharavadu. The wind, slicing through my nostrils and eyes, cut my tears into many slices.

Reaching the house, I approached Appappan’s body. His still, pale, and peaceful form lay on a cot, touched by the morning sun. A sense of tranquillity enveloped me. It seemed as if he had departed with hope. I sensed a hidden smile behind his closed eyes, and his wrinkles looked serene. His lips wore the kiss of death.

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