Many moons ago, I knew a man. He was simple; he was straight-forward. What you saw was what you got. This man was very kind to me. He helped form my notions of what is truly right and good. He showed me that compassion is always in fashion and while walking the talk, you could, and more often than not, would, stumble upon obstacles that could cause you to falter, even fall. He told me there is no shame in that as long as you got back up, dusted the debris of doubt and fear off yourself, and kept walking. He was instrumental in instilling within me a joy for life. Life is given to be lived. He was also at times very cheeky. Once when he was asked his age, he said sixty six but claimed that’s just a number and his heart was, in fact, sixteen.
This man I used to know once did a very incredible thing for me. He somehow knew my lifelong mate, my future husband would not be one that was ‘recommended’ by others. He understood somehow it was not something he could force on me. No arranged marriages. Not for Gina. He knew that I would one day find that man and he trusted my heart to make the right choice. And he was happy when I did make that choice and loved my choice as his own. I owe this man everything. Even my life.
This man I used to know was my dearest Papa who died a year ago. He left this earthly world and is probably creating ruckus at the pearly gates right now, driving St.Peter utterly mad.
The cloud of sadness hung over me this past month as I dreaded the upcoming first anniversary of his death. There were days I felt like a bag of bones that could not be moved. I moped about. Then I remembered that he would hate to see me like this. So I baked his favourite rum-soaked fruitcake and bought a little Christmas tree. As I trimmed the tree today, I celebrated the joy of knowing Papa – his good, his bad and his unapologetic mischievousness.
I remember the young Malay lady I met when I was taking Mummy back to my hometown this past June in the Kuala Lumpur airport. She used to be one of Papa’s nurses at the dialysis center. She came up to us and said hello to Mummy; she asked how Papa is and Mummy told her that he had passed away. This young lady just burst into tears. She loved him, she said. “He was like a father to me. He would dance with me as I walked him out of the dialysis room.” This was the kind of man Papa was.
I realise today just how proud I am of this man. I am proud to be Anthikkat Verges George’s daughter. His passing created an emptiness in my heart. But I realise now that it was never empty. It was always filled with love. And nothing, not even death, can take that away from me.
Many of you have asked me about the eulogy I gave at Papa’s funeral. It’s taken me awhile to be okay with seeing these words again and the memories of the day they evoke but it is now a healing process.
Papa’s funeral was a very touching one. It was so because of the tiny details no one planned on but happened out of the goodness of the hearts and lives he touched. There was a young man going ahead of us, the funeral hearst and convoy, on his moped/motorcycle clearing traffic. I later found out that Papa had found him his job at a local government department. As we exited the church after the funeral service, we saw Papa’s former labourers, the very same ones who, decades ago, shared their tea and biscuits with me when I was little and drove in the car with Papa to work sites. That they, Muslims and Hindus came to pay their respects, was, and is something that to this day gets me teared up. That they remembered, and cared. This in short was the capsulation of Papa’s life. At his funeral, it will be said there were surgeons and judges in attendance… and his well-loved labourers.
Friday, December 4th, 2009
The Methodist Church, Alor Setar
Our Very Reverend Cor Episcopa Philip Thomas, Rev. Thomas Oomen, Pastors Simon Chandran, James and Noah, dear relatives and friends from near and far. On behalf of our family, I thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your presence here with us today as we remember my beloved father, Mr. Anthikkat Verghese George, who was called home by the Lord on Monday November 30th at 11.30a.m. at the age of 77.
The gospel of Mark 12:31 says, “Love your neighbour as yourself. There is NO commandment greater than this.”
Our Papa was a person who embodied this commandment of Jesus Christ in his life. He did it without being prompted or asked, it came naturally. He didn’t say much about it, he just did it. You could even say it was in his DNA. Papa’s grandfather in the Indian state of Kerala, was a certain Dr. John Easow Mullasseril who is famous for his Malayalam hymns, still sung to this day in Orthodox Syrian churches. The most well-loved of his songs is “Nalla Devane Nyanggal”, based on Psalm 23. But he was also much loved by the local community of Muslims and Hindus who called him Sahib. It was his kindness that endeared him to them, from his free healthcare services to giving wise counsel to those who came seeking it. Those of you here who know Papa can see the similarities. Papa’s oldest brother ran a charity after his retirement that manufactured prosthetics at a low cost for those without limbs and taught cottage industry skills to the local poor. So you see, it truly was in Papa’s blood to help others anytime, anywhere. He reached out to the needy and you always saw A.V.George in his KN 1221, zipping down the streets of Alor Setar, giving countless people rides to church, school or the hospital. This was Papa in action as the hands and feet of Jesus on earth, doing what He commanded to do, taking care of the poor, the needy, the sick, the widowed and the fatherless.
Papa also had a wicked sense of humour. Most of you who know him, know this quite well. Every caroling season had its retelling of his Kuala Kangsar Katti joke. Papa was a man who saw life as one to be lived in the joy of the Lord, which truly was his strength.
As I stand here, I look out into this crowd of faces. Some I know so well, others we don’t get to see very often but the sight of which bring such affectionate memories. I truly thank you for making the hours long journey to be here to honour Papa. You were among his first friends in Malaysia and you are some of Rajanchachen’s and my first memories. At your tables we ate home-cooked meals, had evening prayers together, heard witty jokes and no holds-barred teasings. You made our childhood memories just that, memorable because you made us your family. Through your friendships with Papa, Chachen and I learnt how to be good friends. For giving us that lovely gift, we thank you.
When you think of Papa, this diamond in the rough, you cannot separate his memory from the anchor that held him firm to the rock of Christ; his companion, nurse, friend and advocate especially in his final years, our Mummy. He loved her with a simple love – driving her to the University, an hour each way, almost everyday, worrying she had not seen her family in India enough etc. You see, my brother and I have giant footsteps to follow. Papa imprinted upon us his compassion and love for the least of these that Jesus commanded us to care for. And Mummy showed us by example what marriage vows are all about. She gave Papa non-stop care for the past 5 years. When we brought Papa back from Seattle, he was given only 2 years to live. It is only due to Mummy’s unwavering care that Papa lived this long. When Christ said two shall become one, Mummy illustrated it by being Papa’s voice when he couldn’t speak, his eyes when he couldn’t see, his ears when he couldn’t hear. He wouldn’t be able to hear the doctors or nurses but Papa could always hear and understand Mummy.
As his daughter, I grew up as his little shadow. I followed him everywhere. He held my hand on my first day as I walked into St. Nicholas Convent Primary School for the first time; he held my hand when we crossed crazy, scary Malaysian roads, he held my hand when I was sick and he held my hand as he walked me down this very aisle on my wedding day. On Monday morning, Papa’s hands were held by the nail-driven hands of Jesus as he was ushered into his final destination, this rough diamond, polished in the end by the fire of life and faith.
Today, though our hearts are heavy with grief and sorrow, we know we have gathered as Papa’s family and friends, not to mourn his life but to celebrate his living of it. For Anthikkat Verghese George ran the good race and fought the good fight and we know he has heard the words we all want to hear when one day, when we too cross over the river Jordan, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”.
The song I refer to in the text, written by my great-grandfather, is actually on youtube:
The photo is of my parents as newly-weds.