Sarvodayam Kurian (11 January, 1920 to 15 July, 1999)
Kurian Parackal of Narakkal, Kerala, strictly a Gandhian (follower of Mohnadas K. Gandhi) was never a card holding member of the Sarvodaya movement which worked to promote the kind of society that Gandhiji envisioned.
Kurian’s social work among the needy, poor and helpless, and the common people included Gandhian methods of padayathra (walk for a cause) and sathyagraha (form of non-violent social and political struggle which includes even fast unto death).
When the people of Vypin saw Kurian working on Gandhian and Sarvodaya principles, they spontaneously added the fond appellation “Sarvodayam” to his name. He humbly accepted the popular title and it further motivated him to do more. Thus for some 50 years of his life, he was known both in Kerala and abroad as the one and only Sarvodayam Kurian.
The costal belt of Kerala and in particular Vypin Island, near Kochi were exposed to cholera epidemic on a seasonal basis due to various reasons such as climate change, unhealthy seasonal food consumption, and lack of general hygiene. Cholera attack is under control these days due to better living standards and improved health care.
During the days of late Sarvodayam Kurian, it was difficult to contain the epidemic due to limited medical care access. Kurian initiated the free cholera vaccine scheme through the support of Government Health Department. With help of several youth from the Island, Kurian educated the public on the need of taking the preventive vaccination. They used to visit all major junctions of the Island and announce the place, date and the time when free vaccine would be provided. Punctually arriving on his bicycle, Kurian would supervise the vaccination of thousands of Islanders. This immensely helped control the epidemic and save several lives.
During the time of cholera epidemic, especially in 1964 and 1982, the unfortunate victims were left with hardly any health care as there were only three primary health centres for a few million inhabitants. People died like flies. Even family members were afraid of burying their diseased for fear of contracting deadly cholera. Kurian would pick up the dead body with the help of few local good Samaritans.
It was during one such epidemic, Kurian introduced the first Free Stretcher Service in Vypin Island. Even though the use of stretcher is free in the Island, two or four people are required for carrying patients or dead body. Among the brave men who came forward, Kurian would be the first one to volunteer. Kurian used to print hand bills containing precautionary warnings to prevent spread of cholera, and personally go round on his cycle distributing them.
The deadly Small Pox was one of the major killers in the Island with no treatment due to the virus out break and lack of proper and timely medical attention. None of the medical centres nor hospitals could accommodate the patients because of the infectious nature of the decease and lack of medicines to treat the disease. Majority of the infected patients ended up losing life.
However, thanks to World Health Organization’s Small Pox Eradication, Kurian took instant measure to implement it in the Island just as he did for the Cholera Vaccine Immunization. Along with several young men and women volunteers, Kurian went on his bicycle visiting every junction in Vypin Island creating public awareness on Small Pox prevention and cure. The young Samaritans were always his strength.
The majority of the infected Small Pox patients end up dying in most of the cases at home, often not attended even by close relatives. In the torrid tropical conditions, the dead body begins to decay fast. As soon as Kurian heard about any unattended dead body in the Island, he moved in and picked up the body for its last rites. In most cases, he had to do it single handedly, as people were afraid of the communicable disease. Often he would role up the body in bed sheet or straw mat (paya). After tying it up with ropes he loaded it at the back of his bicycle and went straight to the graveyard for burial.
There are two memorable experiences worth mentioning.
Once, for lack of time and volunteers to dig graves, Kurian had two dead bodies buried in one grave.
On another occasion, Kurian took a presumably dead Small Pox victim to bury and it started moving during the burial as death had not occurred. As the body showed signs of life it was taken back home.
Kurian may not have saved many lives but single handedly helped many infected Small Pox victims. Whoever survived with the deep scars Small Pox left on their body for the rest of their life recall with fond memory Kurian’s love and care that saved them.
Chicken Pox was another virus infection, but far lighter compared to Small Pox. An infectious disease, it is communicable among close associates especially the family members. Not as dangerous as Small Pox, the casualty is far less, if no other complications are associated. The virus can keep the patient home bound for about two weeks. However, being communicable, loved ones stayed away. Compared with Small Pox, the scars are lighter and most disappear in two or three months.
As the annual Chicken Pox season arrives, Kurian makes rounds on his bicycle visiting the patient and the family, gives possible medication and advise. He leaves only after educating the rest of the family members and neighbours how to avoid spreading the disease. Senior Islanders still remember Kurian making his communicable disease prevention awareness rounds.
A rare and curable disease these days, Tuberculosis (TB) was widespread disease in Kurian’s days. Considering the number of patients who could not have two meals and proper medication, Kurian decided to finance, build and handover, a 15-bed TB ward to Narakkal Government Hospital. He made sure to visit the patients daily and follow up their diet which included egg and milk among others. Also, if required, the medicines such as Streptomycin, INH and PAS were also provided, if the same was not available at the Government Hospital.
The number of cases were very high and Kurian was a regular visitor to The Leprosy Sanatorium at Koratty, with his contributions of medicines, dressing and food.
Illicit Liquor tragedy
Though, every now and then, people die due to the consumption of illicit liquour, one of the worst ever liquor tragedy happened in Vypin Island during the Onam (harvest festival) celebrations in 1982. It killed 78 people, blinded 63, crippled 15 and nearly 650 families were reduced to penury.
As the tragic news reached Kurian, he did not wait for government action. As he always believed in instant action, he hired an auto-rickshaw fixed two loud speakers on top of the auto (one facing front and the other facing back) and drove through every nook and corner of 21 km long and 3 km wide Vypin Island announcing that victims be given Indian Made Foreign Liquor as first aid. This unorthodox but scientifically effective antidote followed by proper medical assistance saved hundreds of lives that day.
Whenever natural calamities such as earth quake, flood and famine occured, Kurian would visit the site with emergency aid such as clothes, food, medicine and money collected from Vypin Island. No one refuses Kurian’s genuine request to help the needy. Some of the major disaster relief Kurian undertook included flood relief in Patna (Bihar), Bangladeshi refugee relief (Indo-Bangladesh border near Calcutta), and earthquake relief in Lathur (Maharashtra).
On his trip to Bangladesh in 1971, Kurian stopped at Calcutta and visited Mother Teresa with contributions to help the needy at Missionaries of Charity facilities.
Father of 600 Orphans
Sarvodayam Kurian had a Chemist Shop at Narakkal in the middle of the Vypin Island since 1950’s. He inherited it from his uncle late E. A. Kurian. Sarvodayam associated with healthcare as he cared much about the well being of people. Prior to that, during World War II, Kurian served with Red Cross in Nagaland and Trincomalee (then Ceylon, now Sri Lanka).
Kurian, though father of five (3 boys and 2 girls) children, always cherished an affection towards children which was directed toward the less fortunate and abandoned ones.
Once when Kurian was in Fort Cochin for some reason, he saw a crowd in front of the General Hospital. On enquiry he found an unclaimed infant left on the hospital steps. Kurian gathered up the crying baby and crossed the ferry from Fort Cochin to Vypin and carried it on his bicycle and headed to Narakkal Government Hospital, where he had built three 15-bed wards (Maternity, TB & Pediatric, and Children). He requested the nurse in-charge to take care of the baby until he returned.
Kurian went and put an advertisement in the newspaper stating that a baby was available for adoption. In three days someone from Changanacherry arrived at Narkkal requesting the baby boy since they had three girls already. Several others also requested for the baby boy. However, Kurian decided to give the baby to the family from Changanacherry. Since then, Kurian never looked back. The number of foundlings steadily increased from one to 600 plus before he died at the age of 79. Most of them are well placed and many used to visit him, when he was alive.
The criteria of selecting the parents for the orphans was based on the need of the family, a quick evaluation and on the spot decision. No financial commitments were involved, and Kurian never failed or regretted decisions.
In his passion for the welfare of children and mothers, Kurian contributed a 15-bed Children’s Ward and a 15-bed Maternity Ward to the Narakkal Government Hospital. In total, there are three 15-bed wards (45 beds in total) at Narakkal funded from Kurian’s personal earnings. They were handed over to the Health Ministry, Govt. of Kerala with full administration rights.
Kurian also contributed a piece of land to the neighboring Island of Kadamakkudy for the purpose of building a hospital ward.
Recognition of achievers
Kurian instituted a Gold Medal for the top scorer in the school final examinations (SSLC 10th grade) from 15 plus High Schools in Vypin Island. Begun in 1962, the annual award event still continues. The topper is recognized in one of the major functions due on the Island immediately after the results. In addition Kurian visits the winner’s school to attend the morning assembly and address both students and staff. Kurian is a regular visitor to the schools on the Island, to meet both students and teachers, and appreciate their contributions towards the society. Kurian is still remembered for his vibrant speeches which always ended with the slogan shouting: Bharath Matha Ki – Jai (Mother India - Hail)!
The Indian Soldiers (Javans) who participated in Indo- China, Indo – Pakistan, and Kargil wars were recognized by Kurian who organized felicitation meetings for them with the help of the Island youth. A friend to all, Kurian always harnessed the support of the Islanders both young and old.
Kurian was a regular guest in all functions of the society and at family events with or without invitation. He always made sure to speak a few words in appreciation.
As a true Gandhian, Kurian conducted sathyagraha (fast unto death to protest shortage of drinking water and undue price increase) and padayatra (journey on foot to create social or spiritual awareness).
In one of the fund raising events at Malipuram, Kurian donated the wrist watch he wore and never wore another again in his life. Even without a wrist watch, Kurian never delayed in his commitments. Invited to any function he was there on the dot or earlier. If other guest speakers, be it a high official or a political leader arrived late, Kurian would deliver his speech and leave without any fuss.
At every available opportunity Kurian insisted with students on the value of time and punctuality.
Kurian maintained transparency in all his dealings. He was not aligned to any political ambitions although all political parties and their affiliates kept Kurian in their good books. Irrespective of caste and creed, rich and poor, Kurian was their safety net at the time of need. He kept a very good contact with many of the leaders from the different paths of life: political, administrative, religious and had easy access to them. This was evident on the day of his funeral when people poured into Vypin making life on the Island standstill from morning till late evening.
People from all walks of life flocked there: students, young and old, male and female, politicians, artists, and religious leaders of all shades. All religious groups paid their respects to the departed soul with bhajans (repetitive devotional singing), readings from respective sacred scriptures like Bible, Gita and Qur’an.
In the month of July, surprisingly, the monsoon rains put a hold until Kurian’s last rites were done and then came a heavy down pour, immediately after completing the funeral service.
Kurian Parakal, son of Cherian Parakal and Alice Parakal was born at Narakkal on 11th January, 1920. Kurian was the second among seven children for the family (4 brothers and 3 sisters). Kurian’s early years had several ups and more of downs, compelling him to shoulder responsibility of the family, since he lost his father at a young age.
Though Kurian was born on 11th January, his birth day is celebrated on 2nd October - Gandhi Jayanti day to honour his inspiration Mahathma Gandhi.
Kurian married Celine Kurian on 3rd June 1952 and was blessed with five children, three boys and two girls.
All his children are well settled in different parts of the world. Majority of them are in India. Kurian’s younger brother Mr. Anthony Parakal is a Ginnes Book of Records and Limca Book of Records holder for writing “Letters to the Editor” since 1952, highlighting social issues and in turn help solving them. Mr. Anthony Parakal is settled in Mumbai.
Kurian had a short stint in the army during the World War II, which took him to Nagaland and then to British Ceylon where he joined the Red Cross. After WW II, Kurian decided to stay back in Narakkal, to fight a different kind of war against natural and human disasters.
Kurian would not hesitate to travel to these areas to do whatever he could to ease their suffering by distributing dress, food, medicine and cash which he gathered from generous Islanders.
Following the footsteps of Gandhiji, Kurian lead a simple life with absolutely no luxury. He wore hand woven (khadi) white shirt and dhoti. His favourite mode of transport was bicycle (two wheeler) which he enjoyed riding kilometers after kilometers. His trade mark was carrying foundling infant on his shoulder on bicycle. This ride could even start from southern tip of Vypin at Munambam or Parur in the north (7 to 14 kilometers) away. Kurian’s day started as early as 5 am and could carry on till late night as and when required.
By the time people start their daily life (9 am ), Kurian has done the majority of the job of the day, like visiting sick people, attending the hospital wards, cleaning the hospital compounds and toilets... Between 9.00 am and 10.00 am, Kurian visits different school assembly’s addressing the students, where he is always welcome.
Kurian enjoyed speaking engagements and took short classes on social work (from his personal experiences) for junior school and colleges students as well as various seminars for different social and religious groups, even beyond Vypin Island.
The award cherished most by Kurian was a Twenty Rupee note received from a small boy. Kurian won many local, national and international awards. Noted among them are:
1) Ratna Siromani from the President of India
2) Priyadarshini Award from Abu Dhabi Priyadharshini Study Forum
3) Outstanding Social Worker Gold Medal from Chief Minister of Kerala, the late E.K. Nayanar
4) Stallions International Award
5) Red Cross Society Award
6) A.K.C.C’s Syriac Kandathil Award received from Cardianl Antony Padiyara (1992)
7) Care & Share Award (1993) from a Chicago based organization which Kurian received from then revenue Minister K.M. Mani
8) Social Worker of the Year Award instituted by Hero Magazine.
There are many more awards and achievements to list. The awards and photos of his various activities, the published articles and his personal collections are all exhibited at his home in Narakkal. Often groups of students are seen visiting his home for an exposure on Kurian’s life and times. END