‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them’ - William Shakespeare.
Portrait by Sumith David, my cousin
When I think of ‘Ichachan’, my grandfather, the late Kallarackal Varkey Abraham, I believe he had it all. One who never considered greatness something to be achieved, he realized the fullness of it through the simple example of his life. A scholar and teacher by profession, he practiced a greater measure of what he taught. The most realistic lessons that I have learnt about holiness, I learnt from him. The ethos of the Bible seemed to come alive, seeing God work in and through his life. Everything about love, faith, perseverance, courage, wisdom, grace, talent, faithfulness, prayer, music, everything…
Everyone knows that my grandfather was a blind man, not born blind, but became blind when he was less than two months of age. I don’t quite remember when I knew that he couldn’t see, but I do recall praying for him for that very reason. I was nine years of age and it was a summer vacation. My sister and I were staying with our grandparents for a few days before we would be with our parents for the holidays. I bought a beautiful white wallet which I gifted him, and I very innocently asked if he liked the colour. Very apologetically and with a note of humour in his voice, he replied, ‘you know I cannot say that, because I cannot see...’ He knew that I had no malice in my query, but his reply hurt me very deeply. As I was praying that evening I asked God, ‘please help my grandfather to see’. That was when he came from behind and gently whispered that I should not pray for that, because it was not God’s will for him to see. Such a magnanimous understanding and acceptance of God’s will!!! He later told me that he was blessed because he couldn’t see. Indeed, he could hear better than all of us. He could tell when it was going to rain by the smell of the air and the touch of the breeze. He would know a thief’s voice from a visitor’s at the door. He would know where the candles were when the power would go off. He would know how to ensure that all the clocks in the house would strike twelve at the same time. He would recognize a person by the voice, ten and twenty years later. He could hear a song but once and repeat it accurately the second time. He could tell if a student was trying to trick him by skipping a page of the book. He could tell about a person’s life like a prophet. He could know what it was to be so united with God and yet be so close to his family, students and friends… My grand father was an amazing man!!!
Whenever I would get to spend a few days with my grandparents, we would go visiting churches and spent time praying. Nothing seemed to fascinate him more than that. And I would consider it the greatest honour to take him by the hand to where ever he wanted to go. I was always so in awe of his devotion, he prayed seven times a day!!! He knew the Bible without having read it himself. I loved the way he sang, the way he ate, the way he rubbed his hands one into the other, the way he knocked the knuckles of both hands against the other, the way he slept long hours, groped and found his way, stealthily listened to every conversation thinking he was not seen… he was such a sweet and adorable person. His hearty laughter, the odour of his lovely bald head, the way he counted and stored away money to help less fortunate people or any of his students... Sometimes I thought he loved his students more than his family and I have even envied the closeness some of them shared with him. My grandfather’s house was like a seminary. There would be bishops, priests, deacons, deacons-to-be and students visiting all the time. We made good friends in some of them. But, truly truly, he loved us all - my grandmother, his children, their spouses and his grandchildren very dearly.
I remember him once asking me to sing ‘velivu niranjoreaso’, and he said to me, ‘if you were a boy, I will have made you a priest’. One vacation, when I was ten or so, I asked him if he could teach me ‘Suriyani’ and he taught me all the letters of the alphabet. After I had made myself thorough for a whole hour he asked me to narrate the letters of the alphabet backwards. Oh! That was a naughty and hard one to crack, but I got through. His standards were always very high. The perfectionist that he was, he was very hard to please. I asked him to teach me a ‘Suriyani’ song and he taught me the song ‘lam dee tho’ which I sing even now. He had a most unique voice and style of singing, something that never changed with age. I have tried so many times to imitate him and sing with that same tone and fervour. Even a week before he passed away, he led the evening prayers and sang, his voice resounding like that of a sixteen year old, clear and flawless.
The greatest gift that I have received from my grandfather was when I was studying in college. I was never a regular Bible reading person. He asked me if I would spend a single day without eating and I quickly replied that I wouldn’t. In the same way, he said that just as my body needed nourishment on a daily basis, my soul needed food everyday – the Word of God, and he gifted me a Bible.
In times of difficulty I ask my grandfather to pray for me, He was always close to God and I know now, that he surely is. The legacy he has left behind will endure for generations to come, truly the manifestation of the glory of God. John 9:3. I talk to my children about ‘Ichachan’, the great-grandfather they never got to see, a man the Church cherishes, his family treasures and their mother owes her faith to.
A TRIBUTE TO ICHACHAN
Seeing nought, you saw all,
Saw the Creator, heard His call;
In a world wrapped in darkness,
Your light shone with brightness-
So bright, of wide renown,
Such eternal seed you’d sown.
Endless words of wisdom,
Brave boast of God’s kingdom;
Embodiment of solitude,
Righteous in fortitude;
Made fishers of men,
Leaders from children!
Prayer was your life breath,
The example outlived your death,
Your heart and home a shelter,
For family, student and neighbour;
Such a great love, greater innocence,
Such a firm faith, humble radiance!
You knew the signs of time,
Every note, sound and chime,
Sang the song of the soul,
Exuberantly deep and whole;
A saint, role model and legend,
Your legacy and memories will not end.