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When 22-year-old Kanyakumari native Beautlin Rexy heard of her father Rajakumar Thankappan's death in 2020, her only hope was to receive his cremated ashes so she and her 20-year-old brother Adlin Rahul could lay him to rest as per their spiritual beliefs.
Thankappan, a blue-collar worker based in Ajman, UAE, died on May 14, 2020, due to complications caused by Covid-19. Per peak pandemic protocols, his mortal remains were cremated at the Al Ain crematorium for non-Muslims shortly after his death. According to his death notification, Thankappan died from respiratory arrest following complications caused by Covid-19.
No one to claim his ashes
As no relatives or family friends of Thankappan's in the UAE were willing to take on the responsibility of transporting his ashes back home to India, authorities kept them at the Khalifa Hospital mortuary in Ajman. However, Kerala-native and Dubai resident Sijo Paul, a man with no family relation to Thankappan, came forward to collect the ashes from authorities on behalf of his children.
Paul decided to help Thankappan's family after realising they were both Christian Mission Service orphanage students in South India.
"I studied at the CMS Pallickal in Mavelikkara, Alappuzha, Kerala, and he was a student of CMS Puthenkadai, Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu," he said.
"As if destiny ordained it, someone had posted on WhatsApp about Thankappan's death and his kids' plight. That is when I decided to step in and help," said Paul.
Paul has not been able to travel to India since 2020 due to financial and job-related issues.
"Thankappan's company PRO was authorised to take it from the mortuary. However, due to the Covid situation, they could not take responsibility. I kept the ashes in my house for two years. I was in touch with Thahira," he stated.
Act of communal harmony
Today, almost two years after his death, Thankappan's ashes will finally be flown home to his native in Kanyakumari by a social worker and senior audiologist with Abu Dhabi Health Services Company's (Seha) - Thahira Kallumurikkal. Community members are calling Kallumurikkal's and Paul's initiatives an act of communal harmony.
The Covid-19 frontliner and social worker came across this case after a Kerala-based journalist- Rejimon Kuttappan - informed her of Thankappan's family's plight.
A resident of UAE since 2010, Kallumurikkal is also the author of the book 'This Too Shall Pass.' The book is a powerful account of the challenges faced and overcome by social workers and organisations helping expats in need during the height of the recent pandemic.
"I had decided to distribute the proceeds from my book sales to children of UAE-based Covid-19 victims for their education needs. Half of the proceeds went to Thankappan's family, and when they shared the picture of their father's makeshift tombstone, my heart broke, and I had to do something to help them," said Kallumurikkal.
Kallumurikkal met with Paul two weeks ago. After completing all the necessary paperwork, including getting a missing cremation document, Kallumurikkal plans to travel to India with Thankappan's ashes next week.
"We received much support from the Consulate General of India in Dubai as his former company registered his death with the mission. Last week Paul came over with the ashes to the Consulate, and after all formalities, they sealed the package and handed it over to us. I will hopefully travel to India next Wednesday and hand it over to his children," she explained.
Paul commented on keeping the ashes with him for two years, "Like everyone, I also had fears and superstitions about keeping the ashes with me. However, the desire to complete the wishes of Thankappan's kids was more powerful than my fear. That is why I kept it with me for two years," said Paul.
"Moreover, all this happened during peak Covid. People were scared to even talk to each other, forget about carrying a Covid patient's mortal remains back home to India," he added.
'We can lay him to rest near our mother.'
Thankappan's children - Beautlin and Adlin – had even erected a small makeshift headstone for their father right next to their mother's tomb since they had lost hopes of getting his cremation ashes from the UAE.
"My mother died in 2012 after a fire accident. Our grandmother lives with us; however, she has cancer and underwent uterus removal surgery," Beautlin told Khaleej Times over a phone call from India.
Beautlin said her father had moved to the UAE in 2019 to improve their finances.
"He departed for UAE on July 27, 2019. Nine months later, we lost him to Covid. Before he left, he worked as a watchman in a hospital in Kanyakumari," she explained.
Before their mother's death, Thankappan ran a business in Coimbatore. "He was devastated after our mother died. He sold everything, and we moved back to Kanyakumari. We were small children when that happened," she explained.
"We are struggling financially. I completed my MSc in Mathematics and have enrolled on a Bachelors in Education programme. I cannot work as my grandmother needs to be taken care of. However, my brother does small work as a marriage decorator whenever they happen," she said.
Thankappan's children now look forward to laying their father to rest.
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