Kasaragod: M M Chacko, who was partially paralysed by polio but soldiered on to rescue and change the lives of around 2,000 persons with physical and intellectual disabilities, died Thursday night. He was 52.
Chacko died of a heart attack three hours after he was informed of the death of his mother-in-law Annamma (83) in Kannur Government Medical College at Pariyaram, his daughter Susmitha Chacko said.
"They were very close," she said.
Chacko, a native of Vazhavatta near Kalpetta, married Annamma's daughter Sheela, a native of Elamakkara in Kochi, on December 31, 1989. "Since then, my grandma has been living with my parents," said Susmitha.
Sheela (49) and Chacko together built the New Malabar Punaradhivasa Kendram at Malappachery, a village in Kasaragod district's Madikai grama panchayat.
Over the years, it became the principal rehabilitation centre in the district for orphans, elderly couples, the destitute, and people with disabilities.
"Almost every day, the police will drop two or three persons picked from the streets. They could be psychiatric patients who ran away from their houses or destitutes. We may not have space but papa can never say no," said Susmitha (25), a contract teacher in an aided school in Kanhangad.
In the past 19 years, the centre has taken care of 1,803 persons. Now, it has 116 inmates, 60 of them women. "We have room for only 30 women. Papa was building a new block and a permanent kitchen," said Manu Chacko (22), who helps run the rehab centre.
In 2019, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan honoured Chacko with the Social Justice Department's award for social service by a person with disabilities.
"That year, Chacko was the only person selected for the awards," said district social justice officer Sheeba Mumtaz.
75% disability, 100% commitment
Chacko was the third of four children born to farmer-couple Thresiamma and Joseph Mullakkudiyil at Vazhavatta in Wayanad district. At the age of five, he was infected by poliovirus, paralysing his leg, weakening his breathing muscles, and hampering his physical growth. Doctors evaluated his disabilities to be more than 75%.
"He had caring parents and siblings. But at a very young age he decided that he would help others who were not as lucky as him," Susmitha said.
After completing his pre-degree (Class XII), Chacko set up a telephone booth at Kalpetta in 1986. It was the first telephone booth which offered the facility to make long-distance calls in Kalpetta.
"The booth soon became a meeting point for people with disabilities. My father used to tell them about their rights and the opportunities available to them," she said.
Later, he started touring the length and breadth of the state creating awareness among people with disabilities, helping find life partners for them, and also arranging money, if needed, for their weddings.
He and Sheela met during those years. They got married in 1990. Now, he had a partner who thought like him.
Seven years after their wedding, Susmitha was born and the couple went to the Divine Retreat Centre, a popular spiritual retreat centre near Chalakudy. "They were keeping a vow they made for a child," Susmitha said.
At the retreat centre, Sheela spent little time praying and meditating. Instead, she cared for the people with disabilities, cleaning them and cooking and feeding them. "Papa told her if she likes doing these things, they should start a home for those who need such care," she said.
But their dream to start a rehabilitation centre came true only in 2002 when the couple came to Kasaragod to meet Chacko's old friend Abdul Aziz.
Aziz, a native of Padinjarathara in Wayanad, was running a small restaurant at Kalnad, 6km from Kasaragod town.
Aziz rented a house in Kalnad for Chacko and Sheela and asked them to start the rehabilitation centre.
One of the first inmates of the centre was Muhammed Mustafa. Mustafa was only 25 years old then. He was stinking because he could not control urine and bowel movements. His right arm was deformed and fingernails had dug into the palm of his clenched hand. "A lawyer brought him to our centre when Mustafa collapsed in front of his car," Susmitha said.
Sheela and Chacko took him in and cleaned him up. He had collapsed because he had not eaten anything for days. Sheela made him hold a small bowl to open up his fist. She also made him draw water from the well, an activity he liked, to straighten his arm. "Mustafa is still with us. He is one of the best caregivers we have," said Manu.
Then there is Gaffoor, a hyperactive psychiatric patient. Inmates call him Gaffu. He cannot talk. "When he reached the centre, he had matted hair and was wearing three shirts. And he had some Hindi words tattooed on his arm," said Susmitha.
It took Sheela and Chacko four years to find that the tattoo was Gaffoor's address. "When papa knew Gaffu is from Kolkata, he decided to take him to his family," she said.
Though Chacko cannot stand or walk without help, he booked two tickets and took Gaffoor to Kolkata in 2008. He sought the help of a Malayali nun in Missionaries of Charity to find the address. "When Gaffu reached his house, he recognised his mother and they both hugged each other for a long time," she said.
Nine years before, he left home on the eve of Gaffoor's sister's wedding. He had done that before, too, and that was why his mother tattooed the address on his arm.
Chacko managed to return home from Kolkata. But five months later, he got a call from Gaffoor's mother. He had turned the home upside down insisting on returning to Sheela. "Now Gaffoor's mother visits him every four months," said Susmitha.
The unfinished dream
When the number of inmates increased, the couple rented a bigger place in Pallikkara near Bekal.
In 2010, when Chacko got his share from his parent's property in Wayanad, he sold it and bought three acres at Malappachery, a remote hamlet in Kasaragod's Madikai panchayat.
The couple then set up the New Malabar Punaradhivasa Kendra with the help of residents of Madikai. It is an old age home, psychiatric care centre, home for the destitute and people with disabilities, and a palliative care centre. "We also provide caregivers to elderly persons living alone. Elderly couples who stay with us are given rooms so they can be together. Even though there is limited space, we don't separate them," said Sushmita.
On any given day, at least four of their inmates will be in hospitals in Kannur, Kanhangad, or Mangaluru. The centre spends around Rs 3,000 every day on psychiatric medicines. "There have been days when we don't have money to buy washing soap or coconut. But by evening, someone will come here like an angel. We never had to carry our troubles to the next day," she said.
The centre still runs its kitchen from a makeshift room.
Chacko was constructing a residential block for women at a cost of Rs 1 crore and a spacious kitchen at a cost of Rs 12 lakh.
A CPM-run store in the neighbourhood supplied cement and steel on credit. That helped Chacko make some progress.
"But as the institution kept growing, my papa was getting weaker," said Susmitha. For the last week, he had been having breathing problems. But he will not get admitted to the hospital saying other inmates need hospital care, Sushmitha said. The doctor then advised him not to talk or walk.
On Thursday, Susmitha had to take her grandmother Annamma to Pariyaram medical college. Doctors diagnosed her with advanced pneumonia. Two minutes after she was shifted to the ward, Annamma died.
Around 7 pm, when Susmitha returned, the entire rehab centre was grieving. "I thought it was because my grandma died. I didn't know I lost my papa, too," she said.
Thalassery Archbishop Mar Joseph Pamplany will conduct the funeral service of Annamma and Chacko at St Alphonsa Church at Chayoth near Nileshwar at 3 pm on Saturday.
Susmitha said her mother, brother, and she will continue the work of her father. "This is my papa's dream. His life. He will live forever through this institute," she said.