INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.

INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
Comfort Six Feet Under

Frankpet Fernandez is on a mission to ensure that the deceased are given a proper burial space
GRAVE CONCERN: Fernandez and his son Mark

It's ironic really. There is literally no breathing space in the 200-year-old, 24-acre Kilpauk Cemetery in Chennai. Dilapidated tombstones ridden with untamed cactii and strewn with weather-worn souls-it is like a wasteland. But if you stroll further inside and listen to the cemetery trees, you are in for a welcome relief. In a small picket-fenced corner, a century-old tree's shadow falls like a huge hat on a patch of manicured grass. Well-maintained graves, encircled by neat rows of flowers, rest in picture-perfect peace. Frankpet Fernandez, retired builder and social do-gooder and the man behind this space, is on a mission to ensure that the deceased have a cosy resting place six feet under.

An endeavour that has consumed over two decades of his life, Fernandez says, "It started when a friend told me about his fear of death because of the dismal condition of the cemeteries." In an attempt to tackle this problem, Fernandez called upon the Madras Cemeteries Association (MCA). "I asked for land at the Kilpauk Cemetery but they were not convinced about my idea," he explains. After countless discussions and much paperwork, his persistence paid off. "They finally relented to our demands as long as we didn't claim any ownership of the land." The MCA allotted him three grounds spanning 8,000 sq ft in all to create an idyllic burial space. With this vital resource at his disposal, Fernandez put his experience as a builder to immediate use. Spending over Rs 20 lakh from his own pocket, he laid out a cemetery where even angels will love to tread. "The main cemetery rejected our plan to create a pond," says his son Mark who maintains a colour-coded log book of the 60 people from across the world who have reserved their graves here.

Traditional Christian laws require at least 14 years before opening a family vault for another burial but Fernandez is urging the Government to bring it down to five. "As cemeteries are filling up rapidly, churches must devote 10 per cent of their property for a graveyard," he reasons. His visiting card may say "Citizen of India" but Fernandez is a lone ranger in this kingdom of darkness. For all his private effort for a public cause, he has never been tempted to crave any accolades. In the Gospel there is a notion that if you are doing good for people without them knowing it's you, then it's a higher form of spirituality than doing something to earn their gratitude. It only goes to prove that society has not succeeded in beating the angel out of Fernandez.


INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
OCTOBER 24, 2005

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