Had Mr Punnoose Thomas been alive, he would have been resting today after a very hectic 100th birthday celebration at both Deepalaya and his home yesterday.
My contact with him was limited as he had moved South soon after I joined Deepalaya as a member in the nineties. Yet, I retain my memory of him as a tall, handsome, dignified, soft-spoken person on whom the presidentship of Deepalaya weighed lightly.
When the seven Musketeers decided to form Deepalaya in 1979 and incorporated it as a registered society in 1980, the post of President went naturally to him. He thus became the founder-president.
Those days Deepalaya did not have many corporate sponsors. I remember my wife cooking some food for sale at a food festival Deepalaya organised to raise resources. Food came from other members as well.
The last time such a fete was organised, if I remember correctly, was when the foundation stone for the HRC building at Janakpuri was laid. It can verily be said that the foundation of Deepalaya was built with the unniyappam, parippu vada, banana fry, appam and stew etc that the members brought from home.
To return to Mr Thomas, he was the mentor figure among them with his shoulders above those of the others. But for his elder son, Mr Som Thomas, I would not have remembered his 100th birth anniversary.
I have the bad habit of giving assignments to my colleagues, a habit I inculcated as an editor at the Hindustan Times, the Indian Express, and The Tribune. So I requested Som to send me a good picture of his father and a short bio.
He sprang to the occasion and sent me very promptly a picture that I would have loved to process if I knew Adobe. I am indebted to him for this write-up.
Mr. Punnoose Thomas was born at Kunnamkulam in the princely state of Cochin on April 21, 1921. The family’s home was on the road to the temple town of Guruvayur. These places are now in the Thrissur district in Kerala.
He was the youngest male among six brothers and three sisters. One of his elder brothers and sisters became medical doctors.
The doctor's sister was one of the early students of Lady Hardinge Medical College for Women, New Delhi – a testimony to the benefits of dedicated attention to girls’ education.
Their father passed away when the young Punnoose was 15 years old. Since his eldest sister was a doctor at Meerut, he decided in 1943 to move north and do M.Sc. Physics at Lucknow University.
Later, while working as an engineer at All India Radio, he studied LL.B. part-time and went on to become an advocate, specialising in tax laws.
The person who became his wife, the late Achamma Thomas, had also moved to Delhi several years before Partition, to graduate from the first batches of B.Sc. as well as M.Sc. at what is now the Rajkumari Amrit Kaur College of Nursing.
Her interest in community health nursing took the couple to rural Haryana for several years, where she last worked at the AIIMS rural health services project at Ballabgarh.
Eventually, the family settled down at Alaknanda in New Delhi for the education of their two sons, one of whom – a retired engineer and a graduate of IIT Roorkee, now involved with International Justice Mission, helped me in preparing this tribute. The other son is a dentist.
Mr. Punnoose Thomas passed away peacefully on May 14, 1999, at Aluva, Kerala, where he and his wife were living.
As Som Thomas says, the whole family warmly treasures their association with Deepalaya. It would have brought great joy and pride to his parents to see the professional manner in which Deepalaya has been serving the nation.
I have immense respect for institution builders like the late Mr Punnoose Thomas and his comrades-in-arms like Mr T.K. Mathew, Mr Y. Chackochan, Mr TM Abraham, Mr PJ Thomas, the late Mr CM Mathai, and the late Mrs Grace Thomas, who together founded Deepalaya.
My colleagues at Deepalaya join me in wishing Mr Punnoose Thomas, who is in his heavenly abode, a very Happy Birth Centenary. May his name remain etched forever in the annals of Deepalaya!