A few months after the completion of the Cochin International airport at Nedumbaserry, on June 10, 1999, the officers of the Indian Administrative Service held a function, at Thiruvananthapuram, to felicitate V J Kurian, the man behind the show.
At the event, J Lalithambika, who later retired as Additional Chief Secretary, said, “This is perhaps the only occasion where we will honour a fellow IAS officer.”
And that has turned out to be true. “It was one of the happiest moments of my life,” says Mariamma Alappat, the wife of V J Kurian. “Some officers apologised publicly for making fun of Kurian at that time. One had even said, ‘A bullock cart will not be able to land there’.”
During those years Mariamma went through a trying time. “My husband faced so many difficulties, but, amazingly, he remained optimistic throughout,” says Mariamma. “Many people regarded the idea of public-private participation as a joke. Today, everybody is following it.”
When Mariamma would read criticism about her husband by politicians and others in the newspapers or see it on TV, she would get very agitated. “Sometimes, I would call Kurian up, and tell him about it,” she says. “But Kurian always looked at the positive side, and told me not to worry.”
One advantage for Kurian was that the media, on their own, offered whole-hearted support. “That made a big difference,” says Mariamma.
Looking back, Mariamma has learnt some lessons. “If a government servant is sincere, honest, and true to his work, there is no long-term harm,” she says. “He might suffer a setback or two, but will come up again.”
And yes, Kurian is back on top. Apart from being the Managing Director of the Cochin International Airport Limited, which recently declared a profit of `124 crore, he is the Additional Chief Secretary (Water Resources and Aviation), as well as a Director of the Kochi Metro Rail Limited. As a result, the Kochi-based Kurian is spending four days in Thiruvananthapuram every week.
Clearly, Kurian possesses character traits that have led to success. “He always tackles problems and setbacks in a calm manner,” says Mariamma. “In fact, in 28 years of marriage, although it is amazing to say, he has never lost his temper with me.”
Other qualities: “My daughter says, ‘Whatever you ask Appa, he will not say ‘no’,” says Mariamma. “‘Instead, he will always say, ‘Let’s see.’ Kurian is not rigid, but in the end he does what is right. There are many husbands who say a loud no at the beginning of a request and then say yes in the end. That upsets everybody.”
Perhaps Kurian’s best quality is that even when he had very little time he gave a lot of attention to Mariamma and the children. “My children think very highly of their father,” says Mariamma. “When my daughter was a child, she loved a particular type of hair band. Once when Kurian went to Dubai, he walked on the streets for a long time before he could locate the particular hair band that she wanted. My daughter was very happy when she got it.”
However, it was not happy going all the time. Mariamma is frank enough to admit that she was perturbed, at times, in the early years. “Kurian has never attended a single PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) meeting of our children, Joseph and Elizabeth,” says Mariamma. “Work always came first. After that, came the family.”
Because of his busy schedule, he also could not attend many family functions. “So our relatives would get upset,” says Mariamma. “When there were medical emergencies of the children I had to handle it on my own.”
But a wise Mariamma says, “I realise now that these were temporary difficulties. In the long run, everything has turned out well, including our children.”
Joseph, 26, is doing his Masters in Surgery (Ophthalmology) at Pariyaram Medical College, in Kannur, while Elizabeth, 19, is doing her first-year MBBS at the Government Medical College in Kalamassery.
“One reason why both took medicine, instead of the IAS, is because my father, Paul Alappat, was a doctor and had inspired them,” says Mariamma, who had herself secured the fifth rank for B.Sc Maths at Calicut University.
Meanwhile, both husband and wife find solace in the two farms they have in Kuttanad, where they grow cocoa, bananas and coconuts. “Kurian is the happiest at the farms,” says Mariamma. “He looks relaxed and peaceful. I think there is a farming gene in him. His father, Joseph Vattavayalil, a prominent lawyer in Pala, was also a farmer.” And the farms, like the airport, are making a good profit every year.
Finally, when asked for tips for an enduring marriage, Mariamma says, “You should have an unselfish attitude. Nowadays, girls don’t have that. At the end of the day, a wife has to make more compromises than the husband.”
A good communication between husband and wife is also important. “Even half an hour a day is enough,” she says. “You also need the presence of God in your marriage to make it successful.”