Often there is one thing common at funerals in southern Kerala apart from the natural grief are the coffins, which are very likely from a single village in Kottayam district.
Muttuchira is a small village in the southern district has nine coffin shops, most of them owned by the extended members of a single family.
Early in the 20th century Thurumban Kuriacko of the Panakuzhi family learned to make coffins in the village. Although no one remembers how or where he learned to make them, the story goes that a pastor in the local parish had once said that coffins were hard to come by in the village. Eventually, his family members took up the occupation.
Kuriackoâ€™s great grandson, 65-year-old Wilson Mathew told The News Minute â€śBefore our great grandfather started the business, coffins were brought faraway places, because of which funerals often got delayed. He taught his sons the art of coffin-making,â€ť he says.
Wilson owns the Cherupushpam Coffin Shop in the village; some of his relatives own shops in other districts too and have kept up with changing times.
â€śEarlier coffins were lined with cotton and cloth. Now there are various trends; different woods are used to make them. Prices also vary according to the material used,â€ť Wilson says. Demand for the coffins comes Ernakulam, Idukki, Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta districts.
Wilson sells around 3000 to 4000 coffins a year and prices range between Rs 1,500 and Rs 30,000. â€śRegardless of religion, people approach us for coffins. Earlier it was only Christians,â€ť Wilson says.
Even though business is brisk, Wilson isnâ€™t sure that it will continue, because the younger generations in the family do not appear to be very keen on taking it up.
â€śI have run other businesses, but when my elder brother died I took over his business so that our family tradition does not die. But the younger generation is not very interested in the family business,â€ť he said.
Another factor that is impacting the business of the Muttuchira coffin-makers is competition from former employees.
Wilson Mathew in shop
â€śMany of our labourers have started independent shops after learning the skill from us. They also sell at cheaper rates. But people come here in search of us as they know the quality we provide,â€ť he said.
Georgekutty (36), also of the Panakuzhy family, owns the Alphonsa Coffin Shop but is wary of the media and doesnâ€™t say much.
â€śWe continue to do this business because we learned the skill from our forefathers. Many insulting media reports have come about us, so we are no more interested to talk to media,â€ť Georgekutty says.