At age 91, most of us would wish for good health and hope to be living out our last years in peace and comfort. But not all of us are privileged enough to do so. Kathrina Kattukaran, a 91-year-old concrete labourer from Thrissur, Kerala is one such person, who has no plans to retire yet.
This 91-year-old has been working as a concrete labourer for the last six decades and supports her big family of 4 children, 9 grandchildren and 14 great grandkids.
"I will work until I die or am bedridden," Kathrina tells TNM matter-of-factly. Although she realises that hardly anyone her age goes to work, much less engage in physical labour, she is also not one to brood over her situation.
In nearly 60 years of laying concrete for buildings in and around Thrissur, the 91-year-old has helped raise a significant chunk of the temple town. Some of the famous buildings which she has contributed to with her sweat and labour are the landmark Kairali theatre in the Swaraj round, Amala hospital, Aquatics Club in Mission Quarters, Nandilath store and the Poonkunnam flyover.
"Most buildings you see around the Swaraj round I have helped build," she says, referring to the commercial complexes around the Vadakkumnathan temple, which are at the heart of the temple town.
As far back as she can remember, Kathrina's work day has begun in the same manner. The 91-year-oldâ€™s day starts at 5 am with the sound of her alarm. Once she gets ready, she is picked up from her Poonkunnam house by her long-time associate turned auto driver and dropped off to her work site.
"Before I begin work, I gulp down 3-4 glasses of coffee in the morning," she adds, explaining how she prepares for a hard day of work. What follows the coffee session is hours of back breaking labour involving cement laying, concreting and hammering.
Watching Kathrina work is witnessing age and its debilitating effects concede defeat as she hops up five flights of stairs, and lifts heavy cement sacks with clenched teeth.
She balances herself on a wooden plank which connects two buildings and hammers down a nail as she explains her early life and years of labour. "I hardly recall skipping a day of work in all these years. That is perhaps why all these builders readily give me work," she says with a grin.
Perhaps it is the age and experience that work in her favour, as she hits her lazy colleagues for taking long post-lunch breaks, receiving only adoring smiles in return.
"I am allowed to hit them for being lazy as I am their very own ammamma and the boss of this unit. I tell them what task to do," she adds. Kathrina's work unit also includes her 56-year-old daughter Philomena, who confirms that it is her mother who arrives at the site and gets the ball rolling.
Despite the smiles and positivity, Kathrina's will to work is fuelled by the fear that her family would not be able to make ends meet without her. She has built four houses for her children using her money and is still one of the primary breadwinners of her family for whom she regularly spends her income.
Although her work has been recognised by the state government and private organisations in the past, no significant monetary help has come her way, she says.
But setbacks have not defeated the 91-year-old's will. She still grins wide and promises to hammer her way through all life's tribulations.