Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The prayer



One may say I am a non believer. But if you ask me I am not sure. By definition God is every where but no one has ever seen Him. He is all powerful but wants us, fragile humans to fight the evil for Him. He knows every thing but wants us, dim wits, to spread His message, He is all merciful but all the calamities are His punishments to set us right. He expects us to pray to Him, but His intentions will not change. Yes I am just confused.

So these stories about the devils of Gods own country


The prayer

'Have you any pens?' 
I looked up.
He was not young but I could not place him on the age scale.
“ This is only a medical shop, we do not sell pens” He was my first customer of the day and some thing about him prevented me from disappointing him so I added “ but I can lend you one”.
He was very happy. “ I may take more time to return “ he said hesitating to take it.
“No problem I have many for my use”.
A call interrupted us. “Yes I am Joby” I said to the person on the line, while the borrower of the pen moved away and I forgot about it.
It was almost noon when I went out to get some change. I saw him sitting on the steps of the nextshop, which was closed, busily writing. I smiled at him and went on with my work.
Being a week end I had lot to do and did not notice the time.
“Thanks a lot” he returned the pen and waited for a minute looking around. No one else was there on the counter .
I noticed something wild in his eyes and a number of letters in his hands
He smiled and gave me one
It was addressed to me. Mr. Joby, Care well Druggist, KK Road
I took it and started reading. I did not notice him leaving
It was a prayer, the usual one with an introduction requesting to forward copy of it to 11 people and
gain innumerable benefits and a conclusion warning about the likely damages for not doing. I was
not only disappointed but rather angry
But I could not stop smiling when I saw the signature below.
It was SATAN in red ink and I saw his face smiling below.

Monday, 19 May 2014

My favourite leopard

The Leopard I loved

Have you ever wondered what the opposite of fear is? You may say it is bravery. But it depends on the circumstances. Don’t you fear things and circumstances you are not familiar with?. But familiar ones…. yes, familiarity breeds contempt.

It was possible in one's young days to love the unknown, but fear remained as years passed by. A paradox?
I will try to explain.

We were afraid to go out for a few days after the leopard appeared in the tea estate. The women  picking tea spotted it one afternoon. Though leopards are said to roam free at night in the dark, they are typically not seen during the day. So its appearance during the afternoon was taken as a violation of normal conduct and the menfolk  promptly started their hunt for the intruder.

Monday, 28 April 2014

THE CUTOUTER


“The cut outer requires repair. Not going to Munnar”. The announcement came late. I was all dressed up and ready to go.


In fact I was whirring around as the lorry from the morning. Stopping intermittently for a few minutes and starting again with an announcement 'The red lorry has started again'. I had not named him yet.


So to the lorry we went, my brothers, all elder, and me, with the hope that it would start up some how. It was parked inside the eucalyptus plantation quite  away from our house.


I was the first to reach him. His bonnet was raised, a sure sign of being under repair.


The driver stepped out of the cabin. "It is the cutouter, Could have driven it if it were anything else", he claimed, pointing to the lorry. I looked at him, to me he looked good to go. According to the driver 'the platinum point of the cut outer had burned out' he pointed to a small strip near some coils deep inside the bonnet.

Climbing on the bumper I had a good look at it. I was seeing inside the bonnet of a lorry for the first time. My elder brother, who was knowledgeable about such matters, suggested rubbing the platinum point with the rough side of match box. They had already tried it. Replacing it was the only option according to the driver.


We had planned to go to the cinema that evening in Munnar by the lorry and stay overnight at my uncle's home and return by the same lorry next day evening,


No movie. It was certain so we returned home depressed. I was more unhappy because getting a chance to ride on the lorry now looked very remote to me.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Malai kallan, The High Range Robber


It was almost nine in the morning. Suresh stopped the car by the side of a wider part of the narrow Gap Road , now called the Kochi - Madurai Highway, single lane most of the Ghat section.

I wont take much time” he assured me as he disappeared. I knew Suresh and his love for sight seeing well and was sure he would be away for quite some time.I was not worried, there was ample space for other vehicles, which were very rare, to pass by. I had a lot of time before my engagement in the evening in Munnar town, which was hardly 12 kilometers away.

'Malai Kallan' ( The High Range Robber ) a signage by the road said, below the picture of a half naked man running away carrying a small sac over his shoulders. He looked just like the thief out of Tamil cartoons. The signage stood out amongst the numerous road signs on the highway due to its green color and style. The picture of a man half naked with hills in the background in such cold weather made me curious.

I walked up to it. There was a small writeup about the Malai Kallan Thankayya Narayanan - how he looted the rich travelers in the good old days and helped the poor and needy. But I found it all the more strange as it looked like I knew the Malai Kallan. 

We both were new comers in class 6 B in Munnar High School. I was just ten and he was about sixteen. There were many of his age in the class, but he was mostly a loner and I was too timid to have friends. He was a handsome boy good at studies and sang well enough to be called to perform during the class meetings. I still remember the then popular Tamil song 'Aasaiye alai pole .....” ( Desire is like waves..) that was one of his favourites. He even drew well, the sketches he made on the black board impressed the ten year old me.

At times we were the only ones left  back in the class room while others made use of the school grounds. Being in the same room all by ourselves made us familiar with each other, though not friends, as we never talked.

It was in a foot ball game during the PT class that our cordial existence came to an end. We were in opposing teams and I blocked the ball four times. That evening rushing down after the class some one pushed me. I fell down spilling all the books in my bag, luckily I was unhurt.

The news of the accident reached my home faster than I thought, through my sister and her friends I guess. My father seemed to have inquired about the incident and about the boy who was responsible. That brought Thankayya and his stepfather to our doorstep on Saturday evening. The stepfather Prabhakaran used the opportunity to hit the boy hard before my father could intervene. The stepfather-son relationship did not look at its best.

The punishment seemed very harsh to me, specially as there was no definite proof that Thankayya was the culprit. But I could do nothing about it. After the father - son duo left I heard my parents too say so. Thereafter Thankayya avoided me at all costs, so I never had an opportunity to explain to him my innocence in the matter.

Cinema shed at Munnar was run by the British tea estate company in those days. Being very meticulous they had a trial run before screening any fresh movie. To ensure that the film runs smoothly, they said. It happened on Friday afternoons as new ones were invariably screened on Saturdays. The tin walls of the shed had many holes and the doors were not always closed tightly, leaving gaps which offered the boys opportunity to watch the movies during the lunch interval.

One Friday afternoon I was so absorbed in watching the screen through the hole that I did not hear the bell or notice others leaving. There were a few others including Thankayya at the doors. It seemed that they had decided to skip a period. I was afraid to go to the class late alone so I too continued watching till the end of the period.

Thankayya and others were in front of me to the school. Every one other than Thankayya was allowed to go to their classes. He was directed to the Head Mistress's room. Contrary to my expectation I too was directed to meet her. HM. Miss Thomas knew my parents well, so I waited for a minute wondering if there was a way to escape. But the peon was watching me, so I walked into the HM's room.

The HM was in a bad mood and there was a senior girl in the room, crying. 'This is the fellow' she kept repeating between sobs.
'No Miss Thomas, I was......' Thankayya stopped as the Head Mistress turned towards me.
'Where were you last period?... at the cinema?' She asked.
'Yes Madam I did not hear the bell', I answered.
'You did not!. But I am sure the entire Munnar town could hear the children running down the steps shouting'. She said. The school which was housed in an old three storied tea factory, the building had steel stairs.
'But that is at the end of the period and not at the beginning' I wanted to say but decided against it. 'Thankayya and others were also there' I said instead
'Was he there ?. …..Do you know him?' she asked.
'He is in my class' I explained.

Now the tone of the crying girl changed, she started saying 'he looked like this fellow'
'Both of you, off to your class' the HM ordered.

Thereafter there was a marked change in Thankayya's attitude towards me. He did not avoid me any more. But we were not friends. 

Thankayya did not come to the class after the Christmas vacation. He was among the few from the class who joined the estate as temporary laborers. I left the school for a boarding school at the end of the year and visited the estates only during vacations.

On one of those visits I was told that Thankayya was arrested for rolling down a boulder on the wind screen of the manager's car for refusing him work. He was below the employable age. The beautiful Sky Blue Plymouth station wagon was one of the numerous cars I dreamt of getting from the cave, where in the thieves stored their booty, just like the cave in the story of Ali Baba. My dreams were largely populated with automotives of various kinds & my escapades with them.

They had to let him go as there was no witness or evidence and Thankayya was a minor as per the company's records. But his name started appearing in the police records as a criminal.
The first hold up of estate workers returning from their native place at Korangani by Thankayya and barber Muthu ( The only barber who ever said that my hair was beautiful, I was bald by thirty) was a sensation for the people of Munnar. But they were not arrested.

The second reported robbery was at the Gap, (not far from the signage that announced his legend today) it earned him the name Malai Kallan. The Tamil robin Hood. This time he was arrested. I had heard nothing of him for all these years, till this morning.

I had to spend the night in Munnar as my work there did not finish in time. Though my stay was arranged at a good hotel I preferred to stay with my cousin. He was much elder to me & had spend all his life in Munnar. He knew the nooks and corners of the place and all those who lived there.

On my mentioning Malaikallan Thankayya a smile crept to his face. He walked up to his bookshelf and returned with a file. He took out a news paper cutting for me. The Malayalam 4M daily carried a photo of the sign board and a sketch of the Kallan from it. It described with flourish the legend of the Malaikallan, how he exploited the rich and helped the poor. It mentioned the Tamil movie 'Malaikallan' based on our hero.

My cousin smiled his usual smile. Thankayya had worked in his workshop for a few years after school. He was honest and well mannered. According to my cousin It was the barber Muthu who waylaid a group of workers who owed him money, explaining the absence of a formal complaint and arrest. But that gave Thankayya's step father the idea to stage the second incident. 
Though the movie was made much earlier the hero of the film was fresh in the memory of the people of Munnar at that time as it was screened in Munnar only a year ago. So Thankayya became Malai Kallan for them.

People who knew Thankayya helped him prove his innocence in court. His mother left the estates with him as soon as he was released, waiting only to collect her dues from the factory. Thankayya finished his schooling & joined Government service. He rose to be the director of the Tourism dept by the time of his retirement.

The sketch of 'The Kallan' on the signage was made by himself, my cousin says. He had come to meet my cousin in Munnar before his retirement. He had asked about me too. 

I was glad that he remembered me. The Malaikallan's first friend.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

CHACKO CITY - PART 2

CHACKO CITY PART II

A place with no name

Progress of Chacko was steady. He earned well from farming and spent it also well. He took good care of his parents and  his younger sister who completed Nursing degree and got employment in the US.

When Kambum Kumali Road was taken up with the participation of Local residents, Chacko readily put in his best, from the first day of starting the work. The work was completed in record time and as a token of appreciation government promised 1 lac rupees for any development work the locals wanted. There were many suggestions. They could not agree upon one. So a vote of all who participated was taken giving due weight-age for the days they worked for the road. Vote of Chacko carried the maximum weight-age and his vote was for a road to the cupola, so every one readily agreed with him.

With the road the cupola became more popular and that led to a plan to build a large church in the place of the Cupola. Chacko readily agreed to supply rubble for construction.

Chacko was about to construct a good house for his parents and himself. Timber for construction of the house. was stored in a shed behind his dwelling. While transporting rubble for the church one of the prominent members of the church noticed the timber. Next day the forest guard was at Chacko's. For a large bribe he agreed to help. But as the offence had already been informed to his higher ups the only way out was to hide the timber. Chacko buried it at night leaving no trace and escaped punishment but In course of time the timber rotted and became useless. But that did not deter Chacko. A house with concrete roof and least use of wood came up on the road where he started living with his parents. He tried to search out his elder sister but  her family had sold their properties and gone to Tamil Nadu leaving  no address

New house and sick old parents forced him to marry. Two children,  a boy and a girl, were born to him. He continued to work hard and took good care of his parents till they died.

In place of the cupola a large church became the land mark, still the place had no name, It was known as just pally pady (Church Gate).

Birth of Chacko city

Old age, though late, caught up with Chacko. His daughter married a US citizen. His son, a very successful  business man,was in a far away City. Thus death of his wife rendered Chacko a loner, with only nature for company. He stayed in the house alone, still toiling in his field during the day and drinking though the night.

The Priest came counselling every week, but the old man had seen too much in life which the priest could not explain.

'Kunnele Chacko” …......... a small girl going home from the school called after her kid brother who was running a head of her. The resemblance of the girl to his older sister was so striking that Chacko followed them to their house. Yes, they were the grant children of his sister. The Old woman was bed ridden, she was almost blind, still she recognized him as her brother Chacko. The small boy was named Chacko after him though they were not Christians. The old lady's husband had died many years back and she had only one daughter who was a teacher in the pre-primary school newly opened in the village. The family was in difficulties as her husband had deserted her.

Chacko became a frequent visitor to the house. He liked the children much and wanted to help them. He even thought of building a small house for them. But the old woman was reluctant to accept as she was afraid that it may hurt his children.

In an evening prayer meeting the priest mentioned that Chacko's son was very kind and had offered the house after his father's time to the Parish. Chacko's son who was present. He confirmed it and said a Parish Hall will  be built in its place in due course. Chacko was very unhappy that they had not consulted him. Hurt Chacko did not say anything then. That night Chacko drank heavily. At midnight he had dream, in it his sister and the children were chased by the loner elephant . He ran out of his house shouting. His son who was in the house was shocked, he took his father to a hospital. He was afraid the fate of his grand mother may follow Chacko. But Chacko was normal next morning and started doing his routine and the son left for his. But not before consulting the priest about admitting Chacko to an old age home

For weeks priest tried to convince Chacko of the advantages of staying at old age home. Then one day Chacko went missing. They searched for him for a week. At the end Chacko returned healthy and pleased. But he refused to tell anyone where he had been for more than a week. So they were convinced about the need to admit him in an old age home. Chacko wanted a few days to make decision and went missing again . This time for a long time no one bothered to search. They assumed he will return as in the earlier occasion. Which he did not.

Then the search began but not very earnestly. They could not gather what happened to Chacko. So it was decided to hand over the land to the Church. But when the documents of the land were verified they were shocked. Chacko had relinquished his right over the property  when he was missing first. And he had requested the Government to convert the land back to forest. 

Soon the board which announced 'THE SOCIAL FORESTERY PROJECT Chackos land' Government of Kerala appeared in front of the house. The new bus service had a stop in front of the house. They started calling the bus stop 'Chackos'.

Then a third shop was opened opposite to  the house. It had a big name board 'POPULAR STORES Chacko city'. People readily followed by calling the place Chacko City

Thus Chacko City came in to existence. But no one heard any thing about Chacko there after.

The Man Chacko

I met him at 'Life long' an old age home run by a philanthropic. In those days I was a sporadic visitor to Life Long. Chacko, one of the inmates there, was a pleasant old man enjoying everything that comes to him .
' We all like gains. What about losses?. The gains we make, does it not carry losses to some one else. Why not anticipate losses also and take it gracefully along with gains?. I always appreciated the animals who enjoy liking their wounds after a fight'. Chacko Achayan's  (  a name usually used for elders meaning- elder brother ) philosophy attracted me.
He used to talk to me for long when ever I went there. Giving me glimpses of his life. Once he asked me whether I knew the song Kunnele...... I told him that I had heard it long back in my school days. He sang it for me.
Years passed. I had lost touch with Life Long due to change in my Job. One day a call  came from life long inquiring whether I knew one chacko who had no relatives and I may the only friend he had.
I went, He was bed ridden. I  was glad that I came. He was so old and sick that he could hardly speak. He requested me to sing 'Kunnele... There were many around me and I was not at all good at singing  but still i started singing. The tune being very simple all around joined singing in chorus "Kunnele.. Chacko ni pura kettiyoda. Purakettikko pura kettikko Mazha vannal nanayum......There was smile on his face. His last.

Monday, 18 November 2013

CHAKO CITY - PART 1

Have you ever heard about a city called Chacko City?. It is one among the numerous cities in Idukky (The hilly district of GOC) known only to its residents (usually less than hundred) . Chako city just like its neighbor Balan city had three shops and a bus stop. I used to wonder who these cities were named after

CHACKO CITY Part. 1

'Kunnele Chacko ni pura kettiyoda
 pura kettikko pura kettikko
mazha vannal nanayum'

(Chacko of the hill
Did you thatch your house?
Thatch your house,Thatch your house
You will be drenched if it rains)

Young Chacko was lucky to hear the lullaby till he was ten. First from his mother who became mentally ill after the birth of his young sister and then from his elder sister who was very fond of him. He too was very fond of his sisters. His father, a sawyer traveled through the High Ranges which were  thickly forested in those days. After drinks he had very little money to provide for his family, the money they received was just enough to buy rice. Curry was the responsibility of the children. So Chacko shouldered the responsibility at a very young age by doing odd jobs in fields

 Chacko though good at studies finished his school at the age of twelve. 'Tuition' from a local school teacher in English and Hindi would be more useful in getting a job in Bombay' he thought. He could not grasp the languages but by sixteen he was an expert in cultivation of local crops.

A letter from a cousin wandering the high ranges doing odd jobs, informed chacko of the availability of land in Kallar and gave him a new direction .

Those were the days of encroachment. The government in its bid to increase agriculture production alloted five acres of land each to identified farmers in Kallar. It prompted many unauthorized people to encroach the near by hills.

 The dangers were many. There was total lawlessness. It was the rule of might. There was no assurance that the land encroached by one remained with him, another more powerful could easily throw him out. The harsh climate with too much rain and non availability of essential commodities and services together with wild animals and poisonous snakes made the place barely habitable

 Food scarcity forced many of the encroachers to work in the lands of others who were alloted land from the Govt. A trader who thought out an easy way to get his thickly  wooded land  cleared offered full crop of the first year to any one willing to cultivate. Chacko was quick to see the the opportunity.

By cutting branches of trees and under growth during sunny days and burning them Chacko got the required level of clearing. During rains he mixed buds and decaying  leaves to soil while tilling and used the seeds he knew well. The first bumper crop gave Chacko confidence, food for a year and more to sell.

 In spite of the lawlessness he cultivated his own field alone.  The rocky terrain and young boy's courage made many spare him and charcoal making  at night eliminated the threat from wild elephants. The  velleetty ( a type of hard wood in rocky terrine ) Charcoal  he made fetched more in Kambam ( Tamil Nadu ) market eight miles away. Chacko carried the charcoal on his head to the market.

But the progress did not last long. The forest guards arrested him for possession of charcoal with out permit.    The bribe of Rupees twenty five he had to pay to escape punishment landed him in debt and it took an year's  hard labor to recoup. But the set back did not deter him from planting his land.

It was at that time that his elder sister, leaving her husband who ill treated her, joined Chacko. Food and home encouraged him to diversify into pepper and coffee. But the comforts did not last long. She ran away with a young man of different religion to Chacko's dismay. Though she came back and explained that she had no chance of getting married in the  normal course and that what she did was in the interest of both of them as she  she did not want to be a burden on him. But the hurt Chacko was not convinced and did not make charcoal for a week.

 The elephants took the opportunity to attack the plantation. A herd of five and a loner were on rampage one whole night. At day break the herd left but the loner stayed back. Chacko was in no mood to forgive, He fought the loner with crackers and stones. The loner chased Chacko but he escaped by climbing a large tree. The loner waited till noon for Chacko to climb down the tree.

Angry Chacko resumed charcoal making with vigor and transported it at night by bullock cart making good money. His plantation also started yielding. Chacko readily spent his money for treatment  of his mother. Seeing no improvement he turned  to the quacks and then to religion. Most of the  treatments were not in line with his faith . Bhajana in temples and sucking poison out with magical pipes all led to no cure but  only to the guilty feeling for having deviated from his faith.

 The Tamil sooth sayer of the Cross of Theynam petty Christian village was a mystery of those days.  Every year one of the elders of the village was selected by lot to play the part of Jesus on the cross on good Friday.  After the act such persons were considered to have been bestowed with powers by God.  Desperate Chacko went to sooth sayer, who prescribed hard work and building a place of worship for remission of sin.

Chacko spared the land to build a cupola from his holdings. Soon the cupola was built accepting nothing from others. Many attended the prayers at the cupola and bought goods from the Two shops that opened in front of the cupola. But that did not bring any name  to the place. With no roads or buses there was no need either.

-----------------------part two comming up-------------------------

Friday, 19 April 2013

A short break

Okay taking a break for a while...busy getting a son married & building a tiny holiday place somewhere up in the hills, okay not very high up but high enough (Of course in God's own country! why do you even ask...).
Hoping to get it all done by June & get back to writing.

Hope you all would still be around ...

So long

John