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Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Severed head then, A Severed hand now

Radhakrishnan was a quiet, slightly effeminate boy who was with us in the High School at Ottapalam. He was never involved in the countless fights we boys got into almost every day. I don't think any of the teachers had any occasion to reprimand him. His father was a Post & Telegraph employee who used to deliver the occasional telegrams. The postal department had not split into India Posts and BSNL in those days. He had either a squint or 'cat's eyes', I don't now remember which .He was also an amiable guy like his son. After High School I did not see much of Radhakrishnan or his father as I shifted to Govt. Victoria College, Palghat for my degree course.
That is why the news that Radhakrishnan was with the Naxalite gang which beheaded Kongad Narayanankutty Nair after an on the spot, mock trial came as such a surprise. He was one of the minor participants and was among those convicted in the subsequent trial. I don't think he actually participated in the gruesome beheading. He might have been seeing Narayanankutty Nair for the first time that night. The leader of the gang was Mundur Ravunny who was released after serving his life term and is now leading the militant organization 'Porattam'. Perhaps details of the operation were shared among the participants on a need to know basis. I would like to believe that Radhakrishnan would have been miles away had he known he was to participate in an execution or murder depending upon your political convictions.
"And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate. Che Guevara".

I do not think Radhakrishnan had that kind of pure hate against anyone.
So how did he become a naxalite? He was not a great reader and I don't think he, on his own, read any of the recommended readings for a revolutionary like the books of Mao, Che or Regis Debray. Perhaps he may have been attending study classes conducted by Venu or Ravunny. There was a school teacher, Raghavan, who had intellectual pretensions (which in those days meant adherence to left leaning ideology) and who, I am told, developed too close a liaison with Radhakrishnan's family. He is not alive now. Possibly he may have influenced Radhakrishnan.
Sebastian was another guy I knew among the 'dramatis personae' of the Kongad tragedy. He surfaced in our area one day from some place in Central Travancore and latched on to Chettur Balakrishnan Nair who was distantly related to me and whom we used to call 'Kuttama". Kuttama was a totally apolitical person but had a weakness for women and wine and delusions of grandeur. Sebastian expertly stroked his ego and became an inseparable companion. I did meet him several times in the company of Kuttama. He was more of a mercenary than a revolutionary. He was one of the principal accused in the Kongad murder case and got a life term. I have no difficulty visualizing him hacking away at Narayanan kutti Nair's neck not because of any extreme revolutionary zeal but because, in my estimate, he was totally amoral. I have no idea what became of him after his jail term. Kuttama paid a great price for his association with Sebastian. Sub Inspector of Police of Ottapalam Police Station who was one of the investigating officers made his life miserable for quite some time. Perhaps fitting justice for what he did to the Namboothris of 'Swarnath Mana'
Chacko was one other guy belonging to the gang whom I may have seen. He was a brilliant student of Victoria and a couple of years my junior. In those days of shortages and general despondency, it was quite natural for any sensitive youth to be attracted by the extreme left thinking. The romantic aura surrounding the life and death of 'Che', the 'Revolution in the Revolution' of Regis Debray, the defiant poems of Chullikad, the happenings in intellectual Bengal, the disillusionment with the Communists who came to power through the ballot box and were corrupted by the system, all were powerful motivators for the youth of those times. Most sympathized with the extremist ideology, some embraced it. Chacko apparently did.
I also knew by reputation Narayanankutti Nair and his elder brother Chinnakuttan Nair. I am told they usually were among the first to visit the Mankara Police Station whenever there was a change in the incumbency of the Sub-Inspector. By all accounts, these brothers were a law unto themselves until the British Govt dispatched a platoon of policemen to arrest Chinnakuttan Nair. He was handcuffed and paraded in the streets of Palghat. That was the beginning of the end of their hold over the Region. But I still think that the fact that V.N.Rajan, son-in law of Narayanankytty Nair and an IG of Police at that time, was expected to be there may have influenced the target selection. Narayanankutty Nair was already a spent force when the Naxalites struck. What the Naxalites wanted to demonstrate was a brazen defiance of the establishment.

The discontent seems to be back. There are enough signs of a coming turbulence. I do not mean the survival struggle of the tribals in Chathisgarh or the pathetic efforts of Janu, llaha Gopalan etc and the sporadic violence the movement generates. What would pose immense danger to our way of life in Kerala in the near future is the fatal fascination of the Muslim youth for the extreme religious beliefs. Religious fanaticism is being fomented with the blessings and funding of the Saudi Arabian Wahabis, ISI and Taliban outfits.

There is an ill wind blowing across Kerala. Ominous clouds portending the coming storm have appeared in the horizon. A population pampered by a moderate, benign weather, not exposed to any serious war or natural calamities, whose perception of terrorism is an occasional visual clip in TV from Kashmir or Gaza is about to experience a severe winter of discontent. Perhaps, it is time the smug Malayalee got a real jolt.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

O Tempora O Mores

There was a post in one of the Blogs I follow. This was regarding commuting between the office and residence in Gurgaon by the Blogger. Apparently, the sizzling speed of the rickshaw at 3kmph mentally transported him to some Formula 1 racing circuit. Reading the blog set off a different train of thoughts in my mind. The result is this blog.
The hand pulled rickshaws disappeared from the streets of Kerala in the fifties. Quite a few of them still survive in parts of Kolkata, thanks to the revolution brought in by the Communists and the consequent division of poverty! The 'bhadraloks' continue to patronize the quaint electric tram and the quainter hand pulled rickshaw.
The hand pulled rickshaws were not that common. In Ottapalam, there were two and in Mankara, none. One of them in Ottapalam belonged to my brother-in-law's father, a leading lawyer of that time. The rickshaws competed with a few Morris Minors, Fords, Ambassador land masters and a rare palanquin. The palanquin bearers used to chant 'hom, hom, hai, hai…hom, hom hai, hai' as they trotted on. It appeared to me then that the whole of the Hindi vocabulary was there in their chanting! Children travelled on the shoulders of retainers.
And in one of our rare visits to Calicut, the mode of transport within the town was the horse drawn Governor's cart. I believe the contraption is called 'Victoria' in Mumbai. You can still see a few of them in the stretch of road from the Gateway of India to the Radio Club. The starving horses are a sorrier sight than the derelict carts.
Cycle Rickshaws were quite common in Ernakulam in 1967-68 when I was in St.Alberts College. By the early seventies, they had disappeared from the roads of Kerala. They still survived in Madras City. MGR attained almost God like stature by providing rain coats to all the Rickshaw wallahs in Madras city. The national pastime of ushering in progress by changing the names of all the cities and roads the Britishers built was a few more years away in time. So Madras was Madras and not yet Chennai. Strangely, Baber, Akbar etc who were as much foreign conquerors as the British escaped the same treatment. Roads, Cities bearing their names remain untouched. On second thought, not so very strange as the Muslims in India are a significant vote bank. We did even name a road in New Delhi 'Olaf Palme' road as the guy had the distinction of being one of Rajiv Gandhi's crony. The Bengali babus chose Ho Chi Minh, Marx, Lenin etc and may be a Che Guerra or a Fidel Castro.
In the Cycle rickshaws in Kerala one could sit comfortably as if in a chair in a barber shop. The seating of the rickshaws in Hyderabad seems to have been designed by some Gynecologist to induce delivery for ladies in advanced stages of pregnancy. Your knees will be touching your chin and if you are one of the daddy longlegs, will even rise up over your head like two horns. Of course you can learn to sit in 'padmasana'
Those in Kanpur required delicate handling as they were potential sources of tetanus. Besides, the rickshawwallah, as is the custom in those parts of the country, would be wearing an overcoat which he put on during the Pooja and which would be taken off only on Holi. The overcoat itself was appropriated from the used apparels donated as relief supply by people from western countries, for the refugees from East Pakistan, during the Bangladesh liberation years. The stink would be over powering and remember you are sitting behind in close proximity. You would think that taking of this 'relic' on Holi would improve matters. No, Sir! "There is more stink trapped in the clothes under the coat than is spoken off by your philosophy. Horatio"
The rickshaws in Bihar were not much different, except that the passengers will be holding on to a well oiled 'lathi' or a muzzle loader. As the Bihari, off season peasant strains on the pedals, many a tortoise and snails will be overtaking the rickshaw. Anyway, what is the big hurry? The state has not changed a great deal from the days when King Janaka ruled over Mithila. Rickshaws have merely replaced chariots. Biharis obviously believe in the Zen dictum "It is when you are in the greatest hurry that you have to slow down". And slow down they did and how!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In which a senior citizen takes a ride on Time Machine

The Chennai-Alleppey express was late by half an hour. I sat on one of the stone benches in Punkunnam Railway station idly watching the flotsam and jetsam of humanity and also some of it's dregs, drifting by. Meanwhile three goods trains went past without stopping. All the wagons in the first one,except the guards cabin, were green. The second one had the usual rust brown coloured wagons. The third had blue coloured wagons. The first and the last had double engines.It appears that the Railways have introduced some colour coding system to easily distinguish the goods being carried.I counted ,without consciously counting; 48 wagons in the first train 41 in the second and 48 again in the last one excluding the guard's cabin.

The sight of the trains transported me back in time some 55 years to what at that time was a quaint little village called Mankara.Chemmuka Kalam, the house Sir C. Sankaran Nair built was the second most imposing structure in Mankara after the Nair Veedu.It stood on a seven and half acre wooded compound, the land gradually sloping towards the "Ishana kon" as recommended by Vaastu shastra. We were the owners and residents.

On the East side, a small wicket gate opened to the Railway B Class land adjoining the rail track. The 'Home' signal was just in front of the wicket gate and you could see one of the 'outer' signals far away on the north where the railway track curves near Kalikavu temple.The signal posts on the south side were not visible as the rail track curved again and was hidden by a small hillock. Beyond the rail track, farther East was paddy land and at its fringe the burial ground of the Chetturs. Sir C's ashes were protected by a cement 'samadhi' under a banyan tree while the ashes of all the other dead Chetturs cremated there merged without a trace into the soil or were washed off by the rains into the Bharathapuzha flowing past the burial ground. The 'samadhi' and the burial ground are clearly visible, sitting in the portico of Chemmuka kalam. As children we have seen many a ghosts with flaming mouths traversing the burial ground at night!Unimaginative grown up people used to say that these were people crossing over to the other side of the river and using flaming torches to find their way. Of course, we children knew better.The grown ups were not very well informed about 'odiyans' 'kolli pishachu' and other sundry shadowy figures.

The signals used to come down in those days to indicate that the line is clear. It took the railways over seventy five years to realise that the signals could come down due to mechanical failure too which could cause accidents. The signals now go up to indicate that the lines are clear.

Very few passenger trains used to run on this line. The pride of place was taken by the Madras Mangalore Mail with the red coloured mail bogey in the middle. As the train negotiates the curve near the Kalikavu temple, the red bogey gives it an uncanny resemblance to a huge millipede.The other trains were the Cochin Express and an up and down ordinary passenger between Shoranur and Olavakkode.All trains are Up trains when going towards Madras and down trains when going in the opposite direction Madras-Mangalore Mail was 1 Up and 2 Down, Cochin Express 19Up and 20 Down. All trains had besides III class a II Class and a First Class. They were operated by South Indian Railway (S.I.R) The Mail/Express trains did not stop at Mankara.Local lore says that the trains stopped at Mankara when Sir C or Captain Kalidas came a visiting, courtesy the British Government.

Captain Kalidas joined the British Army on King's Commission. Field Marshal Ayub Khan was his colleague and when he became President of Pakistan had written a rather nice letter to Capt.Kalidas. Capt. Kalidas got out of the army when Second world war broke out by pretending that he was of unsound mind. And led a miserable existence thereafter till his death.He starved but he remained proud and uncompromising and all alone.

I do not know whether any passenger trains went past in the night.'Death's brother, Sleep' was a close friend in those days. We got the most fun counting the wagons of the goods trains as they chugged past. The wagons were a medley of covered wagons, flat beds and oil tankers. The engines were British made steam engines with brass bands on the funnel. The Chittharanjan locomotive with the pointed nose made an appearance shortly thereafter. The diesel and DC electric engines came decades later.
The most wagons we counted on any single train was 80 and they were half the size of the present day wagons and empty to boot. The 48 odd wagons I saw now were double the size and fully loaded as can be made out from the lock and seal on the door. The rail track is being made to bear a punishing load.This started during Nitish Kumars time and the mindless exploitation was continued by Laloo and now Mamta.

It was on this stretch of rail track in Mankara that I found the coal piece with the dragon fly's wings embedded.I would have thrown it away had my father not happened to see it.He knew that most of the coal deposits in the world was formed in the Carboniferous period, some 286-360 million years ago, when flying insects also made their first appearance. What I had found was a fossil dating back to the Carboniferous period. I might as well have thrown it away; a cousin took it for his school exhibition and that was the last I saw of my precious fossil find.