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Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Rebel without a Cause




“When I am dead you’ll find it hard, said he.

To ever find another man like me.
What makes you think as I suppose you do,
I’d ever want another man like you!”
~ Eugene Fitch Ware
(1841-1911)




He was a compulsive 'emailer'. And he had an impressive contact list. Interesting emails received from his contacts and anecdotes ferreted out from his colourful past used to be forwarded to each one in his contact list regularly. He seems to have had an unofficial Certification Board categorising his mails into 'U' 'R' or "A' category. This was necessary as his correspondents included from the very young to the very old.  The last email I received was on 3rd March 2012 and contained fading black and white photographs of Rail Engines from the S.I.R days.
All his emails used to have a quote at the foot of the message. Sometimes it varied but mostly it was:
"You just live and die; the rest is trash."
Not in the last few mails though. 
He lived; and now he is dead. 
'നീണ്ട മൂക്കും മെല്ലിച്ച ദേഹവുമുള്ള സുന്ദരന്‍ ശിന്ന പയ്യന്‍' 
 'ദിസ്‌ ഫ്രണ്ട് ശിന്ന പയ്യന്‍ ' എന്ന് ഹിപ്പിനിക്ക് പയ്യന്‍ പരിചയപ്പെടുത്തി കൊടുത്തപ്പോള്‍ 'പയ്യന്‍ സാര്‍ മൈ ഗുരു' എന്ന് തലകുലുക്കി സമ്മതിച്ച തലമുറിയന്‍. 
കഥാവസാനത്തില്‍ മടിക്കുത്തില്‍ നിന്നും മിന്നല്‍ വേഗത്തില്‍ ലൈഫ് ബോയ്‌ സോപ്പെടുത്തു ഹിപ്പിനിക്ക് കൊടുത്ത വത്സല ശിഷ്യന്‍. (ഹിപ്പിനി. വി.കെ.എന്‍.)

Certainly he lived. 
He is dead now. 
He died yesterday in his son's apartment in UAE. He had gone there on a visit, a week ago.

I knew him since our school days. He was a couple of years senior to me in school. In those days when everyone knew everyone  else, he was Achath Gopalan Nair's son.  Younger brother of Devidasan ,Vijayan  and Sivadas. He was a class mate of my eldest brother. 
I don't think he played any team game.  Students of NSS KPTHigh School, Ottapalam in those days used to play  baseball (with a soft ball),hockey, besides football, volley ball etc. I do not remember having seen him in the playing fields. He left for Calicut for his college education. Devagiri College took him in. 
I do not know much about his Devagiri College days. Knowing him, I do not think it could have been all smooth sailing. He became part of Ottapalam life again when he came back after graduation. In those days, the Head Cashier State Bank of India could offer appointment in the Bank as cashier. The Head cashier assumed personal responsibility for the Cash dept and that personal responsibility gave him the right to chose the cashiers he wanted. Achath Gopalan Nair's son's antecedents could not be faulted and Mukundan joined the Shoranur branch of SBI as a cashier.
By the time I had joined Victoria College but nevertheless used to receive news of him. Besides making life miserable for the officers, he had engineered a 'pen down' strike at Shoranur branch. He had also befriended V.K.N who was a bigger hellion both in physical proportions and the range of 'activities'. In a write up which appeared in one of the news papers immediately after Sri Azheekode's death (Azheekode was his professor in Devagiri college) with the caption 'പ്രിയപ്പെട്ട ശിന്ന പയ്യന്നു ഇത് ജനുവരിയുടെ മറ്റൊരു നഷ്ടം.....'( VKN also died in one January, some years ago) the author recollects that during the strike days VKN sent a letter to Mukundan: "പ്രിയ ശിന്ന പയ്യന്‍. അപമര്യാദയായി പെരുമാറിയ കാഷിയന്‍ ആര്‍? മറ്റു പത്തൊന്‍പതു നീചന്‍ മാരെയും നമ്മുടെ ധാര്‍മിക പിന്തുണ അറിയിക്കുക."
He was a quintessential rebel. He couldn't resist the temptation of tilting his lance at every windmill he saw, which he imagined were dragons to be subdued . During one of the agitation days, he locked up the Branch Manager and the Officers inside the branch and disconnected the electricity and telephone lines. They were trapped inside the branch for a whole night. He used the RTI Act widely, complained about the BSNL, the Railways and did not spare his own Bank or his colleagues. He met with limited success as the grievances were many a time imaginary or even frivolous. He did not particularly want to succeed either and seldom followed up his efforts to their logical end. The very gesture of defiance satisfied him. 
But he left behind bitterness too. He antagonised all his brothers. And quite a few of his colleagues. I do not know whether he succeeded in developing any abiding friendship. He was like Jonas Cord of Carpetbaggers, a book he liked,  disagreeable for no reason, unpredictable. Yet he had a robust sense of humour and was well read.
The last time I met him was about a year ago. He was an in patient in Mother hospital. Close friendship with Bacchus had started taking its toll. He used to drink everyday but I never saw him drunk. The fatty liver had turned cirrhotic. He gave up liquor.
A week before he left for UAE, his pet dog died. It has been his friend for the last so many years when he drifted apart from his brothers and close relatives and few friends. Possibly he may have felt that they have all abandoned him. It is doubtful whether he saw any fault in his own make up. He may have felt that his last, true friend had abandoned him. He brooded on its death.
He was 67 on 3rd March. He sent photos of the celebration at his son's house to some of his correspondents. I was not among them. I am told he was cremated in UAE yesterday.
The prodigal will not be returning. 
All the rebellion in him  has subsided.
Certainly he lived. 
And now he is very dead.
Rest of it is trash.
Or ash. 
Possibly his children will be bringing it back for the dried up Bharthapusha to receive it.
 Trash to trash. Ashes to ashes.
Life goes on. 





Thursday, March 15, 2012

Close Encounter of the Ayyappan Kind

On 17th Jan 2012, I left New Delhi after a stay of almost two weeks. Good bye to West Inn. Good bye to buffet breakfasts and dinners. Good bye to the suits and neckties and the bitter cold. Good bye to formal, soulless, tiring, hypocritical greetings to all and sundry:  'How are you today' 'I am fine" 'Have a nice day'..


It was a morning flight departing New Delhi at 7.00am. I had originally booked for an Air India flight but changed it to Spice flight as there was a strike threat by Air India staff, which was not unusual. Kingfisher flights were in total disarray.Vijay Mallya was finally succeeding in squandering away completely the immense fortune built up by his father from his liquor business.


The Spice flight, after a stop at Hyderabad, was supposed to reach Kochi. by around 11.00am. Normally, no free  food is served on Spice flights and  I was not expecting any breakfast to be served. So I decided to get some shut-eye to compensate  for the sleep lost due to the hassles of early rising to catch the morning flight.I was in a pleasant REM stage of sleep with the alpha waves swirling around the frontal-central location of the brain indicating a semi-arousal state when the plane touched down at Hyderabad airport.


It was a smooth landing but nevertheless the slight bump when the wheels of the aircraft touched down on the runway brought me to the world of Vaisvanara.. I surveyed the interior of the aircraft through half opened eyes, decided that everything was as it should be and once again surrendered my brain to the soothing, redolent alpha rhythms.


It did not last long  though. I was once again brought to full wakefulness by the penetrating odour of Vibhuti  and sounds as if a wild heard of cape buffaloes were charging towards me. The surmise was not far fetched. The onrushing crowd of Telugu Ayyappans , in their black shirts and dhotis, unkempt hair and beard a-flying and the guttural noises emanating from their mouths did resemble a snorting  herd of wild cape buffaloes. In the cold morning they even had whiffs of condensed water vapour escaping their nostrils. The irumudi kettu covered by black clothes  had a passable resemblance to the flaring horns of the buffaloes. In no time they were all over the plane, wrenching open the overhead lockers, jumping over passengers, pushing aside the air hostesses and flight pursers. When the dust finally settled, or rather the Bhasmam finally settled,  the cabin crew had succeeded through a heroic demonstration of passenger management to strap down all the members of the  unruly crowd to  the available seats from cockpit to the tail.


The Caucasian pilot on loan from one of the CIS countries had a dazed look on his face and hurriedly started taxiing the plane to get it airborne. The cabin crew flopped down on their flight stations unable to fully  fathom the magnitude of the task accomplished or fearfully anticipating the challenges ahead. Finally to the accompaniment of 'swaamiye saranamayyappa' shouted in unison, we were air borne.


After the aircraft was in flight for some time, and the ayyappans had their fill of the  morning sun, the cumulus  clouds, the ground far below etc., they  gave their undivided  attention  to fiddling with the overhead switches. Soon one of them  found out that a touch on one of them made a lamp to light up followed by a 'twim' sound  and what more, brought one of the cabin crew hurrying. Information of the great discovery soon travelled to the ayyappans sitting in the front row to the back row and  lights started lighting up sporadically everywhere accompanied by 'twim' sounds.


In the  'Close Encounter of the Third Kind' an electrician  driving his jeep through a lonely stretch of road sees an UFO. He also hears 'a five-tone musical phrase in a major scale' accompanied by flashing lights. The situation was not much different now. Lights began flashing almost non stop followed by the sound and it was a  'Close Encounter of the Ayyappan Kind' .The flashing lights and sounds soon assumed a fractal pattern. The whole atmosphere became a bit psychedelic.


Meanwhile, one of the ayyappans found out that bottled mineral water is available free of charge. That  speeded up the light-sound show and the cabin crew soon ran out of mineral water bottles stocked for the flight. For a time they tried ignoring the lights and sound summons but soon realised that they were fighting a loosing battle. They had to dip into the stock of mineral water bottles stocked for subsequent flights but still was not able to satiate the never ending demand. The Ayyappans collected and stocked enough drinking water for the arduous climb ahead and more.


It was the Guruswami's turn now. The plethora of 'rudraksha' 'thulasi' 'bead' maalas adorning his neck amply proclaimed his status to the whole world.  If that were not enough, he frequently conversed in English with the flight crew and gave immediate translation in Telugu for the benefit of his flock. He had that smug ' Been there, Done that ' look on his face. He got into action by pulling out a full plastic sack which was thrust under the seat. With the fully laden sack he strode purposefully to the front row and opening the sack invited the ayyappans sitting on the front row to help themselves. A variety of eatables came out of the bag and he proceeded from row to row until he reached the last row near the tail. Even then the bag was only half empty. The cabin crew watched in dismay. Guruswami gave them a meaningful  look which seemed to say: ' Doesn't matter if Spice does not serve any food. We have our own'. In one final act of utmost temerity he invited a passing crew to take a handful from the bag. The girl's face reddened, not out of bashfulness, I suspect.


The plane was finally shouted down at Kochi airport by the Ayappans, not too late. Apparently, they  had decided , no doubt on the omniscient, omnipotent  Guruswami's instructions, to disembark only after the other passengers had left. He was standing near the exit when I slowly manoeuvred my way through the milling cape buffaloes. He looked up when I reached him. 


I could not resist a parting shot; 'Have a nice day' I said and hurried out before he could say 'You too'.

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