The Eagle and the Boogie Man

When I’d hand over the offering to Majeed kakka, I always noticed that the veiled shadow of anger would disappear from those piercing eyes. Was he feeling obliged, to me, or to my father, or to Rawther or to the sacrificed goat? This life isn’t for everyone, because it is harder on some than it is on others…      Read More…

From an anthology of short stories / Published by: Impish Lass Publishing House (Mumbai)  

On my way home from school in the afternoon, as the paddy fields came into view, my classmates would part ways, leaving me alone before the green meadow. To the left was a plateau that could hardly be called a hillock, but high ground, perhaps. On either side of the ground stretched long rows of sesame hulls, leftovers of the previous crop. At the end of the rainy season every year, people grow one crop or the other. They leased the land for cultivation from the Jama’at committee to which it belonged.

On the slope on the other side stood a sea-green rectangular building with a slanting roof that served as the primary religious education center, also known as the ‘madrasa’. Over the years, the old-fashioned tiles at its top had gathered moss over them, eventually turning into the color of oak tree trunks. I did not know that moss was a symbol of resilience, time, and history until I came across a passing reference about it in my Social Studies textbook.

Every morning before school, the children would come to the ‘madrasa’ and read tongue-twisting verses from the scriptures. While the children recited the verses with a chant-like intonation, ‘Ustad’, the teacher, would walk around, watching them, turning the soft, round face of the cane in his hand over its entire length. ‘Ustad’ would grant each student a time frame to revise his lesson. At the end of the deadline, he expected the students to produce faultless results. He would often show no mercy to the defaulters and wouldn’t even consider giving them a second chance, and the cane would swing down with an ‘uff’ sound as it whipped the air before it landed on its target. His wife, Pathumma thatha, had already given birth to eight children and was waiting for the ninth. There was a rumor among the children that Pathumma thatha simply needed to cross paths with her husband after nightfall, and the outcome would be known in nine months.

When Uncle Hameed returned home from the Far East, the brown wooden cabinet we had at home was converted into a bookcase. Besides a black metal trunk full of books, he brought along an Olympia portable typewriter, a Telefunken record changer, and an enormous collection of 33, 45 and 78-RPM vinyl records. He was also a lover of Urdu poetry. He often recited poems by Faiz and Iqbal. I listened to his baritone, understanding none of it. Once he explained to me the meaning of one of Iqbal’s verses, which soon became my favorite: “Nahin tera nasheman Qasr-e-Sultan ke gumbat par, Tu Shaheen hai, Basera kar pahadon ki chattano par.” (Thy intention should not be to make a nest in the dome of the royal palace, Oh Eagle. Thy rank is much higher, and thou shouldst live on the mountain tops.)

Uncle Hameed was in his late 40s but remained celibate. His straight combed hair, pristine white collared shirt, beaver-brown patent leather half-shoes, and nonchalant smile were absolutely out of this world. There was something special about the way he smiled. I had seen no one smile with his eyes before.

On the far right of the second shelf of the cabinet was a book titled ‘Rebel without a Cause.’ I once asked him if it was a good book, and he said, “Of course, it is, but a script,” he didn’t tell me what the difference was, though. But he explained to me that a “rebel” was someone who disobeys authority, that attempted to impose control over others. I immediately replied, “Do you think I am a rebel?” He laughed hilariously and said, “Of course I do.” His laughter echoed from the high ceiling of the room. That was enough for me.

That weekend, we had a full session at the madrasa. The following Saturday, I bought a pack of Panama cigarettes and a box of crackers at Alappadan’s grocery store in town. I also took some thread and a sewing needle from my mother’s safe deposit box, a taffy container with sewing supplies. I stuck the needle into the cigarettes and held each one securely in place, one vertical strand at a time. In the meantime, I also applied some glue to keep them from shifting. Once I hooked up the bunch of crackers at the far end, the device was ready to detonate.

In the morning, I successfully smuggled the device into the ‘madrasa’. When all the students took their lunch break, I hung around. ‘Ustad’ would also go out for lunch and come back for his afternoon nap. I attached the gadget to the windowsill before Ustad returned, close to where the cushions were stacked high over two firmly set benches. After making sure no one was looking, I lighted the cigarette at the open end and quietly walked away. It would take at least an hour before the cigarettes burned out and the crackers were lit.

By the time I showed up for the afternoon session at the ‘madrasa’, Ustad looked like a different person than before. I held my breath, thinking that a flogging awaited all twenty-nine of us. Surprisingly, nothing happened and business was as usual.

Our house was halfway up the hill, at the first turn from the ‘Puli-para’ (so called because once leopards used to live among the rocks in the expanse) intersection, and immediately after the goldsmiths’ dry palm-leaf-roofed mud huts and Ravi the Lame’s rice mill. The rice mill, however, was only a front. Behind the rectangular yellow panel with his name painted across in thick black letters, Ravi ran a thriving bootlegging operation.

West of his property lay the canal. To the south, there was a stretch of paddy fields. East of the paddy fields stood Potti’s deserted bungalow. Astrologer Lakshmanan Asan had advised Potti not to live in the bungalow for twenty years because it was under the influence of evil forces, and Potti readily obliged. Behind it was a mound known as the ‘Maadan kavu’ (devil’s abode), a dense grove of palmyra palms, peepals, medlars, and portias, where Ravi’s brewery operated in camouflage. This earned him the nickname ‘parvenu’. My classmate Ajmal said that he saw Peelikkottu Sharada ‘chechi’ (elder sister) and the maidservant of Chencheril house leaving the mill premises one afternoon, red-faced and teary-eyed.

But one night, as a dry easterly wind blowing through the Aryankavu pass tickled the G-spots on Palmyra leaves and the jingling of shackles disturbed Madan’s sleep, a gang of excise officers raided Ravi’s illegal brewery. The officers shattered everything in sight, confiscated a two-ton truckload of arrack in ten-liter cans, and detained Ravi and his associates. To add to Ravi’s woes, that night a fire broke out in his rice mill, and the entire building was gutted.

Rumors circulated that Ajmal’s father, Kasim Rowther, was the snitch. However, the cause of the fire was attributed to Madan’s shallow sleep. Until then, all I had heard was that Madan went for a stroll in the afternoon to the west, clanking his shackles, and drank the blood of cows grazing in the empty paddy fields after the crops, without even making an incision. Apparently, the devil’s bite was much worse than his bark.

I did not know how a coarse and unsavory person like Ravi garnered so much support in our neighborhood. But it was easy to figure out how the status quo had grown over time. Sometimes, the hardest part is knowing which bridge to cross and which one to burn.

Behind the ‘madrasa’ was a temporary hut made of woven bamboo strips and coconut leaves that withstood the north winds and torrential rains where the ‘boogeyman’ lived. Everyone knew that Majeed kakka was Ustad’s younger brother. How he came to be mad-Majeed is beyond me.

Majeed kakka was tall yet scrawny, with a thick crop of salt and pepper hair that he cut himself as short as possible, using either a razor blade or a quarter-inch wide, folding pen knife with a ceramic handle. Because of his slightly angular shape, most people in the village mistakenly thought he was a hunchback. Even those who knew that he was not a lunatic later assumed he was. Majeed kakka always wore a sheer cotton towel that covered his body from the waistline to just below the knees, revealing his striped underwear. He bathed several times a day in the nearby canal, in the cotton towel he always wore. It was probably the only clothing he had and hung it out to dry at night when no one was around. He hardly spoke to anyone and seldom left the vicinity of the ‘madrasa’. But whenever he did, he carried a backpack made of jute. The children claimed that he drugged little kids, packed them in his rucksack, and sold them as beggars to Gypsies in far-off locations.

He always cooked for himself. His kitchen utensils comprised three pieces of rocks of uniform height, a round aluminum container with a narrow neck, and a wooden spoon. He prepared everything, from steaming tea leaves to cooking rice in these utensils. He cooked meat only once or twice a year, a luxury he owed to my father.

On the day of Eid, our neighbor Kassim Rowther sacrificed a lamb in his backyard. Rowther would explain to the neighborhood children who had gathered in the backyard to see the sacrifice that God only cared about the sanctity of their intentions and not the body parts of the sacrificed animal. After the short discourse was over, Kunjannan, the barber, now approached the lamb while reciting a prayer. Ajmal, the youngest of the Rowthers, with wavy brown hair and steel-grey eyes, would feed the goat a few jack fruit tree leaves and water, its last breakfast. Kunjannan would then grab the lamb by its jaw and plunge the sharp blade of a large kitchen knife into its carotid artery. Blood gushing from the decapitated lamb was not a pleasant sight, but we all stood there and watched. Did killing a living thing suit God, especially because its flesh and blood never reached Him?

Traditionally, meat is divided into three parts: one for the poor, one for friends and relatives, and the last one for the family. Later, when our portion arrived neatly wrapped in banana leaves, I asked my father for permission to deliver it to Majeed kakka. He granted my wish with the laughing remark, “Let Majeed too celebrate Eid.” He would also press a one-hundred-rupee bill into my palm and whisper, “Go get some for us from Plamoodan’s slaughter house.”

Whenever I gave Majeed kakka the offering, the veiled shadow of anger disappeared from his sharp eyes. Did he feel indebted to me, my father, Rowther, or the sacrificial lamb? This life isn’t for everyone, because for some it is harder than it is for others.

Occasionally, mischievous children would tease Majeedkakka by throwing pebbles at him. Most of the time he did not respond. When they felt that he had looked up angrily at them, baring his sharp front teeth, they would call out ‘mad-Majeed’ and run as fast as they could.

Every morning, ‘Ustad’ gave Majeed kakka a one-rupee coin, making it his daily allowance. Supposedly, he had attended a ‘family planning’ camp in a neighboring state and undergone vasectomy. In return, he received three hundred and fifty rupees and a plastic bucket, all of which he handed over to his brother. Was the new orange bucket found near the well where ‘Ustad’ and his disciples performed ‘ablution’, part of the bargain for Majeed kakka’s manhood? People gossiped that ‘Ustad’ did no one any favor.

More often than not, when I opened the tiffin box our maidservant, Nachiamma had packed for me, I felt sick at the memory of her short fingers and dirty square fingernails. But I never complained to my mother. Nachiamma was quite old. She walked with a slight tilt to her left, and her eyesight had deteriorated. She formed part of the dowry my mother had brought along after marriage. No one would take her to work in the present condition. Fortunately, I found a culvert in front of the paddy field with a couple of broken rocks on the parapet. If I emptied the tiffin before coming home from school, the culvert would eat it all up.

Children in the village thought Majeed kakka was an ogre. Some women used Majeed kakk’s fictional reputation to intimidate children who did not eat or go to bed on time. Even so, I could not suppress my curiosity. As I wandered around the ‘madrasa’, he didn’t pay the slightest attention to me. One day I caught him outside, brushing his teeth with a neem stalk after a nap. I appeared to have caught him off-guard because children never approached him in such proximity. When he laughed, his eyes narrowed, and I saw yellow teeth. “Aren’t you afraid?”, I could read the question between his raised eyebrows. My response was a cautious smile, and he smiled back, showing more yellow teeth.

I stopped to empty Nachiamma’s lunch under the culvert. Now accustomed to his routine, I arrived early the next day while he was napping. I left Nachiamma’s lunch packet next to the stove with the rock splinters. This strategy worked for two more days, and on the fourth day when the sleeping Majeed kakka’s hand reached for my arm, I almost screamed and felt the blood recede from my face. He had caught me red-handed, yet that broke the ice.

As I became a regular visitor to his lodge, Majeed kakka felt that Nachaimma’s lunch was more sumptuous than anything he had ever eaten. After he’d washed up, he would light a ‘beedi’, and begin one of our story-telling sessions.

Majeed kakka proved to be a versatile storyteller. Among them were stories of Cleopatra emerging from the carpet before an invading Roman general, and tales of local heroes and heroines. His telltale chronicles would transport me through unheard-of vistas across the vast Persian dunes. One day, he told me about his ‘Hajj’ (pilgrimage) journey at the insistence of his elder sister.

Zuleihatha was fifteen years older than he was. She mortgaged her house and land to a local moneylender, Kuttan Pilla, to pay for her pilgrimage. This would leave her homeless without the cabin with a kitchenette in which she lived. In front of her grumpy neighbors, she made excuses, saying: ‘Thawakkal Allah’ (I submit myself to God’s plan).

Majeed kakka still does not know why, of all people, he was asked to accompany her. Nor did he know how much his sister loved her younger brother. Zuleihatha and her husband tried to knock on every door one could think of, but they could never have children. Her husband passed away ten years ago.

Now she was frail and sickly. Undertaking the ‘Hajj’ trip in the middle of the Arabian summer was demanding. In the sweltering desert heat, she became dehydrated and developed cold-like symptoms like a sore throat, stuffy nose, and coughing. Two days later, she experienced a high temperature, chills, a cough that generated thick yellow mucus, and chest pains, prompting her to be taken to the hospital. Because of an infection, she was diagnosed with lung air space irritation. Strong drugs were used to treat her for a week, but she showed no signs of recovery. Then, on the eleventh day, she laid her head on her brother’s chest and let out her last breath.

During the burial, an anomaly occurred. In some parts of the Arab world, it was customary to bury a dead infant with the body of an older person instead of burying it separately. When Zuleihatha’s body was being lowered into the grave, one family brought the body of an infant and buried them together. Perhaps it was God’s way of granting Zuleihatha what she had asked for.

Majeed kakka sat by Zuleihatha’s grave for some time after the members of the ‘Hajj’ group left. Suddenly, grey broccoli clouds appeared in the sky, followed by thunder, lightning, and torrential rain. As one resolute light bolt hit Zuleihatha’s grave, an electrical discharge erupted from the ground. Several cracks appeared over the damp pile of sand that covered the crypt. After a while, the rain thinned into a drizzle. A stiff wind was blowing. The cold was biting, but calm reigned. Then two golden flames, one slightly smaller than the other, burst out of the cracks and rushed upward with great speed. A chill ran down his spine, but he followed the flames so closely that his eyes ached. The next day, as he walked to the Masjid for morning prayer, he looked up. There were two stars in the eastern sky, probably a mother and daughter.

After his voice trailed off, I returned from the castles of sand to the ramshackle living quarter of my storyteller. He must have wondered what had come between him and the man he wanted to be.

When I got home that evening, I was hot all over. Seeing my eyelids drooping, my mother felt my forehead and looked at my throat. She asked Nachiamma to make chicken soup and told my father to take me to a nearby local doctor.

Gopalan kaniyan diagnosed me with chickenpox. For the next three weeks, I slept on a bed in the smallest room between the master bedroom and the dining room. The only window in that room faced the walkway leading to the front door. Through the three-inch rectangular slit under the gate, I could see human feet, cat paws, and bicycle tires crossing the path. The vesicles on my chest and limbs burst as I scratched them with my fingernails, making the healing slower. No one but my mother came near me for fear of catching the contagious disease.

I lay in bed, looking up at the wooden ceiling through the thin grey veil of incense smoke, and thought of Majeed kakka. He was a lonely man living all by himself in the wilderness of the highlands. What would he eat if it were not for Nachiamma’s tiffin? Lately, Majeed kakka waited for me outside his quarters. Did he wait for the food I brought in the tiffin box, or did he secretly cherish the time we haven’t spent together in a long time? Was he hoping to reap what he didn’t sow?

Leaning with my back against the trunk of a jackfruit tree, I watched a blue kingfisher trying to fish in the laterite mine pond further up the plateau. The bird stayed above the water flapping its wings in quick succession until it found its prey. As soon as it found its victim, the bird dove into the water, caught the fish in its beaks and flew off. Soon after, someone approached the pond. It was Majeed kakka. He, too, was about to take a dip. He entered the pond and plunged into the water. I didn’t count, but it must have been more than a minute. What was Majeed kakka trying to do? He would drown. No ripples appeared on the surface of the water. My heart beat faster, and I wanted to rush to the pond. But my limbs wouldn’t move. A shrill escaped my mouth, and I woke up bathed in sweat.

On the morning of the first school day after my illness, I noticed ‘Ustad’ standing with two other men in front of the hut where Majeed kakka lived. I was going to be late for school, so I ran away, not paying much attention to what the men were doing outside Majeed kakka’s camp.

On my way back that evening, I wondered what story Majeed kakka had in store for me. The orange bucket lay on its side by the well and hissed as the wind hit its cracked bottom. When I approached Majeed kakka’s hut, it seemed deserted. I pulled on the cluster of coconut leaves and bamboo sticks, and the door of the hut flung open. There was no trace of Majeed kakka. Except for the empty coir cot and the plain clothesline, everything inside looked tidy, as if Majeed kakka had never lived there. I wondered where he had gone.

When I heard footsteps approaching, I turned back to find ‘Ustad’ standing there like a lost child. He was not the cold, impassive, and manipulative man everyone thought he was. I was looking for one thing and found another. The words tumbled out of his mouth as if he had learned them by rote, “He was unaware that he had contracted chickenpox and you know how obsessed he is with cleanliness. He bathed in the morning, afternoon and evening, as usual, and it got worse. Gopalan kaniyan’s tincture did not help, and he died last night. There was no one for whom we should have waited, and we buried him right before the noon service.”

The sky was seamless, but the orange color of the twilight was eating up its blue. No one could tell with ‘Ustad’, but something sober was melting in his eyes from behind the impassive muscles lining his face. I didn’t know what to say to him.

I ran across the paddy field toward the house. I didn’t go to the kitchen for the banana fry and malt beverage Nachiamma was supposed to make for me. But no one noticed. I dumped my books over the small study table and tried to sit alone for a while. I heard Nachiamma telling my mother that Bhagavathi (Goddess) had dispersed the seeds, and Majeed got caught in the shower. Only She knew whose turn will be next.

I felt fidgety. I walked towards the backyard and sat on the wooden plank of the swing that hung from the branch of the tamarind tree. Some people, like flowers, sprouted in your life without you realizing it. Did benevolence always end up in grief? Was happiness a sin? For the first time, I experienced the pain of losing what I cherished. Not that I always got what I wanted. But until now, I have never been in a situation where I lost something that I endeared so much. It happened so unexpectedly that I felt the ground beneath my feet crunch. I wished the world would stop in its tracks for a second, but it didn’t.

For how long I sat there looking at the distant skyline through the tamarind leaves, I did not know. A cool breeze rustled my unruly hair and gently caressed my cheeks. Sometimes one tires of being strong too. The sun had disappeared beyond the skyline. The gold in the sky had made way for pink and purple. From above the branches of the tamarind tree, the night was steadily descending like a bear on its hind legs. A pale, but splintered quarter moon showed up in the eastern sky. Was a tear or two threatening to roll down from my eyes? Was that the reason the moon now appeared in broken pieces? I felt drained and on the edge.

A rooster crowed from its shelter in Kassim Rawther’s house. I heard Nachiamma calling out my name. I did not move. Then I heard footsteps approaching and looked up. It was uncle Hameed. He came around, sat beside me on the swing’s plank, and held me close. Moments passed with neither of us talking, yet I could hear his unsaid whisper in my ears: ‘Tu Shaheen hai..’ (Thou art the eagle). The embankment of sand caved in. I laid my head on his chest and sobbed.





ഒരു വ്യക്തിയുടെ പേരും ഒരു വ്യവസ്തിതിയുടെയോ, സ്ഥാപനത്തിന്റെയോ പേരും പരസ്‌പര പൂരകങ്ങളായിത്തീരുന്ന സ്ഥിതിവിശേഷം ചരിImage may contain: one or more people, eyeglasses, sunglasses and closeupത്രത്തിലാകട്ടെ, വർത്തമാനകാല സാമൂഹിക സാഹചര്യങ്ങളിലാകട്ടെ, സാധാരണമാണ്. പത്രാധിപർ കെ. സുകുമാരന്റെ സാരഥ്യത്തിൽ, കേരളകൗമുദി മലയാളിയുടെ സാമൂഹിക- രാജനൈതിക ജീവിതത്തിന്റെ ഇടനാഴികളിൽ അവഗണിക്കാനാവാത്ത ശബ്‌ദമായിക്കഴിയുമ്പോഴേക്കും, ഒരു പക്ഷെ മറ്റു പലരെയുംപോലെ, എന്റെ വാപ്പായും ആ രൂപകല്‌പനയുടെ ഭാഗമായിത്തീർന്നിട്ടുണ്ടാവാം.

ഞങ്ങളുടെ വീടിന്റെ ചുറ്റുമതിലിന്റെ ഭാഗമായി, ഗേറ്റിനെ താങ്ങിനിറുത്തിയിരുന്ന രണ്ട് കോൺക്രീറ്റ് തൂണുകളുണ്ടായിരുന്നു. ഒരു തൂണിനു ചുവട്ടിൽ നിന്നും മുകളിലേക്ക്‌ പടർന്നു കയറിയിരുന്ന ബൂഗൻവില്ലിയാ തലപ്പുകൾ ഗേറ്റും കടന്ന്, എതിർ ദിശയിലെ തൂണിനു മുകൾ വരെ എത്തി നിന്നിരുന്നു. ചെടിപ്പടർപ്പു നിറയെ മാനത്തേക്കു നോക്കി നിൽക്കുന്ന പർപ്പിൾ നിറത്തിലെ പൂക്കൾ. ഒരു തൂണിനു പിന്നിൽ, പൂക്കൾക്കും മീതെ മെറൂൺ നിറത്തിൽ ഒരു മീറ്റർ സ്‌ക്വയർ സമചതുരത്തിൽ ഒരു ഫലകമുണ്ടായിരുന്നു, അതിൽ വെളുത്ത അക്ഷരങ്ങളിൽ രണ്ടുവരിയായി കേരളകൗമുദി എന്ന എഴുത്തും.

കരീമണ്ണൻ മലഞ്ചരക്ക് വ്യാപാരം നടത്തിയിരുന്നത്‌ ചന്തമുക്കിലെ ഒരിരുനില കെട്ടിടത്തിലായിരുന്നു. അവിടെ കരീമണ്ണനൊപ്പമായിരുന്നു വാപ്പായുടെ ഇരിപ്പ് മിക്കവാറും. അതിന്റെ പെന്റ്ഹൗസിലും ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നു നഗരവാസികളുടെയാകമാനം ശ്രദ്ധയാകർഷിച്ച് കേരളകൗമുദി എന്ന ഹോർഡിംഗ്.

അതുകൊണ്ടാവാം, എനിക്ക്‌ ഓർമ്മ വയ്ക്കുന്നതു മുതൽ, കൊട്ടാരക്കരയിലെങ്ങും വാപ്പാ കേരളകൗമുദി ഷാഹുൽ ഹമീദ് എന്നറിയപ്പെട്ടത്. പിൽക്കാലത്ത് അത് ലോപിച്ച് കേരളകൗമുദി മാത്രമായി. കൊട്ടാരക്കര സ്റ്റാൻഡിൽ ബസിറങ്ങുന്ന യാത്രക്കാരൻ ഓട്ടോറിക്ഷാ ഡ്രൈവറോട് കേരളകൗമുദി എന്നുപറഞ്ഞാൽ മറുചോദ്യം വരും. ‘ആപ്പീസിലോ, വീട്ടിലോ’ എന്ന്.

എൺപത്തിനാലാം വയസിൽ, ഒരു രാത്രി, വാപ്പാക്കു ഹൃദയാഘാതമുണ്ടായി. രണ്ടടുത്ത ബന്ധുക്കൾ വാപ്പായെ കൊല്ലത്ത്‌ ശങ്കർ ഷഷ്ട്യബ്ദപൂർത്തി മെമ്മോറിയൽ ആശുപത്രിയിലെത്തിച്ചു. അനിയത്തിയെ വിളിച്ചു വിവരമറിയിച്ച ശേഷം, ഉറക്കമൊഴിയാൻ ബുദ്ധിമുട്ടാണെന്നു പറഞ്ഞ്‌ അവർ അപ്പോൾ തന്നെ കൊട്ടാരക്കരയ്ക്കു മടങ്ങി. പിറ്റേന്ന് പുലർച്ചെ അനിയത്തിയും, ഭർത്താവ്‌ മുഹമ്മദലിക്കായും എത്തുമ്പോൾ, വീട്ടിലേക്ക്‌ ചന്തയിൽ നിന്ന് സാധനങ്ങൾ വാങ്ങിത്തരുമായിരുന്ന അയിഷായിത്താത്തായുടെ മകൻ സിറാജ്‌, തീവ്ര പരിചരണ വിഭാഗത്തിനു മുൻപിലെ ബെഞ്ചിലിരുന്ന് ഉറക്കംതൂങ്ങുന്നു. എനിക്ക്‌ കൊച്ചിയിലേക്കേ വിമാനം കിട്ടിയുള്ളൂ. ആശുപത്രിയിലെത്തുമ്പോൾ നേരം ഉച്ച. അപ്പൊഴേക്കും വാപ്പായെ ‘പേഷ്യന്റ്‌ റൂമി’ലേക്ക്‌ മാറ്റിയിരുന്നു.

പതുക്കെപ്പതുക്കെ വാപ്പായുടെ പ്രകൃതത്തിൽ ചെറിയ മാറ്റങ്ങൾ ഞാൻ ശ്രദ്ധിച്ചു. ഒരേ വിഷയം തന്നെ, മിനിട്ടുകൾ ഇടവിട്ട്‌, വീണ്ടും വീണ്ടും ചോദിക്കുക, കുട്ടികളെപ്പോലെ പിടിവാശി കാട്ടുക – ഇപ്പോൾ എറണാകുളം ലിസി ആശുപത്രിയിലുള്ള ഹൃദ്രോഗവിദഗ്ദ്ധൻ ഡോ. ജാബിർ അന്ന് കൊട്ടാരക്കര വിജയാ ആശുപത്രിയിലായിരുന്നു. അദ്ദേഹം ഒരു രോഗി എന്നതിലുപരി, ഒരു കുടുംബാംഗമെന്ന പരിഗണന വാപ്പാക്കു നൽകിയിരുന്നു. വാപ്പായുടെ തലച്ചോറിനെ ഡിമെൻഷ്യ ബാധിച്ച് തുടങ്ങിയെന്ന് അദ്ദേഹമാണെന്നോട് പറഞ്ഞത്.

കൊട്ടാരക്കരയിലെ ജനജീവിതത്തിന്റെ മുഖ്യധാരയിൽ നിന്ന് വാപ്പാ സാവധാനം പുറത്താവുകയായിരുന്നു. മനസ്സെത്തുന്നിടത്ത്‌ ശരീരമെത്തുന്നില്ല എന്നു വകവെച്ചുകൊടുക്കാൻ എന്നിട്ടും വാപ്പാ തയാറായില്ല. ഒരിക്കൽ റോഡുമുറിച്ച് കടക്കവെ വാപ്പായെ സ്‌കൂട്ടർ തട്ടി, ഇടതു ചുമലിലെ എല്ല് പൊട്ടി. തുടർന്നുണ്ടായ ഇടതുകൈയുടെ ബലക്ഷയം മരണം വരെ തുടർന്നു.

വിവരമറിഞ്ഞ് വാപ്പായെ കാണാൻ കേരളകൗമുദിയിൽ നിന്ന് പത്രാധിപരുടെ ചെറുമകൻ, ഇന്ന് ചീഫ്‌ എഡിറ്ററായിരിക്കുന്ന, ദീപു രവി വന്നിരുന്നു. വാപ്പായുടെ രണ്ടു കൈകളും കൂട്ടിപ്പിടിച്ചാണു ദീപു യാത്ര പറഞ്ഞത്‌. ദീപു പൊയ്‌ക്കഴിഞ്ഞ് വാപ്പാ എന്നോട് പറഞ്ഞു: ‘നീ കണ്ടോ, ഞാനിപ്പോഴും കേരളകൗമുദി ഷാഹുൽ ഹമീദ് തന്നെയാണ്.’

ഉമ്മയും ഏറെക്കുറെ കിടപ്പിലായിരുന്നു. ഞാൻ കണ്ണെത്താദൂരത്ത്‌. എറണാകുളത്തു താമസിക്കുന്ന അനിയത്തിയും,‌ മുഹമ്മദാലിക്കായും രണ്ടാഴ്ചയിലൊരിക്കലെങ്കിലും വരും. ചിലപ്പൊഴൊക്കെ ഒന്നോ രണ്ടോ ദിവസം കൊട്ടാരക്കര താമസിക്കും. ഇതിനിടെ സന്തത സഹചാരിയായിരുന്ന കരിമണ്ണനെയും, പത്രത്തിന്റെ നടത്തിപ്പിൽ തന്റെ വലംകൈയായിരുന്ന, കൊട്ടാരക്കരക്കാർക്കു മുഴുവൻ ‘പഞ്ചാരമാമാ’ ആയിരുന്ന, മുഹമ്മദ്‌ ഹനീഫയെയും വപ്പാക്കു നഷ്‌ടമായി. എല്ലാ ദിവസവും രാവിലെ ഏഴു മണിക്ക്‌ ഞാൻ ഫോണിൽ വിളിക്കുമായിരുന്നു. പൊയ്പ്പോയ കാലത്തിന്റെ ഓർമ്മകൾ പങ്കിടാൻ അപൂർവം ചില സുഹൃത്തുക്കൾ അപ്പോഴും വാപ്പായെ തേടിയെത്തി. അക്കൂട്ടത്തിൽ ഞാൻ നന്ദിപൂർവം സ്‌മരിക്കുന്നത് തലമുതിർന്ന രാഷ്ട്രീയ നേതാവ് ആർ. ബാലകൃഷ്ണപിള്ളയെയും, സർവ്വീസിൽ നിന്ന് വിരമിച്ച പ്രഭാകരൻ പിള്ള സാറിനെയും (സെയിൽസ്‌ ടാക്സ്‌), ശശിച്ചേട്ടനെയും (ആർ ടി ഒ), പിന്നെ അന്തരിച്ച തങ്ങൾകുഞ്ഞ് മുസല്യാരുടെ മൂന്നാം തലമുറക്കാരായ ഇല്യാസിനെയും, നിസാറിനെയുമാണു.

ഒരു ‘ലാർജർ ദാൻ ലൈഫ്‌’ മാനത്തിൽ ജീവിച്ച വാപ്പാക്കു താൻ ഒറ്റപ്പെടുന്നുവെന്ന് തോന്നിത്തുടങ്ങി. കിടപ്പിലായിരുന്നെങ്കിലും ഉമ്മയുടെ സാന്നിദ്ധ്യം വാപ്പാക്കു ഒരു ബലമായിരുന്നു. അതിനിടെയുണ്ടായ ഉമ്മയുടെ ദേഹവിയോഗം വാപ്പായെ ശരിക്കും ഏകാകിയാക്കി. അതു തിരിച്ചറിഞ്ഞ അനിയത്തിയും, മുഹമ്മദാലിക്കായും വാപ്പായെ അവരുടെ എറണാകുളത്തെ വീട്ടിലേക്ക് കൂട്ടിക്കൊണ്ടു പോയി. മൂന്ന് വർഷങ്ങൾക്കുശേഷം അവരുടെ വീട്ടിൽ വച്ചാണ് വാപ്പാ കണ്ണടയ്‌ക്കുന്നത്.

ജൂലൈ 8 ഒരു വ്യാഴാഴ്ചയായിരുന്നു. ഓഫീസിലെ ഡസ്ക്ടോപ്‌ മോണിട്ടറിനു മുന്നിൽ നിന്നെഴുന്നേറ്റ്‌, പിന്നിലെ വലിയ ഫ്രെഞ്ച്‌ ജനാലയ്ക്ക്‌ മറതീർത്തിരുന്ന വെനീഷ്യൻ ബ്ലൈന്റ്‌ മുകളിലേക്കുയർത്തി പുറത്തേക്കു നോക്കുമ്പോൾ, താഴെ അഞ്ഞൂറ്റി ഇരുപത്തിയഞ്ച്‌ വാഹനങ്ങൾക്ക്‌ ഇടമുള്ള പാർക്കിംഗ്‌ ലോട്ടിൽ ഒരു സ്ലോട്ട്‌ പോലും ഒഴിവില്ല. ഇരു ദിശകളിലേക്കും നീണ്ടുപോവുന്ന, നഗരത്തിന്റെ ഇരുണ്ട ചോരക്കുഴലുകൾക്കു നടുവിലെ പുൽമേടിനും, നിരനിരയായി നിൽക്കുന്ന മരത്തലപ്പുകൾക്കുമപ്പുറം കടൽ തിമിർക്കുന്നു, യൗവ്വനം എന്നോ നഷ്ടപ്പെട്ട മദ്ധ്യവയസ്ക്കയുടെ തുളുമ്പുന്ന ഡബിൾ ചിൻ പോലെ. പൊടുന്നനെ എനിക്കു ചുറ്റും വാപ്പാ പതിവായി ഉപയോഗിക്കുമായിരുന്ന പൗഡറിന്റെ സുഗന്ധം. വാപ്പായുടെ വിയർപ്പിനു അപ്പോൾ മാത്രം മരത്തിൽ നിന്നു പറിച്ചെടുത്ത ഓറഞ്ചിന്റെ മണമായിരുന്നു, അതിൽ ‘ക്യൂട്ടിക്യൂറ’യുടെ പങ്ക്‌ എത്രയുണ്ടെന്നറിയുമായിരുന്നില്ലെങ്കിൽ കൂടി. പത്താം തരം ജയിച്ച്‌, താമസം ജസ്യൂട്ട്‌ പാതിരിമാർ നടത്തിയിരുന്ന കോളജ്‌ ഹോസ്റ്റലിലേക്കു മാറും വരെ, വാപ്പാ മാറിയിട്ട ബനിയൻ തലയിണമേൽ വിരിച്ചാണു ഞാൻ ഉറങ്ങുമായിരുന്നത്‌. എനിക്കെന്തോ വല്ലായ്ക തോന്നി. വാഷ്‌റൂമിൽ പോയി മുഖം കഴുകി മടങ്ങിയെത്തുമ്പോൾ സെൽ ഫോൺ നിർത്താതെ ശബ്ദിക്കുന്നു. അൽപ്പം ഈർഷ്യയോടെയെങ്കിലും ഫോണെടുത്തപ്പോൾ മറുതലയ്ക്കൽ മുഹമ്മദലിക്ക. മൂപ്പർ വെറുതെ അങ്ങനെ വിളിക്കാറില്ല. ഒരു നിമിഷം ഉള്ളൊന്നു കാളി. ഞാൻ ഭയപ്പെട്ടിരുന്നത്‌ സംഭവിച്ചിരിക്കുന്നു. എപ്പൊഴാണെത്താൻ പറ്റുക എന്ന് മടക്കിവിളിച്ചറിയിക്കാമെന്നു പറഞ്ഞ്‌ ഞാൻ ഫോൺ വച്ചു. ഇ എസ്‌ പി-യെക്കുറിച്ച്‌ വായിച്ചറിവേ ഇതുവരെ ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നുള്ളൂ, ഇപ്പോൾ..

കൊട്ടാരക്കരയിൽ വാപ്പായുടെ തലമുറയിൽപ്പെട്ട ആരും ജീവിച്ചിരിപ്പുള്ളതായി അറിയില്ല. അടുത്ത തലമുറയിൽപ്പെട്ടവർക്ക്‌ വാപ്പായെ ഓർത്തിട്ട്‌ കാര്യവുമില്ല. ഇന്ന് കൊട്ടാരക്കരയിലെ മിക്കയാളുകൾക്കും കേരളകൗമുദി ഷാഹുൽഹമീദ് എന്ന മേൽവിലാസം തന്നെ അപരിചിതമായിരിക്കുന്നു.

കൊട്ടാരക്കര ഇന്നത്തെപ്പോലെ തിരക്കുപിടിച്ച നഗരമാവുന്നതിന് മുമ്പുള്ള കാലം. തിരുവനന്തപുരത്തേക്കുള്ള ചുവപ്പും മഞ്ഞയും പെയിന്റടിച്ച ഫാസ്റ്റ് പാസഞ്ചറിൽ കയറുകയെന്നത് വിമാനത്തിൽ കയറുന്നതിൽ കുറഞ്ഞൊന്നുമായിരുന്നില്ല അന്ന്. തിരുവനന്തപുരത്ത്‌ മുൻപും പോയിട്ടുണ്ടെന്ന് ഉമ്മ പറഞ്ഞു. എനിക്കു പക്ഷേ ഓർമ്മയുണ്ടായിരുന്നില്ല. വാപ്പായുടെ കൈവിരലിൽ തൂങ്ങിയുള്ള ആ യാത്ര ഇന്നലത്തെപ്പോലെ ഓർമ്മയിലുണ്ട്‌. പശ്ചിമജർമ്മനിയിൽ നിന്ന് ഇറക്കുമതി ചെയ്‌ത കേരളകൗമുദിയുടെ ആദ്യത്തെ റോട്ടറി പ്രസ് ഉദ്ഘാടനമായിരുന്നു. വിശിഷ്ടാതിഥിയോ, തിരുവിതാംകൂർ നാട്ടുരാജ്യത്തിലെ മുൻ ദിവാനായിരുന്ന സി പി രാമസ്വാമി അയ്യരും. ചെന്തെങ്ങും കുരുത്തോലയും കൊണ്ട് അലംകൃതമായ വെള്ളമണൽ വിരിച്ച അങ്കണം. വർണാഭമായ പൂക്കളും കുഴലിന്റെ ആകൃതിയിലുള്ള ലൈറ്റുകളും കൊണ്ട് മോടിപിടിപ്പിച്ച പന്തൽ. എന്നെ കുമാരനമ്മാവന്റെ (സഹ-പത്രാധിപരും, ലോക്സഭാംഗവും, പി എസ്‌ സി ചെയർമാനുമായിരുന്ന എം കെ കുമാരൻ) മകൻ ഭദ്രനെ ഏൽപ്പിച്ച്‌, വാപ്പാ ഒരുക്കങ്ങളുടെ നടുവിലേക്ക് പോയി. ഭദ്രനാണ് ആ വൈകുന്നേരം മുഴുവൻ അപരിചിതനായ എന്നെ കൊണ്ടുനടന്നത്. കുമാരനമ്മാവന്റെ മകൾ ചന്ദ്രലേഖ ചേച്ചിയെയും, ഭദ്രനു താഴെയുള്ള അനിയനെയും, പിന്നെ പത്രാധിപരുടെ ഇളയ മകൻ രവിയെയും ഒക്കെ അന്നു പരിചയപ്പെട്ടു. ഞങ്ങളുടെ അടുക്കളയുടെ പിന്നാമ്പുറത്തെ ചാമ്പ മരത്തിൽ പഴുത്തുലഞ്ഞു കിടന്നിരുന്ന കായ്കളുടെ തുടിപ്പായിരുന്നു രാമസ്വാമി അയ്യരുടെ കവിളുകൾക്ക്‌. വെളുത്ത തലപ്പാവൊക്കെ വച്ച്‌, ലേശം സ്തൈണച്ചുവയുള്ള ശബ്ദത്തിൽ, മൂർച്ചയുള്ള കത്തി കൊണ്ട്‌ ഒരേ ഘനത്തിൽ മുറിച്ചുവച്ച ഉരുളക്കിഴങ്ങ്‌ കഷണങ്ങൾ പോലെ ‘ക്ലിപ്ഡ്‌ ആക്സന്റിൽ’ അദ്ദേഹം സംസാരിച്ചു. എനിക്കൊരക്ഷരം മനസ്സിലായില്ല. മടങ്ങി വീട്ടിലെത്തുമ്പോൾ അർദ്ധരാത്രിയായിരുന്നു. പിന്നെയും എത്രയോ ദിവസം ആ യാത്രയുടെ ഓർമ്മ ഒരു ഹരം പോലെ മനസിൽ കൊണ്ടുനടന്നു.

എനിക്കു പലപ്പോഴും തോന്നിയിട്ടുണ്ട്‌, വാപ്പാ ഒരു തെറ്റിദ്ധരിക്കപ്പെട്ട ആളാണെന്ന്. വാപ്പായുടേതു പോലെ ഹൃദ്യമായ ചിരി ഞാൻ മറ്റാരിലും കണ്ടിട്ടില്ല. പാൽപ്പതയുതിരുന്ന ആ നിരയൊത്ത പല്ലുകൾ, എല്ലാ ടൂത്ത്പേസ്റ്റ്‌ പരസ്യ മോഡലുകളെയും അസൂയപ്പെടുത്തുന്നതായിരുന്നു. വാപ്പായുടെ ചിരിയാണെങ്കിലോ, ഇരിക്കുന്ന മുറി മുഴുവൻ പ്രകാശം പരത്തുന്നതോടൊപ്പം, ചുറ്റുമുള്ളവരിൽ ആഹ്ലാദത്തിന്റെ വേലിയേറ്റമുണ്ടാക്കുകയും ചെയ്യുമായിരുന്നു.

ഇന്നു നാം ശ്രീലങ്ക എന്നുവിളിക്കുന്ന ചെറിയ ദ്വീപ് സിലോൺ എന്നറിയപ്പെട്ടിരുന്ന കാലം. അന്ന് സിലോൺ സമ്പന്ന രാജ്യമായിരുന്നു. മദ്ധ്യതിരുവിതാംകൂറിൽ സിലോണിലേക്കുള്ള ഭക്ഷ്യവസ്‌തുക്കളുടെ കയറ്റുമതി ലൈസൻസ് വാപ്പാക്കു മാത്രമേ ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നുള്ളൂ. കൊട്ടാരക്കരയിൽ നിന്ന് ചരക്കുകൾ ട്രെയിൻ മാർഗം ധനുഷ്കോടിയിലേക്ക് കയറ്റി അയയ്‌ക്കും. അവിടെനിന്ന് കടൽമാർഗമാണ് സിലോണിലേക്ക് പോയിരുന്നത്. അറുപതുകളുടെ തുടക്കത്തിലെപ്പോഴോ ആണ്, ധനുഷ്കോടിയിൽ വെള്ളപ്പൊക്കമുണ്ടായതിനെത്തുടർന്ന് ഗതാഗതം പൂർണമായും നിലച്ചു. അയച്ച ചരക്കുകൾ ധനുഷ്കോടി റെയിൽവേ സ്റ്റേഷനിൽ കെട്ടിക്കിടന്നുപോവുകയും, വാപ്പാക്കു ഭീമമായ സാമ്പത്തിക നഷ്‌ടമുണ്ടാവുകയും ചെതു. ആത്മവിശ്വാസം കൈവിടാതെ, തന്റെ പ്രകാശം പരത്തുന്ന പുഞ്ചിരിമാത്രം കൈമുതലാക്കി വാപ്പാ ‘കൊളംബോ’യിൽ വിമാനമിറങ്ങി. ആദ്യത്തെ കൂടിക്കാഴ്ചയിൽ തന്നെ സിലോണിലെ വ്യാപാര സഹകാരിക്ക് വാപ്പായെ ഇഷ്‌ടമായി. അങ്ങനെ നഷ്‌ടത്തിന്റെ പകുതി ഏറ്റെടുക്കാൻ അദ്ദേഹം തയാറായി. കൈനിറയെ സമ്മാനങ്ങളുമായാണ് വാപ്പാ തിരികെ വന്നതെന്ന് ഉമ്മ പറയും. അന്ന് അദ്ദേഹം വാപ്പാക്ക്‌ സമ്മാനിച്ച, നീല ഇനാമലിൽ സുവർണ അക്ഷരങ്ങൾ കൊണ്ട്‌ വാപ്പായൂടെ പേരെഴുതിയ മോതിരം അമൂല്യമായ പൈതൃകത്തിന്റെ ഭാഗമായി ഞങ്ങളിന്നും സൂക്ഷിക്കുന്നു.

വിയറ്റ്നാം യുദ്ധവും, ചൈനയിലെ സാംസ്കാരിക വിപ്ലവവും റോയിട്ടേഴ്സിനു വേണ്ടി റിപ്പോർട്ടു ചെയ്ത എം ശിവറാം ഒരിക്കൽ എന്റെ ഹീറോ ആയിരുന്നു. അങ്ങനെയാണു ഞാൻ കേരള കൗമുദിയിൽ ട്രെയിനി ആയി ചേരുന്നത്‌. ഊണു കഴിഞ്ഞ്‌ ഒരു ദിവസം ഞാൻ പത്രമാഫീസിലേക്ക്‌ വരുമ്പോൾ ഗേറ്റിങ്കലുണ്ട്‌ നിൽക്കുന്നു ബാലയണ്ണനും (പ്രസിദ്ധീകരണം നിലച്ചു പോയ ‘കൗമുദി’ വാരികയുടെ പത്രാധിപരും, മുൻ ലോക്സഭാംഗവുമായിരുന്ന കെ ബാലകൃഷ്ണൻ), വേണുവണ്ണനും (കേരള കൗമുദി പത്രാധിപ സമിതിയിലെ തലമുതിർന്ന അംഗമായിരുന്ന ജി വേണുഗോപാൽ). ഞാൻ നടന്നടുത്തു ചെന്നപ്പോൾ
വേണുവണ്ണൻ പറഞ്ഞു, ബാലാ, നമ്മളിപ്പോൾ പറഞ്ഞു നിർത്തിയ സിനിമാക്കാരൻ ഇവനാണു. തലേന്നത്തെ പത്രത്തിന്റെ ഫിലിം പേജിൽ, അന്ന് ‘ശ്രീകുമാറി’ൽ ഓടിക്കൊണ്ടിരുന്ന ഹാർപ്പർ ലീയുടെ ‘റ്റു കിൽ എ മോക്കിംഗ്‌ ബേഡി’നെക്കുറിച്ച്‌ ഞാനൊരവലോകനം എഴുതിയിരുന്നു. അതായിരുന്നിരിക്കണം വിഷയം. ‘ഇവനാരെടാ’ എന്ന മട്ടിൽ ബാലയണ്ണൻ എന്നെ അടിമുടി ഒന്നു നോക്കി. എന്റെ നിസ്സഹായത മനസ്സിലാക്കിയ വേണുവണ്ണൻ വീണ്ടും ഇടപെട്ടു: ഇവൻ നമ്മുടെ കൊട്ടാരക്കര ഷാഹുലിന്റെ മകനാണു. പൊടുന്നനെ ബാലയണ്ണന്റെ മുഖം വിടർന്നു. തോളത്ത്‌ കൈ വച്ച്‌, എന്നെ തീരെ കുഞ്ഞായിരിക്കുമ്പോൾ കണ്ടതാണെന്നു പറഞ്ഞു. തുടർന്നു സംസാരിക്കും മുൻപ്‌ എന്തോ ആലോചിക്കാനെന്ന പോലെ ബാലയണ്ണൻ ഒരു നിമിഷം നിർത്തി, പിന്നെ പറഞ്ഞു, നിന്റെ വാപ്പാ തന്ന അഞ്ഞൂറു രൂപ മാത്രമായിരുന്നെന്റെ മൂലധനം, കൗമുദിയുടെ ആദ്യ ലക്കമിറങ്ങുമ്പോൾ.

അടുത്ത ദിവസം ഞാൻ ഉമ്മയെ വിളിച്ചു ചോദിച്ചു. ഉമ്മാക്കറിയില്ല. ഒരാഴ്ച കഴിഞ്ഞ്‌, ഉമ്മ കൊടുത്തയച്ച ഏത്തക്കായ നുറുക്കും, ചക്കച്ചുള വറുത്തതുമായി വാപ്പാ, സ്റ്റാച്യൂ റസ്റ്റ്‌റന്റിലെ എന്റെ ഇരുപത്തിയാറാം നമ്പർ മുറിയിൽ വന്നപ്പോഴും ഞാൻ ചോദിച്ചു. എന്റെ ചോദ്യം വാപ്പാ കാര്യമായെടുത്തില്ല, അര്‍ത്ഥഗർഭമായ ആ പതിവ്‌ ചിരി മാത്രം.

രാജനീതിയുടെ വർണ്ണാഭമല്ലാത്ത മുഖം തിരിച്ചറിയാറാവുന്നത്‌, വാപ്പാ ഞങ്ങളെയെല്ലാവരെയും നിർബ്ബന്ധപൂർവ്വം പങ്കെടുപ്പിക്കുമായിരുന്ന കുടുംബ സദസ്സുകളിൽ നിന്നാണു. എല്ലാവരും അവരവരുടെ ആവശ്യങ്ങളും, പരാതികളും സദസ്സിൽ അവതരിപ്പിച്ചുകൊള്ളണമെന്നാണു നിയമം. അമ്മുച്ചേച്ചിയുടെ പാചകത്തെക്കുറിച്ചുള്ള പരാതികൾ, ഞങ്ങൾ സഹോദരങ്ങൾക്കിടയിലുള്ള പിണക്കങ്ങൾ, സ്കൂളിലെ പ്രശ്‌നങ്ങൾ, ‌ ഉമ്മക്ക്‌ വീടിന്റെ നടത്തിപ്പിൽ നേരിടേണ്ടിവരുന്ന ബുദ്ധിമുട്ടുകൾ – എല്ലാം ചർച്ചയ്ക്കു വരും. തീരുമാനങ്ങളും, കരാറുകളും അവിടെ അംഗീകരിക്കപ്പെടും, ഒരുവേള അടുത്ത സദസ്സുവരെയേ അവയ്ക്ക്‌ ആയുസ്സുണ്ടാവുകയുള്ളുവെങ്കിൽക്കൂടി.

ഞങ്ങളുടെ അന്നത്തെ കുടുംബ സദസ്സുകളെക്കുറിച്ചാലോചിക്കുമ്പോൾ വാപ്പായുടെ ഉൾക്കാഴ്ച്ചയുടെ മാനം കൂടുതൽ വ്യക്തമാവുന്നു.
കുടുംബമായാലും, ഇനി രാഷ്ട്രമായാലും ശരി, മേലേത്തട്ടിലുള്ളവർ സ്വന്തം തീരുമാനങ്ങൾ നടപ്പാക്കും മുൻപ്‌, പ്രത്യക്ഷമായോ, അല്ലെങ്കിൽ പരോക്ഷമായോ, ആ തീരുമാനങ്ങളുടെ ഫലം അനുഭവിക്കാൻ കടമപ്പെട്ടവരുമായി ചർച്ചകൾ നടത്തുകയും, അവരുടെ അഭിപ്രായങ്ങൾക്ക്‌ അർഹമായ പ്രാതിനിദ്ധ്യം നൽകുകയും ചെയ്യേണ്ടതല്ലേ? മറ്റ്‌ വാക്കുകളിൽ പറഞ്ഞാൽ, ഇമ്മട്ടിലുള്ള സംവാദങ്ങളിൽ നിന്ന് നാം സ്വമേധയാ വിട്ടുനിന്നാൽ, നമ്മുടെ ജീവിതം നാം എങ്ങനെ ജീവിക്കണമെന്ന് തീരുമാനിക്കാനുള്ള അവകാശവും, അധികാരവും നാം മറ്റുള്ളവർക്ക്‌ ഏൽപ്പിച്ചുകൊടുക്കുകയാണെന്നാണു അര്‍ത്ഥം. അതിനു നാം നിന്നു കൊടുക്കണമോ വേണ്ടയോ എന്ന തീരുമാനം നാം സ്വയം എടുക്കേണ്ടതാണു. വാപ്പാ ഞങ്ങൾക്കു തന്ന ഏറ്റവും വിലപ്പെട്ട സന്ദേശവും ഇതു തന്നെയാണെന്ന് ഞാൻ വിശ്വസിക്കുന്നു.

~ ‘കേരള കൗമുദി’, ആഗസ്റ്റ്‌ 24, 2019.


You cannot make the man you love happy if you are not happy yourself

Thanks to Marlene Dietrich’s daughter, Maria Riva, a set of 30 unpublished letters and telegrams exchanged between Ernest Hemingway and her mother were released in 2007 by the Kennedy Library in Boston. Riva, had wanted the letters to be kept under wraps for 15 years after her mother’s death.

The American-German pair first met on the New York-bound liner Île de France in 1934 and went on to enjoy a lifelong friendship. Although their letters to each other were full of feelings for each other, they never became lovers, with Hemingway once calling them ‘victims of un-synchronized passion’. “Those times when I was out of love, the Kraut was deep in some romantic tribulation, and those occasions when Dietrich was on the surface and swimming about with those marvellously seeking eyes, I was submerged”.

In one of her letters, Dietrich addressed Hemingway as “Beloved Papa”, and continued: “I think it is high time to tell you that I think of you constantly. I read your letters over and over and speak of you with a few chosen men. I have moved your photograph to my bedroom and mostly look at it rather helplessly.”

Their letters reveal the insecurities and fears of both, and frequently touch on Hemingway’s lifelong fight against depression. “Toi and moi have lived through about as bad times as ever were,” he wrote in June 1950. “I don’t mean just wars. Wars are spinach. Life in general is the tough part.”

In her memoir Dietrich recalled, sitting in the window sill of her hotel room what he had said, ‘always remember, you cannot make the man you love happy –even if you fulfill all his wishes- if you are not happy yourself’.



Sixty-four years after its first publication, it appears that the day will never come when ‘Lolita’ [which tells the story of a stepfather serially defiling his adolescent stepdaughter] will not be considered, at least by some, as a not-disgusting book. And yet having stayed so petulant, it remains succulent as ever. To entirely relish its tenacity one must first recognise that it is not explicit. If you’re unable to work past Lolita’s splendour you will never be able to identify how appalling it is. And for all its beauty, for all its inventiveness and hilarity, one easily forgets how outrageous Lolita is. If you don’t believe me, then take a look: “She was musical and apple-sweet. Her legs twitched a little as they lay across my live lap; I stroked them; there she lolled on in the right-hand corner, almost asprawl, Lola, the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice, losing her slipper, rubbing the heel of her slipper-less foot in its sloppy anklet, against the pile of old magazines heaped on my left on the sofa -and every movement she made, every shuffle and ripple, helped me to conceal and improve the secret system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty- between my gagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocent cotton frock..” In a feeble attempt to shed light on Nabokov’s mindset one of his biographers quotes Havelock Ellis: “the individuality of each case is respected and catalogued in the same way that butterflies are carefully classified.”

Lolita is most commonly remembered as one man’s living poem to his own Mephistophelian waywardness, and therefore, is belauded by its emulators for its technical finesse and buoyancy, and misinterpreted by its disparagers as little more than a frost-adorned monolith to Nabokov’s own hauteur. In doing so, its true virtuoso is too easily missed. It lies in what Nabokov called the “nerves of the novel,” the “secret points, the subliminal coordinates by employing which the book is plotted.” In these, Nabokov has hinted at the life that exceeds the outer limits of Humbert’s contiguous fixation -at the inner lives of those others whom he so casually dismisses or destroys. It cost Nabokov, by his own admission, “a month of work” to write one sentence in which Humbert gets his hair cut by a barber who has never stopped mourning his dead son – a fact that hardly perforates Humbert’s ethereal advertence.


Papa Hemingway

If not any thing else, Ernest Hemingway had meticulously programmed his death to be executed at precisely 7:00 am on Sunday 2 July, 1961. On that fateful morning Hemingway awoke in his house in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, rose from his bed, taking care not to wake his wife Mary, unlocked the door of the storage room where he kept his firearms, and selected a double-barrelled shotgun with which he liked to shoot pigeons. He took it to the front of the house and, in the foyer, put the twin barrels against his forehead, reached down, pushed his thumb against the trigger and blew his brains out.

Hemingway’s neighbours said that he had chosen from his wardrobe a favourite dressing gown that he called his “emperor’s robe”. They might have been reminded of the words of Cleopatra, just before she applied the asp to her flesh: “Give me my robe. Put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me”.

Hemingway, as the world knew him, had a thirst for adventure, he was a swashbuckling, hard-drinking pugilist who loved being in the thick of the action, whether in the front line of battle or within charging distance of a water buffalo. He also happened to be the finest writer around, disdaining the grandiose wordiness of Victorian prose for a clean, stripped-back simplicity, conveying emotion by what was not said as much as by what was. Wounded on the Italian front in the First World War, he was a handsome convalescent who fell in love with a pretty nurse and wrote ‘A Farewell to Arms’ as a result. In the 1920s, he was at the forefront of writers and artists like F Scott Fitzgerald who hung out in Paris, “being geniuses together”.

In the 1930s, he went to Spain to fight for the republic against Franco and wrote ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls.’ In the Second World War, he was at the Normandy landings and the liberation of Paris. After the war he retired with his fourth wife to Cuba, where he fished for marlins and wrote ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, won the Nobel Prize, was lionised wherever he went.

In the years after his death, however, the jigsaw pieces of a counter-life gradually began to emerge. His war record, for instance. Hemingway was only 18 when he signed up for the First World War – but it was as a non-combatant. He had a defective left eye, inherited from his mother, which kept him out of battle. He went to Italy to man the Red Cross canteens and evacuate the wounded. Helping a wounded man to safety one evening, he was shot in the leg and hospitalised in Milan, with three other patients and 18 nurses. Though his dalliance with Sister Agnew von Kurovsky was unconsummated, he fell in love with European culture and manners, swanned about in an Italian cloak and drank wine in immeasurable quantities.

It’s easy to be spiteful about Hemingway. All his posturing, his editing of the truth, his cocky pretensions can obscure his undoubted bravery. He loved being in the thick of the war dodging bullets, watching men being shot to hell all around him. But it’s hard to shake off the feeling that what he was doing wasn’t bravery, but psychotic self-dramatisation. And when you inspect the image of Hemingway-as-hero, you uncover an extraordinary sub-stratum of self-harming. You discover that, for just over half of his life, Hemingway seemed hell-bent on destroying himself.

It was about the time he was finishing ‘A Farewell to Arms’, in 1928, when he learnt his father Clarence had shot himself in the head with a Civil War revolver, that Hemingway’s life first began to crack apart. The most obvious external evidence was a succession of bizarre physical accidents, many of which were bashes on the head. One, in Paris, left him with a split head needing nine stitches, after he yanked the chain in the bathroom, thinking it was the lavatory flush, and pulled the skylight down on top of him. He became weirdly accident-prone. His car accident that occasioned his row with Martha saw him hurled through the windscreen, lacerating his scalp and requiring 57 stitches. Three months later, he came flying off a motorbike evading German fire in Normandy. He suffered headaches, tinnitus, diplopia, showed speech and memory problems for months. Back in Cuba after the war, he tore open his forehead on the rear-view mirror when his car skidded. Five years later, while drinking, he slipped on the deck of the Pilar, and concussed himself. Why, you’d almost think he was trying to emulate his late father, and his self-imposed head wound.

What was bugging Hemingway? Why all the drinking, the macho excess, the manic displays of swaggering? Why was he so drawn to war, shooting, boxing and conflict? Why did he want to kill so many creatures? Was he trying to prove something? Or blot something out of his life?

In an article published in the American Psychiatry magazine, titled “Ernest Hemingway: A Psychological Autopsy of a Suicide”, clinical psychiatrist Christopher D Martin diagnosed the author with “bipolar disorder, alcohol dependence, traumatic brain injury, and probably borderline and narcissistic personality traits”. He noted that many in the Hemingway family – his father and mother, their siblings, his own son and his grand-daughter Margaux – were prone to manic-depression (Margaux’s was the fifth, or possibly sixth, suicide in four generations) and even went to the extent of suggesting that it was Hemingway’s manic episodes that drove him to his astonishing feats of creativity. But he ties the writer’s trauma to two childhood experiences.

It seems that it was his mother Grace’s habit to dress him, as a child, in long white frocks and fashion his hair like a little girl’s. It was a 19th-century custom to dress infants alike, but she took it to extremes. She referred to him, in his cute lacy dress, as “Dutch dolly”. She said she was his Sweetie, or, as he pronounced it, “Fweetee”. Once, when Hemingway was two, Grace called him a doll once too often. He replied, “I not a Dutch dolly… Bang, I shoot Fweetee”. But she also praised him for being good at hunting in the woods and fishing in the stream in boys’ clothes. It was too confusing for a sensitive kid. He always hated her, and her controlling ways. He always referred to her as “that bitch”. He’d spend the rest of his life in a galloping parody of masculinity. Dutch dolly indeed. He’d show the bitch there was no confusion in his head. “I shoot Fweetee.” The trouble was, he also wanted to shoot his father.

Clarence Hemingway was a barrel-chested, six-foot bully, a disciplinarian who beat his son with a razor strop. Young Hemingway didn’t retaliate directly. He bottled it up and subsumed it into a ritual, in which he’d hide in a shed in the family backyard with a loaded shotgun and take aim at his father’s head. Martin speculates that, when Clarence shot himself, Hemingway, aged 29, felt terrible guilt that he’d fantasised about killing him. Unable to handle this, he took to blaming his mother for his father’s death. “I hate her guts and she hates mine,” he wrote in 1949. “She forced my father to suicide.”

After Clarence’s death, Hemingway told a friend, “My life was more or less shot out from under me, and I was drinking much too much entirely through my own fault”. He suffered a chronic identity crisis. As a consequence, he could be warm and generous or ruthless and overbearing. His friendships were often unstable (he could turn vicious or cruel, even with supposedly close pals) and his relations with women were full of conflict. He sulked like a child when, on his first safari, his wife Pauline shot a lion before he did. And he was pursued, for the rest of his life, by a colossal death wish – either to join his late father, or to expatiate his guilt at his father’s death by mirroring it.

Death took up residence at the heart of Hemingway’s life, a constant spur to his creative imagination, a constant companion, a dark, secret lover. Themes of violence and suicide informed his stories from the start. His letters are full of references to his future suicide. And when not contemplating his own death, he was putting himself into danger and combat as though to hasten it. Wars, rebellion, bull-running in Pamplona, big-game hunting in Africa, fishing in Havana – they were all his way of throwing himself before the Grim Reaper. “I spend a hell of a lot of time killing animals and fish,” he told Ava Gardner, “so I won’t kill myself.”

And of course writing was his way of evading the need to die. He could polish his real-life experiences at war, in Italy, Spain, the Ardennes, and burnish his life in hindsight. Being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954 must have been a triumphant affirmation of his genius, but he worried that, after receiving the prize, most laureates never wrote anything worthwhile again. Luckily, after finding two trunks of notes from the 1920s in a Paris hotel, he was able to manage one more book: ‘A Moveable Feast’, his touching memoir of being young, poor and happy in the French capital, with his first wife and baby, before everything started going to hell.

After 1960, however, he found he could no longer write. The words wouldn’t come. Depression came instead, and with it paranoid delusions. He thought his friends were trying to kill him. When his car slightly grazed another vehicle, he fretted that he’d be thrown in jail. It was a sorry thing, to see the epitome of “grace under pressure” succumbing to dementia.

He was given medication and, horribly, a course of electroconvulsive shock treatments. In the spring of 1961, he was asked to contribute a single sentence to a presentation volume for John F Kennedy’s inauguration. Hemingway couldn’t oblige. “It just won’t come any more,” he said to his biographer A E Hotchner (Papa Hemingway), and wept. In April, his wife Mary found him sitting with a shotgun and two shells. He was sent to hospital in Ketchum, Idaho, his birthplace, but he tried twice more to end his life, once by walking into the path of a plane taxiing on the runway. There was a two-month period of hospitalisation and comparative peace and quiet, when he appeared sane to his doctor and deranged to his wife. He seemed to be acting, right to the end.

“The accumulating factors contributing to his burden of illness at the end of his life are staggering,” writes Martin, listing Hemingway’s bipolar mood disorder, depression, chronic alcoholism, repetitive traumatic brain injuries, the onset of psychosis. But it seems clear that the defining problem of his life was his experience of childhood. His confusion over gender, his Oedipal desire to kill his father for beating him, together led to what Martin calls “a retreat into a defensive façade of hyper-masculinity and self-sufficiency”.

Building and sustaining the myth of Hemingway the Man’s Man took courage and determination, but it was something he needed to do – and when it dwindled, along with the all-important capacity to write, he had no answer except to go the same way as his father. The image of his father, a moody, bullying, depressive man, but a role model nonetheless, haunted his life. He wanted to restore him, in order to release himself from the responsibility for his death. He wanted to be the big, strong, heroic man that the world could call “Papa”.
1) James R. Mellow’s ‘Hemingway’
2) Michael Reynolds’s ‘Hemingway: The Final Years’
3) A E Hotchner’s ‘Papa Hemingway, A Personal Memoir’
4) Christopher D Martin’s ‘Ernest Hemingway: A Psychological Autopsy of a Suicide’ (article)


The Stranger

For the ordinary reader, a few lines in French literature are as famous as the opening of Albert Camus’s “L’Étranger”: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.” Stuart Gilbert, a British scholar and a friend of James Joyce, was the first person to attempt Camus’s “L’Étranger” in English. In 1946, Gilbert translated the book’s title as “The Outsider” and rendered the first line as “Mother died today.” Simple, succinct, and incorrect.

In later years ‘The Outsider’ gave way to ‘The Stranger’ and the first word of the opening to ‘Mommy’. A large part of how we view and ultimately judge Camus’s protagonist (Meursault) lies in our perception of his relationship with his mother. We condemn or set him free based not on the crime he commits, but on our assessment of him as a person. Does he love his mother? Or is he cold toward her, uncaring, even?

The truth is that neither “Mother” or “Mommy” ring true to the original. The French word “maman” hangs somewhere between the two extremes: it’s neither the cold and distant “mother”, nor the overly childlike “mommy.” In English, “mom” might seem the closest fit for Camus’s sentence, but there’s still something off-putting and abrupt about the single-syllable word; the two-syllable “maman” has a touch of softness and warmth that is lost with “mom.”

We’re still juggling about the opening, then imagine what the rest hold for us.

It’s your call, after all.


Lord Jim

I have given up on invading friends’ private space with chain-posts!

Nevertheless, allow me the privilege of bringing to light an anecdote involving Bertrand Russel and Joseph Conrad that appears well beyond my scope, yet for those who might find it interesting.

The general outline of the friendship between Russel and Conrad is known to most of their admirers. Russell’s tribute to the novelist appeared in his Portraits from Memory (1956) and again for a wider audience in the first volume of the Autobiography (1967). What has remained enigmatic, however, is the nature of the bond that could ally with such force two people who were ostensibly so dissimilar. But the greatest testimony of Russell’s respect for Conrad was reserved for the later years of his life. When his first son was born in 1921, Russel approached Conrad for his agreement in naming him of the novelist. Conrad wrote back saying he felt honoured for having received such a request from Russel. Russel’s first son was named John Conrad with having Conrad as the godfather. Russel’s other son who was born in 1937 was called Conrad Sebastian Robert. To both sons, Russell gave, through the example of their namesake, proleptic encouragement to overcome in their turn the natural condition of all men: that of orphans and exiles.



It is arguably the most subtle and evocative movie endings I’ve watched during the last couple of years. In an open playground in the obscure hamlet of Sonora (Mexico) a school children’s soccer game is on, watched mostly by the mothers of the players. When one of the boys, the son of a corrupt police officer killed in a shoot-out the previous day, dribbles past his opponents and is just about to score a goal, the sound of gunfire from a distance briefly interrupts the game, then continues.

The title, Cicario (2015), is cartel slang for “assassin” or “hitman”, evidently derived from the first-century Sicarii zealots of Judea, though the word is never spoken out loud in the script; screenwriter Taylor Sheridan defers the revelation of how it really applies here to the end of drama, and this disclosure ties up its attendant issues of justice versus revenge, idealism versus cynicism and how American justice is to be applied beyond US borders without anything as quaint as a formal declaration of war. The idea that the war on drugs might be won is not something anyone takes seriously. The only question is how the forces are aligned and who is enforcing the rules of engagement.

The action is viewed mostly through the eyes of Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an F.B.I. agent. Blunt is impressively glum and intense, but Kate is a bit of a blank, on hand as a filter through which the audience can scrutinize Matt and Alejandro, who are far more intriguing characters.

The tenor and texture of the movie are established with that truly horrible scene at the very beginning where the FBI storm a cartel haven. It has its own sheen of horror, aided by the groaning orchestral chords in the musical score from composer Jóhann Jóhannson. The scene lays down a marker for the film’s status as something like a forensic thriller and in its way a procedural thriller, in which the covert procedure itself is the crime.

This is a real white-knuckle thriller, with screeching feedback notes of fear and paranoia, which plays out in a very satisfying atmosphere of pure nihilist ruthlessness. The movie asserts that the war on drugs has turned America into the very monster that they were trying to defeat.


The Cakes of Thalasseri

The story of cake in India takes off in Thalassery.

In the 19th century, Baputti, a member of Mambally family, had been to Burma, where he picked up his early lessons on biscuit making. After a couple of years, he returned to his home town. In the year 1880, Baputti Mambilly started his MAMBILLY ROYAL BISCUIT FACTORY at Thalassery which served almost 40 different varieties of biscuits, rusks, breads and buns. The Britishers were their chief patrons. In fact, the bread dough was made by crushing wheat in crude stone grinders and using local toddy for fermenting the dough, until the Britishers imported yeast into the country. As the story goes, in the December of 1883, a British planter, Mr. Brown, who owned a large cinnamon plantation asked Baputti Mambilly to bake him a Christmas cake and shared the recipe with him (Some say Baputti smelled out the ingredients!). The cake turned out to be better than what Mr. Brown had expected. And the rest, as they say, is history. In its hay days the bakery also used to export their handmade delicacies to Egypt, Mesopotamia and Myanmar. From then on, bakeries spread all over Kerala and diversified in their products. Some say there are close to 50,000 bakeries in Kerala alone. And the chances are high that your favourite bakery in town is run by Malayalees!

IN january 2012, the 129th anniversary celebrations of the first bakery in Thalassery was celebrated by baking a mammoth 350 ft-1,200 kg cake! It was displayed in the municiapal cricket grounds (where, if you remember, cricket was first played in India).…/


The Water is Wide

“The Water Is Wide” is a Scottish ballad, based on lyrics that partly date to the 1600s. It has seen considerable popularity through to the 21st century. Cecil Sharp published the song in Folk Songs From Somerset (1906). It refers to the ostensibly unhappy first marriage of James Douglas (second Marquess of Douglas) to Lady Barbara Erskine. If the lyrics are to be believed, in 1681 the rumour mills were abuzz that Erskine had been having an affair with someone, and Douglas promptly dropped her. Her father took her home and she never remarried. Over the years, the song has been recorded by many artists, including the likes of legendary Irish singer Bob Dylan.

The water is wide I can’t cross o’er
And neither have I wings to fly.
Give me a boat that can carry two,
And both shall row, my love and I.

Love is gentle and love is kind.
The sweetest flower when first it’s new.
But love grows old, and waxes cold,
And fades away like morning dew.

I put my hand into some soft bush,
Thinking the sweetest flower to find.
I pricked my finger to the bone,
And left the sweetest flower alone.

There’s a ship and she sails the sea.
She’s loaded deep as deep as can be.
But not as deep as the love I’m in,
I know not how I sink or swim.


The Secret in Their Eyes

There is a long tradition of Hollywood co-opting the plots of well-regarded foreign films and then snuffing out the very qualities that made the originals feel fresh, unique and eminently remake-able. While it might remove the need for those pesky subtitles, these Americanized versions too often erase such essential elements as logic, subtext and the sense of cultural relevance that made the title a standout in the first place.

Well, they’ve done it again with “The Secret in Their Eyes,” 2010’s foreign-language Oscar winner from Argentina. A smartly done, haunting crime thriller, revolving around a brutal 1974 rape-murder investigation that is re-opened 25 years later, the film charts the effect that the unsatisfactory conclusion to the case had on both the legal team and the victim’s devoted husband. It’s a reflection of the country’s rampant government corruption at the time.

The complicated “who, what, where, when and how” aspects were handled expertly, especially a scene staged in a massively crowded soccer stadium. But what truly distinguished this superb film were the intense emotional connections brought to life by actors Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil, who look and acted like real humans, not prettified facsimiles. The agonizing unrequited love between Darin’s justice agent and Villamil’s department chief colored every bittersweet second of “The Secret of Their Eyes,” down to the agonizing final moments.

Now (not exactly, but in 2015, I chanced upon it only a couple of days ago though) we have “Secret in Their Eyes. Despite the fact that a surprising number of plot machinations from the original film remain fully intact, what is missing is the type of hold-your-breath tension provided by good thrillers. Billy Ray’s handling of the footage (an Oscar-nominated screenwriter for his “Captain Phillips” script, deftly directed the journalism-scandal biopic “Shattered Glass.”) never once stirrs up excitement.

It may be unfair to compare the Argentine version with this inferior one, since most people probably haven’t seen the first. But even when taken on its own terms, “Secret in Their Eyes” amounts to a huge disappointment. Perhaps reading subtitles might have been a better option than sitting through two hours of a weak imitation.