Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ravi Maman Passes Away: Every Village has a Ravi Maman

(My village backwater)

I searched for his picture in google. But no picture. Some people go out of this world without leaving a google picture. Ravi Maman was one.

Ravi Maman is no more. For many in my village, he was Ravi Sir. For many others he was ‘Vattu Ravi’ (Insane Ravi). He was suffering from cancer and was living away from his family. Finally he was brought back to the village and he breathed his last yesterday (14th March 2014). He must have been nearly eighty years old. He was a man who lived his life in his own terms. He flouted all the social norms and was happy to be called ‘insane’. People respected him for his knowledge but morally inclined people disparaged him for the ways in which he conducted his life. He never smoked or drank. But he was in love. While people tolerate a drunkard and an addict, people just do not tolerate a man in love, especially when he has a family. Our social system will break, our social morality will collapse and our basis of democracy will get shattered if a person falls in love. He paid with his love for his life. He was an idealist. And like any idealist’s fate, his children went against his idealism and became daily wages labourers. He used to call his son, ‘A donkey born out of a horse’. That donkey was my dearest friend during my childhood days. Perhaps, my friend wanted to let me know about the death of his father. He called me several times but I could not pick up his call. But by night I got a call from home informing of Ravi Maman’s death.

In a non-descript village like Vakkom, Ravi Maman was a strange character. In villages you find several strange characters. There used to be one mentally retarded person who used to hang out in the village lower primary school. He found his happiness in ringing bell in the school. There was another man who used to look like a saint but was absolutely deranged. There was another young man who had gone mad and walked several miles a day as if he were searching for something but never finding it. Yet another man came from Singapore, spent all his earnings in buying two horses and letting them loose in the village. He ate his breakfast in Trivandrum, lunch at Kollam and came back to sleep in my village. In my own family there was a person who read only English pulp thrillers and never knew what was going on around him in the world. Villages have strange fools and perhaps they balance the overt sanity of the morally inclined people. Otherwise people may go bad with their sanity.

Ravi Maman (Ravi Uncle, as we used to call him as he was my father’s best friend), it was told that was born to a feudal Ezhava landlord and was the only son of the family. He was brought up with a lot of love and care. In childhood itself he learnt to play flute and he thought he was the incarnation of Lord Krishna. He used to climb on the trees and play music to the amusement of the village women going for their evening or morning shopping in the local market. He grew up to become a teacher who taught the future teachers. That means he was a teacher in a TTC school. He had a peculiar dressing sense. He wore half sleeve cream shirt with two pockets, which was designed by him. And he wore a dhoti identical in colour. He never wore pure white clothes; it was always off white as if he a sign of his character, neither white nor black. He revelled in the in between space of morality, sanity and intelligence. He was a sort of philosopher who never took anything too seriously. But he was a good organizer and was in the forefront of village cultural festivals. He folded his dothi in a special way and while the other tucked it over their shirts, he tucked it under his shirt. He rode a cycle, well oiled and clean, and he climbed on it by throwing the leg from the front, unlike the people who used to throw it across the saddle. Everyone knew him in the village and they looked at him with certain kind of amusement.

When Ravi Maman became my father’s close friend and started visiting my home regularly I was in fifth or sixth standard. We used to call him ‘Payasam Maman’ (Kheer Uncle) because he came on Sundays when my mother made kheer at home. He relished eating kheer. My father and Ravi Maman were always engaged in heated arguments which I did not understand in those days. People detested Ravi Maman for his extramarital affair with a Dalit woman but my family did not judge him based on that. His eldest son was sent to a Gurukulam, a religious boarding school in Varkala. His daughter was studying in another village and the youngest child was also with his mother. Ravi Maman was more or less a free bird and was living with his old mother. One day he decided to bring his son back from Gurukulam. He brought him to our house and we instantly became friends. Then for so many years, we were thick friends and we remain so though unfortunately he became a daily wage earner as he could not go ahead in studies.

Ravi Maman was one of the leading figures in the Reading Club movement in our village. Along with my father he was always there in the progressive activities of our village. Kumaran Aasan, one of the most prominent modern poets in Malayalam was born in our neighbouring village. Every year on 14th April, on his birthday, there used to be celebrations. Unlike these days, those were the great literary seminars that ran for four to five days. All the major poets and literary figures used to come to our village which is blessed with backwaters and sea. Myself and Manu, Ravi Maman’s eldest son, who had become a great friend of mine by that time used to be a regular fixture in these festivals. We attended these literary seminars and another attraction for us was that one of the nights, Ravi Maman would pay a local restaurant owner to give us a plateful of appam and chicken curry. More than literature we cherished this chicken curry. And then we spent a lot of time in the sea shore. As our parents allowed us to be in the seminar even at night for cultural programs, we made use of the time for sneaking out from there and watching some movies (late night show) in a near by movie hall. The internationally renowned Asan World Prize was organized by Ravi Maman and his friends.

Ravi Maman had a lot of innovative ideas. One of them was Coco cultivation. In his huge land he cultivated coco plants. It was very interesting to see ripe coco fruits hanging from the thick coco plants. At night the whole property looked so eerie that we children never dared to venture out there. But Manu was very daring and he used to take me into the darkness and show me what happened amongst these coco plants. While other farmers elsewhere exported coco seeds, Ravi Maman was not interested to export it. He set up his own laboratory and found out that he could brew alcohol/Wine from these coco fruits. He became locally famous for his coco wine for some time. But he lost interest soon. Later when he got retired from the government service, he partnered with a local printing press and started publishing a journal called ‘Arshajyothi’ (The Light of Rishis). His aim was to propagate the ideas of Sree Narayana Guru, promote philosophical articles, poems and so on. By that time I was already in my pre-degree, and he asked me to write for the magazine. I was also in search of my identity as a writer. I had already published a few poems in the local dailies under my own name, JohnyML. But I found that the name was not so effective. I was reading Kafka at that time and also within a year I became addicted to W.H.Hudson’s Green Mansions. So I chose two pen names. Alex John was the first name and Johny Merrick Laxman was the second name. I published all my articles in Arsha Jyothi under the name, Alex John. Ravi Maman never asked me why I wanted to change my name. I started sending articles and poems to other leading dailies and journals under the name, Johny Merrick Laxman and most of the envelopes came back with polite apologies.

I used to have severe fights with Ravi Maman regarding the publication of Arshajyothi. He was going from debt to debt as he was putting all his money in publishing this journal. Once, out of frustration I told him that let us title it ‘Arsha Rathi’ (Rishi’s Erotica). He abused me in public. But my relationship with Ravi Maman was always cordial. Frustration was growing in him, I could see. His daughter was already married off. The young son had got into some trouble. My friend, Manu was the only one who could carry forward the legacy of Ravi Maman. But he was a donkey born out of a horse, as he put it. Ravi Maman took his share from the press and started his own printing press and handed over it to Manu. Manu was equally crazy like his father. He started off with the press in an interesting note. He started getting works. But he started visiting temples by taxis. He blew up money in visiting temples by car. And at night he watched late night movies in nearby cinema halls. His press was also not going anywhere. He finally closed it down. By that time he had got married. He had to do something with his life. He vanished one day. Years later he was fond out from Kochi in a very bad shape. He was working in a hotel as a waiter. By that time I had left Kerala and settled in Delhi. The news of Manu used to pain me. But he came back to his life. Today he does some contract works and lives a decent life.

However, Ravi Maman had become increasingly disillusioned with his life. He shifted from the village and settled in Trivandrum. He lived in a lodge and pursued his literary and research interests. Once, after so many years he contacted me in Delhi. It was a letter first followed by a phone call. The content of the letter was a bit curious. He asked me to contact some people in Delhi who had some stone business and the stones are precious and we could make a lot of profit out of it. I was utterly confused. Then he phoned me up and explained how things could be worked out. I tried to tell him that I was not in that line nor did I have any inclination to get into something like that. But he was quite adamant. I told something to pacify him and left it there. May be he got the hint and never pursued it with me. I get interesting proposal from people like this. Once it was an oil import project. Another time it was a selling second hand cars from Delhi to Kerala. Then it was car spare parts selling. Recently I got an offer from one of my school friends to buy and sell Enfield Bullet bikes from Delhi to Kerala. He offered me 20% profit. I always tell them that I am not in that line. But as school friends they believe that Johny could do anything as he is in Delhi.

Ravi Maman is no more. He was suffering from cancer. He kept himself away from his family for a long time as it was a warring family. He wanted peace and spend his time in studies and research. I knew that frustration was growing in him but he never showed it to anyone. He suffered it alone and with full dignity. He was brought back to the village to his ancestral family in January this year by his son. Recently when I visited my village for a day or two, I knew that Ravi Maman was there. Somehow I did not want to go and see him. I wanted to keep that image of an energetic man with crazy ideas throwing his leg across the front bar of the cycle and travelling all around the village. I wanted that man in my mind who used to abuse me in public for my literary faults. I still remember how he corrected a couplet in one of my poems. ‘Pottunna chattiyil ashti kazhikkuvaan kashtappedunnee pattini paavangal’, he corrected so. It said, ‘famine stricken people eat their morsels in broken pots’. My Alex John phase was enriched by his publishing efforts. Though I was of his son’s age, he used to stop his cycle whenever and wherever he met me. Sometimes he used to walk with me, talking so many things. I don’t know whether he had seen his son in me.

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