Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tears in His Eyes Burnt: To My Children 4

I have been portraying my father’s picture in dark colors. In fact he was not a bad man. I should say he was a strict man; strict about his ways, strict about his beliefs, strict about his passions and so on. He was adamant and ever since I came to know him as a man, not just as my father, he was suffering from many illnesses. Today, you would call all those diseases as ‘life style diseases’. He was always busy and he always came home late. His food habit was erratic and he did not do any exercise. Perhaps, most of the time he was not fit enough to do any exercise.

My father’s name was K.Lakshmanan. He was the eldest son of the family. People called him Vakkom Lakshmanan as Vakkom was the name of our village. He had taken the responsibility, along with several other people, of reforming the village. I would delve deep into the historical importance of our village some other time. Here I would just state that he was so much involved in those reformation activities that he did not find any time even to get married. There must be several reasons for that. As I said earlier, he was the eldest son of the family and he had this responsibility of marrying off his sisters. By the time all the sisters were in safe hands, he had already in his late thirties.

I remember a story about him told in the family circles in a hush hush manner. The story was about his elopement with a girl from the neighboring village. He was in his twenties then and was quite popular in all the near by villages. He used to travel around, delivering speeches on the impending revolution. Our ancestral home was said to be the hiding place of many of the important politicians who later became ministers in the Kerala government. I had heard my aunts talking fondly about those ministers who used to come and spend time at home, reading, writing and discussing politics with my father. I was not surprised to hear the story of my father’s love escapades. Any girl would have loved a man with big eyes, sharp wit and aggressive nature.

Somehow the elopement did not turn into a marriage. The girl was brought back to her home by her relatives and my father went back to his social activism and teaching. He used to teach in private colleges, which were generally known as tutorial colleges. And even during my college days, tutorial college teachers were the heroes of the girls. I know it for sure because I also used to teach in tutorial colleges. The front benchers are always attentive and studios. As the benches progress inversely in the space of the classroom, the girls become more attentive about the features, looks and style of their male teachers. As our country was not opened for global economic interventions, a youth like my father or even like me had nothing much to aspire than teaching in a tutorial college till we got some job in the government departments.

My mother always used to tell me that I inherited this quality of flirting and seducing women from my father’s genes. My mother always got panic attacks when I uttered the name of any girl twice at home. She knew what was in the offing. I used to teach in tutorial colleges when I was a graduate student in Trivandrum. I was specializing in English literature and in the tutorial college I taught Malayalam literature for graduate students. It was funny that I was their contemporary and a student elsewhere and I was teaching them a subject in which I had no qualification. But I was a diligent student of Malayalam literature in my own ways and I used to publish stories and poems in the local magazines and newspapers. I used to teach them with a lot of confidence because I had a better physique and facial hairs than my contemporaries who were my students for the time being. My classes were full and the girls used to like this particular teacher a lot.

I don’t remember me falling in love with any of my students. But my father’s love interest was his student, I was told. I think that angle remained a permanent angle for him because my mother was his student once and later they taught in a tutorial college together, where I had the chance to teach years later after I took my masters from Trivandrum University College. This tutorial college was located in Attingal, a town near my village. My parents taught there and when I joined there as a teacher, the principal of the college took me under his care as he knew my parents very well. Today, this parallel college namely ‘Universal College’ is not there now. In its place there stands a shopping complex and to my surprise I came to know that the shopping complex is owned by the same principal who used to own the parallel college. Today, thanks to the education reforms and syllabus modifications, the business of tutorial colleges has gone down. Many who used to run such colleges now relocate themselves in other businesses.

Yes, I had fallen in love with one of my students. She was my cousin and she used to come to my home to learn English from me. I was living in a rented house in Trivandrum. I used to wait for her to come with her friend. During the initial days, teaching and learning went off well. Then she started coming earlier than her friend. She would evade her friend and reach home a few minutes before so that she could talk to me in private. She was studying in one of the high end schools in Trivandrum and to see her in school uniform was really interesting. In our college time, unlike these days, scandals were always waiting in wings. If a boy and girl met somewhere or if they talked in public, there would be a sudden eruption of scandals and gossips. This relationship with the girl also ended up in one such familial scandals and it was contained soon by her family members. That was the first and last time I fell in love with a student. And I firmly believe that falling in love with a student is not a good thing for a teacher. The relationship between a teacher and student is more ideological in nature than cultural. In this ideological relationship the student always comes secondary to the power that the teacher exercises over the student. His looks, nature and arrogance could be attractive for an unsuspecting and weak student. The student is always emotionally vulnerable before the teacher. Hence, falling in love with a student is not a good thing for any teacher. But there are several incidents of teachers falling in love with their students and later establishing very successful married lives. Exceptions are everywhere.

My father fell in love with my mother’s elder sister who was also a student of my father. My mother was, as she has always been, sentimental and kept herself secondary to everything. My father expressed his wish to marry my mother’s sister and she turned him down as she was already having an affair with a man from a nearby village. My mother was silently watching all these and finally she became my father love interest. Finally, with the consent of the family elders and members they got married in the village temple. By that time my father had left his active membership from the RSP and was more concentrating on village reforms. When I say about his love and marriage, you may think that their families were very complicated and they all were looking for opportunities to fall in love or elope. But this has been the hallmark of a society, which was morally controlled. Kerala was a society (and still is), with lot of moral hypocrisy. It corrupted people and poisoned their minds. The social control was so strong that everyone was a living pervert. Outside everything looked extremely decent and pruned to perfection in such a society. But inside it was like hell; everyone was living in their personal hells.

When my father finally got the opportunity to get married, he was already in his late thirties. I was born when he was forty and when I was fifteen, and he was fifty five, his life was already over. My experience with my father was a very short lived one; only of fifteen years. And during the initial years, he was always away. And when I was growing and he found out time to be around with us, he was already ill. And whenever he was out of illness, he was engaged in helping me to develop my interest in writing. He taught me English language and each time he sat to teach me all the hell broke loose. He was impatient with me. He thought that I should pick up lessons very fast. When I failed to do so, he caned me till I fainted out of pain. In those sessions of teaching and torturing or to put it rightly in those sessions of torturous teaching, however, I learned English than any one else could do in those days within the given situation. I started reading books in English when I was in the fourth standard. Today’s world is different. Children could read in English the moment they are born. Even some parents shift the delivery to England or any other English speaking country so that the child could listen the first noises in English language itself!

My time was different. I studied in a local school and in Malayalam medium. You may remember me saying how Quixotic was my father’s action to shift us back to the village when we were about to start our schooling. We could have joined any English medium school in Trivandrum. But my father, inspired by his new social and Gandhian ideals shifted us to Malayalam medium. Perhaps, he might have got intimations about his own health which was failing slowly and he wanted to be with his mother and relatives. But he compensated the lack by teaching us English and he did it commendably though the torture was an unavoidable part of it. Looking back, I don’t have any reason to complaint. If I could write in English, it is because of his teaching.

Both my father and mother strived a lot to bring us up as culturally inclined kids. As they were government servants, they could join some installment schemes of the publishing houses and by the end of every month we got bundles of books sent by them. They took me to the village libraries and the libraries in the neighboring villages. They took a great pride in me as I was inclined to writing and reading. However, they were worried about my body fat. I was called ‘elephant’ by my friends. I could not pick up any game seriously because I was fat. But my father was perceptive. He invited a few young guys from the village. These boys used to run a gym like place for their use. My father enrolled me there at a very young age itself.

My tryst with gyms started because of my father’s interest. A village like Vakkom couldn’t have afforded a great gym. The gym where I went had a cross bar tied with rope between two areca nut trees. There were a couple of dumb bells. With these primitive facilities, these boys worked out very well and they had fabulous bodies. They taught me basic exercises and asked me to lift the dumb bells once in a while. They used to hang me from the cross bar and they believed that hanging there would increase my height. Though I did not touch six feet, by the time I reached my high school I was physically fit and I could play a bit of football at the school level.

Whenever I think of my father, I think of him as a Lion. This started happening after seeing the animation movie ‘The Lion King’. In the presence of a father, you always become a cub; you are meek and submissive, and you enjoy that status. I lost my father when I was fifteen, the ripe age when a boy needs his father around. And even few years before, my father had already started showing the symptoms of the final surrendering. But he was a fighter. Thought occasionally he yielded to his failing health, he gave it a good fight. I remember him going to his recreation club with a plastic tube jutting out of his stomach and a pouch at the end of it. He was going through dialysis then. He got an appendage done so that he could fit all those tubes and pouches in it and tie around his belly and walk to the recreation club. His friends helped him to sit up and play his game of cards. And I used to wait for him to finish his game so that I can accompany him back to home.

When my father died, I did not feel much of a loss. I was rather numb. I had even this feeling of relief because I was literally living in a hospital veranda for almost a year when he was admitted there. Ward number 22 was meant for the patients with failed kidney functions. There was saying that whoever got admitted there rarely went back alive. During the one year I spent in the hospital as a bystander for my father, I became friends with so many patients and their relatives. I spent time with them, helping them in doing daily chores; I was fourteen then and I was an errand boy for most of them. And the sad thing was that once in a while I was woken up from my sleep in the middle of nights and was asked to accompany someone back to home. When I came out of sleep completely, I recognized the fact that a patient whom I started calling ‘uncle’ or ‘elder brother’ had died. I was supposed to go in the ambulance with the dead body. I did it several times. Hence, when my father breathed his last in one evening, I did not feel much. I took it very easily. After finishing the formalities, I went to fetch the ambulance, accompanied my father’s dead body along with other relatives.

You may understand why I felt relieved when my father was finally freed from his pain. He was just fifty six years old. And today fifty six is not an age. It has something to do with the Kerala mind set and the age of retirement. A government official gets retired at the age of fifty five. For the society as well as for the family, then he/she is a retired person, a person whose active life is over. Biologically a person is not inactive at the age of fifty five. The feeling retiring from the active life is a socio-cultural construct. Suddenly one becomes useless for oneself. They become a part of the easy chair in the veranda. They feel that they don’t have anything to do in their lives now. So they become old and they die. My father was quite active despite his illness when he was in service. He was even in love with a woman in his office. He used to send me with some letters and papers, which he claimed were official documents, to this woman’s house whenever he was not well and was not going to office. In fact, the fights that used to rear up at home after such incidents, made me aware of the nature of those letters and papers. Those were my father’s love letters for that woman.

I don’t say that my father was morally a wreck only because he sent his own son to his woman friend’s house with love letters. Nor do I think that he was doing anything wrong by falling in love with another woman. He was ill and he wanted his mind to be revealed to someone. There is a limit of revealing things to ones own wife. Wife is a practical companion. When you are very into practical life, romance and dreams may not gain the same space and claim the same importance in that life. You love your partner a lot but still you find it is difficult to share everything. If my father was writing love letters to another woman, he was expressing his love and romance and the hidden anxieties, ambitions and unfulfilled desires. It was one way of extending his love and life. He was living a virtual life of health and happiness in that affair and perhaps in those letters.

My eyes well up when I think about one particular incident that is known only to him and I till this date; till I write this. No one in this world knows about it. Today I want to tell it to you. There were a few incidents in which my father had expressed his real anger for me. One day I took out his injection it and he warned me before I took the syringe out of it. And as it was inevitable, it slipped from my hand and broke. He beat me black and blue. He was seething with anger and rage. One day I put dettol lotion into the well in order to ‘clean’ the water. When he came to know about, he did not take it lightly, he caned me like a demon. On another occasion, when I was running I started falling down for no reason. I could not understand what was happening to me. I got up and ran and I fell down again. My father watched me falling. He might have had a feeling of the worst. He might have thought that I was getting some polio affliction. He came towards me with a cane and started beating me. I got and ran, and whenever I fell, he came there and caned me. I ran and ran and finally I stopped falling. The caning had its psychological effect. Till date I don’t know what my father thought when he caned me as if I were an animal.

But that is not the story I am planning to tell you. The story is terrible and shameful. I had not seen my father crying. Whenever he beat me, my mother told me, that he used to come when I was asleep and touched the bruises that he had caused. He used to caress me and go back to his bed. It was a way of apologizing. But I never saw him doing that. But one day he cried in front of me and I cannot forget that moment.

As a part of his social services, my father used to run a circulation bureau. He pooled in all the magazines and weeklies, and he sent them to the houses in the village. Women never got the opportunity to go out and buy books, and even they did not have the economic freedom to buy magazines. This circulation was meant for those women and old people who stay back at home and were interested in reading. My father hired a local boy to circulate the magazines. He came in the morning collected the magazines and went to distribute them. By afternoon he came back and returned the old magazines.

One day, I was playing alone at home. My father was not around. And this guy came home to return the old magazines. After assuring that none was at home, he took me to back veranda and started groping me. I was surprised by his move as I had never thought of him as a bad character. He was groping me all over and he touched my private parts. I knew what was going to happen as I had fairly good idea about such things thanks to my reading and some uncanny experiences within the family circles. He raised his dhoti and took his organ out and asked me to touch it. I was doing it and suddenly my father appeared there from nowhere. I was shell shocked and I was sure that was the end of my life. The guy, seeing my father jumped out of the room and scaled the heights of the boundary wall and escaped.

I closed my eyes and waited for my death to embrace me. I was expecting my father’s transformation into a demon. He did not talk to me for a while. Then he went into the house. I followed him with my head hanging in shame. He left me there alone and went outside. I was crying. After an hour or so, he came back. I knew that he went to settle the score with the circulation boy. I didn’t know what he did to him. I was waiting for my father to come and beat me. I wanted to get out of that limbo. Finally he came. He hugged me and then sat in a chair. He held me in his hands and looked into my eyes. And he was crying. He was crying. He was crying like a child. He hugged me again. I too was crying. Then he wiped my tears and told me this much, “Your mother should not know about this incident.”

Then he dismissed me. He behaved nothing had happened. He was the same man again. Aggressive, passionate and intelligent. When he left me he was still aggressive. He even threatened a fellow patient whom he thought was ogling at my mother.

I am ready to forgive my father for whatever wrong he had done to me in the process of preparing me for this life because he had forgiven me when he caught me sinning. And he washed me clean with his tears, which he had hidden from everyone throughout his life.