Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Telling a Tale for the Radio: To My Children Series 20

(I am with John Jyothi Raj (wearing specs). I was big enough to teach even at the age of 20)

In the Kerala House compound in Delhi, under a mango tree a Maruti Omni was seen parked. I was coming out the canteen located behind the main building where poet and Kerala House employee, Vijaylal had taken me for lunch. Those were the days I cherished meals given by my friends because it used to save the limited money in your pocket. Perhaps my friends knew that I did not have enough money to spare and the money that I used to get as a writer for newspapers was not just enough to survive in a big city like Delhi. My friends in Delhi were quite understanding, caring and loving. They recognized me not only as a friend but also as a poet, writer and a person who has an opinion and never minced his words while expressing it. But some of them were not as sensitive as they were.

The sliding door of the Maruti Omni was kept opened. This car was notorious during the late eighties and early 1990s because most of the terrorists and kidnappers used this car to do their acts. Thanks to the sliding doors you could pull a person inside the car while it is on the move or even dispose something from inside the car while running. Also thanks to its design and shape, it could accommodate more people, more stuff and even one could even recline to take rest on the seat. So rapists also liked this car. So Maruti Omni was looked down upon by the family people. Then it regained its dignity as the vehicles for the television journalists who could carry around their camera, lights and other equipments and also as ambulances. Today, Maruti Omni is used by photographers, grocery shop owners, provision distributors and schools to ferry children.

Inside the car, one of my friends from Trivandrum was lying down. Behind the thick glasses that he worn on his face his half sleepy eyes looked like those of a dead fish. I could make out that he was just out of a heavy meal and was taking a good nap right under the shade of the mango tree, thinking of those good old days spent in the tropical climate of Kerala. One would really become nostalgic when they face the scorching summer of Delhi. Nostalgia is not evoked by beauty, it could be raised by horror too. My friend in the car was a television journalist and with only two private news channels at that time his name and face was quite familiar in most of the Malayali households. He knew his name, fame and standing in a society. And he was literally basking under the glory of his profession; television journalist, that too reporter from Delhi, the capital of India.

He was not planning to get up or adjust his body to greet me. It was my fault, I thought. I should not have gone there to greet him. I should have taken my motor bike and left for some other place. He looked at me from his reclining seat. Then he asked me about my well being. He also knew that I too was famous in Kerala as a journalist working from Delhi for one of the most reputed weeklies (Samakalika Malayalam Vaarika- Contemporary Malayalam Weekly) published by the Indian Express Madurai group. But only my name was famous. None knew my face. I reported politics, art, culture and whatever my editor asked me to report. People knew me as a name and I used to get letters from people (by snail mail) appreciating my writings. Some of my articles used to evoke some kind of controversies for the uncensored opinions that I expressed through them. But people could not make out whether I was a young guy or a grown up man. Later I met some people who were ardent readers of my writings and heard them expressing their views on my personality. Some of them told me that when they read my political articles they imagined me as a fifty plus person who had more than enough experience in political journalism. When they read my art columns they thought I was a fiery type of youngster who must be in his mid thirties. As they read my human interest stories, they thought I was a youngster, too romantic and sentimental.

Perhaps, I was all these at that time. I came to Delhi to become an art professional but my immediate destiny was to become a journalist to survive in the city. I would come to all those Delhi experiences later on. Here I want to continue with my Trivandrum days and the meeting of my friend inside a Maruti Omni was just a preamble to that continuing Trviandrum stories. “How much do you get for reporting for the weekly?” my friend asked me sleepily. I was not expecting this question from him. Generally cultured and decent people don’t ask about the income of other people. But he was not being rude or something. I thought he was asking that question out of sheer enthusiasm or curiosity. I told him that sorry figure that I used to earn as my salary. He smiled at me. His sleep flew away like two mad sparrows from his eyes. He got up and said the following words: “One gets what one does.”

It did not sound philosophical at all to my ears. I was on a rude shock. I was working very hard and I even thought that my capacity was limited to earn that much and if I gained more experience in that field I would earn more. Here, my friend was telling me or hinting at that fact that I was not working enough or I was not working hard. Or was he saying that he has a cool life because he worked hard or he deserved it? I did not know. I was really shocked. I could not concentrate on things happening around me. He shook hands with me and his driver, with a screeching of tires sped the car away from me. The sliding door was slammed to its lock as the car jerked forward and I felt that it was actually a slap on my face.

I remembered meeting him for the first time in Trivandrum. He and his brother studied a year junior to me in the same department. And I knew both of them wrote poems and were lucky to have their works published in the famous literary weeklies in Kerala. They had already gained some kind of respectability amongst the literature loving public. They knew it though they by age were young and unripe. But they wanted to show their seriousness as poets. So they walked around with stooping shoulders, existential angst ridden faces and permanent melancholy stuck on the eyes. They carried books in their bags and burning cigarette between their fingers. There were couple of other poets in the same college and they too had shown the same traits. One was C.S.Jayachandran and the other was Anvar Ali. Anvar Ali was already an established poet and used to participate in Kavi Arangu (Poetry sessions) held all over Kerala. C.S.Jayachandran was fire brand. And most of these guys spoke only in English when they got drunk in cheap local liquor.

I had my own share of existential angst at that time. The first time I showed it was by carrying a volume of collected works of late poet Changapuzha Krishna Pillai. He was like Keats or Shelly of Malayalam. He revelled in writing love poems, long and short. And lived a very romantic life and succumbed to tuberculosis at a very young age like any other genius and romantic did at that time. I carried the collected works of this poet, which was not less than six hundred pages and hard bound published by the Kerala Sahitya Pravartaka Sahakarana Sangham (writers cooperative).I carried this book from Vakkom to Trivandrum by train. I read the poems before the curious office goers who too had seen many crazy guys like us during their daily commuting between homes and offices. I read the poems from the book, while sitting at the window seat and part of my attention was on others and was worrying terribly on the question whether they were taking me seriously or as a complete joke.

Had I been in their place today and had I witnessed some crazy bloke had come with a collected volume of some author, I would have fallen on the floor of the compartment and laughed loudly. Because that was the epitome of hypocrisy and show off. But at that age, at that time, at that inspired moments of romanticism the act of carrying a full volume of poems looked very logical and a necessity. Soon I could get rid of these hangovers. I always liked to wear good clothes. So instead of wearing clothes ideal to a poet and existentialist, I chose to wore well ironed trousers and shirts, tucked in and fastened with a black belt and a pair of shiny brown shoes. Only on those days I felt too existential I wore a mundu to the college. But handling of the mundu was very difficult and I was very conscious of showing my legs to other people.

I met my friend for the first time in the college corridor. He was smoking his angst away and was blankly looking at the sky where apart from hazy clouds there was only nothing as the dreams that worked inside his confused brain. I stood before him and introduced myself. He acknowledged my existence by saying that he had noticed me and he respected me for being his senior by one year. I told him that I wanted to interview him for a forthcoming radio program on the Spring in Malayalm Poetry. He agreed to give the interview in one of those days and his brother too told me the same.

I got this assignment through my friend from the pre-degree days, NIssar Sayed. He had already become a radio star through his special program called ‘Prabhata Bheri’ (the morning clarion) where he discussed all the pressing issues faced by people from all the walks of the society. He later on migrated to the Gulf countries and there too he became a star radio personality. Nissar was very friendly with me. His brother was a playwright and theatre activist. They lived in a place called Venjaramoodu and I had visited them a few times. Their sister studied senior to me in the village high school. Today, it would be hard to believe that it was his sister, who used to sing a Hindu prayer song every morning in the school assembly. None had raised a voice of protest because she was a Muslim or her family members had ever raised an objection for the school authorities making her to sing a Hindu prayer. We had never thought of the Hindu-Muslim divide back then.

I remember a very funny incident in which I was at once a participant and a witness. Nissar once invited me to his village to judge one theatre competition and to give a public speech on culture to the local audience in his village. I agreed. On the appointed day I went there and watched a few plays and ‘judged’ them. Nissar had complete faith in my aesthetic sense and knowledge on culture. I too had the same on him. Later by sunset the public meeting started. There was a makeshift stage erected on the road side. There were microphones and loudspeakers. A few people were standing here and there and as it was a bus stop there were always people coming out of the buses. Some cynical guys sat squatting at the cemented platforms along the shops. Nissar tested the mike and made a small introduction about me. I wanted to live up to his expectations and that of the villagers though I did not know whether they expected anything from me at all. I cleared my throat and began my speech. To my dismay I found none was sitting in front of the platform. People were there but they were all scattered and soon I found none was giving me any attention. I kept my speech on thinking that at some stage they would give me some attention. But nothing happened.

However, my association with NIssar did not come to an end with that cultural meeting at a public place. Instead it was hardened and fastened further. When he became a radio star, he introduced me to one of the producers in the All India Radio Trivandrum station. The lady producer of the cultural programs was sympathetic to me. She was a Christian and I still believe that my Christian sounding name was more appealing to her than my untested talents as a radio personality. She asked for topic suggestions and as a budding poet I found that was field with ample scope for research and production. Also I thought that the budding poets were abundant in Trivandrum. Today you would meet a television journalist or a tele serial actor at every ten steps that you make in a street in Trivandrum. Then poets were like flies. They were everywhere. If you say culture, like the flies cover a piece of jiggery, the poets came around it. But culture was too hot a thing and in the process many of them died in the same heat.

My topic was approved by the producer. From the production department she gave me a mono tape recorder which was rectangular in shape and could be placed horizontally on the floor. It had an appendage that helped one to hang it around the shoulders. She gave me the cassettes and showed me the working of it. So equipped with a mono tape recorder with the number and seal of the All India Radio, Trviandrum I came out to the streets and felt a lot good. That night I dreamt of becoming a famous radio personality like my friend Nissar Sayed.

Next morning I reached the college a bit early and waited for the young poets to come in one by one. I did a marathon recording with several poets including my friend whom I met later in Delhi, his brother, Anvar Ali, C.S.Jayachandran and many others. My friend and his brother spoke in very hushed tones as if they were imparting me with a high truth which I was not privy to listen but out of circumstances they had none other than me to convey it. Also I thought they did not believe in what they were saying. Their voices showed some sort of confidence and their conviction was too mature for their ears. Their opinions contradicted at times but they were hopeful of the future of Malayalam poetry in which they were sure that they would play a very important role. But many years later both of them withdrew from poetry. I don’t know whether they still write poems.

Anvar was matured in his takes on poetry. C.S.Jayachandran was fiery as usual. He wanted the revolution to come through poetry. I was hooked. And it served me with some clues to polish my script and edit it. I took the finished scripts and tapes to the producer a couple of days later and she was happy to see me back and was happier to see the mono tape recorder coming back without much damage. The program was aired after a few days and I heard it coming from the radio. It was good to listen the producer telling my name and later my own voice reading out the script interspersed with the comments from the poets. It was an interesting experience and I thought of becoming regular in radio. The producer gave me a few more chances but then my life was taking a different course. I could not pursue my interest in radio though I gave a test to become a news reader and they even invited me to the selection interview. I appeared before the panel but was not selected thanks to another well known radio personality who also appeared before the board for a job. Several years after that interview, even after I myself discarding thoughts of becoming a radio person, destiny brought me the chance again before me. I became the Malayalam news reader for All India Radio, New Delhi. That’s another story and I will recount it when the occasion comes.

Poetry was still an obsession with me. I used to read a lot of poems and collect a lot of poetry cassettes recited by the poets themselves. When I was living in Trivandrum, I did not have a good music player. I had a National Panasonic stereo set and the effect of listening music in that set was not so impressive as I used to listen music in amplified stereos at my cousin’s place who was living a street down there. I used to spend most of my leisure time in listening to music and poems at my cousin’s place to his parent’s irritation. They did not like me going there all the time and using their stereo but they never showed me anger. On the contrary they were curious why I listened to things repeatedly. I had the habit of listening to a cassette hundred time and over, learning even the sequence of sound by heart. May be that was the habit of most of the guys of the time who did not have much diversion than music. I learnt all the poems by heart and recited before the classmates. When I reached my post graduation first year I was an acclaimed recite of poems, besides being a poet of my own right.

Before closing this chapter, I would like to recollect how I used to support myself for my extra spending like buying books, cassettes and cigarettes. I was never a spendthrift. However money was always a shortage. My mother supported my studies and gave me pocket money just enough to meet my essential spending like bus fare, tea and snacks. In imagination you could enjoy anything and in reality you could not do anything. So like trapped ghosts we used to hang out in Trivandrum city only. Those days were painful when the book festivals came to town. Kanakakkunnu Palace and VJT Hall were the venues where book festivals took place. I went to these festivals, browsed through books and shed silent tears. I wanted to acquire most of the books but I did not have any money. One day I saw a fellow student buying all the Raduga publication books from a festival took place in the VJT Hall. He spent a lot of money to buy all those Russian books translated into Malayalam and English. There were good books and also there were propagandist literature including the agricultural progress of the USSR. I did not know why he boat a cartload of those books. He looked very proud though the purchase made him look funnier than anybody else. I asked him why he spent money on the books that did not interest him at all by their contents. He proudly told me that he wanted to build up a library at home!

Most of the village guys who came to study in the city put on airs when they went back to their rural dwellings. Their parents revered them and the neighbours envied them and taking these as cues these guys behaved as if they were coming from some other planet. Your pretention got rainbow colours especially when you knew that you were the only guy from that village studying English literature in the city college. I too went through this phase of pretention. During the first year, I spoke only in English to one of my dear friends in Vakkom. The only wrong thing he did to me was that he opted to study commerce. And after a couple of years, imitating the city guys and also because I was living in Trivandrum itself, I started wearing jeans even at home whereas everyone at home usually wore lungis. Whenever I went to the village, my witty friends mocked me by asking whether I slept in jeans. In fact I was even planning to do so just be distinct.

The boy who bought Russian books was just being distinct back at home, in his village and amongst his enthused parents and in the midst of his illiterate neighbours. I wanted to buy books because I wanted to read and above all to keep them with me. I wanted to have a collection of books. Whichever good books came to my way, I found out a way to collect them. Even today I have a very good collection of books.

My money came from taking tuitions. I used to be a teacher from the very beginning. First I taught students when I was in tenth standard. My father was running a tutorial college called the ‘Best Academy’ after his retirement from government service. Whenever there was a teacher missing, I took the charge of that class. When I went to study in Trivandrum, on Weekends I came back to the village to teach in a couple of tutorial colleges run by my friends. I was a popular teacher because I used to take classes with certain level of clarity, enthusiasm and pleasantness. I never punished my students who were just a few years junior to me, by caning them or asking them to impositions. When I was doing my first year BA I was teaching the tenth and twelfth standard students. Most of them are now in big positions and many of them live abroad.

Soon in Trivandrum too I found out some ways to support myself. There was one tutorial college called ‘Murthy’s College’. It was run by a young jobless man named Murthy. He was known as Murthy sir and he hardly went out of the premises of his tutorial college. His house was in one corner of the plot where the sheds of the college were erected. I was living nearby and knowing my desire to make some extract pocket money, one common friend introduced me to Murthy. He welcomed me to take classes there at his tuition centre. But the problem was ‘English’ was the sole right of one teacher who came from an agrahaaram (Brahmins’ Habitat). He said he could not part with his subject. So Murthy asked me whether I could handle Malayalm classes. I was ready to teach anything except Mathematics. So I said yes to him. And he gave me Malayalm classes for first and second year BA. I myself was doing second year BA in English. Here I was teaching them Malayalam. But I taught them well as I was good in Malayalam literature also and kept that I too was a student a highly guarded secret from the students. Murthy occasionally paid me and used the money to buy books.

During all those years that I spent in Trivandrum I double myself as a teacher and student. I went to some private homes to give tuitions to young girls. And also I ran a small tuition class from home. Mostly girls were my students and it was interesting to teach the girls because they liked you as a young man. But when you are teacher it is not fair to fall in love with your student. You should not look at your student with other feelings. I was just human not teacher all the times. I fell in love with one of my students who was studying in a very good school in Trivandrum and used to come for English classes to me. But that was a short lived affair. At the same time I learnt type writing also from a local institute where mostly girls came to learn the trick. The girl who taught was named Veni and she was strangely beautiful. She came to the class with full of jasmine flowers stuck on her hair. During the early mornings all the girls came fresh after bath and I too chose the same hour for learning type writing. I could learn type fast as my eyes were always roaming around and heart beating faster than fingers. Those were the years filled with fragrance, passion, dreams and hopes.

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