How often do we talk about mentors that guided us through our life, advised us during our travels through the wrong path, the souls that we looked up to, our role models. These men and women could be anyone such as siblings, parents, teachers or any one we interact or know about.
This series of four episodes is dedicated to each of my elder brothers who had major influence in shaping me to whatever I am now; the four strong men who taught me a few bitter truths and lessons in life which I remember and hold fast to.
THE WOOD CUTTER
This is a story that happened 3 years before I came into this world. It was the time when my brother Mehmood Allalath was studying in IVth standard in the Government school at Kakkaazham that was located 5.3 km away from Punnapara, where almost a thousand people had sacrificed their lives many years ago during the communist uprising against the Diwan of Travancore. Well our story has nothing related to the uprising. It is just a simple one about this young Boy Allalath fainting on a sunny morning just outside his class room. He wasn’t rushed to hospital like today, instead was laid down on the veranda of the school and some one had sent the peon to get a “kallu soda” (Soda bottle pressure filled and closed by a marble ball) from the next door “Petti kada” (knickknack shop that stands on four legs). The pressurised soda water was sprinkled on his face. He woke up from his slumber and gladly drank the balance of the soda. He was helped to walk to the class room and later when the school finished for the day, he slowly walked home with his younger sisters Sheherzada banu and Nooriya beegum. The walk back home took longer than usual because mehmood Allalath didn’t feel right about his health and was feeling weak in his legs. He felt weird as he had to drag both his legs forcefully while walking towards home. Somehow he managed to reach the picket gate in front of the “Tharavadu” (Ancestral home) where all his cousins and aunts and uncles were living together. He collapsed into a heap right at the door step and was carried to a bedroom and laid down on the “paaya” (Grass mattress). Everyone thought that he was tired due to lack of nutritious food all day and that could be the cause of the events of that day. You may note that it was the time of famine in India and the staple diet rice was very dear. Eventually the “Vaidhyar” (herbal doctor) was called in and he deftly diagnosed that the young boy Allalath was paralysed from waist down and only a miracle could save him and bring him back to normalcy. This was the time when my Wappa was living alone in the Island, where he worked and visited his family only during the weekends . My umma spent three sleepless nights until the arrival of my Vappa on Saturday. With tears in her eyes she narrated the events to him and a quick decision was made. It was planned for Allalath and my Umma to go back to the Island to live with my Vappa for further treatment at the Port hospital. Marjaana beegum (the youngest of my sisters) was one year old at that time and my eldest sister Jumaila beegam had to sacrifice her education for good to take care of the baby during the anticipated long absence of my umma from the ancestral home. She had fainted during the Hindi matriculation exams, just for a simple reason that she had not closed an eyelid the previous night due to a cranky and demanding Marjaana beegum. It is ironic that the baby grew up to complete her PHD in political science.
After six months of agonised pain in administering numerous medicines, Physiotherapy and abundance of prayers, one fine bright sunny day Mehmood Allalath just got up and walked as if he had never been paralysed. The doctors later on informed my Vappa and umma that his paralysis was a psychological situation to seek attention from his parents and family. He was the fifth child in the family and so was smack in the middle of all his siblings. He almost never got what he wanted and always had to share with his siblings. Sometimes youngsters and elders were unfair to him too. Lack of sufficient love and attention had manifested in the form of paralysis.
After a few years, famine was eradicated in Kerala and life came back to normalcy. The whole family had reunited and continued their abode in the Island and thus many stories unfolded as the years flew by. Mehmood Allalath grew up to be a very handsome young healthy man and in between somewhere in 1969 I was conceived and was born as a strong Cancerian in 1970.
During the 70s there was no cooking gas available. Cooking was done using “Viragu” (Fire wood) and “Arukkapodi” (wooden saw dust). We being the inhabitants of the Island never got access to saw dust or for that matter fire wood due to the fact that Island was a township and no wood industry was established and there were no forests either to gather fire wood. The trees were in abundance but owned by the port trust. Beautiful huge flowering trees such a Gulmohar and Vishu Konnha was lined on the sidewalks. It looked so much like a beautiful English town as it was built by the British during the Raj days.
I guess it was in 1977 and I was a seven year old lad studying in the second standard in school. One day I recall as I was having tea and “Avilu Nanachadhu” (Rice flakes) after reaching back from school, hearing noise of heavy wheels stopping in front of our cottage. I ran out and saw a “Kattavandi” (Indian wheel barrow pulled by human horse) that was carrying a huge piece of log, that could easily be two meters long and three quarter of a meter wide. The log got deposited inside our cottage walls by the “Kattavandi kaaran” (Human horse) by labouring for more than an hour. It fell heavily and dug deep into the ground by itself due to its shear weight. I overheard that night my Vappa telling Umma that he got the log from an auction at the port. It was an old mooring post for boats at the jetty that had to be removed from its duty due to the expansion project. He further explained that the log could be used as firewood but the wood was very hard to be cut and he would search for a professional woodcutter from main land Mattanchery. We kids were quite happy and excited to jump around the log all day. I remember how the hard wood shined and gleamed in all colours when hit by sunshine.
After two days Mehmood Allalath made a declaration that the famous Malayalam singer, his greatest singing Idol Mr P Jayanilaavu was to conduct a live concert after one week at the TDM hall in the big city. The ticket prize for the lowest class was twenty Indian Rupees and after so many hours of contemplation he took the courage to ask the ticket money from my Vappa. As expected the immediate reply was a shout and a lecture about waste of money to spend for attending a concert and as it is he didn’t have that kind of money for such extravaganza. My brother was crestfallen and without uttering another word left the room. He was a great fan of music and was a talented singer too. On top of all that, He was an ardent fan of Mr. M Jayanilaavu. The chance in a lifetime to meet the legend couldn’t be missed at any cost. He wondered what to do; twenty rupees was a lot of money for an adult, let alone a young jobless boy of seventeen. He came out and sat on the log on which Marjaana beegum, Abdul Jalaal Dabbu and I were playing. In a flash he ran into the house in lightning speed and we three followed suit. I remember Allalath panting while he asked how much would the wood cutter charge for cutting the Log. My Vappa’s reply was that it would be forty Rupees. Allalath took that opportunity and informed Vappa that he was ready to cut the Log into firewood and stack it in the” Virakupera” (Firewood shed) for half the amount of just twenty rupees. My Vappa being stretched out to limits of his income in expenditure agreed immediately to the offer on one condition that the payment would be done only after the task was completed.
With great enthusiasm Mehmood Allalath started the herculean task which he almost gave up in the first half hour. But then the thought of Mr. M Jayanilavu crooning to him live was the light he saw at the end of the dark tunnel. He laboured for three days; I remember how he profusely sweated under the sun. In the beginning the axe couldn’t even make a small dent on the log. But with shear will power and perseverance he completed the task very neatly and successfully. He ended up with a completely blistered hand and strands of wood pierced onto his flesh due to the Axe handle friction on his young skin. Every evening Umma would apply ghee on his palm where it hurt him badly. There was only one day left for the concert. He waited and as soon as Vappa reached home from office he enquired about the money that Vappa owed him for his labour. He was truly disappointed to hear that Vappa didn’t have the money at present and would give him the next day before the concert time. My friends….twenty rupees were quite a bit of money at that time.
The day of the event arrived and Mehmoof Allalath was restless with excitement and also the worry about the ticket money which loomed bigger and bigger as the hours passed by. All afternoon he was humming the song “Karimughil kaattiley” sung by his Icon M Jayanilavu for the 1969 hit movie ”Naughty Chell Mother”. My Vappa came home the usual time and his reply to Allalath’s request was not to bother him about the money and it was his duty to help his parents which ever possible way it could be. Allalath simply bowed his head down in disappointment and walked out of the cottage in dejection.
I don’t remember when I went to bed that night. But after a few hours of sleep I remember waking up to loud sobs from the rooms corner where Mehmood allalath was lying down. It was a sad day for all of us due to the disappointment and sorrow of Allalath. In those days I believed that Mehmood Allaath was the Victim to my Vappas unfairness. Now when I turn back the realms of my life, I realise that my Vappa was the real Victim on that day. My heart trembles when I think of his frustration while being forced to disappoint his son and breaking the promise he made.
This story is one among the numerous incidents that has enriched my golden years of childhood. Mehmood Allalath grew up to be the epitome of love that was unconditional to all his siblings. He taught me what brotherhood was from my early childhood by protecting us single handed from the attack of rowdy children.
He was a true man holding to his values and principles, a true family man and an intense romantic.
We used to play many games together, he taught me “Kutiyum kolum” game, taught me how to play “pambara Koth”, tricycling and even taught us kids how to cook original rice in a “Tinopaal” tin.
He later on grew up to be the backbone of our family. His sacrifice for my Vappa and Umma in the latter part of his life is etched and engraved in golden letters in our hearts. His patience, perseverance and kindness to my parents allowed them to have a smooth transition to the next world. It would be unfair if I don’t mention about the woman in his life; his life partner who was nothing short of the best girl he could get. His care and dedication to my parents could be so beautifully fulfilled only because of her commitment as well.
For all his five younger siblings, he is “Kunjikka “ (Little big brother). I join them to salute you Kunjikka…for being with us all the time and helping us in making our childhood the most alluring part of our lives. Without you, I would have been a lesser human being! I believe.
Illustration Courtesy :- Kabeer (Farhan Kabeer)