Nithya sundhara nirvrithiiyaay nee nilkughayaanennaathmaavil
Viswamillaa nee illenkil , veenadiyum njanee mannill
Akale Akale neelaakaasham Ala thallum megha theertham
Arikilentey Hridhayaakaasham Alathallum Raaga theertham
(My love you will remain as a beautiful ecstasy in my soul.
There is no world for me if not for you and I shall crumble down to the earth without you..
Yes far away is the blue sky that is blessed with the wavy clouds
But so near is the expanse of my heart that is blessed with your love for me.)
It was a starry night on the 24th day of April 1974; the young Indian assistant Steward was on special night watch duty for his stipulated three hours on the quarter deck of the huge container ship “Hyperion”. This was his final journey from the container port of Shanghai to Bombay. The time must have just gone half past Eleven and the world around him was silent. It was not just the South China Sea, but also his heart that echoed the silence and the calmness around him. He thought how happy and content he was at that moment. He searched for the root cause to that happiness. Yes!, the ship’s next port of call was Bombay, the gateway not just to India but to his beloved home in the southern city of Ernapond, His good old Island ,where his whole family and his pet goat awaited him. The excitement was too severe that his heart was unusually calm and numb like the surroundings. Apart from the humming of the huge turbine engines that powered this floating Iron bulk, the only other sound was of the gentle breeze that brought in the fragrance of salt and sea which he loved so much. A kind of euphoria crept over his being as thoughts travelled towards home. He remembered all the little things in life that he missed. He thought of his favourite sister Fairoosa with love and gratitude; how she had diligently listened and scribbled all his favourite old and new songs that were played on the All India Radio station from Aala river. He knew that since he had bought the RCA cassette player from yunan 4 months ago, she wouldn’t have to sit near the wall of their neighbour Asha’s house to listen to all the songs from their radio during the “Chalachithra gaanam” program. He particularly remembered one of the light music songs he had learned during his previous holidays 8 months ago which was suggested by her.
“Oru Dhukka Raathriyil nee enn, Radhamorumanalkaattil vedinju.
Adhu kazhinjomaney ninnil, putthan Anuraaga Sandyaghal poothoo.
Karineela Kannulla Penney Nintey Kavilathu njanonnu Nulli”
(One sad evening you had abandoned my chariot in the miserable desert.
My beloved you had moved on and you found new love and bliss
Oh my blue eyed girl, I give you a love pinch on your cheeks).
He started to sing the song gently and soulfully to himself with tears welling in his eyes without breaking the beautiful silence of the night. His heart skipped many beats as his mind travelled back to his home many thousand miles away. Images of all his favourite people flashed across his mind. He remembered his Vappa wearing his black thick framed glasses; walking towards his office at the Northern end of the Island almost 2 Km away from home trying to save a few paisas by abstaining from the bus journey and always giving an excuse to his Umma about one needing regular exercise to stay fit. He remembered how his Umma stood at the gate with tears rolling down her rugged cheeks watching her most beloved son Mohammed Sharaff going to the harbour Railway terminus to board the train that took him to Bombay from where he was joining the Ship that was sailing to Yunan. He then remembered all his younger siblings, nine of them. His heart skipped a few more beats when he remembered his sisters, Jumaila Beegam (the strong willed), Fairoosa (The soft hearted), Sheharzada (the beautiful), Nooriya ( The naughty) and Marjaana (The hopeful). He then remembered all his younger brothers one after the other… Abdul Asthar(The suave), Allalath (The kind), Abdul Jalaal Dabbu (The strong spirit). He tried to remember the face of his youngest brother Khais Rehman and realised that he hadn’t spent much time with the little boy who was only four years old. He laughed by the thought of his embarrassment in front of his college mates when he had to admit that there was yet another child born in his family. His Vappa sometimes got blamed for the population crisis in India. Yet he smiled again remembering Khais turning out into a bundle of joy not just for him but for his entire family. He remembered the two toys (The Tank and the scooter) he had purchased four months ago from Yunan for the little boy. His heart brimmed with empathy and love for his siblings. A tear drop flowed over his cold red cheek when he made a promise to buy lots of fruits for his siblings (who were deprived of that) which he often ate in abundance with guilt from the ship’s mess.
His train of thoughts reached a bottle neck because the memories inevitably reached to that one person whom he was forced to let go from his life. He understood at that point that the reason why he was humming that song was not due to thoughts about Fairoosa. He had sung this song to his beloved Nilavini when he had gone to visit her at the Great Kings College where she was pursuing her masters in Zoology. His heart froze for a few seconds while he remembered how her beautiful smile got overshadowed by dark clouds when he had informed her about the Job offer he got from the Merchant navy as an assistant Steward. He had just about completed his Degree exams when he got the call to join his first ship “Ludhaliya” from Vishaka town. Now he had joined this ship after signing off from “ludhaliya” eight months ago. There he was under the starry night with nothing around him but for the far off dark looming horizon from where flowed a soft melody “Nithya sundhara Nirvridhiyaay nee Nilkughayaanenn Aathmavin, Vishwamellam nee illenkil Veenadiyum njanee mannill….Akhale Akhale neelaaghaasjam….” that he had often sung for his beloved Nilavini during those beautiful youthful three years at The Great Kings college. With a heavy heart he remembered the words in the letter he had received one month ago from her. She had been beaten up by her parents after they caught her reading his letter. A letter from a Mohammaden boy to a Nair girl! He knew that life was not meant to be with Nilavini. He had five younger sisters at home and to keep the image of his family untarnished was the most important element that decided to which families they could get married off to (Arranged marriage is all about two people(families)getting wedded on the basis of beauty, money and family status sans love). Mohammed Sharaff knew that he a believer of Allah, marrying a believer of lord Krishna would jeopardize the chances of his sisters finding matching grooms. That was the norms of those days and don’t worry friends, it has only grown worse…Our society has not moved an inch forward from 1974, we still identify people by colour, creed, region and names of groups that numerous Gods and Godsmen have created. Mohammed Sharaff always saw a silver lining to every dark cloud that he faced in life (there were too many that he had lost count). He believed that, only tragic love stories were glorified in human history. He probably knew that someday Khais would write his story too. Or was it just an excuse from him similar to the story of sour grapes. He mused in those thoughts for quite a long time. He could feel that lump of sorrow stuck in his throat with a pain unbearable in his heart.
The silence and the vastness of the ocean made him feel little, and helped him to comprehend the fact that he was only a tiny speck of life in the huge universe that blanketed around him. The expanse of the wide world or rather the site of infinity above humbled him. But then the thoughts of past, his home and his life journey made him feel bigger than himself. He realised with contentment that he had lead an honest life and it had events that made him and his family proud. He felt closeness towards his Vappa like he had never felt before. A fit of nostalgia swept him towards his recent past and his thoughts travelled rapidly like a movie flashback. It was the time of famine when all his siblings (seven at that time) had gone back to his native place “Neerkunnam” while he remained back with his Vappa in the island to look after and cook for him while pursuing his education. He remembered how he and his friend “Thankappan” (Golden papa) from the labour colony stayed awake late into the nights making briefcases with cheap artificial leather and other raw materials. How he used to carry the briefcases in the packed buses and boats to trade them to Shahim Jahi’s Shop “Mallu Plastic” in Broadway. How excited was he returning with the balance profit after sharing with “Golden papa”. It used to be a great relief for his Vappa who was not just supporting his family at “Neerkunnam” but also the families of his 7 siblings who stayed at the ancestral home after their businesses had collapsed due to the onset of famine.
His thoughts travelled further down the memory lane to his days as the young handsome singer, the heart throb of girls of the Great Kings College of Ernapond, The official crooner of the college where he had met his sweetheart Nilavini and experienced life’s euphoria. Learned that life and love was about letting go of what was most precious to us. He was aware that Nilavini loved him with all his shortcomings and weaknesses. He remembered the day when his English professor asked him in class why he was always wearing the same shirt to college. He felt warmth and burning on his outer ear pinna, which was often felt when he was in such situations of embarrassment and humiliation. He had only two shirts and two pantaloons to wear to college and since the English class was on alternate days, he ended up wearing the same shirt for that class. He had gone home and cried silently. A few days later his Umma gifted him with an altered second hand shirt and trouser formerly used by his uncle who could spare the pair. He remembered how proudly he walked into the English class the next week wearing his new (old) trouser and shirt. He mused that perhaps life was about alterations and adjustments.
He felt the cold breeze on his face while he continued day dreaming in the chilly night. He could still hear the gentle humming of the turbines way below from the monstrous engine room of the ship. The cold breeze again made him travel towards an evening in the island when he had gone out for a walk and had met “Paatta Kumaran”. The not so important glimpse of his near past flashed across his mind because that night was as cold as this one and he rememberd “Paatta Kumaran” shivering from head to toe walking towards his make shift home on platform number 3 of the railway terminus. The friendship between them had started when he had invited the homeless man to dine at home. He had watched the wretched scrawny little man eating, with so much empathy and pride. He smiled once again when he started remembering the names of all his friends back home. He realised that his friend circle was a mixture of the down trodden, the middle class and the elite who were ready to stand by his side like “paatta Kumaran”, “Kunju kutty” and “Baabuji”. He thanked his Umma for instilling values like, humility, humbleness, integrity, respect and self-esteem in him. He knew that indeed it was all due to the champion lady; his Umma.
He woke up from this reverie by the noise of footsteps coming up towards the quarter deck. He turned around and faced a rugged looking sailor swaying due to drunkenness approaching him slowly. He advanced a few more steps and Mohammad Sharaff recalled that the sailor was relatively new on board and worked as an able seaman working under his friend, the ships Bosun Mohammed Ali. The sailor was completely out of his wits due to his drunkenness. Something in that man’s hands caught his attention. The man was holding a Automag semi-automatic pistol (.44 magnum). The stainless steel barrel shined under the reflection of the quarter deck watch light. The sailor drew closer towards him and pointed the pistol straight to Mohammed Sharaff’s heart and with complete composure and steadiness he declared that he was tired of life in this wretched vessel and it was time for some action, He wanted to shoot and kill. Mohammed Sharaff was shocked and frozen to his bones. He never expected anything of this magnitude to happen on-board the ship and he was too young to die at this point of time. Twenty three years of his past life played like a fast forwarded movie at that instant. After a few seconds of silence he gathered his courage and decided to talk to the assailant. He wanted to buy time… He asked the sailor if the pistol was loaded and the answer was affirmative. A shiver went through his spine when he heard that answer. A bold and courageous request came out of him involuntarily. He requested the assailant to prove that the pistol was loaded by shooting at a Coke tin that was lying on the starboard side of the quarterdeck. The assailant tuned towards that side and aimed at the target and fired. The loud gun shot and the commotion left him off balance. Mohammed Sharaff took the opportunity and being very quick on his feet, jumped on the assailant, yanked the pistol off the sailors grip, using all his strength held on to the sailor and called for help. The sound of the pistol shot had already alerted other men on night watch and all of them ran in and overpowered the assailant.
I feel very proud of Mohammad Sharaff, my eldest brother, the brave soul whose presence of mind saved him from imminent death or fatal injury. But the new lease to his life has been the turning point of a big family’s future. My friends…. let me tell you a few things among the many he has done for the clan.
A few years went by, Mohammed Sharaff had started a new career at the International Airport somewhere in Saudi Arabia. I joined the Central school and was studying in the 3rd standard (8 years old).
One day while sitting in front of the glass showcase and admiring my Scooter and Army Tank that was gifted to me by Mohammed Sharaff after that near fatal journey, I heard the postman ringing his cycle bell and declaring that there was a registered post. I saw the letter and was amused by seeing the face of the King of Saudi on the stamp. (You know being from a generation of post independent India, we were not used to kings or Royalty, we were more comfortable with politicians that were mass murderers, ethnic cleansers, rowdies and dacoits ruling our country). I remember my Umma opening the letter and weeping while reading it. She also pulled out a harder small rectangular shaped paper with a few texts printed and also it said 8000 RS only. My sister Marjaana was assigned to rush to my Vappas office to show him the first demand draft that was send by our brother Mohammed Sharaff.
Life simply changed!
Abundance arrived at our humble cottage. After one year the first “Gulf kaaran” (An indian working in the Arabian Gulf) arrived at our door step with two big suitcases (Samsonite and American tourister) filled with treasures for all of us. A beautiful fragrance which can be felt only in a “Gulf Kaarans” suitcase filled our home; even the cap of the Hero pen he had brought for me and marjaana had that fragrance, I remember sitting in the class and taking deep whiffs now and then. There were so many shirts, shorts and T-shirts in his magic suitcase for us. First time in my life I felt proud of my attire and happily wore it to my best friend Kunju thamburaan’s birthday party. I realised from that day the value of being properly dressed and flaunting the dress in confidence and style and that the beauty of our outer shell was as important as our inner core. He had brought beautiful pencils with fragrant erasers hanging from one end, stickers, green colour leather football, dolls for Marjaana and many more odds and ends which only us kids could understand and love. He was our champion from that instant, A champion whom I knew only through photos and tales from my Umma. His first leave satiated our hunger for abundance; every empty nook and corner for a longing for anything was fulfilled. Life became blissful overnight. I understood that gifts where equally important to the down trodden and the affluent. You may judge me as being materialistic. Well I was; you will understand me only if you know what need is.
What our eldest brother Mohammed Sharaff had done for the family could be a story by itself. I am unable to express it within these limited pages. Since it is my story, I can only write what he has done for me. Apart from giving me the taste of abundance, the diligent shower of monthly demand drafts was of great support for my Vappa in running the huge house hold of 11 mouths. Though life was still a struggle for my Vappa, he always had a source to depend on in Mohammed Sharaff. Unlike my elder siblings I had the small liberty in choosing a course in Engineering and to pursue my career in the north of India for higher studies due to the simple fact that my Vappa could afford that now.
Many years later at my age of two and twenty, Mohammad Sharaff kept his promise to me and sent me a Fujairah visa and a return ticket in Khaleej Air to the U.A.E. That was the most important gesture of his never ending love and care for me and concern for my future. He became that rock on whom I kept my small steps towards the journey of my youth and ultimate career success. The journey itself is another long story which I promise to narrate it to you in the future.
This month he celebrated his 34th wedding anniversary with his life partner, who was chosen by my Umma and Vappa. He had met this beautiful girl only on the day of their “Nikaah”(Wedding); such was his trust and belief in his family and their choice. She is my first Sister in law, one of the most selfless souls I have ever met in my life. She brought beauty into our home with her elegance and innocence. She was the young lady who taught me to read and write my mother-tongue (Malayalam). The selfless one who gave away all her gold at the hour of need for our family to marry off one of my siblings; the lamp that always guided Mohammad Sharaff. Without her support he would not have been the oxygen to my family.
“For your nine siblings, you are our “Wallikka” (Big brother). Let me describe you to the world in the words that well up from my innermost core.
The massive ship that set sail from the island to show us the world…
The sailor whom I salute in awe who looked so grand…
The singer who warmed my heart crooning in the most magnificent ways…
The lover who sacrificed his love to save his sibling’s lives…
The most romantic, committed partner to his woman in life…
The endurer who never said die till he saw light…
And last but not the least, the father who stood next to my own,
The rock that left my mom’s side first, to give wings to the rest of the flock…
The massive tree under whose shade we all grew up…
Can’t possibly diminish your larger than life lustre saying a mere thank you Wallikka!
Illustration courtesy:- Dr. Farhan Kabeer
Video Courtesy :- Youtube