A plantain leaf and a bowl of rice kept waiting

Professor T V Eachara Varier (retired), Kerala, India

 

Footnote: This is the first and second chapters of Memories of a father, by Professor T V Eachara Varier (Asian Human Rights Commission—Hong Kong & Jananeethi–Kerala, 2004), entitled ‘A plantain leaf and a bowl of rice kept waiting’ and ‘The burden that the mother entrusted’. Copies of the book can be obtained by contacting the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) via books@ahrchk.org, or writing to ‘Books’, AHRC, 19th Floor, Go-Up Commercial Building, 998 Canton Road, Mongkok, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China. A PDF version of the book is also available online, via the AHRC website, http://www.ahrchk.net.

———————————————————–

“Please give this to our son Rajan. I trust only you.”

She didn’t utter a word after that. Cold death had already touched her.

The next day after her death, I had a nap on the couch. The weight of that packet of coins, which she entrusted to me, was still in my hands.

March 10, 1976, Manmohan Palace at Trivandrum was quiet. The atmosphere of the Emergency even lay upon that historical building, the residence of the State Home Minister, but there were no khaki-clad men around.

We were not made to wait long to enter the room of Mr. K. Karunakaran, the State Home Minister. It was one of the last doors I was knocking at. I was at the residence of Mr. Karunakaran in search of my son, who had been taken by the police from the front yard of the Calicut Regional Engineering College hostel. There were two others with me: Surendran, one of my former students, and his friend, a professor from Vennala, Ernakulam. This professor was a close friend of Mr. Karunakaran.

Surendran and I had started early from Calicut and reached Ernakulam before dawn the next morning. We spent the rest of the time at Ernakulam North railway station, on a cement bench, fighting the mosquitoes and the chilly wind, waiting for light. I was burning inside. There at Ernakulam, some three to four kilometers away, my son’s mother and his sisters were still asleep in our house, ignorant of what all are happening.

When the day dawned, we reached the professor’s house at Vennala and told him of my problems. He immediately came along with us. He too seemed to be worried about my son Rajan’s disappearance. He was so close to Mr. Karunakaran that he had access to even the inner rooms of the Minister’s house. Mr. Karunakaran’s wife, Mrs. Kallianikutty Amma, was also close to him. When we reached Trivandrum, the professor went straight to the residence of Mr. Karunakaran and arranged an appointment.

Mr. Karunakaran greeted us with a broad smile, but as he saw me did that smile fade a little? Foolish thoughts, I consoled myself.

He hugged me. “Why didn’t you tell me all this earlier? I would have taken care of it then and there,” he said. A hope flashed in my mind.

“This name Rajan seems to be familiar to me. He seems to have got into some serious trouble,” he continued.

I folded my hands in respect. I was unsteady with an unknown emotion.

“No, he is not capable of doing things like that. When the extremists attacked the police station at Kayanna (near Calicut) he was participating in the youth festival at Farooke College. He was the Arts Club Secretary at the Engineering College he studied,” I said.

Karunakaran touched my shoulders. His voice was very soft. “I will enquire and let you know. I will do whatever I can. That’s the relationship we have, isn’t it?”

I paid respect to him once more with folded hands. My eyes were blurred in the sun at the front yard of Manmohan Palace. Was that fading too, the last island of hope?

_____________________________

It was on February 26, 1976 that I last met my son Rajan. He was then a final year student of the Chathamangalam Regional Engineering College, 13 kilometers away from Calicut. I was a professor at the Hindi department of the Government Arts and Science College at Calicut. I was staying in Kerala Bhavan Lodge, just opposite to the General Hospital near Muthalakkulam. Rajan used to come there often to meet me. He last came for some money. I met him in my room on February 26. I asked him to come home during the vacation. He nodded yes.

I was born at the Thiruvullakkavu Varriam at Cherpu, in Trichur District. After partition of the ancestral property I left that home, moved to Ernakulam, and built a house in Parambithara road. We named the house ‘Sauhrida Nilayam’ [‘house of friendship’]. I was living there with my wife and three children, my sister, Kochammini Varasyar, and her husband, Mr. Achutha Varier. He was my wife Radha’s brother. He worked with the Railways.

On March 1, 1976, when I reached my college as usual, I came to know that the police had taken my son into custody. One of Rajan’s friends, Mr. Karmachandran, informed the college authorities of this by telephone. It was 10am. With the permission of the principal, I rushed to Chathamangalam.

The premises of the Engineering College were as quiet as a cemetery. Rajan had been arrested on the morning of February 29. He was coming out of the college bus in the front yard of the Engineering College, after returning from the youth festival at Farooke College. The police were waiting for him. According to the information then available, he was first taken to Calicut and then to Kakkayam Camp, a police camp established to investigate the attack on Kayanna police station. Many people told me that no purpose would be served by going to the Kakkayam camp. But I went.

The camp at Kakkayam was established at the asbestos-roofed building of the State Electricity Board. There was a pond in front of the camp. Access was through a temporary wooden bridge, guarded by a police sentry with a rifle. I spoke to him. He was very serious, but didn’t utter a single indecent word to me. He went into the camp, and came back to tell me that I would not be permitted inside. He told me that my son Rajan was inside, and was well. My emotion cooled a little, but I told him, “I just want to meet my son.” He was standing in my front like a mountain.

I felt so lonely that I shouted out. I shouted loudly.

“I can do nothing,” He replied. Then his face darkened.

“Then allow me to meet Mr. Jayaram Padikkal at least,” I was adamant. Mr. Jayaram Padikkal was the camp ‘monarch’, and a Deputy Inspector General of the crime branch.

My childlike adamancy echoed back from the watery surface of that pond. I stood still in front of that guard. His upright rifle wavered sometimes to the sides. He tried not to listen, or care for me.

Waiting alone there a sob got trapped in my throat. I felt, as though I heard a cry calling me, “Oh, father…” from somewhere through the walls of the detention room of the camp.

I felt tired and started walking back. Once more I turned back to look at the camp. The policeman was there still staring at me. When he saw me looking at him he turned his eyes to the nearby hills.

_____________________________

After the meeting with Mr. Karunakaran, a reporter of the Mathrubhoomi daily called Mr. Sadirikkoya telephoned me. He was one of the dear disciples of Mr. Karunakaran. I had met him three times to find out the details of my son. “I am at it” was the only reply I got. But this time he gave me a very different version of things. He told me that Rajan had escaped from custody while being taken to an extremist’s secret den.

I asked him as to where he got this information.

“From reliable sources,” was the reply. The source, I knew, was Mr. Karunakaran himself. Mr. Sadirikkoya’s revelation gave me some hope. It brought along with it black clouds of anxieties too. I continued the search.

The principal of the Engineering College, Professor Vahabudeen, had visited the police camp at Kakkayam together with another professor. Mr. Jayaram Padikkal’s behaviour was very rude with these loving teachers. The students in custody peeped through the windows to see their principal. Rajan was not among them.

I steadfastly believed that Rajan would come back. I always asked my wife to keep apart a bowl of rice and a plantain leaf for him. He may step in any time. He may be hungry. There should be rice ready at home for him. Yes, he will come back. Sure he will…

At night when the dogs barked and made noise for no reason, I woke up and waited at the doorstep… waiting for a call of “father”. Keeping the door open, I went back and fell tired into the bed. A sob, “Oh my little child”, got choked in my throat. But I shouldn’t cry. I shouldn’t allow even a teardrop to roll down my eyes, for there was his mother, Radha, ignorant of all this…

_____________________________

People used to ask me whether my wife became mentally ill after Rajan’s tragedy. Actually, she had started showing signs of illness fifteen months after the birth of our first daughter. She recovered with a course of electrotherapy. She had to be treated seven times. Later, when she was pregnant for the third time, she again started showing signs of mental ailment, but doctors told us that since she was pregnant she could not be subjected to treatment. So we resorted to Ayurvedic medicine, and she got better. After the delivery we resumed allopathic treatment, but it was useless. “She has become shock proof,” said the doctor. Still we continued the treatment.

She was not aware of Rajan’s tragedy. Whenever I came to Ernakulam from Calicut she used to ask for Rajan. I told her lie after lie. It made her uncomfortable. She started loosing faith in me, and behaving oddly with her loved ones.

Of our three children, she was closest to Rajan. One of the reasons, I thought, was that Rajan could sing well, as could she. Whenever Rajan came back from college, he used to sing for her and she enjoyed that. He used to sing only when his mother demanded. On holidays they used to have concerts till midnight. She always took care to get ready with new songs for Rajan. That Rajan was our only son was also a reason for her to be more loving to him.

Rajan’s continued absence troubled her, and I had to suffer as a result. She expected Rajan to be with me whenever I came from Calicut, and anxiously awaited him. When she knew that Rajan was not with me a colour of disappointment would spread over her face. The depth and darkness of distress on her face went on increasing. She stopped talking to others, and went into a world of silence. Sometimes she accused me of not loving Rajan. She confided to relatives and friends that this was the reason I was not bringing Rajan along when I came. She murmured in secret that I never loved her or Rajan.

Meanwhile, many of Rajan’s friends got married. One day when I reached Ernakulam she asked me, “All of Rajan’s friends have got married. Are you not a father too? Are you not worried that he is yet to get married?” “Oh, our son is dead,” I felt like telling her then. The sentence got choked in my throat. At that moment I felt vengeance against her and the world. Regaining the balance of my thoughts, I would say, “I am trying to find a suitable girl for Rajan. But it’s not that easy, you know?” Her response used to be a lone empty stare of disbelief.

Whenever Rajan’s friends came, she used to ask for Rajan. Unable to face her, they stopped coming to see her. Whenever I came to Ernakulam, she used to ask for money, but just ten rupees. Then she bought biscuits for Rajan, and kept them safe. Only when the biscuits got rotten did she give them to other children, who used to throw them away without her seeing.

She also kept small coins safe in a box, which she hated others opening. She had no more faith in anyone.

I kept Rajan’s disappearance a secret from my family for forty days. Whenever I went to meet Mr. Karunakaran I avoided them on my return.

On March 3, 2000, Rajan’s mother left me forever. A week earlier I had been to see her. As I bid farewell, she held my hands, still lying on the bed. There was a painful request in her eyes, “Will you bring Rajan along when you come next time?” I couldn’t look at her face. The guilt of telling her lie after lie had haunted me for years. Five days later I went to her again. Death was playing hide and seek somewhere near her, but she remembered everything.

She called me, “Will you do one thing for me?”

“Sure,” I answered.

She gave a small packet of coins to me. Those were the coins she saved in that box.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *