Sunday, May 5, 2024

                                                            The Surrender

 One cannot ignore the luck of not having to be hospitalised , even if it was for a few days after six decades of living. But then, as you age, things that you were fortunate enough to stave off will visit you.

The chief surgeon had followed the protocol and let me know of the chances for a small element of cereberal stroke during the surgery. As I was being wheeled into the operation theater of the cardio-vascular wing, I thought of my aunt, who walked some fifty odd meters from her apartment to the neighbourhood hospital, and within thirty minutes of that, she was declared dead following a massive cardiac arrest on the surgical table triggered by anesthesia. I was close to her, and it was just natural that thoughts of her came to my mind.  Before the doors of the theater closed, I winked at my wife, who was not allowed to go any further. I was asked to get out of the wheelchair and lie supine on the trolley bed. I heard a doctor say morphine, and I felt a cold sensation on my wrist, and I fell asleep. Perhaps it was the only dreamless sleep that I could remember. 

It was not the surgery itself that bothered me, but the preparation for the surgery and the nursing thereafter. Now reading Salaman Rushdie's "Knife,"  the book on the vicious knife attack on him and his memoirs thereupon, I could empathise with the very words he used to describe his hapless and precarious plight. "In the next few months, there will be many more such bodily humiliations. In the presence of serious injuries, your body's privacy ceases to exist, and you lose autonomy over your physical self......... . You allow this because you have no alternative........ .You allow people to do what they will with your body—prod and drain and inject, and stitch and inspect your nakedness..... ."

It began with, a male nurse ordering me the day before to strip naked into my birthday suit and begin shaving me from neck to toe. Since I had trimmed my long hair and beard, he did not go further up. But him touching my private parts and moving his electric razor to cleanse my groin of hair was deeply disesteem and very embarrassing. I always detested a male touching me, let alone around my private parts. I had no option but to allow him to perform his chore. 

What I abhorred about surgery under general anesthesia was the insertion of a urinary catheter. The horrible feeling I could imagine—the pain that went with it when a tube was inserted into your urinary bladder through your penis—oh gosh, that is even tortuous thinking! I even asked a junior doctor the day before if a condom catheter could be used rather than inserting a tube into my urinary tract. Mercifully, all that manhandling on me was performed after I was put to anesthetic sleep. 

But more of what Rushdie mentioned was in store post-surgery and after I regained consciousness. It was two lady nurses who were tending to me in the ICU, and one of them gave me a sponge bath, and lo and behold, it was not very comfortable even in that semi-aware state when a stranger (mercifully this time, a woman) was probing all over me. Your every personality and tolerance are tested, and you are utterly embarrassed and lying like a helpless piece of vegetable. And the day after, before I was wheeled out of the ICU to the private ward, one of them removed the catheter from my penis, sweetly murmuring to comfort me not to be worried; it would not be painful. And she did it so swiftly and deftly that I hardly sensed it. But the total surrender of one's body to strangers was complete and robbed you of all semblance of privacy, and one's claim that certain body parts of you are private.

Friday, September 3, 2021


 Those days I lived with my husband’s parents in their ancestral home in the village. A tiny hamlet tucked up a couple of kilometers from the sea - the way the crow flew, and dotted with coconut palms, Jack, Cashew and Mango trees. An old town and serene little place by the sea! A 17th century Portugese construct church and not far away a Devi temple stood as symbols of social amity, if I may. I wondered why my husband’s parents chose to settle down in that place where they were but only about half dozen families from their own Muslim community.Nevertheless my father-in law turned out to be a succesfull business man and highly respected human being.No one noticed or cared that he always sported a skull cap or well groomed goatty beard,and unfailingly went to the ancient little masjid for five namaz each day, and they were not used to identify his faith then. They were personal, peripheral and incosnpicuous. My father- in-law was simply Kochukunju Musaliar to the village folks. Nothing more nothing less!There were no muizins balaring out through loud speakers, and the six families took turns to announce the call for prayer.  The gulf boom brought with it migaration and  today we see quite a few neo rich Muslims who bought land in the village and flaunting their petro-dollar wealth . That also brought with it a new mosque and its fancy and unaesthetic ornamentaion. How could they resist being content with an ancient Masjid that is as spartan,nondescript and silent though an enduring symnbol like the ancinet temple or the gothic church?. My father- in- law’s objection to having muizins announce prayers through a loud speaker was ignored. They shouted down his question why a loud speaker, a prochronism during the Prophet’s time  when the purists insit life must be pedantic to the dictations of the Koran and the Hadith. The Gulf money spoke and they funded the new mosque.

That goes about as the introduction to the old town near the sea.

 As a dutiful daughter-in-law I chose to stay back with my husband’s parents , while he worked in the city about hundred kilometers away and came home over weekends.The little place with its laid back life and perenially flowing river - its waters gleaming like silver in the mid morning sun, the dragon flies and colourful butterflies, the birds flaunting their musical notes, the street dogs who wag their tails vigorously and followed you,the dense sacred grove near the temple which is awe to me and erie to a few,the gentle ring of temple bells at dusk announcing deeparadhana, and the spirit of Christ that I could see on the ancient church, all, were too dear to leave behind for a city life.My love for my husband was not less than the love for the old town by the sea. But it may  have seem wiered for few others.He, my spouse was happy I took care of his parents and I eagerly awaited his return on weekneds, though we both  missed each other on many other days.

 I have the habit of going out for walk immediately after sunrise ,something that which I carried from my schooling days in the Jesuist school in Ootty.                                    The gentle nip in the morning air was plesant and I did not notice him, until he, a  man of about 70 caught up with me. He was a bit short of breath and may have been trying to catch up with my brisk walking. I have  often spoted him stand at the gate of the house near the post-office, its fa├žade reeking with Gulf money.

 “ Haa young woman , I haven’t noticed you in these parts. Are you a vistor here?”

I smiled like I would to an elderly acquaintace or relative and said, “No, I live here.”

His avancular expression was  noticeable. “ Oh, old man that I’m do not remember seeing you. By the way which household dear?”

“I’m Kochukunju Musaliar’s daughter in law.”

 “Oh , oh I see, I see. Pardon me my dear. I was living in my ancestoral home in Ranni and after the partition my nephews threw me out, ungraetful scoundrels you see.The had no qualms in telling me. ‘Ouseph velliappa now get out. You have nothing to do here.’ Luckily Clara is in Kuwait, ye she is a nurse- you see , my son’s wife and she bought 15 cents land and build this house for me and  Chackochi. We moved in a few years ago. Haa,  I get it, now, and your husband did not join you for  the morning? Lazing in bed young fellow, tired of the night’ acrobatics , I guess.” He made a chuckle and winked while he said that.I did not notice that he had managed to arrest my walk.

“No, my husband works in the town and comes back only on weekends.”I said feeling a liitle awkward.

“Oh , goodnes, save this girl holy Mary mother of God.” He looked heavenward and then he continued. “How  unkind of your husband to leave you an young woman alone here!”

“ No, no, I’m not alone, I live with my father and mother-in-law.I take care of them.”

 “ No, no, dear. That is unfair. An young woman,will have fantsaies and goodness me,now see you can enjoy the nuptial bliss only a day or so in a week.! Good Lord how do you manage my dear?” He winked and chuckled.

I was quite uneasy and was swiftly on guard.


“Ha, Oh you know what I mean. The acrobatics with your husband can happen only over weekends. That is a pity dear.”

 I was incensed , I ignored him and began to walk fast as I could. Surprisingly he was abreast of me.

“ Dear how do you tolerate this unkindness.. you see if female vagina is untouched for long it sews up tight  naturally.” He winked again and the repulsive chuckle followed.

I stopped and turned looking him in the eyes. ” Look, stranger. I do not know you, and do not care to know either.Now, what is your problem here? It is my life and my privacy. You shouldn’t be concerned about it let alone come up to me from nowhere , ask such outrageous questions and make unsolicited suggestions.”

 “Dear , dear . Did I offend you. Just see it as an avancular concern of this old man Ouseph.”

 “Do you know this is stalking and what can happen to you if I report this? Please stay away , there are people to be concerened about me. I do not need you.”

 I walked fast more in anger and utterly annoyed. How dare he come up and strike such conversation. Ouspeh, He said! I went past the Church and worshippers were walking out after the mass. I stopped, and looked back.I turned towards the street leading to my home.I was panting and exhausted more out of seething anger.

 Standing under the shower , cold well water flowing over me, it did little to calm my annoyance and nerves. I barely managed to eat an iddly and even before my mother- in-law could ask something I was out on the street walking towards the church. I gate crashed into the small parish meeting.

“ I want to talk to the priest - the Father? “I said breathlessly.

It was then that I noticed that it was the same old man Ouseph I was addressing. That group of a dozen parishshoners, looked t me with curioisty. I repeated my demand  with firmness. “ Where is the Father. I want to speak to him.”

“Oh my dear young woman, what brings Kochukunju Muslaiar’s daughter in law in to this church?” said a parishoner.

 “ I want to speak to the Priest? “ I repeated .

 “My dear girl, Father has retired to his chambers after the morning mass. If there is something we can do for you dear , tell us.”

 “I can stay put, till he is back”. I moved and fell into a vaccant chair.

 The more I think of  the morning and that old man’s smirkfull face , I began to shiver with anger. I woke up from a trance when a warm hand fell on my shoulders and my chin was lifted . Mariamma Chettathi was looking into my eyes quite concerned.

“ What is it my little girl. Fathima’s daughter in law is mine too. What ails you? If there is something we could do, we should not wait fror the priest.”

 “But how could that be so? She is not a parishoner. And non parishoner  that too from another community sitting here itself is not appropriate.” That was one Sebastin Muthalali who  has the  department store in the village. He  returned from Kuwait a few years ago.

 “Thangal Kunju Muslaiar’s daughter in law need not be member of the parish. For all these years this church has enjoyed all his benevolence. Mariamma chettathi ask her if we could do something for her.” An elderly man intoned and silenced Sebastin muthalali.

  I told them what happened in the morning. But by then he old man Ouseph had sneaked away.

“ I want the Father to be present. I’ll wait for him or I will  go to the police.”

The alatar man  a lean scrawny figure shouted from the door to the priest’s chamber . “ Atchan has gone to town. He left a few minutes ago. Won’t be back till late evening.”

“ Haa that is not surprising. He must have sneaked out hearing all this.When has the Father ever handled an issue. Is it not his creed to escape such situations.” Mariamma Chettathi was candid.

“ Koche, don’t you know it is common for men to pass lighthearted comments? If you begin to take up every word and utterances there will be no time left in a day to pursue other important matters.” I did not care to see who among that motely group said that.

“ Mariamma Chettathi will you come with me to the man’s house?”

I asked  and soon a small group volunteered to join me, albeit reluctantly and after strong persuasion from Mariamma Chettathi.  

 Sebastin Muthalllali said he had to open up his store and cannot be wasting time on frivilous  matters. “ My girl think twice before making these little  issues big. Won’t do any good to your family honour and pride. Besides the matter will blow up  into issue between two communities. You may have to bear the brunt.”

“Yes , girls should not be this obstinate . This is arrogance. Let these things pass.” I looked towards the man who said that, and he cast his eyes down not meeting my gaze.

 The small group walked to Ouseph’s house. As we entered the gates we could se the old man reclining in his chair on the verandha reading the morning news paper.

A man of about 40 came out  smiling . “ Yes, yes welcome welcome the parish committee is out early today on fund collection I suppose.”

“ Nothing to do with fund collection. It is about Appachan, your father.”The elderly man in the group announced.

“What about him?” asked the son, a bit curious and surprised.

I moved to the verandha and said.” Appacha why don’t you please come out for a moment?”

 Ouseph timidly looked at me and  cast his eyes down and without looking at me he muttered feebly “What my dear girl? What can I do for you?”

“ Appacha. Now why don’t you tell  these folks what you spoke to me this morning?”

“My girl, I’m old as your grandfather.”I could barely hear him.

“Yes Appacha. That is what stopped me back from slapping you, your age.”

“ Ha Ousephe, is it true what she says? Surely you know why we all are here.All said and done , what you said to her was too gross. You ought to have thought about the holy sacrament you take  before being so offensive and indecent and that to a girl who is just as old as your grand child. Shameful!”

 “ Oh yes daily, this Appachan passes sleazy comments at me. I told my husband but he is always asking me to ignore it and not make an issue.” The middle aged woman who made that observation then  glanced at her husband and a teenage girl who were curiously watching the proceedings from the neighbouring house ,across the compund wall.

“ See that is what embolden people like this appachan. Your husband ought to be ashamed. Don’t you folks have a girl child growing up? Will he  advise the same to her when someone tries this on her?” I could see the man’s head from  over the compound wall go down, and the expressionless face of his daughter.

 “Ouseph , it won’t help if you sit quiet like this. Tell yes or no if what this girl says are true.” The senior in the group said.

 Ouseph was sitting expressionless both palms supporting his head, his eyes cast down.Obviously unable to meet our eyes. That pitful  image seemed to be melting my fury inside, I could not but pity that miserable old creature. He sat there like a cornored old stag, its antlers broke and hanging.I turned to the son said, “ Chetta , who else is with Appachan besides you?”

 “ What has that got to do with this drama ?”

“ Old age and lonliness Chetta. You have avenues to entertain and make merry, obviously friends too. But think of the old . There is no one to talk to , to express their feelings , some banter and fun.”

”Koche what are you trying to tell? I don’t take care of my father?”

“ Chetta , please do not be presumptuous. Did I say so?”

“Then what. Clara sends bank draft every month. She sends it in his name , she dosen’t trust me  with money , that stupid woman. Every day, three or four times he can have sumptuous food. Every day mutton , beef and fish. He even gets brandy bottles twice a month from town. He has televison and cable. What more should I give a parent. You folks can easily conclude . I  take care of my father very well. Now don’t expect me to sit by his feet and massage all day.”

  “ Chetta . Appachan’s silence itself tells the story of what he said, what happened this morning and how he spends each day. See this Chechi too has her story to tell. Who knows how many other folks will have similar embarrassments! It is is your parent. It is only kindness and gratitude if you undesrtood their feelings and old age. I’ve nothing more to say.” And I turned and walked.

  He shouted behind me.“ Koche, you see it is quite natural for men to crack some jokes. Women must be able to laugh it away.”

 “ Haa, all hear wonderful son !” Mariamma Chettathi hollored more in angush and anger.

 He continued.“I see you  folks are determined to slander my father. When some stupid, mad woman brought up a  false story about my father the whole parish thought it fit to come along. How can you be not sure that this woman  did not court my father. After all he type of women are capable of enticing and enchanting  decent men, even old men. I won’t be surprised if she did that. Look at  what she wears.”

I almost lost my bearings ,I stopped in my track and gathering my wit I moved up to him – glaring and looking him in the eye, I said. “ Yes, you can call me a slut. Isn’t that the easiest way of defense you men know. I have been warned that if I make  an issue of this it will hurt me , my respectability and family’s status. So be it. Brother, I understand your wife works in the Gulf  and sends you money so that you and this Appachan could built this bungalow and live merrily. Did your Appachan not tell you that if your wife did not have regular sex , her vagina might get sewed up naturally? He warned me this morning.So better take care my friend.”

 I turned around and walked back leaving behind a thrilled Marimma Chettathi as I could see from her face, and obviously a stunt son. The rest of the group may have stared at my receding figure.


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

House of Dark Shadows

Every child growing up is fed with eerie stories of the supernatural and the shadows of the dark. So was I. I remember a few oldies and a bunch of cousins during those vacation sojourns in Ambalapuzha douse me with blood chilling and frightening tales of yakshis, witches, and spirits.

It was utterly horrifying to walk the narrow and deserted pathways at night even if there were adults for company. The pale lights of the incandescent bulbs atop street light poles seem to provide more shadow than light. When one pass by the holy groves at night a frightening sense of foreboding gripped every muscle. Often we use to sprint muttering holy names. Dark and lonely rooms in the house were another area where one was quite likely to confront a ghost or spirit of an old grand uncle, or a hunchback grand- aunt. Chairs and bed by the windows were carefully avoided after dark. Those days in the village, toilets were either outside the house or one had to take leak in the open under the moonlit sky, or often under the starless dark sky. The choice was between nudging awake elder cousins who were familiar with the place to come along as escort so one could relieve outside by the mango tree and that was a thankless effort. They curled deeper under their sheets. Then holding one’s bladder full and almost bursting, counting minutes and moments of the night, glancing about for moving shadows, lying terrified until streak of daylight wafted through the mullioned windows….! Elder cousins always scared   me a city born  with eerie tales. I felt they even relished the vicarious pleasure gained from utter consternation I felt at night. The occasional hoot of an owl, the bark of a dog, or just the fanciful dance shadows played, would send my heart thumping that even the ghost lurking in the shadows could hear it. Urine would lose direction and force and wet the nicker. And in the haste to get back to the comparative comfort of indoors, drops of urine would drip down my inner thighs. The yakshi was surely prowling outside! Was it the ghost of the dead grand uncle who watched with amber like eyes in the dark from the sacred grove? Or of that woman in the neighbourhood who died of snake bite? The occasional shrieks and yelling of gibberish by the lunatic namboothiri in the nearby illam where he lived with his octogenarian mother would waft through the still night, not helping to relieve in comfort.

Well, growing up and I remember the late evening- walking back one day after watching the film “House of Dark Shadows”. Every few steps I turned back to look behind. Later, reading the Dracula of Bram Stalker, on a Sunday late afternoon and sitting frozen in the chair unable to move but roving over sentences after sentences, page after page, often ceasing breathing I did not realize it was dark. That was in our apartment in Kochi. My fellow house mates were all away for the weekend and it was me alone and Count Dracula for company. I was even scared to move from the chair to switch on the light. I preferred to strain my eyes in the fading light, than move a limb. Soon it was very dark, but for the streaks of rays from the street light at the gate. Oh behold, it was 7 and off went the street light - it was load shedding for thirty minutes. One of those moments when the resolve to be an atheist was not helpful!

Fear of the dead! The dead are sure to be about as ghosts and would often wreck vengeance. The carried their animosity to their afterlife said old stories. Once dead they did not take disobedience and past acts of rudeness towards them with levity. That was an awfully dire and unkind narrative put into my head right from early childhood. I wished and hoped no one died at home or among friends and relatives. For the dead even for no reason can remember be our nemesis. Even as recently, a tragic death of a friend’s son would disturb me. That was because the boy was close to me, he liked me much. Some nights, immediately during the days after his passing I would even wonder if he was about near me, about my cot. Dark rooms at night were always places the dead can pounce upon you - the grim reminders of my cousins rang in my ears!

When Amma died, and I spent almost a year alone in the house after her passing, strangely that fear was not felt. Sometimes I wished she confronted me and I could straighten with her things left undone and not spoken. Well the confidence was there, she may come as ghost or spirit but cannot hurt me, won’t hurt me! Even the mother ghost can be yelled at, argued with, shouted at and why not? Mothers would understand, unlike grand uncles, and hunchback aunts. The confidence I felt was often amusing, or was it comforting?

I still hope some of them who were close to us would come by one of those dark lonely nights for a chat. Perhaps help us even out things left undone and unspoken!

It is an amusing thought. I can only laugh about myself.



Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Burnt Soul


The chap was timid. He was made to become one. How else could he be different when he was directed by quite a few self obsessed adults? When you are always lorded over and are the victim of patriarchal diktats, along with insensitive women folks who pulled at your hair, lucky if nothing worse happened and one did not got lost. He almost was!  Oh a forgetful childhood!

Some days even after many years, the smell of books from the British Council Library wafts into the fellow’s nostrils.  Those rainy evenings and the incessant downpour came handy to create an alibi for being late back home and the British Council Library served as refuge. The James Leasor’s, and the Maurice Proctor’s  exchanged their plots with him; when the  books on cricket and the classic photographs in them took him across the seas , land and mountains to the cricket grounds of distant Old Blighty . He met the Bronte’s, Dickens and the rest later though.  The annual subscription for juniors was a paltry five Rupees; there was animated discussion among the despots back home about the wisdom of letting him, a little boy go to the library. Consider the possibilities of the chap becoming friendly with undesirable company and going astray!

It was while in the middle school days when he first tasted Enid Blyton. Blyton was then the initiator into good English language and a wizard in snaring kids into the habit of reading and knowing. The Secret Sevens and the Famous Five where mostly endearing to boys and girls hung with Mallory Towers while little older ones with, “they walked into the sunset, hand in hand”, genre of Barbara Cartland and Mills & Boon. However Blyton books where hard to come by and often listed borrowed. That was when the irresistible urge to not just read them, but possess them became quite an infatuation in the fella.

Every day, the book store en route to school beckoned and Enid Blyton smiled at discerning kids from in there. Ruling out the idea not to plead with the despots back home to buy those books was simply a foregone wisdom. They never would, after all Rs 1.50 was a heck of a sum for book and what a waste it was to buy one! The Blyton and the Famous Five kids along with the Secret Sevens were impossibly irresistible. That was when unwittingly and unbeknownst to the fella Naxal ideology loomed about suggesting a possible solution. The early 70’s were the era of Naxalite actions! When the haves do not provide you, the have-nots must wrench it out. So he did. Filched from one of the despots the ‘million amount of Rs 1.50’, then with pride and immense satisfaction bought the first of the Famous Five oeuvre. Like  the pleasant soothing of Marijuana , Blyton possessed him and what else was the recourse but keep sneaking in and lift  Rs 1.50  and buy  another when he had devoured the earlier one. Then another; then another; and then again another! Lo behold the 21 editions of the Famous Five and the nine Secret Sevens were safely locked up in a mystery corner in the house. The dire consequence of despots stumbling on them was a looming nightmare and possibility. Every day he surreptitiously managed to open the wooden box and feel them all over , smell their pages and get transported to the environ Blyton so vividly painted. How one wished one was born there and not in this dark, cold, insensitive and coercive place!

 Like all good things ill-gotten, the books were soon found out and the question rose how and from where that collection, bundle of new books came to him.  Alibis where weak because the pages smelt new and someone decided further investigations were required. Let the Great Dictator come back home, the inquisition shall begin.

Desperate times call for desperate and cruel short circuiting. He sneaked up to the terrace with those books and poured kerosene on them and watched painfully each character in them waft into the air carried by the wind and smoke. Soon there was no trace of the books but a palm full of messy, dark ash. A funeral pyre would not evoke so much tearing of the soul as those burning books did that day.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

I'm a Farmer


What one can see from a commoner's perspective is that perhaps the Supreme Court did not go into the constitutional validity of the Farm Laws because primafacie they may not have seen anything ultra vires of the constitution and could not strike down the Farm Laws hence opted to stay it till further orders.

But at the same time on what grounds did the Court stay the Farm Laws? And if they did so to facilitate the committee they propose which will go into the issue, why not then ask the government to repeal it rather? Staying the implementation of the law in itself reflects the Court’s acknowledgement of its obnoxious and egregious nature.

When the Court observed the government did not have consultations on the Bills with all stake holders before ramming it through Parliament, does it not tell us the Bills are bad in law? Why then is the decision to stay and not order the repeal?

Is it beginning to tell us something is "rotten in the State of Denmark "?

The Chief justice timidly observed yesterday that the Farmers may not trust them, but they are the Supreme Court. If the Court finds itself in an unenviable position as this where the trust deficit in the Court is at its nadir, there is no one to blame but the Court itself, and the men in robes who occupy the haloed seats.

The Chief Justice suggesting that the elderly and women participating in the protest must go back, may be as some say a ruse to facilitate the ground for the government to unleash its muscles on the protesting farmers.

Never, in post independent India, and not even during the Indira reign running up to the Emergency infamy have we looked at Courts with sceptical eyes as we now do. Court decisions and subterfuges over the past three to four years do not lend any credence to trust the Judiciary either. A sad state indeed!

What is astonishing insistence of the Court is that the Farmer unions should be participating in the deliberations of the committee. The farmers rightly fear they would be led up the garden path of a Supreme Court nominated expert committee, and once they commit to it they may have no recourse when some alibi is used to vacate the stay on the Farm bills albeit with some cosmetic changes.

I think we are in for a long haul which may either end in unpleasant and the knell for Modi government, or the complete bludgeoning of the farmers by the government, where we may see the Supreme Court like Pontius Pilate washing its hands of the blood of India’s food givers.

If this sounds cynical, I could not help, but I earnestly wish I’m wrong.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Hanuman Pandaram


 When I was little, children were fed the story of a bogeyman. Recalcitrant, annoying, and clamant children were told about a certain man called ‘hanuman pandaram’ who would appear from nowhere and does bizarre dance moves before he plucks you and vanishes, never to come back. The fear was telling when we were told that the distant sound of a gong was warning his arrival. Eventually, he did come one day and many times thereafter, which told me that the poor soul was a harmless hunched mendicant who did a monkey dance wearing a grotesque looking mask resembling the primate god- the proverbial “hanuman”. He quietly retreated collecting alms.

When I recollect those days, I can tell the fright the story of ‘hanuman pandaram’ aroused in us. But it must have helped many parents to arrest and control their children.

I can liken that fear of Hanuman –pandaram with the scaremongering of the Modi led malice about Muslims and minorities. Like then, when the purpose was served- kids could be controlled and brought to heel, today, the population and societies have been effectively divided and suspicions writ large. The Hindutva agenda has been smoothly accomplished.

Growing up and now after more than half the life span gone by, I cannot for a moment recollect one instance where I was hounded or discriminated against, only because I was born Hindu. It amuses me to hear people parrot what has been fed to them, that the Hindu is under threat in his own country. I dare one person of my age or even younger to come forward and clarify what exactly is the threat he or she faced.

As a kid I went to temples, vied to be in the forefront of the jostling and elbowing devotees so that I could ring the temple bells when the priests threw open the doors of the sanctum of Sanctorum; as a child, I could even go into the chapel in the school and observe nuns kneeling down with piety in prayer and with pity I would gaze at the crucified Christ, then wonder about the saints and the frescos that adorned the chapel. No one forced me to attend catechism classes in school. When I was in my teens I could, and out of my own volition begin to question the frivolity of supplicating to Gods and even forever put stop to temple going as a devotee. And to grow up as a person exhibiting free will, thought and decisions, (albeit certainly a rebel), is a unique experience which takes a little bit of resolve. Fortunately, I wasn’t too bad with that! I did not see the need to question or worry about the church-going friends or Abdul Harris –the school mate who even confessed and showed us to our amusement and wonder his circumcised penis. That did not make us feel he was different. We would eagerly wait for the Christmas cake from a friend of my grandfather, and that arrived unfailingly on every Xmas eve.

Where was the threat to me? Later, not even to my children who had their entire schooling as boarders run by St. Georges Homes in Ooty. It was our decision to write to the school principal that we had no objection in our children attending holy mass on Sundays at the school chapel. Mercifully “love jihad” or “holy crusades” had not arrived in Kerala when I broke ranks and married a catholic and it is (32 years to the date on August 23, tomorrow).

My Hindu-ness has not worn out or diminished, whatever that may be. But fortunately, by not fretting to know what it was and not caring to safeguard that mirage, it gave immense peace that no Gods or places of worship can give.

Yes, twice in my life and both occasions in my early teens I was stalked, accosted, and cajoled to convert. First by the local RSS Sakha bosses and then by the neighbourhood senior who along with the then SFI leader showed up at my gate to enroll me as an active SFI member.

The former was strangely abhorrent even then and the latter not inspiring enough.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Lieutenant General .R.Gopal

It has been a long ride on the road for many of us in the decades that went by after college. A rollercoaster to me personally. But what gives immense pleasure is when you see close friends go up the road, steadily, and (it may seem) effortlessly. The pleasure, the satisfaction one gets to see friends scaling heights in their career is so immense that you must love it to feel it.
One such mate is leaving the Indian Army today. Another bloke will retire from the State Bank of India tomorrow as the Chief General Manager. KT.Ajith the bibliophile, quintessential Kannur leftist liberal (if I may) who cast away what could have also have been a promising career as a Chartered Accountant and joined the SBI mid-stream.
But Lieutenant General Gopal.R UYSM, AVSM, SM of the 8 Gorkha Rifles stands out. Lieutenant General R Gopal held the reins of the prestigious Spear Corps. Spear Corps is one of the largest and operationally active Corps of the Indian Army and headquartered in Dimapur, Nagaland.
Lieutenant General Gopal R, (Retired) is an alumnus of the IMA, Higher Command Courses, and the National Defence College. He has had an illustrious career encompassing command, staff & instructional appointments including those of commanding an Infantry Battalion on the Siachen Glacier, a mountain brigade, and an Assam Rifles Range in South Assam. He was one of the first members of the team which established the Defence Command and Staff College at Botswana.
Gopal stands out unique for tethering himself to one solitary goal in life- a career as a commissioned officer in the Army and to succeed. He indeed did that enviably! His love for the Army, his ambition, his dedication, and the uncompromising attachment to the only goal in his life- to be a soldier! It was a sole obsession unlike what many others like me harboured. And what makes the position he retires worthy as no diamond can be is that he has had a satisfying and proud career spanning 40 years. A soldier who chose the infantry as an obsession!
I first saw him while we were in the Model High School, Thiruvanathapuram and interactions may not have happened because I was a different fish and had other friends and priorities than being obsessed with lessons or the NCC. Later, while I was in the Mahatma Gandhi College, I saw him pass by every afternoon at 3.40 pm precisely on his bicycle. Speeding back home from MarIvanios College. We used to greet him every day with howls and catcalls. He would shyly smile and wiz past, sometimes in his NCC uniform. Those days we would yell,”pattalam”.Now, I can audaciously mention that I’m among the couple or three who dare call him “pattalam”, even to this day.
Two years later we were in the same class at Marivanios College. And since those days I have seen him at the close quarters as the paradigm of dedication and honesty. He has limited fascinations and indulgences unlike most of us, and perhaps what that dominates his attention is gathering information. Sometimes one feels the guy is trying to know too many things. Idiosyncrasies!
A teetotaler. Perhaps most of his quota of spirits were utilised for me. I cannot forget one instance many years ago when I was in Thiruppr. Those days’ mobile phones were yet to be outside science fiction. He sent me a postal mail that his Gorkha would be passing Thiruppur (time mentioned along with the train number) and would I collect a crate of beer from him. Did I need any persuasion? Though the train arrived late by about 8 hours, I could see a diminutive Nepali Gorkha standing on the platform just outside a compartment with the crate of beer and holding aloft a placard with my name on it.
The melee and furore that preceded his train journey in 1980 to New Delhi for the interview and selection process to the IMA are still vivid. An inebriated TTE who tried to finesse his travel almost got strangulated by a furious and incensed young Gopal. For the drunken man was shattering his only dream, and would he for the love of God let someone do that and have his way? Fortunately, the situation was mollified and he could travel on the train with no restraint.
The bloke will seek his old classmates wherever they might be and visit them during his vacation here in Thiruvananthapuram. This is a unique character and seldom have I seen this in any other.
I, Christy, and Aravind can never forget the Royalty we were when we spent a few days in his bungalow in Dimapur as his guest in 2018 December. It was rather awkward and embarrassing to us when the sentries at his gate saluted us each time we went out for a stroll, or whenever they saw us lounge outside on the lawn. As ordinary civilians that were too heavy for us to bear. But looking back, we felt proud to be his friends and guest. It was that unique status that mattered. The many times we spent with him in Wellington, Conoor while he was a Major and a student at the Staff College, and later as Lt. Colonel and Colonel there, are unforgettable.
If I were to suggest a marquis to aspiring young folks, I would suggest Lt. General Gopal R (Retired). For his uncompromising ambition, the earnest efforts put in to achieve his goal, the dedication, sincerity, and honesty with which he accomplished his role.
Welcome mate into the world of civilians and that of social media you had to avoid all along. And the honour of continuing to be “Pattalam” for many of us is solely yours.
It’s with a lot of pride, mate,that I end.
(I just called Raji his wife, and she told me she was at home waiting for him and he is in his office in South Block ).