Monday, March 31, 2008


The pre-Independence era. ‘British Malabar’ was part of Madras Presidency. A Legislative Council was formed by the government representing different segments of the ‘subjects’. My uncle K was elected by the landed gentry to represent them and protect their interests. He was on the right side of 40 then.

K’s life had an interesting twist. He was studying medicine at Madras Medical College. When he was his 2nd year, his uncle who was looking after the affairs of the affluent matriarchal family died of snakebite. This put an abrupt end to his education because there was no other male member to control the vast estate and huge assets. He was all of 21 when he ascended to the position of ‘Karanavar’.

Having been exposed to urban life unlike his predecessors who had lived all along in villages, K thought differently. He joined the Indian National Congress and involved himself in the independence movement. He constructed a small building close to the market to house a reading room and library. A dispensary was opened with a compounder in attendance who could handle minor indispositions; a doctor would attend the clinic twice a week.

He took pains to upgrade the primary school set up by his ancestors to upper primary and then high school levels. All this was achieved through efficient management of the estate and assets of the family and by deploying the surplus wisely. He toned up the collection of arrears of rent and other receivables and this alone was enough to meet these expenses.

He was benevolent and humane. He would walk distances rather than be carried in palanquins. He had to walk to the nearest railway station in Cannanore to catch the trains to places like Kozhikode, Payyannur and Palghat to meet leaders like K P Kesava Menon, K Madhavanar, Kunhikanna Poduval, et al and to attend meetings. The number of such trips increased when he became an MLC.

As he found the long walk of twelve miles in the hot sun or in the rainy season taxing, he bought a car. In those days, that was one of the few dozen cars in the whole of North Malabar. The bus operator who plied the only bus in Cannanore-Tellicherry route lost his driver Kannan when K poached him offering handsome incentives.

Though it was his private car, K would not hesitate offer lift to passers by. Only, they were not allowed inside the car: they were to stand on the footboard of the 1942 Chevy. Though exposed to the elements, they did not at least have to trudge the distance and saved considerable time.

It was the month of July. Monsoon had unleashed its fury and for two days, there had been no let-up in the rain. The car was on its way back from Cannanore after picking up K who had arrived from Madras after a session of the Legislative Council. The country road was slushy and it was pouring.

On the way, they saw a figure walking in the rain. A basket covered by banana leaves to protect the contents from the rain rested on his head. As they neared him, they identified him as Kumaran, soaked to the skin, obviously on his way back from the town.

Kannan, aware of the boss’ habit of offering lift to pedestrians, enquired, “That is Kumaran on his way home. Shall I offer him a lift?”

“Well, Kumaran? he hasn’t kept his promise of clearing the arrears before this monsoon,” observed K.

“In that case, shall I splash some mud on him?” was the instant response of Kannan. It won’t ever be said that he does not have presence of mind.

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