Mr Chandran, the enterprising science teacher of our village school, believed in inculcating scientific temper in children and sensitizing them about ecology though environment and bio-diversity had not yet become buzz-words. He had novel ideas to make even the drabbest subject appealing. Rather than rely on the illustrations in the book, he would ask bring live specimens of plants and insects. Not for nothing that his peers thought him to be a bit queer.
Items got added to the school laboratory, an apology for one till his advent at little or no cost. On hearing of a snake being killed, he would rush to the site with a jar of Formalin, collect the dead reptile which would then be a hot addition to the laboratory. The nest of the tailor-bird, dried leaves and flowers of every description mounted on cardboard, all came in handy.
It occurred to Mr Chandran that the interest of the children in ecology could be kindled by setting up a Nature Club. The children were awash with ideas: they could go to the nearby wooded area and collect samples of the flowers and the leaves, to the riverside and identify the fishes and undertake a trek to Tirunelli during Onam holidays to see the diverse flora and the fauna.
When it came to the brass tacks, however, there was a problem: money. These projects needed funds. The idea would not get past the Headmaster who had always thought of Mr Chandran as an eccentric with new-fangled ideas. Even if that was accomplished, there was no chance of getting financial support from the school manager for whom the school was more a profit-centre than a temple of learning.
One of the boys suggested that funds could be mobilized through a collection drive. Some teachers contributed their mite and children chipped in with small change, All that added to a sum too small for their needs.
Perhaps the affluent people of the locality could be touched, someone said. After all, it was a good cause, was it not? So, off they went, to Kumaran Vydyar who ran a thriving Ayurveda clinic, Sankaran Namboodiri the landlord and ‘Vyaghram’ Subbu Iyer the moneylender. Though all were not equally forthcoming, the response was positive.
The next person to be approached was Mammu Haji, who made money by trading in the cash crops of the village. Barely literate though he was, good causes brought out the benevolent man in him.
The children briefly explained their mission to the affluent Haji: founding of the Nature Club in the school which would meet every Monday. Not one to shirk his responsibility to the society, the Haji fished into one of the pockets of the broad green-and-red belt that held his chequered lungi and his corpulent person together, extracted a Rs 1,000 note, thrust it into the leader’s hands, saying, “Why stop with just one ‘neychore’ club? You youngsters should eat well. Set up a Biriyani club which can meet every Friday!”
Footnote: For those uninitiated in Malayalam, the word 'neychore' is a combination of 'ney' (rhyming with ray and meaning ghee) and 'chore' (rhyming with bore and meaning cooked rice) and the dish is exactly that - rice cooked in ghee with the hint of cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. One of the delicacies in North Malabar, specially popular in Muslim households, its aroma is tempting and, to translate a phrase used in such contexts in Kerala, the mere thought of it would leave one salivating enough to 'launch a thousand ships' - like good ol' Cleo's face is supposed to have done. So what is if it adds a couple of thousand calories and a centimetre or two to your girth?