They never rolled their beedies in their domestic cottages purported to be a cottage industry under Government Statute but the beedi manufacturing was done in large beedi companies .Such companies in our village boasted workers number which hovered over a hundred .They all sat on the floor in a large hall (a misnomer being a three walled space ) which had a roadside frontage which could be shuttered in the evening with portable wooden panels . The heavy wooden frame on four sides of the shutters held them safe especially when the top and bottom ends of the wooden panels got into deep groves in the frame.The entire length of the frontage did’t ran a ‘ monolithic’ framework instead they were parcelled out into multiple independent frame works .
Each roller had a bamboo pan(Muram) kept on his lap which held his raw materials of beedi leaves , ground tobacco leaves and roll of threads .They went about rolling beedies and tying them with a uniform lengths of tenuous threads rather effortlessly never breaking a collective rhythm of the manufacturing unit .But one person was spared from work whose wage he would surely get in the evening . His colleagues having gladly chipped in with a share from their own wages, pittance though they were by all means .The work shirkers needed to have certain qualifying capabilities .They should be literate enough to read,at least vocally healthy to read much aloud and in order to sustain in this unique calling they needed to have enough pleasure quotient in the task of perusal for the public .What was read aloud were some two to three Malayalam news papers . No item of news was overlooked . But all news items did not receive equal attention. Those related to politics were zeroed in on with extra breath force and most often such news elicited high decibel vocal responses from the audience and the reader too would join the chorus .These reactions were not rouge hecklers’ shallow voiceovers instead they were bench marked news analysis .The reader would never lose his cool in the face of this interruption and he would navigate to other news item only on the unhurried conclusion of one episode of this piecemeal disputation.
Old Kuttiyappan in birth suit except for a skimpy loin wear was a farm ‘oligarch’whoes rice paddy he got free ,for a left leaning government turned his tenancy into bonafide ownership overnight . He sat in his wooden chair on all his fours ,a pair of his much emaciated asses and feet the terminus of his twigish legs completely bent at the ankle joint . He held his much scanty bent legs in a tight manual hug making the chair appear roomy enough to seat yet another apparition of his physical facsimile. Being consumptive was the last thing on his mind that would turn him plaintive .His locked over hands unshackled themselves only to transport beedi to and from his beedi sucking mouth .Some two newspapers lied on a table nearby with the sheaf of their sheets all in disarray,which could be the result of the reading ‘public’ doing cursory references to them whenever Kuttyappan held his flash courts almost throughout the day .
Post emergency in1977 Morarji Desai the leader of Janatha party became the Priminister of India . A Non Congress dispensation at the centre had not been anybody’s idea till that point of free India’s history .The beedi company think tank had a harrowing time and hectic secessions of polemic went well past three in the afternoon but to remain inconclusive and a tenable forecast turned out to be elusive regarding the likely fallout of the much strange political development .That day’s turn over of their merchandise nosedived which actually was’t their problem instead an intelligent forecast missing definitely was. Hitting the apex referral personage became obligatory and a headlong passage to Kuttyappan’s took place .A score of ill clad beedi workers fell silent as they stood flanked their oracle who was all set to brighten up their dark . They had put their question in chorus but Kuttiyappan kept his sedate self .After a brief tense wait Kuttiyappan’s robust voice rose breaking the silence and it was a trite ‘this Government would burst like an Avittu’ and to paraphrase, it would take a smooth upward trajectory only to explode into smithereens at its point of apogee. Kuttiyappan’s legion of faithfuls decoded the message , made a quick exit finding peace in the certitude of the prophesy .The Master was proved right the Janatha party formed the Government eventlessly but a few months into rule internecine battles broke out which culminated in its virtual explosion into several tiny particles of splinter outfits which defied count .
Krishnankutty owned a barbershop in the Mofussil town of Alathur . Though short statured he could be dubbed portly . He wore Khadi mundu and shirt of spotless white which scarcely turned even slightly off white despite his constant leaning against his custom’s body parts which were by no means a match to his own benchmarked unsoiled cleanliness . Besides his white dress invariably took some hirsute load on itself despite his deft scissors welding but this occupational hazard took no toll on his neat appearance nor anyway marred his gentlemanly aura .My father always patronised his shop and we two brothers too went under Krishnankutty’s scissors if our scalps too synchronised with our Dad’s level of cut worthy hair growth at such visits . My father’s interest in contemporary politics was very deep and he took delight in sharing it with like minded people.Barbar Krishnankutty by then was in his early sixties and uncharacteristic of his class erudite politically and in general awareness . As he went about doing his work my father and he spoke spiritedly about current affairs mainly politics savouring each others much thought out observations without rancour .At that time many teashops ,Barbar shops etc sported instructions in prodigious font ‘ Do not talk politics ‘ on their premises .It was done to preempt unruly behaviour and to keep their mercantile activities unharmed.
For me it was an extremely edifying experience and I heard about the Kamaraj Plan at that time and though much of its details went beyond my boyish grasp it indeed was a delectable exposure to the pleasures of politics.
Kareem Annan was known to be upfront and it proved the corner stone of his credibility though he dabbled in the match making business ( brokering of matrimonial alliances ) where the operators often took to much devious speech as they hard sold their ‘Human Resource ‘ to their clientele. A beedi roller by profession his swan song was felt to be in the offing courtesy of mild vision impairment at slow but sure pace to make the song more audible besides his arthritic fingers little retained its former glib movements. So his search for additional means of livelihood landed him one in which renumeration came in ‘princely’ sums though at erratic intervals .But his avocations didn’t stand in his way of his resorting to losing himself in the orgy of his passion which was nothing but international politics . The mainstay of his daily news binge was news items and articles in the newspapers that dealt with global political affairs . Once he mentioned quite casually how Eisenhower disembarked from his Presidential Motorcade at Erattakulam to watch the beauty of a brimming eponymous large pond by the side of the road and the green paddy lands beyond
Drenched in copious monsoon rains . But his audience at the teashop didn’t take the bait not deliberately but the sheer incomprehension of the farmhands accounted for this lukewarm response.
But a cub beedi roller who too was among the worthless scum got alerted to the mind-boggling significance of the sensational news but he was too young to take up the matter with the much elderly Kareem Annan on his own . So he slipped out in haste to pass this tiding of a lifetime to Muthalavi Annan who happened to be a political polymath .Muthalavi stood towering at his six plus and unlike others in the beedi guild was matchingly corpulent too. He called it a day at the local lower primary school after he just aced the grade two year end examination. Grinding poverty and the pointlessness of continuing education in the face of the need for self support between them enforced this dropping out at his little regret though .
Muthalavi decamped from his house as soon as the Presidential visit was made known to him by that much exited boy . But the ‘big ‘man’s wife proved red-herring because their three year old son was laid up with severe fever and diarrhoea and the couple was about to take him to the doctor’s office. A dejected Muthalai but ‘hunted down’ Kareem Annan without much lapse of time.When quizzed upfront Kareem came up with the details that the President was travelling by road from Cochin to Coimbatore and on the way the visit happened.Little convinced Muthalavi took his investigative grilling further ahead like how could have the President made his way to Cochin , an untenable derouting from the national capital and as per Muthalavi’s knowledge the President visited India in December 1959 and then how could our village landscape wear water soaked spectacle of immense beauty to act as a compulsive lure to the President. In the face of this barrage of pertinent questions Kareem’s confidence eroded and so he took asylum behind the façade of irritability before unilaterally abandoning the heckler in a split second . Kareem’s hasty exit had Muthalavi and his little ‘informer’ in splits. President Dwight D Eisenhower was the first US President to visit India and it took place as was rightly presumed by Muthalavi in December (9th to 11th ) 1959.
One evening Krushchave our neighbour grew intractably ballistic as he buttonholed me . The installation ceremony of a statue of SreeNarayanaGuru ( a temperance fiend as no other besides being a diehard an anti – caste and creed champion )was just over by 3pm on the day in question . Krushchave had been the custodian of the statue ever since it had been delivered some four months ago and been kept in his decommissioned shop space with all the attention and care at his command.But as soon as the ceremony was over none stayed back to buy Krushchave his two stiff shots of much looked forward to alcohol as a mark of gratitude . In the local political lingo the man was more known as Krushchave than in his christian ( or rather Hindu) name , his bald head and squat physique won him the Russian Namesake.
The year 1969 was a watershed in the history of free India for in the wake of efforts to upstage her Indira Gandhi put in place several progressive reforms such as Bank Nationalisation ,stopping of privy purse of rulers of India’s defunct princely states etc. One ‘Soda Rajan’ who ran a utility store and soda manufacturing unit at our village ‘town’ centre stood astoundingly impressed with Indira Gandhi’s ( then PM) Bank Nationalisation programme especially . He thought up an idea to felicitate Mrs Gandhi and so he went to our neighbouring village of Kavassery along with some of his congress party friends to place an order for two large bundles of very specially made Pappads which they would sent to the PM as a token of their great approval of her freshly minted maverick initiative.Much enthralled Pappad makers delivered the gift packed high quality substance of priministerial repast free of cost though they weren’t well off enough to forego the significant sum it would easily fetch. Since Rajan and company couldn’t share the privilege of the act they kept up the pressure to make the pappad manufacturing people accept the price gladly offering a premium too but the latter didn’t budge.The Congressmen kept their fingers crossed and felt that now they could be able to bask in the glory of self activated publicity to their much ingenious mode of thanksgiving.
SankaraMani Ettan was a CPI( Communist Party of India) ideologue and hence CPI(M) (Communist Party of India Marxist )was an anathema to him. His Party leader the very cerebral C Achutha Menon had an unbroken chiefminiterial tenure of some seven years starting from the immediate pre Emergency time right in to the closure of the very same period of internal Emergency .At that time CPI was in the congress camp .Post Emergency election to the Kerala Assembly saw EMS, the Communist Stalwart and ideologue , locked in Electoral battle in Alathur Assembly Constituency which except for once had proved a Red Bastion.That time around one Vijayagaghavan a congress candidate was all set to pick up the Electoral gauntlet against the Communist Titan .All expected the Goliath to romp home with an all time fabulous tally.As the counting began the two candidates fared a neck and neck and by the time the counting activity hit its last phase the puny congress candidate showed certain signs of upward swing and Sankara Mani Ettan who was closely following the counting on the radio went berserk with joy , put on his best clothes and was footing it out at break neck to the bus stop and some acquaintance on the way asked him where he was to in such an unusual haste . SankaraMani Ettan didn’t stand to answer instead in a fit of great triumphalism in slightly slackened pace declared that he was out to lend his manual mite as people took EMS cemetery wards. Much disparagingly he added that he was at the ready to put an end to the tree hoping politics (maram chadi rashtreeyam) of EMS.At the bus stop he saw his fellow comrades getting down from the bus . His eager enquiry with them met up with a bombshell that EMS had won. The great communist was just scraping through with just 2000 votes .
My colleague Johnny informed the school office that he would be on leave the following day and since he was who lent a helping hand to prepare our salary bill every month end the day he foretold about his absence indeed was one he was all set to begin the work and so in trepidation the clerk asked him why he was absenting out .He pointed his accusing finger towards me for he had seen me engaged in a talk with Mr.Vasu whose bicycle rental was on the road front and he saw us as he passed the place by bus in the morning of his day of leave submission and that day I had not gone to work .At that time (1991) Gorbachev had come up with his twin pills of Glasnost and Perestroika to cure USSR of its ill of decades old regimentation . Johnny presumed that Vasu and myself were in its discussion and on the following day I would harangue them with the subject in the staff room and hence his effort to steer clear of the brunt .To be fair to him he guessed it all right for in the light of long years of togetherness people would come to know one-another like the back of their hands .
In wistful hindsight the village has long lost its former enabler of curiosity which skilled its virtually untaught denizens in ‘world affairs’ which if put in perspective will turn the much educated new generation green with envy.