My father was a schoolteacher and back then schoolteachers were paid very little. One of my earliest childhood memories revolved around my father selling his land and whatever little reserves he had to treat me when I became fatally ill. Another memory has to be his love for walking. Even I remember walking 6-7 kilometres daily to Koothambulli school. Metaphorically I can say that I have had to walk a lot in my life. I have only seen my father wear whites, never in colourful shirts. Years later I realised why he did that—then no one will query about the fewer shirts he had.
He had a keen sense of humour and was an excellent storyteller. Children loved listening to him. I think I first heard of Christmas carols from him. His narration was so visual that we could picture the images so vividly.
Till I reached my adult life, I haven’t really seen my father buy anything for himself. He would keep repairing his old pair of chappals multiple times. They used to call him a miser. But I knew why he was so stingy as he had to spend a lot of money on his three children’s ailments during various stages of their lives. Only we knew that he never splurged for himself as he was too busy saving for us.
When I told him about joining films, he never dissuaded me. All he asked Director Kamal was if I would be able to make a living with this job. When Kamal sir assured him, he didn’t bother to ask for a second opinion. That was enough reassurance. At Ottappalam, people were already talking about my foolish career choice. They were certain I was making the biggest mistake of my life. But my father never paid heed to such talks. Maybe he had belief in my talents.
I was hardly a bright student in college and never really got home those big grades. But when I started fending for myself by distributing newspapers and running a newspaper agency, my father apparently told my mom not to worry about my future. “He gets up at 3 am to distribute the newspapers. That shows he has focus and determination. I am sure he will take care of himself.”
When I was studying for my pre-degree, he took me to Palakkad Bishop Father Irumban and requested him to bless me. He had immense respect for Father Irumban as he was a saint. After blessing me, he asked me to wait outside and had a long discussion with my father.
Years later he told me what Father Irumban told him. I had asked him why he didn’t discourage me when I wanted to be an assistant director in films, and he said Father Irumban had vouched for me. “Remember I had told you to wait outside that day? He said not to worry about your future and that you are perfectly capable to take care of yourself. Let him watch films if he likes them. You don’t stand in his way,” that’s what my father told me.
Interestingly it’s much later in life that we have shared such little miracles that happened between us. There is a Dr. John who once did surgery on my hand. He was an atheist. During the time of surgery, he told my father— “I don’t believe in God. But if you do please pray for your son. Because as a human, I have only 1% hope in this surgery.” But my father didn’t lose hope, he prayed fervently and a year and a half later everything became fine in my family. Dr. John told my father—“Maybe there is God and he is listening to you.” My father replied—“Yes, Doctor there is God and maybe he appeared in your form in front of us. That’s whom we call God.” These are some of the miracles that have happened in my life and my father has been a prime witness to them.
He would watch all my films FDFD at Palakkad. He would always be anxious. He was ecstatic after watching Meesha Madhavan. There were a lot of characters in that film who were from our village—“You will get thrashings from them,” he quipped.
He was also my biggest critic and had no qualms in telling me that he disliked certain films and as to why he didn’t like them. He wouldn’t really go deep into analyzing them but was sure that if he didn’t like them, he was sure the audience too would be sharing his opinion.
We were great friends and would share everything that happened in our lives. We would even share drinks. But when his health started to deteriorate, we had to make sure he reduced his alcohol intake. Then we made it one peg a month. I remember my father sheepishly standing next to me before dinner, hoping for a serving of alcohol, and how I would gently discourage him.
In hindsight, it was strange at home. I would mostly be in my room and my father in his. Verandah was our meeting point. He would be sitting at the Verandah staring outside. I would be sitting next to him reading a book. When he would simply sit and stare at nothingness, I would ask him to read a book. “You won’t understand. After a stage, you lose the will to read and would just want to do nothing. Right now this is what I want to do.”
The only wish he had was to have a guava tree near the house and to pluck them at leisure. Since that looked unlikely, I would tell him that I will pluck guava from a tree that wasn’t too far from our house. We would often discuss farming and he would talk about the time of adding manure and the plants that don’t require water. He was always a treasure trove of old stories. I have often scribbled some of his tales about the freedom struggle and the events that happened in the village. But I don’t know where I kept them. I would make him narrate it, about his childhood, the people he met, about Ayurveda and such things. Even that song in Pattalam “Sau Saalu Pahle” which Mammootty sings is actually something that has happened in his life. So many such stories.