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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Subaltern Reminiscences of Calicut's recent history - as told by Sri C Rairu Nair

Sri Rairu Nair, aged 92, has been a witness to history at the local and national level. He has been associated with Gandhi, Nehru, Subhas Bose and other stalwarts at the national level and with AKG, EMS, Pinarayi Vijayan, Nayanar, CH Kanaran and others at the local level. His reminiscences, titled 'Aa Pazhayakaalam' (Those Olden Days) makes interesting reading about the history of freedom struggle in a provincial town like Calicut.
Born in a well-to-do family in Pinarayi, Kannur district, Sri Rairu Nair was inspired by the freedom struggle and abandoned his studies at the age of 15. He left home and landed up in Allahabad at the Anand Bhavan to meet Nehru. He was directed from there to Wardha where he met Gandhi at the Sevagram. Gandhi enrolled him at the Maganwadi vocational centre for boys being run by J C Kumarappa. He continued there and even attended as a volunteer the Tripuri Congress and witnessed the election and subsequent humiliation of Subhash Bose.
Returning home in 1939, he resumed his studies at Tellicherry and later at the Malabar Christian College, Calicut. He got appointed as the Secretary of the Nallalam P C C Society which was responsible for procurement of rice and other controlled commodities.
The rest of the book is occupied by narration of his friendship with several Communist leaders of Kerala and his reflections on life. Mr. Nair comes out as a brilliant raconteur, particularly while recording minute changes in the day-to-day life of ordinary persons. Some examples from the book:
- He observes that the caste system was more rigid in his native Kannur district and this extended to attire and even the provision of services. For instance, both upper caste and lower caste persons would normally use mundu, woven by Chaliyars;but there is a distinction between them in the length of the mundu. Those who belonged to lower castes wore what was called aararakkaal mundu while the upper caste wore ezharakkaal mundu. Upper caste women would wear a mundu called iratta which had a red border woven into the centre of the cloth. Lower caste women wore what was known as kaachi.
- Laundry of upper castes was done by the veluthedan community, while that of lower castes was attended to by the vannaan community.  There were three different community of barbers: the naasiyans who served the upper castes, the kaavuthiyans who catered to the lower castes and ossans for the Muslims. It is difficult to imagine the severity of the obnoxious social hierarchy which existed less than a hundred years ago!
- Similarly, he speaks of the humble tender coconut shell which used to be a multi-purpose vessel during his childhood: it used to be a receptacle for neighbours who borrow buttermilk from his mother; it was used to carry sand by students who used to  study in schools in the pre-slate era; it was even used to carry toddy by the local tipplers.
The book is a fabulous collection of his reminiscences about great leaders of the Communist Party and every incident is peppered with his comments on the contrast between the simple style of those leaders and the ostentation of the present generation of politicians. Some examples:
- He had known A K Gopalan since 1936. AKG was once admitted to a Calicut hospital and the author visited him there in the company of a friend. While leaving, the friend offered some money to AKG for his treatment. An angry AKG told him to take it back and said to Rairu Nair: I gladly accept hospitality of anyone without distinction of caste or political affiliation. But I accept money only for the Party. Illness is my personal affair and I cannot accept any financial help for this.
- C H Kanaran was a stalwart of the Communist Party in Malabar who served the party with dedication and without any expectation of position or power. Rairu Nair had been invited for the wedding of Kanaran's daughter and while visiting the house offered a gold sovereign (8 grams) to the bride. Kanaran  got angry and told Rairu Nair to take back the present, have a cup of tea and clear out. He sternly said: I had not invited you for such mischief.
- He paints a picture of KPR Gopalan as a bold and sincere loyalist of the party (unfortunately, he had to leave the party later due to ideological differences). He recalls how KPR and some others including Rairu Nair himself, stormed into the office of Deshabhimani, drove away the CPI workers there and forcibly occupied the press. When the editor Induchoodan, P R Nambiar and K Kanaran ( who belonged to the CPI after the split) returned from their lunch break, they saw KPR Gopalan in the editor's seat and had no option but to scoot. Thus, Deshabhimani became the mouthpiece of CPM.
- Capt. Krishnan Nair was facing some labour problems in his textile unit in Kannur. N E Balaram, the CPI leader help to resolve the issue. Later, when Capt. Krishnan Nair met Balaram at the Kannur Guest House, he thought of presenting Balaram with a costly Montblanc pen. Balaram politely refused to accept the luxury gift.
- The most interesting observation is about Jenab M. Abdurahman Saheb, the charismatic leader of the Congress Party. Rairu Nair narrates how the Chalappuram Congressmen ( Kozhippurath Madhava Menon, U Gopala Menon, K A Damodara Menon, Ambalakkat Karunakara Menon and A V Kuttimalu Amma) were jealous of Mohammed Abdurahman's charismatic leadership and his oratory. They conspired to keep him away from the limelight.  Like Abdurahman, his protege P P Ummar Koya was also a straight forward and honest leader, and like his mentor he also faded away from public life into oblivion!

One hopes others like Rairu Nair who have watched public life of Calicut from the grandstand come forward and record their reminiscences which will be a great contribution to the history and culture of our city.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting collection of reminiscences, I suppose...
    Subaltern history always makes interesting reading,

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Maddy. Kerala Council of Historical Research (KCHR) had some time back attempted to codify local history by inviting families to write their histories. But, one hears that most of these turned out to be hagiographic accounts of imagined ancestry where irrespective of the religion, writers claimed ancestry from either royalty, St. Thomas or the Prophet! KCHR should locate people in public life like Rairu Nair who have not always basked in the artificial media glory but who have watched life from close quarters and record their reminiscences. More that 12 % of Kerala's population is above 60 years of age and this is a goldmine of reminiscences!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you, Maddy. Kerala Council of Historical Research (KCHR) had some time back attempted to codify local history by inviting families to write their histories. But, one hears that most of these turned out to be hagiographic accounts of imagined ancestry where irrespective of the religion, writers claimed ancestry from either royalty, St. Thomas or the Prophet! KCHR should locate people in public life like Rairu Nair who have not always basked in the artificial media glory but who have watched life from close quarters and record their reminiscences. More that 12 % of Kerala's population is above 60 years of age and this is a goldmine of reminiscences!

    ReplyDelete

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