When did I start writing?
When I start learning “Seek hide”
Yes. Hiding my pain-pain and agony of my life.
So when did it start?
I do not know.
27 January 1968…I am born.
Someone showed me an ocean – or an ocean like blue – if you look with a smile it is like a
clear sky. If you look with a grin, it is dark and mysterious.
Does it resemble life?
No. Not at all. Life has to roll over it. A voice echoed.
This is the task. Go… Go...Sail through this bluish wild. Reach out the other side. But
remember – the other side is where you are now.
And before you go…
Here it is, sixth fingers each on your palm. Cut it off when you reach the boat. Touch its roots
when you feel any pain. Many furious squall may come. Waves may roll over to sink you. But
sail on ….sail on… And sail on…
On the high seas
Here is the pen
Hold it firm by heart
Sailing the high seas
I remember being a dreamer in childhood. I had my kindergarten studies at Sarah Tucker Nursery and Primary School in Palayamkottai, Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu, India. That was in the year 1972-1973. I have only fade Memories of my childhood at Tirunelveli. But I remember being the fondest student of my class teacher. I always found a seat in front of and near my teacher and enjoyed all privileges otherwise not enjoyed by my class mates. It seems that from that junction of life, I started to be bestowed upon respect by my class mates, colleagues or fellow travelers. When people around you consider you to be a different or extraordinary, they start showing respect which slowly peel off the envelope of love and togetherness. An extraordinary person will never be loved by anyone. He will be alone and alone throughout his life even though he seems to be surrounded by loved ones. His companion would be dreams. I remember dreaming about many things which in my life I found materializing. While I was in St Roch’s Convent, Trivandrum Kerala, India pursuing my primary school studies, I dreamed of having a radio like object on which my mother can see me what I am doing in school. My mother used to tell that she has an invisible eye to see me while I am in school. She asked me not to do any mischiefs in school, but study. I knew that is impossible. Even though I thought of such instrument, I thanked for not having such an instrument through which mother can see me while I am away from home. During interval time, I go near the compound wall of the school. School is near to the sea shore and an airport. I will sharpen my ears to hear the hush-gush sound of the waves. The salty air rub my hair and face. I feel the sweat. I visualized the sea trying in vain to attain something. His legs are tied under the deep. Even though the sea is mighty and ferocious, he is helpless. No one understand him. Everyone come to the sea shore and admires the beauty of the sea, enjoys the sunrise and sunset. But no one perceives his grief. Later in my life, I found these happen to all. Particularly it happens to me…
“When my heart is in pain
I wrote these lines recently. I realize to have discovered this truth much earlier in my life.
True it is, the sea and the train had influenced me a lot. My father was an employee in Indian Railways. He was a Station master. So we did lot of travel in trains. Train symbolizes a journey of life. We get in when we are born. We alight when we die. In between the travel, we see many faces. Many faces….
The chak-chak sound of train is in my heart from the childhood. So is the hush- gush of the sea.
Chak chak my life moves on…
Hush – gush I search “you”...
And the search for “you” makes the life eventful
This is my youngest photo I have with me. I do not know date of take and who had taken. I just know that during this time I was in Sarah Tucker Nursery and Primary School in Palayamkottai, Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu, India. My class teacher called me Rajesh Khanna.I never knew who this man was and what his credentials were. But I was happy to be little Rajesh Khanna since it fetched me many favors from teachers.
I could write with a chalk piece on slate, whereas others may write with slate pencils. Also, for dictation on local language, I write answers in English for my own questions. Teachers give pass mark for me. All the time, my seat was near or on the lap of the teacher. During break, the school used to give biscuits to students. Every student gets one biscuit, whereas they gave me two.
I slowly learned that Rajesh Khanna is a film celebrity and becoming a celebrity brings undue laurels to you. Yearning to become popular may have crept from this incident. I fantasied acting in films of my own. All stories are mine in which I am the hero, always on a horse. To be frank, I never learned horse-riding.
I was always fond of making title scenes and climax scenes. All these scenes had a gigantic tree with great height. I always feel that this tree is praying to GOD with its hands raised up to the sky.Many told
I remember little about my schooling in Tirunelveli. Also, I do not have an enough memory about my stay at Tamilnadu. We stayed in upstairs of two storied- line building.
Once I and my sister was playing throwing the towel towards the rotating fan. We enjoyed the way it whirls the towel around and its fall down by the rotation of the fan blades.
Suddenly mother entered the room, and she switched off the fan. The towel also disappeared. She started scolding me for playing with electricity and fan. My sister acted innocence and so my mother spared her from the scolding.
But my inquisitiveness was to find where the towel has gone. I asked mother.
“Where is the towel?”
“It went inside the fan”
It surprised me.
How and where it would have gone?
Many days when no one was there, I tried to make towels disappear by throwing to the rotating fan and switching off the fan suddenly. But no expected outcome resulted.
I perceived from this age itself to think differently and convince yourselves. Also, I understood to be ready to take on responsibility for doing mischiefs, even though you do it in a group or for a group. You are always alone.
Unexpectedly, we returned from Tirunelveli to Trivandrum. Unusually our travel was in a bus. I still remember this as my first longest bus travel of about 4 hours and 160 kilometers. Though the bus we alighted was a colorful one, I missed the Chak Chak of the train.
We did not have an owned house in Trivandrum. So I think we started living in a rented house near Pettah railway station and then we switched house to West fort.
The house near Pettah railway station gave the sight of the train and its magnanimous sound of arrival and leaving. We could feel the vibration inside the house while the train pass by. The only concern I had is that the washroom is a little farther and has to walk through a corridor. The corridor has mesh and I could see outside. At night there were movements of shadow outside, of course it is nothing but the movement of leaves of coconut tree. Somehow a thought came into me: they were spirits hovering around our house.
My sister always got a company of my mother and she enjoyed the safety and care of my mother.
On most of the days, I preferred not to go to washroom before sleep and longed for the day to come quickly. Later I found solution myself for this by considering the spirits as my friends. Jokingly I say spirits are friendlier than living beings even now.
Instead of the teacher at Sarah Tucker School, I had three elder girls of a family who were very fond of me. I learned from them I am cute. They pinch my nose and say “cute”. I thought they relate it to nose.
Later in my life of literature, both spirits and cute nose had influenced much. My writings give a reflection that they appear in different forms and imageries.
My next session of studies in grade one started at St Roch’s Convent, Trivandrum. As I told earlier, it was near the sea and airport. On the first day of joining, I unclasped the hand of my uncle and ran away from school. He ran after me to catch me. But I was quick enough that he could take hold of me only from the seashore. I never remember this, but my mother used to tell others even when I grew up.
Vimala teacher was my Malayalam teacher, and I was very poor in my language. I used to get zero for test papers. She asked me to “show this enormous egg to your mother”. I was so innocent that I took that paper and gave to mother telling that teacher told to show the enormous egg she drew on my paper. But I was fond of that teacher for one and only one reason. One day, I wore a green shirt with full of buttons stitched on it. She liked that costume and called me to the front and told everyone how handsome I am. From that day I realized, to get attention you have to be different.
My mother usually warns me not to do any mischiefs at school. I don’t remember doing any mischiefs at schools. I used to walk alone in intervals around the campus. But when my mother reminds me about not doing mischiefs, a thought came to my mind. It is lucky that there is no camera or TV like thing in school through which mother can see. I knew about camera from studios and TV displayed in Trivandrum museum.
From grade 3, we have red, green, blue, silver and gold star as ranking. They award red to failed students, those up to 50% green, up to 60% blue, up to 75% silver and the highest scorer gold. If you get gold in all examinations, you will be the best student of the year. I had a competitor- a girl. She is from my neighborhood. I was not consistent in my studies. But my friend was very brilliant, she scored gold in all exams. But occasionally I would score the highest mark and will drop her chance to become the best student. So she would not talk to me. To be very frank, I talked to her only at my age of 45.
We were also school bus mates. One day while returning from school, a film celebrity K. P. Ummer of Kerala film industry overtook our bus. He waved at students. Many returned. I didn’t. But on next day my rival girl friend raised a complaint to the Class teacher. She alleged me and my friend put our hands outside the bus window and waved at this celebrity. Class teacher reported to head teacher, and she came with a long cane.
She beat me for this mischief. I do not remember how many times her cane swiped across my thigh. But not a drop of tear came from me. I told myself. I had not done this. So this is not for me. It is for her. It is for her.
From that onwards I disliked girls. Girls will tell lies for their advantage. This was my perception.
I must also admit another girl came to me during interval and told.
“Don’t be sad. Did it pain?”
I said “No”
“I was crying”
Yes! Girls have distinct faces.
Another day our head teacher realized we both are still rivals. It was on her birthday. She was distributing chocolates to all. The moment she gave the chocolate, I said: “No, I do not want your chocolates”
She again complained to the head teacher. Again the cane swipe came. I did not cry. I was passive. More passive I was more I got. She wanted to make me cry. But she failed.
So the head teacher changed our seat. Next day onwards teachers forced us to sit on the last bench together.
She would move the farthest end and I to the other end. I was naughty enough to wait for a moment to come. Suddenly and unnecessarily, I stood up for asking a doubt. Since all her weight was on one side, bench overturned. I intentional and secretly with my leg jogged it further. She fell down.
My mother told. “You are cruel”
I retorted. “She misused the trust of the head teacher and got me punished”
My father told. “Be just and fair to those who punish you too, like you are with those who are down. That makes you different.”
This is the big lesson I learned during my childhood.
We lived in Trivandrum city. The major portion of my former life was in West fort, Trivandrum near a temple. Landlords used to construct line houses which have a small reception, a side room, a middle room, a storeroom in its side and dining room and a kitchen on its side. The dining room open to a wash area where we can wash clothes and a toilet. Wash area and toilet are open roofed. Roof of the entire house is tiled and had a false ceiling. False ceiling is almost rusted and big rats and snakes run chasing. Every night we sleep with fear. Even the owner stays next to our house in the same type of line house.
My mother’s relatives are landlords and have plenty of land and paddy fields in the same district. It is about 30 kilometers away. My mother’s grandfather’s nickname is “Crane”. (Cranes are birds with long legs, tall bodies, and sharp, pointy beaks that they use for catching food. They live near wetlands)
There is a story by which he got this name.
Once a newcomer to the village asked one worker. “Whose are these paddy fields?”
The worker’s answer was very simple: Wherever there is Crane, it belongs to my mother’s grandfather. Thus the family got the name “Crane” since most of the paddy fields were owned by my mother's grandfather.
My father’s family is far away in Kanjiramattom, and I had very few opportunities to go there. But my mother used to take us to her ancestral joint family intermittently with much enthusiasm. My father also has to accompany.
Unfortunately, we could not go to Father’s ancestral house.
I had two questions in my mind while I come back from my mother’s house.
One: All my mother’s family members are so rich and they have excellent food. We often take food of government supplies and have to close our nose to avoid the foul smell of rice.
Two: My mother’s grandfather called me “Bengali” even when I was tiny. Nowadays, in Kerala, a lot of workers from West Bengal come as laborers. All migrant laborers in Kerala are called Bengali by Keralites. I thought it is his affection that makes him call me “Bengali”. Later I started doubt about its intention. I felt the intention is not so fair as I thought. Many incidents happened to me from my mother’s family. I complained to my mother. But my mother does not listen or even believe.. She was always with her relatives and I continued to feel as an outsider.
My sister was their pet. The pampered and showered sister with much care and love. When I feel loneliness and sad, I trudged to the backyard of the big campus-like house. Backwaters and beautiful lagoons! I watch them. Many birds whose name I do not know come there. They started talking with me. I considered them as my friends, talked to them and heard them answering me. But I did not realize I am framing a poem or a story inside my consciousness.
I knew my father is watching all these. When he takes me somewhere alone, he tells me stories about people who had suffered humiliation. He tried to convince me it will not defeat me. It was his dream to make me a person to “Do things which others think impossible”
While in grade 4, while I was walking with my father, I asked him.
“Babuji, what do really wanted to be?”
“Publisher and Editor or journalist”
He told. But I did not understand the meaning of these words. I understood it relates to writing.
I assured myself.
“One day I will start a newspaper or magazine and I will fulfill my father’s dream.”
I still remember the place where we had this conversation. It is the shortcut to Varma Travels petrol pump from the SP Fort hospital in Fort junction. Trivandrum.
Although this dream through Litterateur Redefining World and Reflectoem Redefining World realized, my father could not fully involve in this.
During that time, I came to know one more fact about my father. Everyone called him “Kanjiramattom”. I asked him why all call by this name. He answered that during younger days he was a writer and critic and used to publish in various newspapers and magazines. The first litterateur I met is my father. But I had no opportunity to see or read his works. Though I become sad, I decided to be a writer. But I do not know how to become a writer. I was blank.
I changed my school to St Joseph’s High School, Trivandrum, to join the fifth grade. While I was in St Roch’s convent, I went by school bus. But after that I started schooling in Government buses. On some days when I miss the bus, I used to run to the school for reaching in time.
Initially, it was difficult for me at school to adjust, even though many of my classmates from St Roch’s Convent was there. We lived in West Fort, Trivandrum. I used to read newspapers daily. One day news about a dog waiting for his owner at an airport in some foreign country excited me. The household migrated to another country and left their pet dog behind. The dog ran after their car and reached the airport. He understood that his owners who cared and showered love for him alighted a flight. Till then he waited for them near and around the airport. He stays wandering around the airport. Occasionally when a flight lands he runs towards the exit and wait. Finally he goes back moaning.
This news made me sad. The name of the dog was Palma. I started writing a novel based on this theme.
The novel starts with a chapter “Hearty Gift” followed by “The genuine bond”, “Alarm”, “Detective”, “The odd day” and “The orgy”.
The central character was Coney who passed fourth grade like me, who during his birthday celebration got a small puppy as a gift. I had no bigger birthday celebration during my younger days, but I dreamed of my birthday celebration throughout the day and night. Many other characters are there in the novel- all with foreign names. I had a perception that while you write an English novel, the characters and places must be from West. I relied on Atlas to find the name of places and books in school library for names.
In the first part of the novel, all characters are happy, and the events are joyful. But when I started writing the second part, I could not proceed since I felt I am Coney. My tears made me blind and could write the second part. The first novel thus ended with the first part and unseen by anyone. I just passed my tenth birthday during the time I tried this venture.
My next attempt to write was in Grade Six. It is a poetry. I named it “Disobedient lamb”, the popular tale of the lamb who did not hear the word of his mother. It got published in school magazine while I am in Grade Seven under the name “The Naughty Lamb”.
I got appreciation from teachers who never taught me. Teachers who taught me in classes did not even tell a kind word for this poem. Father Dominic Gomez- I met him first and talked for the first time when he came enquiring who Shajil is? It was an exciting moment for me. He told - you will become world famous. The craving for fame- I believe started by his words. I learned a lesson from people who you know and around you will not appreciate any excellent work from you. Instead, those whom you do not know may come appreciating for your works.
At home, my father was very much happy about this poetry and he inspired me to write a lot. He brought books and magazines for me to read. He spoke to me about many eminent writers in Kerala, India and all around the world.
During this time, when I am alone, I used to make lines (lyrics?) in Hindi language and sing aloud as if I am a singer. Unfortunately, I am not a singer. Later on, I made lyrics in all languages I know and sang when I am alone. I felt an unknown presence in with me when I do such things. It is nice to believe a person unknown and disguise like a spirit is with me always to enjoy my creative works.
Around this time, another incident occurred. When I went to buy bread, a Sufi like saint came there. On seeing me, he stared me into my eyes and in lyrical form he said: “You are going to be a God”.
I never wanted to be GOD, but to remain a human. I cried and hid behind the shopkeeper. The unknown man asked: “How long will you hide him?”
“The World is for you. The sorrows and worries, the agonies and anguish - at 50 you will understand the meaning of my saying”
True it is, at fifty, all my thoughts and beliefs got a tremendous uprooting. A true Litterateur reflecting the society or its part in their work is always in danger. Even writing a biographical novel is harmful for them. It may cost their life.
My father taught me not to be afraid of others. You have only to convince you- inner conscience. Even though others try to silence you, you stand straight in this world.
It was on 1981 August; I wrote my first short story in regional language Malayalam. Malayalam is a Dravidian language spoken in the state of Kerala, Puducherry and Lakshadweep. “Malay” means “mountain” and “alam” means “region”. Kerala is southern west state of India and it has reference in bible.
Even though my mother tongue is Malayalam, I was very poor in scoring marks in Malayalam in my lower classes. Even my pronunciations of Malayalam words was a matter of laugh and kidding for others.
However, at 13, I wrote a complete short story in Malayalam in just half an hour. The title of the story is “Veendum oru pakalinu Vendi” meaning “Again, for another day”.
The central characters in this story were my grandfather Late K P Alikunju, my father K M Anthru, and of course me. My grandfather, (father of my mother) was an advocate and a promising politician, orator, writer and social worker. He helped to bring up Kerala Hindi Prachara Sabha and many educational institutions. Despite all these, I found in him a failed family man.
He lived in Ernakulam alone and my grandmother- his wife lived in a rural area of Trivandrum. My grandmother was reluctant to leave her father and her younger daughter, who is also a deceptive character. She had two children, and she lived in Trivandrum like her mother, leaving her husband at Ernakulam.
Affection and leniency of my grandfather to his younger daughter’s family is clear and used to visit my cousins occasionally and presented them voluminously. We lived in Trivandrum city. My grandfather frequently comes to Trivandrum and stay in C P Sathram—an old government guest house. Even though he has time, he would not come to see us. He always kept away from us.
I still remember an incident which is too much painful and hurting. One day he made an unexpected visit. My mother was happy and was preparing a lunch for his liking. Before enquiring about us, he enquired my mother about her sister and her sons.
My mother asked:
“Why? You did not go there?”
“I went there. I found the house locked. I thought I will come here and enquire.”
I understood his reason for his sudden visit to our home. Had they been there, my grandfather would never had come that day. He came to Trivandrum and travelled one hour to visit his favorite daughter and grandsons. Unfortunately, he could not see. So he travelled another one hour back. Out of his anxiety towards them, he traveled ten minutes to visit us.
After his chat with my mother, he called me and my sister near, opened his briefcase and took two packets of “Halwa” (a sweet) bought from Ernakulam and presented to us as if he bought them for us from Ernakulam.
I asked him.
“Had my both the cousins present in their house, you would have given these to them. That means when you bought these sweets, you forgot that your elder daughter is also having children. Is not?”
He blushed. My mother scolded me and took the pack. I understand that sweetness of any present vanishes if they do not embed it with love. To love a person is the hardest part in life. Later in my life, I had seen opportunistic treats and presents.
Later, (I do not remember whether it happened on the same day) I asked my grandfather.
“Why are not visiting us? It is only less than half hour travel from your usual guest house. Why are you very much particular in visiting my cousins even though they are far?”
His answer was astonishing to me.
“You are not following religious rituals”
“No one asked me during my birth in which religion you want to be. Accidentally I bear a religion. My religion is humanity.”
He suddenly changed the discussion. I saw a discrimination- a deserting—from my (own) grandfather. I understood religion is a weapon to defend one’s failure. I vowed myself not to use or consider religion in my future life.
One day my father came and told that my grandfather was in Trivandrum for the last few days for a function. My father being a station master flagged off the train to Ernakulam in which he was returning.
I felt terribly sad. And I wrote a story with K P Alikunju as a central character.
I showed this to my father. He asked me to send to the leading magazine in Kerala. I obeyed. But to my disappointment, they returned the story rejected.
My father told:
“See, don’t think or believe all your stories pass through editors. And do not stop writing. Write, send and wait. Some stories not published now may get published later, if you write with passion and soul”
This gave me the courage to write. I never write according to a timetable. I write only when I feel to write. I am not particular in writing a specific genre. The moment of writing makes me decide what style to use.
A major change in life happened to me while I was in Grade VIII, IX and X. During Grade VIII, on the very first day class teacher conducted an election for class leader. He asked those who are interested to be class leaders to stand up. I had the courage to stand up and say I want to be the class leader. . Even though I study moderately well, because of height, I was a backbencher. Third bencher Bijoy also stood up. During the contest, Bijoy won the battle. So he became the class leader, and they entrusted me as Deputy Class leader.
The failure in the election did not put me back. I override Bijoy and eventually he himself started considering himself as Deputy Class Leader. He is a pleasant friend who keeps contact with me still. He is a practicing doctor and a wonderful human being.
To be very frank, I was not an excellent leader at all. I lead the class in all mischiefs. I remember taking bribe for the first and last time in life during that period. Every year school demands building fund donation from students. One of my friend whose parents were abroad gave only Rs 100/- even though his parents gave Rs 1000/- as donation. He donated only Rs 100/-. But at the end, in the school magazine, they published the names of students who gave donations above Rs 500/-. This was unexpected and his parents are about to come for a vacation. He had a fear that his parents may see the magazine or come to school. He came to me for help and advice. I took his school magazine and with no flaw removed the page in which they print a list of donations.
He said his parents knew me and will certainly meet me for the reason my mother’s ancestral house is near his home. So he bribed to tell his parents to convince them he had given Rs 1000/- as donation since the class leader collects and gives them to the class teacher.
I agreed and we along with our friends spent the bribe amount of Rs 100/- in nearby confectionary store.
But on that night I could not sleep. I felt I am a thief. I was hesitant to go to school next day. Unfortunately Rs 100/- is too much for our family. But after three days, I told my mother about this incident.
She scolded me. I do not know whether she told this to father. But she gave me Rs 100/- after some days to return to the friend. It relaxed me. I gave it back, though he was reluctant to take it back. But seeing me tense and grief he took it back.
Luckily, when his parents came, they did not ask questions regarding the donations. This relieved me a lot. Thereafter never in my life I had told a lie or done a thing which is against ethics. This incident repeatedly told me I am not a moral leader.
So during Grade nine, even though everyone asked me to be the leader, I did not agree. I wanted an exile. I punished myself by not taking the position.
But I was too brave and bold that many teachers did not like. They never like questions from students. Most of the Teachers considered students to be mere spectators and listeners like puppet.
We had a physical education hours once in a week. The concerned teacher was so rude that we did not like to attend at all. The compound wall near the urinal shed is almost 20 feet high from the road. Whenever there is a physical education class, we used to jump out of school by sliding down the electricity post near to the wall.
Some of us were bold enough to jump out of the campus and went to the swimming pool on the first day. We watched people learning to swim there. Some went for films. We re-entered the school during lunch break.
During dinner time, father told mother that he saw a dream about me. I was sitting in an adjacent room. I can overhear their conversation. Father told: “I saw my son near a water pool.” My heart beat increased. I waited for next question. But nothing happened. The conversation ended. I thought my father is having a sixth sense.
That did not end my quitting classes from school. Another friend Joy and I went to Public library. Some went to the University College backyard; others to swimming pool and film. We both sat in reference section and glanced through film magazines. We made this a habit. On the second day a bearded man, tall and slim, who is the official in library came to us and took us inside the library. He himself selected books of little pages and asked us to read. We reluctantly tried to read. Joy was not interested. But I found profound interest in reading. Thereafter I started quitting classes more often. Once Father Dominic Gomez, a faculty of the school, saw me returning from the library. He told: “You are a donkey. Why don’t you have a T shirt at least with you so that people do not identify you as a school student by uniform?” It embarrassed me. He took me to an ice cream parlor and bought me ice cream. While I was having my favorite flavor, my throat burned thinking about what will happen after reaching school.
But again to my surprise, he safely accompanied to school and said: “Whenever you want to go, tell me. I will make some excuses” Father Dominic is no more now. But he is now one of the most influenced man in my life. He came to my help many times in need, even after schooling.
Just after my tenth-grade examination, my father called me to get ready for a walk. Even though I asked where we are going, he told nothing. To my surprise, he took me to the public library and filled the application form for membership and made me a member. I am still a member of State Central Library, Trivandrum. On our return walk, he told: “I knew about your skipping of classes. I told nothing since I found you going to the library and reading. Life is not just a classroom. Experiences are not those you encounter, rather we gain them from seeing, reading and knowing.”