Monday, August 22, 2011

AJ Philip on not permitting Thambi Kakkanadan's body to be buried in a Mar Thoma Cemetry

A close Look
I was stunned when I opened
the “Malayala Manorama”
of August 11. It carried a
report about the death of Thambi
Kakkanadan, a novelist and
journalist. It was from the report
that I came to know that he had
met with an accident on March
18 and had been under treatment
in various hospitals. The brief
obituary also mentioned that he
had written a novel “Kalaapathinte
Ormakku” (In memory of a riot),
translated several books from
English to Malayalam and vice
versa and had been writing for
various journals. He was 70.
I cannot claim any close
friendship with Thambi Sir, as I
used to call him. The only time
I met him was when he visited
Patna in the late-eighties with his
wife Valsamma and children Lalita
and Surya. They had come as the
guests of the late Narmadeshwar
Sinha, who was my colleague and
Special Correspondent at the nowdefunct
“The Searchlight”.
Sinha brought them to my house
and I persuaded them to stay with
me. Sinha reluctantly agreed to
the proposal, particularly when
the children wanted to stay with
us because of, I think, reasons of
language. They could not speak
Hindi or English. The family spent
two days with us and my wife and
I tried our best to make their stay
as comfortable as possible.
Thambi was not a stranger to
me. When I reached Delhi in late-
1973 at the invitation of my friends
Unni and Ravi, one name that
cropped up in our conversations
was Thambi. By then our circle of
friends had enlarged to include
journalist P.P. Balachandran, who
was a friend of Thambi and had
great admiration for him.
It was from them that I learnt
that Thambi was with “The
Searchlight”, an English daily
published from Patna when T.J.S.
George was its editor. It was
considered the golden period of
the newspaper, which had played
a major role in the abolition of the
zamindari system in Bihar.
For want of space I do not
want to go into the details of
the “historic clash” between the
editor and Bihar’s strongman and
Chief Minister K.B. Sahay, which
resulted in George’s incarceration,
the circulation of the paper
crossing the one-lakh mark, V.K.
Krishna Menon arguing for the
editor’s release at the Patna High
Court and how the Birlas, who
owned several sugar mills besides
the newspaper, ditched the editor.
In disgust, George quit
his job and finally landed in
Hong Kong where he founded
Asiaweek, modelled after
American newsmagazine “Time”
and “Newsweek”. Thambi did
not stay in Patna for long. I had
heard innumerable stories about
his skills as a journalist. Catchy
headlines came natural ly to him
and he enjoyed making pages
all by himself. In the pre-Quark
Express days, it was a messy job,
as it often left stains on one’s body
Thambi Kakkanadan
BY a. j. philip
Include, not Exclude
INDIAN CURRENTS • 22 - 28 August 2011 . 9
A close Look
and clothes.
Thambi was as popular with
the Press workers as he was
with journalists. So when he left
the paper in search of greener
pastures, everybody at “The
Searchlight” considered it a great
loss. He had the potential to
become its editor in due course.
However, destiny brought Thambi
to the national Capital, where
Mohan Kumaramangalam was
making waves as a confidant of
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
When Kumaramangalam was
inducted in the Union Cabinet,
many considered it as part of
the Communists’ grand strategy
to break the government from
within. After all, he was once a
card-holding member of the CPI,
with which Thambi’s family had
strong links. Kumaramangalam
helped him become a Public
Relations Officer of public sector
Indian Airlines.
Incidentally, it was
Kumaramangalam’s sister, the
late Parvati Krishnan, MP from
Coimbatore, who helped me
become a journalist. I wanted
a letter of recommendation
addressed to Nikhil Chakravartty,
who was editor of the
“Mainstream” and owned
the news-agency “India Press
Agency”. I first approached C.K.
Chandrappan, then a first-time
MP, for such a letter but he refused
to give, though I showed him all
my certificates.
Next day when I approached
Parvati Krishnan, she did not ask
101 questions like Chandrappan.
Instead, she took out her official
letter head and scribbled, “Dear
Nikhilda, Here is a young man who
needs a break in journalism. Please
help him. Regards. Parvati”. Thus
began my career in journalism.
As PRO, Thambi was in charge
of the airline’s inflight journal
and the in-house magazine called
“Image”. His talent was in full
play as month after month he
put together three magazines,
all published by the airlines. He
had opportunities to travel and
everything seemed to be going
well for him when one fine day,
he quit the job for reasons, which
are not known to me. The death of
Kumaramangalam in a plane crash
in which “Mathrubhoomi” Delhi
Bureau Chief V.K. Madhavankutty
had a miraculous escape could
have been one reason.
Thambi left for Kerala, where his
mother persuaded him to marry.
“When the proposal came, I said
ok because I heard that my fatherin-
law was in liquor business and I
would not, therefore, have to pay
for the heady stuff”, he said as his
wife smiled. Thambi introduced
his younger brother Rajan
Kakkanadan, to all his friends in
It was a combination of love,
respect and admiration that
I felt for Rajan Sir. He was an
artist of extraordinary talent
and a contemporary of artist
Vishwanath, who had made Paris
his home. Rajan taught us chess.
He was such a good chess player
that when a Russian grandmaster
played chess simultaneously with
20 Indians in Delhi, Rajan was the
only one who could win.
When I took a loan from my
company to buy winter clothes, he
asked me why I wanted to waste
money, when he could help me get
excellent clothes at a throw-away
price. He took me to Chandni
Chowk, where he helped me select
a stylish “Made in Paris” coat for
Rs 25! “Get it dry-cleaned and if
anyone asked you about the coat’s
ancestry, tell him it was first used
by no less a person than French
statesman Charles de Gaulle”.
At Chandni Chowk, he had a
large glass of milk with “bhang”
in it, while I had a small one. He
was in a mood to talk and he took
me to the Red Fort and gave me a
graphic description of the “1857
revolt” that ultimately ended in
the capture of the last Moghul
ruler Bahadur Shah Zafar, who
was deported to Burma where
he died. As he narrated the story,
I could even “hear” the British
soldiers blasting their way to the
Fort. It was nothing short of a “son
et lumiere”.
Rajan was an amazing raconteur
of stories and anecdotes. I asked
him why he did not follow in the
footsteps of his eldest brother
Baby, a full-time fiction writer,
known simply as Kakkanadan. He
answered a bit idiomatically, “to
each his own”. One day I asked
him about his religious faith. He
said he did not believe in any
established religion, though Jesus
was his model and hero.
When I pressed him further on
the subject, I could see the artist
in him explaining to me that Jesus
approximated the ultimate in male
beauty. Painters of Hindu gods --
whether Krishna or Rama -- were
inspired by feminine beauty and
they could never even think of
portraying them with a beard
or even stubble. Even the most
“manly” of them – Lord Shiva –
was never portrayed with a beard.
Rajan had another reason to
love Jesus. Unlike every other
God who had some weapon or the
other, he was totally armless. Yet,
he never flinched even when he
faced the multitudes baying for his
blood. I realised Jesus was many
things to many people.
Mohan Kumaramangalam
10 . INDIAN CURRENTS • 22 - 28 August 2011
A close Look
On my first visit to Kerala
after reaching Delhi, I went to
Kottarakkara to meet Rajan. He
was staying with his elder sister,
a school teacher. Rajan was not
at home. It was his mother who
received me.
She was happy that I came all
the way to meet her son. “While
the sons of others make money, my
sons make friends”, she proudly
said. She did not want me to leave
till I had lunch of rice and sardine
curry, she cooked in my presence.
She told me about her husband,
Kakkanadan Upadeshi, a pastor of
the Mar Thoma Church, who did
not find anything contradictory in
being a Christian preacher and a
Communist believer.
I remembered the late EMS
Namboodiripad mentioning
him in an article he wrote
about a Catholic priest in Latin
America, who was known as the
“Red Priest” in one of the party
journals, most probably “Chintha”
(Thought). At a time when the
police were hounding Communist
leaders, some of them found a
safe sanctuary in Kakkanadan
Upadeshi’s house.
While taking leave of her,
she gave me the direction to the
place where Rajan could have
been. She was right. He was at his
“adda” playing “Chaturangam”,
the Malayalam word for chess. I
waited, as he quickly checkmated
his rival. Rajan had an elephantine
memory. If I asked him why I lost a
particular match after a few days,
he would ask me why I made the
mistake of moving that particular
pawn that weakened my fortress.
He was an ascetic, who would not
discuss women, let alone cast a
glance at them.
The last time I met Rajan was
when he came to Delhi on his
way to the Himalayas. It was
an ambition for him to visit all
those places in the upper regions
of Uttarakhand, which had
beckoned the seekers of the truth
for millennia. He travelled like
a mendicant, who stored every
scene in the recess of his mind.
When his book “Himavante
Mukalthattil” (At the peak of
the Himalaya) came out, I found
it one of the best in that genre.
There was a reference to me in
the book when he wrote, “Some
of my Delhi friends saw me off
at the Delhi station”. Later, he
acted in Aravindan’s classical film
“Esthappan” as Esthappan. I have
seen countless movies, but many
of the scenes in that movie are still
etched in my memory. Rajan was
a genius.
Once he visited Patna as my
guest. When he departed, he
gifted me a book on Nobel winner
Heinrich Boll that contained
“selected obituaries and the last
interview”. It was titled “On his
Death”. When I saw him off at the
Patna Junction, I did not know that
it was our last meeting. Years later
I heard that Rajan passed away in
situations, the mere mention of
which brought me to tears.
Let me paraphrase a sentence
from the book he gifted me, “If
there are still saints in the 21st
century, they will surely look
like Rajan Kakkanadan”. He was
buried at the Mar Thoma Church
cemetery at Kollam, the land for
which was obtained from the first
Communist government with
help, reportedly from Kakkanadan
Upadeshi. Alas, the same courtesy
was not extended to Thambi
Of course, the church has its
own logic. Thambi was never a
member, he was not married in the
church and his children were not
baptised – all strong, valid reasons.
But then, Jesus did not ask the man
who was crucified along with him
whether he was a member of the
church when He saved him.
It’s also true that Thambi’s
family had approached the church
to bury him there. But by denying
them the favour, it missed an
opportunity to win the hearts of
at least three people. Surely, the
heavens would not have fallen if
Thambi was allowed to be buried
in the same place his parents and
brother were buried.
Thambi was finally cremated.
As regards his faith, his wife
told me on phone that he was a
firm believer, who found solace
in the Bible. Neither she nor her
daughters had any complaints
against the church, though they
would now want themselves
to be cremated, rather than
buried in a cemetery. For once,
I as a Marthomite felt a prick of
“He was not just a husband for
me. He was my Guru, my Jesus”,
said Valsamma, a Catholic. No,
Thambi Sir did not bequeath any
property to her or her children, not
even a house. Now come to think
of it, how many wives can say the
same about their husbands? I wish
those who denied permission to
bury him would remember that
the church belongs to the Lord,
having been acquired with the
purchase price of Calvary; it is her
solemn obligation to listen to the
pleas of the supplicant. Inclusion,
not exclusion, is the word.,9,10.pdf

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