THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Would consuming goat’s milk daily make one’s palms soft? K Ayyappan Pillai believed so for a while. The occasion? Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Thiruvananthapuram back in 1934.
Ayyappan Pillai, then a young and energetic lad, was deputed by Gandhian and freedom fighter G Ramachandran to lead Gandhiji to the dais during a public function. While holding Gandhiji’s hand, it felt so soft and Ayyappan Pillai whispered this to his classmate and friend Kainikkara Govinda Pillai. It was Kainikkara who opined that consuming goat’s milk would have made it soft.
Advocate K Ayyappan Pillai has been a popular figure during the pre and post-independence period as a freedom fighter, political leader and as an eminent lawyer in the Kerala High Court. He was a doyen of Travancore politics starting from the early thirties and for several decades later. His residence at Thycaud, surrounded by lush greenery, where he still lives with his wife, witnessed several meetings, undercurrents and political turmoil of those times. Ayyappan Pillai, who celebrates his hundredth birthday on Saturday, still remembers those pre and post-independence days with amazing clarity.
While being led to the stage, Gandhiji initiated a dialogue with the young Ayyappan Pillai and asked him about his future plans. Ayyappan Pillai replied that he was still an undergraduate student and would look for a job in the government service after graduation. Gandhiji opposed the idea and suggested that he should serve the nation and work for the uplift of the poor. Though his meeting with the Mahatma was short and crisp, its meaningful depth and brevity made ripples in his young mind.
Later years saw him being drawn more towards the independence struggle and becoming a part of the political movements, much to the embarrassment of his father. His father had already planned a bright career for his son in the government secretariat as assured by the then Dewan, Mohammed Habibullah.
But Ayyappan Pillai does not have any regret now for not choosing the career path designed by his father - A Kumara Pillai, a senior secretary with the government of Travancore - but feels pride having led a bright and celebrated life in political, professional and personal spheres.
Dawn of Independence
When the British had finally decided to quit India, there were around 555 royalties existing in the sub-continent. C P Ramaswamy Iyer, the then Dewan of Travancore, suggested the idea of an independent Travancore and held a series of meetings with the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, in Delhi. After much deliberations and negotiations, it was finally concluded that Travancore shall be given a special preference of an independent status within the Indian Union. CP flew back to Thiruvananthapuram and presented the Maharaja with the papers of instrument of accession. But the Maharaja did not oblige immediately.
Ayyappan Pillai still vividly remembers that evening of July 25, 1947, when CP was brutally attacked at a function in Music College, which is a stone’s throw away distance from his residence at Thycaud. All top leaders of the State Congress, including Pattom Thanu Pillai, were imprisoned after the CP fiasco and the rest fled from the scene. Tension prevailed everywhere. On July 28, 1947, the general officer commanding of the Maharaja and major general of the Travancore State Force Parameswaran Pillai came as an emissary from the palace and visited Ayyappan Pillai at his residence. By that time Ayyappan Pillai had already become well-known in the political circles for his relentless efforts for freedom, integrity and efficiency in his profession and above all, for his closeness to Pattom Thanu Pillai. The emissary told him that the Maharaja wanted to see Ayyappan Pillai at the earliest. Chithira Thirunal expressed his desire to appoint Pattom Thanu Pillai as his next Dewan. Also, he sought the opinion of Pattom Thanu Pillai on signing the instrument of accession. Ayyappan Pillai met Pattom Thanu Pillai at Central Prison. Pattom aired his opinion that the time was too late to initiate any such political endeavours. He also humbly declined the post of Dewan of Travancore.
Ayyappan Pillai was born in 1914 in Mundanadu, near Aryasala, in the city. His father was in the government service and retired as Deputy Peishkar. His maternal uncle was the last Thachudayakaimal (the spiritual and temporal leader of Koodalmanikkyam temple). Since the family used to follow wherever his father was transferred, young Ayyappan Pillai had primary education in various schools of Changanesserry, Meenachil and Alappuzha. He did his graduation from Govt Arts College and law degree from Law College, Thiruvananthapuram.
Pattom Thanu Pillai was Ayyappan Pillai’s long-term mentor, friend, guide and philosopher. Under the influence of Pattom, Ayyappan Pillai left Congress and joined Praja Socialist Party (PSP). All through his political life, Ayyappan Pillai’s name was suggested to various top posts of the party leadership, but he always shied away from such offers.
Hits a Century!
Now, apart from a bit of hearing disability, Ayyappan Pillai is quite healthy for his age and briskly moves whenever the phone rings. He is a voracious reader and has penned an autobiography - ‘Challenging Times and My Life’ .
His hundredth birthday will see his family, relatives and a large group of friends, admirers and well-wishers assembling at his residence. A public meeting is also arranged by the senior citizens in the city. Shake his hands now and you wonder; does he too take goat’s milk?