It happened around the 1970s when the Naxal movement was in full play in Kerala. Blood-curdling stories of Naxalites chopping off the heads of some landlords were doing the rounds and people were scared out of their wits.
Terrorism was a word sparingly heard or said in those days. The presence of strangers in any place evoked much trepidation, more so in rural places. Lookout notices of Naxal leader Com. Varghese were splashed across newspapers exhorting the public to help capture him alive or dead. (TVs were not a popular accoutrement those days)
During that period, on a chilly December night, I left for my sister’s house which was about 25 km away from my workplace to attend ‘Ayyappa pooja’ there after completing my evening shift as a postal signaller. (Telegraphists in post offices were designated as signallers unlike in exclusive telegraph offices.)
I was in my twenties and was sporting a beard for my annual Sabarimala pilgrimage. When I alighted from the bus at the nondescript town around 9 pm, a small tea shop was still open catering to some night owls. I thought it a good idea to have some black coffee before embarking upon the three km walk to the destined spot.
I entered the tea shop clutching a copy of Blitz weekly under my arms. I was looked at with suspicion by the customers in the tea shop as mine was an unfamiliar face there. But I felt nothing unusual and took no heed of their rather hostile demeanour.
After walking a short distance on the main road, I took a shortcut through a paddy field. When I reached my sister’s house, puja and bhajans were in full throng. While I was attending the function that extended late into the night, one of the persons who was present in the tea shop dropped by the bhajan hall.
He was taken aback on seeing me. He told me that some people in the tea shop suspecting me to be the Naxal leader Varghese had followed me surreptitiously with wooden clubs and stones to catch the ‘Naxalite’ dead or alive. But because they followed me keeping a safe distance, they lost track of me as I took the shortcut.
I shudder to think what would have happened had they confronted me with sticks and stones. Naxal leader Varghese was later killed by the Kerala police in an encounter.