When Betty Louise saw M A Baby for the first time in December, 1977, during a Students’ Federation of India (SFI) meeting, at Kochi, she was impressed. “He was the state president and conducted himself with dignity,” says Betty, who attended as a delegate from Malappuram.
Baby, who had been arrested during the 1975 Emergency, had just been released. During a discussion, Betty asked Baby about his experiences in jail. “I admired him as a leader rather than imagining being his life partner,” she says.
At that time Betty was studying for her economics degree in MES College, Ponnani. A few college students, including Betty, started a film club called ‘Sprout’.
“We showed a lot of good films, like ‘Battleship Potemkin’ [by Sergei Eisenstein], and those by Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal and Mrinal Sen,” says Betty. “It was shaping up well, but suddenly there was a suspicion that some Left extremists had infiltrated the group. The CPI(M) leadership asked us to close the club. I was worried and upset because we had worked so hard to make the club a success.”
Betty was not a party member at that time. Feeling confused about what to do, she felt that Baby would be the right person to turn to, for advice. So, she went and met him at a SFI conference in Punalur.
“Baby said that I should consult the local unit of the party and follow their instructions,” says Betty. Later, at another conference in Kozhikode, Baby expressed a desire to see Betty at the party office.
“So I went and met him,” says Betty. “Baby told me he wanted to marry me. I think he suspected that I liked him. So I said, fine, but I would have to get the permission of my parents.”
Her parents agreed but they had worries, especially her mother. “She was not sure whether I could live the hard life as the wife of a Communist leader,” says Betty.
“She knew that there would be a lot of material sacrifices.” But once they met him, both her parents were convinced that Baby would be able to take care of their daughter.
Anyway, Baby and Betty had a marriage, without any rituals, on March 18, 1982, in the presence of party stalwarts like EMS Namboodiripad, M Basavapunnaiah, E K Nayanar, K R Gowri Amma, Susheela Gopalan and many others.
And after 30 years of marriage, Betty is all praise for her husband. “Baby is the gentlest person I have known,” she says. “He has always been sincere and honest with me. A simple and ordinary man he reads a lot of books, like biographies, fiction, non-fiction and sports. N Ram [owner of the Hindu group] sends him the Sportstar magazine regularly and Baby reads it from cover to cover. Baby is an ardent fan of sporting greats like Roger Federer, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Twice he went to Kolkata to see Maradona and Messi play exhibition matches,” says Betty.
In his spare time Baby likes to listen to classical music: Carnatic, Hindustani and Western.
Other plus points: “We have fights, but he never uses abusive language, nor has he ill-treated me,” says Betty. “Those who know him will believe what I say. The rest will say it is nonsense.”
But the one complaint Betty has is regarding his reading. “Baby puts his books on the dining table and that irritates me a lot,” she says.
“When I got married and went to Delhi, we lived in a small flat. In the kitchen he kept a library. That was too much for me.”
Another drawback is that Baby does not respond when people hurl abuses and charges of corruption against him. “Baby’s silence is a drawback,” says Betty.
“But he says that people have the freedom to say what they want. It is not necessary to respond to each and every accusation.” But the charge of corruption affects Betty the most. “Even after so many years we are living in a rented flat,” she says. “So how can he be corrupt? It is so disturbing.”
Another disturbing moment was a life-threatening one. On July 8, 1988, Betty and her four-year-old son Ashok were travelling on the Island Express. On the Perumon Bridge in Kollam, the train derailed, and several bogies fell into the Asthamudi Lake.
“When our bogie went under the water, I ensured that I held my son’s hand tightly,” says Betty. Thankfully she knew how to swim, and somehow, made her way to the surface, where they were rescued by the local people. “Baby came to the accident site and saw the bodies been taken away,” says Betty.
105 people perished in Kerala’s worst railway accident. “However, when he came to know that both of us were safe he immediately plunged in and tried to help the rescue workers,” says Betty.
Betty pauses and says, “My husband’s heart is in the right place.”