In 19 years, Abdul Malik has almost swum the equivalent of the English Channel, which separates England and France. But not for any competition or personal benefits. Abdul, 40, a lower primary school teacher at Padinjattemuri in Malappuram district of Kerala, swims 100 metres to and fro daily to his school.
There are several reasons for this. One, if he does not do this, he will have to take a circuitous 24 kilometre road journey. And he would have to change three buses. Also, he would have to leave his house really early.
“I had travelled by road during the first year,” he says. “But it was on the advice of my colleague Bapputty that I started to swim across the river,” says Abdul.
“My family was apprehensive in the beginning, but I was confident that there would not be any problem as I have swum in the river since childhood,” he says.
“The school is surrounded by water on three sides, so it is better to swim rather than depend on any other kind of transportation,” he explains.
He carries his clothes, as well as a towel and books in a plastic bag. Once he reaches the banks, he changes into fresh clothes and makes his way to the school.
Abdul’s daily habit provokes curiosity among the students. But he cleverly diverts that curiosity to spark an interest to learn swimming. At present he is coaching a large number of students on how to swim.
“Apart from swimming, we also receive tips from Abdul sir on how to lead a healthy life,” says a student.
Thanks to his unique mode of transport, Abdul has never missed a class because of bus strikes or hartals. “Nobody is there in the water to block my way to school during a hartal,” laughs Abdul.
The school authorities are also supportive. “Abdul is confident about swimming across the river,” says headmaster Muhammed Basheer. “I would only have doubts during the rainy season when the river overflows. But Abdul has never been scared,” he adds.
Abdul also has a message for the public. “I am advocating the importance of protecting our environment,” he says. “Sometimes, I notice waste matter and plastic being dumped in the river. My students and I clean it whenever we get the opportunity to. But we should avoid polluting our rivers, because nature is a gift from God,” he says.
Abdul’s daily habit has caught the attention of political parties in Kerala. On October 3 this year, he was honoured by the District Congress Committee in the presence of Assembly Speaker G Karithikeyan.
There were suggestions that the local panchayat should build a bridge, but that seems difficult at the moment. “It it is not possible to build one at present because there are three bridges in different places connecting it with Padinjattemuri,” says Anakkayam panchayat president K V Muhammadali. “Only if it becomes necessary for a lot of people will we build one. But we will be honouring the teacher who is advocating the benefits of swimming and teaching it to students.” Abdul is now popular in his area. And thanks to his daily drill, he is slim and strong too.
According to his own calculations, Abdul will spend more than 1,000 hours in the river before he retires in 2029. He would also have swum 700 kilometres during his entire career of 35 years. It is a unique record which no other teacher in the state, and probably in the country, can lay claim to.