Noble things don’t have to emerge from noble places alone. The silver linings are born in the dark clouds. The lotuses bloom in the muddy ponds. The pitch black nights make the stars twinkle. Here is how a poor man left an indelible imprint on a young boy’s heart in the late Sixties of the last century. Pathrose, an illiterate Dalit, was our neighbour who lived in a shanty. A farm worker, he was a regular visitor to our house to attend the ‘evening meeting’ of the oldies, chaired my father, a freedom fighter. They expatiated on everything under the sun.
Pathros Uppapa, as we affectionately called him, was a true gentleman with a lot of common sense and practical wisdom. Suave and soft-spoken, he was a teetotaller as well. Surprisingly, though communism was all the rage, the raison d’etre for so many people in those days in Kerala, he was averse to it. He felt that communism was against natural laws. A hill, he reasoned, should have a valley. A chip off the old block, he was no fuddy-duddy, either.
I was about to take the SSLC exam. One day he told me, “Hey kiddo, get a first class and I will give you a good present”. “Deal,” I agreed. Not to pat myself on the back but I passed with distinction. When we met the next day, I told him, “I have kept my end. What about you, Uppapa?” He apologetically said, “Don’t worry my kid. You have my word. Wait a little while. I have got a surprise for you.” The days went by. My crass childish curiosity kept pestering him with questions about the gift whenever we met.He had the same answer “Wait a while.”
My boyish naivety wanted it pretty damn quick. At last, Epiphany did have its meeting with me. When I was just about to leave for college he appeared in our front yard. Holding out his clenched fist with a triumphant smile, he said “Hey kiddo, Here you are.” Wow! he pulled his rabbit out of the hat. It was a five-rupee note! A marginalised man’s munificence for a mainstream boy’s aspirations. I couldn’t stop pinching myself. Remember, it was way back in the Sixties. A farm worker in those days earned barely one rupee a day. That five-rupee note meant five days’ hard earned money. He soft-pedalled on it because he couldn’t raise enough money to buy me a present.
His promise really blew up in his face. But there was no turning back. Regrettably, I didn’t realise then I was actually catching him on the raw by persistently badgering about the gift. Maybe his family starved a few days to save that much money. Maybe he toiled for weeks on the trot to garner that amount. In all fairness, he kept his word. He died at the enviable age of 97 a few years ago. For me, he was a great motivator and a good human being who gave a soothing touch to the tender sensibilities of a 14- year -old boy. I keep that note in my heart like a sacred strand of peacock’s feather in between the pages of the book of memory.