KASARGOD: They say laughter is the best medicine. But how many will dare take it on their deathbed? Rajesh Chaitram (34), doctors said, is alive because of his wacky sense of humour. “In time, I’ll start kicking too,” said Rajesh, gripping the steel walker. He cannot walk yet, but the former timber loading worker is already a source of kicks to people in Kannur and Kasargod. A mimicry show he did for Flowers channel has garnered 16 million hits on YouTube. “I never thought of making a living by cracking jokes. Now, with the help of my friends, I’m taking baby steps in the mimicry world,” he said.
Rajesh and five other workers were loading the timber on to the truck at Narkkilakkad, near Parappa. After trying for some time, they decided to give up. When the five workers let go the timber, Rajesh did not because it was falling on his friend. “If I too had pushed it away, the timber would’ve landed on my friend,” he said. It all ended in a fraction of a second. “There wasn’t a bruise on my body but I could not get up,” he said.His friends zipped him to a hospital in Kanhangad, nearly 25 km away. “The doctors looked at the X-ray and said ‘everything is shattered inside, and blood bleeding into the lung; take him to Mangalore,”’ he recalls.
The two-hour journey on the pothole-riddled national highway brought out a new Rajesh. “My friends were tensed so I asked them for two cotton balls for the return journey. I told them I couldn’t depend on them to plug my nose,” he said, chuckling at his joke. They still did not allow him to close his eyes though he was tired. “Then I told a studio owner in the ambulance to select only my smiling photos for posters. That lightened up the trip,” he said.
Rajesh continued the banter with Dr Shantaram Shetty, the renowned orthopaedist of Tejasvani Hospital in Mangalore. “The doctor told me I would survive. My composure checked the internal bleeding,” he said.After one month at Tejasvani, Rajesh moved to another hospital at Taliparamba. “I was bed-strapped for another four months there,” he said. In the meantime, his friends raised Rs 8 lakh for his treatment. He has spent almost the double of it.Now Rajesh, his wife Priya and two children, Chaitra and Pavitra, are living in a rented house at Vadassery Mukku near Mathil in Payyannur. “I’m under ayurveda treatment here. My legs still don’t have sensation,” he said.
Tapping inner talent
Rajesh started sketching from the hospital bed to kill boredom. Initially, he drew from what he saw from his window. Later, he started working on actors’ portraits. “I was first in drawing, mimicry and mono act from class 3 to 10,” he said.After failing in the 10th standard, he started painting banners to make living. “But party leaders used to gesture with their fingers that they’ll pay me the following day. That winding by their finger became so frequent that I had to quit painting,” said Rajesh.He said he became a timber loading worker by choice. “I loved the physicality of the work and the money was very good,” he said. But his wife did not like it. “It was too dangerous a profession. I was fidgety every day till he came home,” said Priya. She said she saw the accident coming. Priya started nudging Rajesh, now stranded in a wheelchair, to try his hand at mimicry.
“My friends too said the same,” he said. So sometime in June, he sent a voice message to a programme coordinator of Flowers channel. “It had three variations of Jose Prakash’s voice and two of Narendra Prasad’s,” he said. Rajesh immediately got a call asking him to join the shooting for ‘Comedy Utsavam’. With the help of his friends, he boarded an Ernakulam-bound train. Today, he is a sort of celebrity. This Onam season, he was booked for all the 10 days in Kannur and Kasargod. “I imitate the voices of a lot of actors and politicians, and write my own script,” he said. In CPM’s bastions in Kannur, the crowd laps up everything mimicked in the voice of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. “But I’m careful with the words. You see, I still can’t run,” he signed off with another chuckle.
When life fell apart
On November 16, 2015, Rajesh was crushed under a timber while trying to save a friend. Six ribs were broken, one of them puncturing lung. He hurt his spine too.