When the sun was exuding exuberance; when the pair of paddy fields and coconut trees were waltzing out in the ball room set by the docile breeze; when the stream was skipping around in the indulgence of its pristine glory; I advanced through the tar road, albeit marred with potholes. I let my mind to soak itself in the respite from the impoverished, chaotic and polluted life in the metro. My mind thanked me for redeeming it from the reins of statute books, suits, arguments and court chambers.
“Hey, vakil(advocate) sir” .My enjoyment of Kerala country side was interrupted by some rustic call.
I turned back; only to see Mr.Thankappan. He is THE man of the Panchayath. His name literally translates to ‘Lord of Gold’, and he is gifted with a long golden tongue. Professionally he is a barber. But in real life he is something more. While grooming peoples’ head and face, he will groom the information which he has shrewdly extracted from them. Disseminator of (mis)information, monger of gossips and scandals, manipulator of news- these are the titles which he has acquired during the course of his career, flanked across four decades, which determined the local man’s style statement. His small barber shop, which is nothing but a small kiosk made of wooden cardboard, established on the road side, has assumed the status of broadcaster of exclusive news items and repository of unfathomable secrets of legions of people.
Countless are the marriages which materialized due to him. More countless are the marriages which broke due to him. The epicenter of all disputes and the facilitator of negotiations- both are two different facets of his persona.
This garrulous fellow has not only made his presence felt in the social life of the Panchayath but in its political realm too. He is the most devoted subscriber of the Communist-Marxist ideology. As a committed Party member, he has helped in spreading its sacred ideology and in mobilizing public opinion in its favor. Apart from gossips and verbal duels, his shop has witnessed brainstorming discussions which had a great bearing on the local politics.
“Vakil Sir, How is your practice in Supreme Court going?”
“Fine. I’m here for a two week vacation”
“Sir, you are badly in need of a haircut and shave. Why don’t you come to my shop? I’ll give you a lawyer’s look.”
I complied. He thus succeeded in soliciting a customer for his scissors and his tongue.
He led me into his shop. His shop is of the size to accommodate one chair and he himself. There is a bench kept outside for waiting customers. All available newspapers and magazines in Malayalam are kept there. Pictures of
He started his work. If I say it progressed at snail’s pace, it might cause disgrace to snail. He advanced his scissors through my unruly curly bush in such a way as to cause the least possible pain to the hair. Before cutting down, he caressed each hair, as if to bid adieu to it. Finally he broke his silence.
“Sir, you know one thing?”
“We can’t trust amerrikka”
“What!!” I wondered how his observation came out of blue.
“Yes Sir. They are very cunning. We can’t trust them. All this nuclear deal and stuff is a farce. Our PM is very naïve. As our national leader has said, he is a very earnest man. But Bush has made a fool out of him. They will invade
“How does it matter to both of us? Finish the work fast”. My capitalist and pro-American attitude couldn’t digest his blabberings. But I was in no mood for a debate. It should be done with equals.
“Sir” he continued “I haven’t gone to college. I dropped out of school at third forum. I might not have gone beyond the boundaries of this Panchayath. But Sir, I know a lot about this World. You cannot imagine who all have been my customers. Great politicians, writers, artists, lawyers, doctors and all. Constant interactions with such people have made me quite knowledgeable.”
I thought he was offended by my statement. I wanted to clarify. But he won’t let me open mouth.
“Hey Sir, you saw that lady who just passed by. Janu. She is a witch. She kicked out her husband from home.
“For God’s Sake. Will you concentrate on my head?” I was really annoyed.
Loquaciousness personified stood behind me with a razor and a tongue sharper than the razor.
Despite my outburst, he was calm.
“Sir, you saw that photo?”
I looked up. A forty year old photo hanging on the wall, where a forty year less old Thankappan was cutting the hair of some other gentleman.
“That is Sakhavu(Comrade) Divakaran. He was my first customer. Actually, he asked me to set up this shop. During the heydays of Naxalism I used to meet and help the activists secretly. That’s how I met Sakhavu Divakaran. When days of Naxalism were over, he became a great leader. He helped me in establishing this shop. He is now no more. Great martyr. In all sense he is my Godfather.”
Meanwhile an auto-rickshaw halted near the shop. Someone inside called him. He went near it. After a while he came back.
“Sir, Varkey,my friend is in deep trouble. I need to meet him urgently. I’ll be back in five minutes”
“Hey, finish my work and go. Stop there”
But he didn’t heed. He jumped into the rickshaw and it sped away.
I was fuming with anger. How could he dare to commit a grave breach of duty before a Supreme Court lawyer? I saw my reflection in the mirror with half cut hair. I looked like a joker. I felt like banging my head on to the mirror.
Minutes ticked away. No sign of barber. I could hear passer-bys chuckling at me.
‘Oh! What a disgrace’
I enquired about Thankappan to one of them.
“He’s in the toddy shop.” Someone replied.
GOD! There’s no point in waiting for him. Even if he returns, he won’t be sober. I covered my clownish head with a towel and went out.
On the way I met Thankappan in an inebriated state. He was on his ‘four wheels’.
“You nasty fellow. Don’t you know to finish off the work? Don’t think that you can get away from me easily”. I lashed out at him.
“What will you do? File a case against me? Then do. Didn’t I ask you to wait.? And don’t call me names. Who do you think you are? Don’t try to show your capitalist and bourgeoisie attitude at me. Our party is ruling the State. Days of feudal lords are over.
And give my cash.”
He was completely out of his senses.
“Cash??For half work. I’m not giving it. You go and file case. Or complain to your Party.”
I left the scene. I was terribly restless as I couldn’t let out the ire and wrath which have accumulated in me against him.
It was after a week that I met him again.
“Sir, I’m terribly sorry for that day. I wasn’t in my senses. I shouldn’t have behaved in that manner” he confessed.
“Hmm. Self-realization is good” I wanted to avoid him.
“I’m in deep trouble.”
“The Government people have given me notice. They want to evict me and my shop from the place. They are going to build some national highway or expressway or something like that. I don’t know what to do. This is my only means to bread and butter.” He said this with an unusual stammer.
“If they ask you to leave then you must. I hope you have the title deed and other related documents. In that case you will get the appropriate compensation”. I took a very indifferent stance.
“No Sir. I don’t have any title deed. I set up this shop on the road side on the advice of Sakhavu Divakaran.”
“Oh. That means you are an encroacher. Then you don’t accrue any right. Just take your stuff and flee.” I spoke like a lawyer.
“No Sir. Don’t say like that. It’s my life. How can they do it? Sakhavu Divakaran inaugurated it. And our Party is in power. How can they go against Sakhavu Divakaran.?”
“Then you go and ask your Party. I have to go now. See you later”
I felt some kind of sadistic pleasure. State is taking revenge on my behalf.
Next day I saw him coming out of the Party office. He looked very gloomy.
“Any new developments?” I asked him.
“No sir. It seems they have also forsaken me. They also want the expressway to come up. They are no more regarding Sakhavu Divakaran. I don’t know what good the express way will do to this Panchayath. Many poor people like me will be evicted. All those paddy fields, coconut trees and streams will be gone. It will only help the bourgeoisie and capitalist brats to race their SUVs. I don’t know what has happened to the Party?”
“Hey, You idiot. Grow up. This is twenty first century. And a six-lane express way will do more good to this village than a venom-spewing barber.”
I felt very elated having said this. Some relief for my vendetta against him.
Next day the state squadron came to evict the encroachers. Thankappan was in a total inebriated state. He clung hard to the shop with his arms. The bulldozer came with a roar.
“You can’t do it. You’ve to kill me to do it.” he yelled.
The Police men pushed him back and held him tightly. He tried to jump out of their tight hold. The fragile shop was not at all a test for the monstrous machine. A gentle touch. And the entire structure collapsed down. He screamed. It was louder than the roar of the machine. It came from the depth of his heart. It appeared poignant even for me. Unknowingly, my eyes filled.
Thankappan jumped out of Policemen’s grip. He picked up something from the rubble. The photo of Sakhavu Divakaran inaugurating his shop. Its frame was broken. He held it to his chest.
“How could you do this to me? How could Party do this to me?” He lamented.
Suddenly, he started twirling about due to some muscular spasm. He fell down to ground unconscious.
Next day I was making my preparations for my return journey. Later, I heard that Thankappan died yesterday because of massive heart attack. As my car passed by the Party Office I overheard the funeral speech made by some Party Leader.
“Thankappan is a martyr. By wielding the Party Flag in one hand and the razor in the other hand, he led a life on the razor’s edge….”
My car sped away through the prospective expressway. I felt some kind of pricking sensation at my heart.