A Problem to Solve
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He was not a friend of mine but when I met him in the library I had to share a smile. He was milling his way back to the counter with a pile of books held close to his chest.
“How are you Mustafa?” I asked.
“Hi, nothing special, man. Just going. And you?”
“Nothing much, yaar. I heard you are organizing protests for raise in the salary of Guest Lecturers.”
“Oh, yeah! By the way, being a guest lecturer yourself why don’t you join us?” He asked me with a sarcastic smile upon his face.
“I am a bit busy these days, yaar. I actually forgot the date of your Union formation.” I padded my response with enough diligence to keep him off suspicion.
“Is that the case? Don’t worry, we still take people in; we don’t have any closing date for memberships, we never had, I mean.” Mustafa said.
I was not political. It was sure he had no idea what I thought about Unions with a political nature. That moment had its hidden malignity that was unexpected and therefore unsettling.
I was trapped.
“Excuse me, just a minute…” I excused myself with my cell phone in hand, suggesting I had a call to make, the language of the yuppies; an “excuse me” with a cell phone could mean anything. I went out and did not go back to the counter.
The incident kept my thoughts occupied. I always ran away from such Unions, and now, it seemed a dead end. At that spot in the library I was almost forced to join the Lecturer’s
Union. However, what seemed more dangerous was the way I felt about this step; joining the Union. I had started thinking of it as a ‘necessary evil’.
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I stood looking out of my window facing the endless gravel ground with a
at its end, with its tiled roof reflecting the darkness spreading over the landscape. Government School
The sensation in the air of a slow movement inside the room made me control my thoughts, which were spilling all over my face, at once.
It was my Papa; he smiled. I smiled back. “When you want to be alone, you must be alone, but the choice of the moment sometimes can be wrong and then it can do us the opposite of the desired result,” He said. He was an English teacher in a High school in Kannur town.
“It’s just nothing Pa,” I tried to cover it up, since his involvement meant the end of my solitude for the moment, my much wanted solitude.
“It’s the problem of the Guest Lecturer’s salary issue; the University is not allotting the full salary, they say the government is not allotting them the required amount due to the fiscal crisis. And I met this friend of mine today, who asked me if I could join the cause against the government,” it surprised me, I didn’t want to talk with him then, but I opened my mouth and blurted it all out.
“OK. So what is your decision?” Papa enquired.
“I haven’t made any decision yet, pa,” I said with a tint of desperation, since I was absolutely sure of the uselessness of sharing this issue with him. “His
Union has a definite political alignment. As you know I—”
“—Not interested in Union politics,” Papa cut in. “So you are in a confusion, right?” he asked.
“Have you heard of Mr. Mathieu Kallarakkal?” Papa asked me. I nodded, I knew this man from our old family album. He was one of our distant relatives in the maternal side, now dead. Papa always took the name Mathieu Kallarakkal with respect, something I was very impressed at, since most of the husbands as far as my observations taught me, are incessantly repellant from anything or any one close to their wives’ families, at a later stage in their marital life.
Mathieu Kallarakkal was jailed by the Indira Gandhi government during the political emergency, in the year 1976. At that time he was thirty nine; forty years later he passed away at his home, living prosperous as a successful painter.
“He never was a political activist, but still he was imprisoned. Do you know why?” Papa spoke up.
Mathieu Kallarakkal had a prison experience was all I knew.
“He always wanted to be a painter; he had a job as an artist who drew banners and wall posters for political parties. That was what he did for a living; he never belonged to any of them. After the emergency, as the political activities were banned Mathieu Kallarakkal, the artist lost his only income.
“He had a serious problem to solve—making a living. And he had found a way out too. One day he came with his brushes and canvas; fixed them in the market junction with a board on the nearby electric post, which read ‘Have the Freedom of Art—Art Classes for All Ages.’ He didn’t join the politicians for protest against the government.
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“He started teaching painting. Since he had no rooms in the town and didn’t have the money to rent one he taught classes in the street itself. A lot of kids and young people came to learn from him. This was at a time when the government had prohibited public assembling. Mathieu Kallarakkal was arrested.
“After one year he was out of jail, but by then he was a local hero imprisoned by the despotic government. He started exhibiting his paintings about his days in jail. Each of the paintings was accepted with a greater significance. He had opened a space for himself, as a political hero and an icon for all the political parties.
“All the political parties rallied to impress him. But the truth remains that until the end of his life, he never accepted any affiliation with political parties. He never tried to correct what others said about him.”
I looked at Papa. He was engrossed much in his tale, which seemed weak in craft. It was perhaps a real story, but he was a poor teller.
“I thought he was politically active, everyone in the town believes it. But now he seems very similar to me,” I said.
Papa’s face came closer to mine. “Have you noticed where you both differed?” he asked.
His face was so close that the nearness suffocated me. “Wh—what do you mean?” I asked.
“Mathieu Kallarakkal decided to choose his own path in finding a solution to his problem, rather than relying on others,” Papa stopped and went backwards until his back touched the wall opposite to the window I was standing by.
I felt that it was my turn to talk, “I understand Pa; it’s the courage to make choices that matters, right?”
“Yes,” Papa said, “But Mathieu Kallarakkal’s real greatness is not just in making choices, but in the courage to live with whatever people said about him, without complaints,” Papa smiled and left the room.
I stared at the wall and then outside the window. It was dark, but I could see the flickering lights among the rocks that partially hid beneath the gravel ground.