Sunday, October 12, 2008
Naughty as ever
(A series on childhood memories)
Blowing air into his teacher’s eye and playacting following an injury were some of actor Cochin Haneefa’s memorable experiences
By Shevlin Sebastian
When actor Cochin Haneefa was in Class eight at St. Augustine’s school, Kochi his class teacher Govindan (name changed) had a peculiar habit. Every morning at 11 a.m. he would disappear for ten minutes.
There was a wooden partition on one side of the class. Beyond it was the school laboratory. It seemed the teacher went there. “Or maybe he went to the toilet,” says Haneefa. “We were not sure.”
One day Haneefa decided to investigate. So he ran to the back of the class and peeped through a hole in the partition. And that was when the mystery was solved. He saw Govindan having a plate of dosa and chutney.
“Apparently he did not eat his breakfast at home and took it at 11 a.m.,” he says. Suddenly Haneefa got a shock. He saw another eye peering back at him through the hole. Both the eyes continued to stare at each other, with not a centimetre between them.
“I immediately realised if I took my eye away the master would know it is me,” says Haneefa. So he stared back and wondered how to solve the problem. Then he got a brainwave: he blew into the master’s eye and ran back to the seat.
A few minutes later Govindan returned to the classroom, looking flushed and angry. He asked who had peeped. The class remained quiet.
“I was sitting in the front row while his eyes were on the students at the back,” says Haneefa. “I knew I was safe.”
Govindan saw a boy, Steven, slouched over his desk on the last row. “What happened, feeling weak? Did you forget to have breakfast?”
“No, Sir, I had a dosa,” the boy said, as Haneefa laughed out aloud. So, Govindan said, “What is so funny?” Involuntarily, Haneefa said, “Sir, you also had dosa today.” And that was how Govindan caught the culprit and gave three strong whacks with his cane on the open palm of the future actor.
In school Haneefa was crazy about football. So every evening, since he lived just next to the school he would go to play. However, all the other players were older than him and inevitably he would get a lot of bruises. One day when his father, A.B. Mohammed, a businessman, saw a cut on his forehead he said, “Don’t ever play football again.” Haneefa nodded.
The next evening a friend called and Haneefa could not resist. He went to play. “As I was running with the ball I stepped on it and lost my balance,” he says. “The toes of my right foot got twisted. I was under tremendous pain. I could not walk.”
Near the school lived a bone-setter, Kipson. He massaged the toes and said it would take two days to heal. A limping Haneefa went home, terrified of his father’s reaction.
When he reached the gate of his house he saw his mother standing near the door. An idea struck him. “I pretended to fall over the step and groaned loudly,” he says. “My mother came running out and said, ‘What has happened?’ I told her I had sprained my ankle.” She helped him inside.
Every night the five sons, including Haneefa, would sleep together under a mosquito net. Haneefa’s father had an unusual habit. After dinner he would light a candle, lift up the net and look for mosquitoes.
That night he saw Haneefa’s swollen feet. The son was awake but his eyes were closed. “He called my mother and asked whether I had gone to play football,” he says. “My mother said, ‘No, I saw him fall near the gate with my own eyes.’ My father kept quiet and I breathed a sigh of relief.”
The next morning when Haneefa went to the living room, with a cup of tea, he saw Kipson the bone-setter near the gate explaining to his father what had happened.
“You won’t believe this but I vanished for three days,” says this spell-binding storyteller, with a laugh, at his home at Pullepady. Haneefa has just returned from Pondicherry after a shoot for Shankar’s Enthiran – The Robot and looks relaxed and happy as he sits cross-legged on the sofa.
After a pause, he points at his feet and says, “These legs have a different story to tell.”
When Haneefa was born, he had crooked legs. Both feet were pointed at each other. “A close friend of my father, Dr. G.D. Mohammed said the problem can be solved,” says Haneefa. He forcibly straightened the baby’s legs and encased it in plaster.
However, after three months when the plaster was taken off, the legs remained in the same position. “Everybody began crying when the doctor said, ‘This is his destiny and there is nothing we can do about it,’” says Haneefa.
But his father never lost hope. Every night he would massage Haneefa’s legs with oil till 1 a.m. He would be crying when he did this, but in a remarkable show of tenacity he did it non-stop for three years. “When it was time for me to go to school, my feet were perfect,” says Haneefa. “I have no memory of crooked legs.”
For years Haneefa did not know about the full extent of his disability and his father’s role in curing him. One day after he had become a famous actor he met Dr. Muhammad who told him the full story. “I wept in gratitude,” he says. “I realised there was no way I could repay my beloved father.”
(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)