Sunday, December 28, 2008
Good times and bad times
(A series on childhood memories)
Losing his younger brother in childhood and discovering a treasure trove of detective novels were some of film director K.G. George’s unforgettable memories
By Shevlin Sebastian
Director K.G. George had a younger brother Babu who was suffering from dysentery.
One night the disease got aggravated and his mother rushed him to the nearby government hospital at Kulakkad, Tiruvalla. George, who was 11 at that time, was in deep sleep.
“The next morning I saw my mother coming across the paddy fields carrying Babu on her shoulders,” he says. It was only when they reached home that George realised that his brother was dead.
His mother was crying. “I felt very bad that I had not helped in any way,” he says. “Then my mother said, in an accusing tone, ‘You were sleeping when your brother died.’ That hurt me very much.”
Because of poor medical facilities early deaths were a regular occurrence in their village. George remembers a cousin who died unexpectedly when he was 12.
When his mother and George went to the house they saw the body being washed in preparation for the burial. “My cousin was just skin and bones,” he says. “It was an unforgettable image.”
George, himself, escaped death twice. His father, a signboard painter, would bring home large steel trunks which belonged to rich people that needed to be painted.
“One day a few cousins and I were playing hide and seek,” says George. “I got into a trunk and closed the lid.” Unfortunately, the latch slid into the socket.
George sat in complete darkness and tried to open the truck. But nothing happened. Minutes passed. He was assailed by fear and desperation.
“Finally, I balanced myself on my arms and knees and with great force pushed upwards with my back,” says George. “That broke the latch and I was able to come out.”
On another occasion George fell into a stream near his house. He came up for air four times. “By this time I was about to lose consciousness,” he says. But, providentially, a pappadam seller, Kamalakshi, was walking past and she rushed into the water and saved George.
But his childhood was not only about escaping death. Sometimes his father would take him for a film. He remembers seeing the super-hit Tamil film ‘Chandralekha’.
“There was one segment where a man was tied up and brought in front of a cave,” says the 63-year-old director. “Then a rock was removed and the man was thrown in and the stone was placed back. Later the man died. For some reason I have never forgotten this scene.”
Because of financial hardships, he did not see films often and the family would move from place to place, staying in ramshackle dwellings. “I used to suffer from an inferiority complex because of this,” he says.
Once when his friend Kurien Varghese asked to see his house, George took him to another locality, pointed at a stylish middle-class house and said, “That is my home.”
He remembers another humiliation. “When we went on a family visit to my uncle, Daniel’s house in Ernakulam, my mother hired clothes from the washerwoman so that I could look presentable,” says George. “It was a cream silk shirt and shorts.”
Despite life being an uphill struggle, good things also happened to George. This was when the family had moved to yet another house where he befriended the landlord’s son Raju Thomas. “He was older than me,” says George.
One day when nobody was around George went up to the loft. “I found a treasure trove of books which belonged to Raju,” says George, a voracious reader. They were detective novels and short stories which were published from a place called Champakalam.
“I spent many happy hours reading these stories,” he says. “I have continued to read detective books ever since.” In his house at Vennala, amongst numerous books lined up on wooden shelves, ‘Great Cases of Scotland Yard’ holds pride of place. In his career this interest reached its climax in the classic detective-thriller, ‘Yavanika’.
Meanwhile, Raju was having a love affair with his cousin, Marykutty. “Occasionally he would write on an inland letter and give it to me to deliver to Marykutty, who lived nearby,” says George. “But when I looked at the letter I just could not understand what was written.”
One day George saw that after Raju wrote the letter he used a mirror to read what he had written. “Apparently he wrote from right to left,” says George. “So it was very difficult for anybody to read it unless you used a mirror.”
Thereafter whenever George would get the letter he would also read it with the help of a mirror before delivering it. “They were simple love letters,” he says, with a smile.
George’s delivery work paid off!
Raju ended up marrying Marykutty.
But George could not forget Raju for other reasons. The older boy weighed 75 kgs and every now and then he would call George and sit on his back. “I am testing your stamina,” he would say, as George would gasp for much-needed air.
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)