COLUMN: Spouse's Turn
Sulekha talks about life with G. Karthikeyan, the speaker of the Kerala Legislative Assembly
By Shevlin Sebastian
In 1977, Sulekha Panicker was doing her M. Phil in Malayalam at the Kariavattom campus of Kerala University. Her college friend, John George, stayed at the nearby Salam Lodge with his roommate, the politician G. Karthikeyan. Through John, Sulekha met Karthyikeyan. At that time, Karthikeyan was the State President of the Kerala Students Union. The trio would meet and chat often. “Karthikeyan had a unique way of thinking,” says Sulekha. “I liked him from the beginning.” The feeling was mutual, but left unsaid.
In August, 1978, Sulekha joined as a lecturer in Malayalam at the NSS College in Manjeri. Soon, marriage offers began to come for her. When Karthikeyan heard about this, one day, he, along with his colleague, Hidar Mohammed, the secretary of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, and a friend, went to Sulekha's house at Kunnamthaanam, near Tiruvala. He told Sulekha's father, Krishna Panicker, that he wanted to marry his daughter.
Krishna said he would come and meet Karthikeyan's parents.
A few days later, Krishna, along with Sulekha's brother, went to Varkala to meet Karthikeyan's parents. “But when they returned, they told me that the marriage will not take place,” says Sulekha. “The family was not strong financially. Karthikeyan also did not have a job. My parents did not want me to get married to an unemployed person.”
Sulekha did not say anything and returned to Manjeri where she continued with her teaching career. A few days later, Karthikeyan came to Manjeri and asked her whether she would like to marry him. Sulekha said yes. “To take me with him, he did not have even 5 paise,” says Sulekha. “Instead, he had to depend on T.K. Hamza, [the then Congress leader, who now belongs to the Communist Party of India (Marxist)] who gave Rs 50. I went to the hostel, took the necessary clothes, applied for leave and told the authorities that I was going home.”
The couple took the bus to Thiruvananthapuram and reached at 7 a.m. the next day. Through the help of an advocate Nirmalanandan, they got married at a sub-registrar's office at Pothencode on June 20, 1979. Then Sulekha returned to Manjeri and life went on as before.
Later, the couple planned a grand wedding reception at Thiruvananthapuram on July 8. “We sent an inland letter invitation to my parents informing them of the reception and signed it as G. Karthikeyan and Sulekha,” she says. “They were shocked and never imagined that I would do something like this. During the reception leaders of all the political parties attended. My parents also came, but they did not speak to me.”
But, within a year, the parents were reconciled with Sulekha because she had become pregnant. “My parents realised that since Karthikeyan was in a financially difficult situation they had to step forward and support their daughter,” says Sulekha. “Today, they love Karthikeyan like their own son.”
Asked about her husband's plus points, Sulekha says, “Karthikeyan is totally dedicated to the Congress party. Whatever he has got, it is only because of the party.” In fact, Karthikeyan started out as a nobody, and is now the speaker of the Kerala Legislative Assembly, apart from being a six-time MLA. “He made it through dint of hard work,” says Sulekha, who is Director, Distance Education Council, Indira Gandhi National Open University.
Another quality she admires is his lack of enmity. “Even though he is in politics, he has never wanted to harm anybody, although there have been many people both inside and outside the party who have hurt him,” says Sulekha. “I don't think he has a feeling of revenge, although there are others who have used vengeance to come up.”
Meanwhile, in his daily life, Karthikeyan awakens at 5 a.m., and has the unusual habit of touching the floor. “He has done this for years” says Sulekha. Thereafter, Karthikeyan will read the newspapers for the next 45 minutes. Following a bath, he will sit in the puja room and pray for an hour. “He believes in an omnipotent God who is present in all the mosques, temples and churches,” says Sulekha. So, Karthikeyan has gone several times to pray at the Our Lady of Health in Velankanni and also at the Nagore temple at Nagappatinam.
After breakfast, he will set out on his daily work, and return late at night. Incidentally, the couple have two sons, Ananda Padmanabhan 32, who works as a senior engineer at Jakarta, Indonesia, and Sabarinadhan, 28, who is a manager at Tata Sons, Mumbai.
“Karthikeyan is a caring father,” says Sulekha. “My husband had one routine which he kept through the many years when the children were small. On the opening day of the academic year, no matter how busy he was, he would always take them to school.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)