Saturday, August 25, 2007

A memorable King Mahabali

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express

Gopi makes an impact at the Homemakers 2007 fair

By Shevlin Sebastian

The make-up man puts a last dab of colour on the face and suddenly, K. Gopi, 40, is ready. He has flowing black hair, his face is a deep pink, there is a slash of red on his forehead, black kaajal around his eyes, a gold necklace around his neck, gold arm bands, and, on his feet, he wears the traditional slippers with just one knob. Yes, Gopi looks every bit a maveli, holding his umbrella and wearing a bright orange dhoti. “The costume has been provided by Wipro,” he says.

He is standing next to the company’s stall at the ‘Homemakers 2007’ fair, organised by the Pandhal Trade Fair Associates at the Shiva temple grounds. There are around 150 stalls selling various types of consumer, electronic and home appliance items. The crowd on a week-day is so-so, but nearly everybody stops and stares at Gopi. He is, indeed, a striking figure.

Says engineering student Mohammed Nawaz, 23, from Tellicherry: “When I saw King Mahabali, I felt that Onam has already arrived. He really looks like a king. I am happy to see him.” Adds bespectacled Priya Joseph, 13, who stays in Abu Dhabi: “He looks good, but his face has too much pink colour.”

When K. A. Pappachen, 63, a medicine shop owner from Kalady, sees the maveli, he gives him a thump on the back. But he is not happy with the get-up. “The umbrella is too small,” he says. “It should be longer. The maveli looks okay, although he has a paunch. Mavelis usually don’t have a paunch. But I don’t think it is possible to get a modern-day maveli without a paunch?”

Pappachen bursts out laughing, while Gopi grimaces at the remark.

A building painter by profession, Gopi knows somebody in Wipro and that is how he ends up becoming a maveli. “I get paid Rs 500 per day,” says this native of Tripunithara. “But I only have to work from 4 to 7.30 p.m., as the crowd is the largest during this period. I am earning more money than as a painter and the hours are less. This 12-day fair will end on August 25.”

Asked how people treat him, he says, “Everybody admires my costume and treats me with respect, including my family.” His wife, Sobha, and sons Jithu, 19, and Kiran, 17, did come to see him a few days ago, and, he says, his sons enjoyed seeing him in his costume.

So, did Gopi’s presence make a difference in sales? A smiling Sabina Satya Nath, who is in charge of the Wipro stall, which sells Santoor and Chandrika soaps and Sidha herbal shampoo, among other things, says, “People tend to stop to look at the maveli and they end up purchasing something. So, the sales have increased.”

Gopi smiles when he hears this and says, “I am willing to be King Mahabali next year also.”

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