Sunday, October 19, 2008

Joy to the world

(A series on childhood memories)

A youthful trip to Kashmir was the turning point in businessman Joy Alukkas’s life

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day when Joy Alukkas was in Class 1 at St. Joseph’s school at Thrissur the school principal Sr. Fatima came into the class and said, “Who has come to class without having breakfast? Please raise your hand.”

The reason she said this was because there was a food shortage raging through Kerala in the early sixties and many families were going through a hard time. Joy, who came from a well-to-do business family, raised his hand because he had actually forgotten to have breakfast.

“Apart from me, another boy raised his hand,” says Joy. Sr. Fatima took them to Class 2 and asked the same question. “Nobody raised their hands,” says Joy. “My sister was in that class and she gestured to me that she would box my ears after school was over. I also gestured that I would do the same to her.”

Joy had ten sisters and in each class there was a sister present when the principal swept into the various classes asking for hungry students. “By the time we reached Class ten, there were ten hungry students and all my sisters were very angry to see me in that group,” he says.

Thereafter Sr. Fatima took them to the convent and gave them something to eat. When school got over Joy usually walked home with his sisters. But that evening they all ran ahead of him.

“I shouted at them, ‘Why are you running away? I got a banana, an egg, and a glass of milk,” he says.

At home the sisters said, “Amma, Joy has embarrassed us by saying he has nothing to eat at home. We cannot show our face in school again.”

As expected, his mother took a stick and began beating him. “Even then I had no idea why I was being hit,” he says. “I ran into the fields as my mother chased me. Her anger lasted till the next day.”

Here is another memory: when Joy was in Class six he remembers how he bunked classes to attend the inauguration of the Ramdas theatre at Thrissur. A Hindi movie, ‘Purab Aur Paschim’ was being shown. The ticket cost 50 paise and Joy sat on the ground right in front of the screen.

Suddenly somebody called out to him. When he turned back he saw that it was his elder brother Paul. “He was studying in Class 8,” says Joy. “He shouted, ‘I am going to fix you.’ I got stunned. Then I recovered my wits and shouted back, ‘You have also bunked class, chettan. I will tell our parents if you open your mouth.’ He had no option but to keep quiet.”

When he was in Class 10 he got permission from his father, who had a shop selling umbrellas, apart from other businesses, to go to Kashmir along with two friends. “We wanted to experience the winter there,” he says.

So, one December day in 1970 they got onto a train at Thrissur and went to Delhi. From there they took the Jamu Tawi Express.

“When we arrived at Srinagar there was ice all over and it was bitterly cold,” he says. “We went to the Dal Lake and hired a house boat.” But within a day they fell into a crisis. Somebody stole their bags which contained Rs. 4000. “At that time, it was a lot of money,” he says. “We were penniless now.”

They managed to hitch a ride back on a truck to Delhi. There the group went to the Madras Café and begged the Malayali owner for some money. “He said we would have to work there to get some money,” he says. “We begged on the streets, to keep hunger pangs away. Finally, we got on to a Kerala-bound train and told passengers about our plight but nobody believed us.”

They ate leftover food. Twice, the Ticket Travelling Examiner threw them out. They would then get on to the next train. “We were so foolish that it never occurred to us that we could make a telephone call to our homes and ask them to send a money order,” he says.

Finally Joy reached Thrissur and went home. “I was so hungry I just ate and ate, had a long bath and slept for 24 hours,” he says.

It was the turning point in his life. “I understood how difficult it is to survive if you don’t have any money,” says the chairman of the Rs. 4000 crore company as he sits in his elegantly furnished first-floor office on Marine Drive.

Joy also felt confident that he could go to any place and even if he did not know the language and the social norms he could survive. So he had no hesitation to go to Dubai as a young man and start his own business. “I became fearless after the Kashmir fiasco,” he says. “I also learnt to be successful.”

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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