Sunday, November 16, 2008

Act 1, Scene 1

(A series on childhood memories)

The grave illness of his sister and meeting K.P. Ummer in the flesh were some of the memorable events in actor Sidhique’s childhood

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Sidhique was growing up, a lot of men would drop in at the house in Edavanakkad, Vypeen Island. “They would say they were going to some far-away mosque and would ask us for money to place as a donation, on behalf of the family,” he says. “Sometimes, we would give Rs 10. We have no idea whether the men actually went to the mosque. Most probably they just pocketed the money.”

Realising this, one day Sidhique’s father, Mamathua, told a man he wanted to give an offering. “My eldest son had fallen ill and I promised that I would give something if he became well,” he said. The man readily agreed to accept the donation. “Then my father brought an amikallu (a stone roller) from the kitchen,” says Sidhique. “The man said, ‘Are you making fun?’ My father replied, “I am serious, but if you can’t take it, no problem.’”

Sidhique laughs at the memory, as he relaxes during a break in the shooting of the Shaji Kailas film, ‘Red Chillies’ at Fertilisers and Chemicals Travancore Limited (FACT), Eloor.

Like in any family there were good and bad times. When Sidhique was in Class 7 his elder sister Arifa, 17, contracted typhoid and was taken to the St Vincent De Paul hospital at Kuzhuppilly.

“This was the first time that somebody in our family was being hospitalised,” says Sidhique. “At the hospital I experienced new smells and saw the strange sight of nuns as nurses.”

As the days went by, Arifa’s condition declined alarmingly. One evening when Sidhique went to the hospital he saw that his sister’s long and curly hair had been shaved off and two tubes had been inserted into her nose. “My mother said, ‘Please pray for Arifa,’” he says.

Just next to the hospital was a church. Sidhique went and sat on the steps and began crying. “I feared my sister would die,” says Sidhique. Some time later a nun took him back to the hospital.

However, unknown to him, the intravenous feeding had kick-started the healing process. The next day when Sidhique went to see Arifa, the tubes had been removed and she was sitting up and talking. “I burst into tears of relief,” he says.

It was a close-knit family. Apart from his sister, Sidhique has an elder brother, Majid. His father had a small plot which abounded in coconut trees, while his mother, Biwi, a talented story-teller cum singer, looked after the children and the house.

Sidhique inherited his mother’s creative bent. When he was ten years old he made a film projector. It was a box with a lens in it. Then he placed a cardboard, which had a hole, on the window sill. “With the help of a mirror, I directed the sunlight into the hole and it would hit the lens,” he says. “Behind it were some film strips.”

Sidhique and his friends had collected these discarded bits of film from near the projection room of cinema theatres. Sometimes they would ask the projectionist and he would give some pieces.

The image which was beamed on the wall was the equivalent of a 42” TV image. “It was a thrilling experience,” he says. However, his exasperated mother would always say, “You are always watching films. Be careful or your eyes will get bad.”

Indeed, a few months later, Sidhique’s eyes started watering. His father took him to an eye specialist, Dr. C.I. Mathew. “He said that a white spot had appeared on the retina of my left eye,” says Sidhique. “He asked me whether too much light has fallen on that eye.”

Sidhique had to admit that he was always looking through the lens with one eye closed. “The doctor prescribed an ointment and, fearing for my eyesight, I stopped using the projector,” he says.

One day, Sidhique had a wonderful surprise. He was sleeping when Arifa woke him up and said, “K.P. Ummer has come.” It was 11 p.m. Sidhique sprang out of the bed and went to the living room.

Since the family was not certain that the actor, who had been befriended by Majid, would come to the house, they had not told Sidhique.

“I was staring at him not knowing whether this was a dream or not,” he says. “He was handsome and fair. He asked me my name and in which class I was studying. The next day I still could not believe that I had met Ummukka in the flesh.”

Another excitement for Sidhique was when he saw a gramophone player for the first time. During the summer holidays he spent a few days at his businessman-uncle, Abdul Rahman’s house in Aluva.

One morning, his cousins said, “Today our father will be bringing a Chemmeen plate.” Sidhique was puzzled. “I could not understand what they were saying,” he says. “Was it a plate on which you ate chemmeen?”

In the evening, the mystery was solved. It was a 45 rpm record of the film, ‘Chemmeen’. He remembers vividly the His Master’s Voice (HMV) logo with the dog peering into the trumpet-like horn of the gramophone player.

The first song that was played was Puthan Purakkare. “I kept asking my cousins to replay the record till I knew all the songs by heart,” he says.

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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