Sunday, November 09, 2008

Glimpses of Nehru

(A series on childhood memories)

Seeing former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru face to face and watching three films in a row were some of the unforgettable memories of politician-businessman K.M.I. Mather

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 6.15 p.m. on January 30, 1948 K.M.I. Mather, who was playing in the courtyard of his house at Chowara, near Aluva, saw his uncle rush into the house. “It seems Mahatma Gandhi has died,” he said.

The Mathers had one of the few radios in the locality and his mother, Sohra, immediately switched it on. “The announcement in English confirmed that Gandhiji had been shot dead,” says Mather. Apparently, his uncle was at the railway station when the news was passed through the phone between stations.

“We all felt very sad,” says Mather. Sohra had a worried look on her face. “At that time numerous Hindu-Muslim riots were taking place and my mother was fearful about whether the killer was a Muslim,” he says. “If it had been, the country would have been on fire.”

The next day, the radio was attached, through a long wire, to a loudspeaker placed on the wall of an adjoining house. Numerous people listened to the commentary on the funeral. “People were crying outside,” says Mather. “We could also hear weeping on the radio.”

Mather’s father, K.C.M. Mather, a well-to-do businessman, was a senior Congress leader. Mather remembers the time when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru came to Kerala to address campaign rallies just before the 1952 general elections.

Nehru flew in a Dakota aircraft from Bangalore and landed at the Navy airport at Kochi. In the small reception hall, leaders like K.P. Madhavan Nair, Ikanda Warrier and Panampilly Govinda Menon waited to receive the Prime Minister. Standing next to them was 12-year old Mather, who wore a stiff Gandhi cap. “On it I had stitched two small Congress flags,” he says.

When Nehru arrived, he saw Mather, touched him on the shoulders, smiled, and moved ahead. “He was very handsome,” says Mather. “He had the red cheeks of the Kashmiri.” Nehru was accompanied by his daughter Indira Gandhi, “who looked very shy and reserved.”

From the airport Nehru went to Bolghatty Palace to freshen up. At the meeting at the Durbar Hall grounds, Mather remembers vividly a sentence that Nehru spoke: “I am the proud son of the greatest nation on earth.”

Later, along with his father, he sat in a car behind Nehru, who travelled in an open Buick, to Chalakudy. “People lined the streets and threw garlands and rose petals at him,” says Mather. “Sometimes, he would throw it back, in playfulness.”

Mather has more political memories. On August 15, 1947 he took part in an Independence Day procession, along with his father and other people at Chowara.

“My father was carrying the national flag,” he says. “He was wearing a khadi shirt and dhoti. I felt very proud of him. Later, my father told me to go home since it was getting late.”

Soon, Mather had a change of home. When he was in Class three, in order to get a better education, his father told him to stay at a family-owned house opposite the Ernakulam Town railway station. He lived there with his elder brother, Abdul Rahman, and cousin, Mayinkutty Mather and started studying at St. Augustine’s school.

“I missed my mother a lot,” he says. But his pain was compensated by the fact that the trio was seeing a movie once a week. And, on one unforgettable Saturday, they saw three in a row.

For the matinee show, at Padma theatre, they saw a Tamil film, 'Maya Khudira'. Then it was another Tamil film, 'Nam Naadu' at Laxman Theatre, followed by the Hindi film, 'Shabnam' at Menaka theatre.

To see a film, each ‘chair’ ticket cost 9 annas. Hence, for three films, it cost 27 annas per person or one rupee and 11 annas for the three of them. “We had been given the money by our father’s office cashier,” says Mather, a politician-businessman, in his firm opposite the Town railway station.

His father, who was mostly in Thiruvananthapuram at that time, because he had become an MLA, had one condition: the children should get permission from an elderly person in the family before they went for a film.

“Usually, my grandfather was a regular visitor to the house,” says Mather. “So we would say, ‘Give us money or allow us to go for a film.’ So, naturally, he would give permission.”

Out of the numerous films he saw, it was 'Shaheed', which starred Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal, that he liked the most. Released in 1948, it was a film about a revolutionary who was caught by the British and hanged.

“I remember the last scene where a dead Dilip Kumar is lying on a cot and a garland is put around his neck by Kamini,” he says. Then the body is draped with the national flag, more garlands are put and flower petals are strewn all over, while the haunting hit song by Mohammed Rafi is played: ‘Watan ki raah mein watan ke naujawan shaheed ho.’

Apart from films, Mather was passionate about football. A district-level player, he would buy a season ticket and watch all the matches of the Rama Varma All India tournament at the Maharaja’s College grounds.

“I remember the final in 1951 between Bangalore Blues and Young Challengers from Calicut,” he says. “The Blues won by one goal.” He says that even though the Kerala team lost, the crowd clapped for the winners. “We don’t see that sort of polite behaviour at football grounds any more,” he says.

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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