Sunday, November 30, 2008

Illusion or reality?

(A series on childhood memories)

Seeing a ghost, (or was it his imagination?) and standing for class elections were some of the unforgettable memories of film director Rafi

By Shevlin Sebastian

“Sometimes when I lay down to go to sleep, at night, a woman would appear at the window,” says film director Rafi. “She was wearing a white saree and had long curly hair which covered half the face.”

The woman would glide into the room, sit on Rafi’s chest and press his throat. “I was unable to speak,” he says. After several moments she flew out of the window. A perspiring Rafi would finally call out to his family members and they would bring a glass of water for him to drink.

“This has happened many times over the years,” he says. In desperation he consulted a doctor who told him that when he was extremely tired his mind might have produced this image.

So Rafi was advised to drink a lot of water and to go to bed only when he felt really sleepy. Things improved but the woman would occasionally come, always at night. “Despite this, I have to say I don’t believe in ghosts,” he says.

Rafi’s encounter with the macabre might have fuelled by the images from the film which had the most impact on him when he was a teenager: 'Lisa', starring Prem Nazir.

“It was a horror film,” he says. “Each time I saw the movie and returned home I would be scared. Then the effect would wear off and I would have a desire to see it again. I saw 'Lisa' many times.”

The most frightening scene was when the ghost, a woman, screamed and the face collapsed dramatically. “The lips would crinkle up, and there would be ruptures on the skin,” he says. “At that moment the audience would get really scared.”

But this thrill of seeing films, like Lisa, came at a price. Rafi usually saw the movies, at matinee shows at the Shree Ayyappas theatre at Nettoor, after classes finished at the S.V. Upper Primary school.

When he returned home at 5 p.m., his mother, who knew he had gone to see a film, would be silent. “She would make me eat,” he says. “After I finished, she would take a cane and beat me. She always hit me after I finished the food, because she knew I would not eat if she punished me first.”

But despite these transgressions, Rafi was a good student. Surprisingly, because of this, in Class 8 at the Marad Mangayal high school, he was forced to stand for elections for the class representative post.

The Kerala Students Union (KSU) came up with the idea that if the best students stood for elections, their classmates, especially the girls, would vote for them. So, while Rafi stood for the KSU, his classmate, Udayan, who shared the same bench, represented the Students Federation of India.

Since Udayan was a trouble-maker, the class teacher Purushothaman Pillai supported Rafi. Soon, it was time to count the votes. “Purushothaman Master counted the votes and I could see that he had put one extra vote in my name, so that I could get 21 and Udayan got 20,” says Rafi. By this time the KSU had started celebrating the result.

But a suspicious Udayan asked for a recount. “I could see the teacher’s hands shaking as Udayan said, ‘Master, keep this vote here, and that vote there.’ In the end, Udayan won, and I have never forgotten the look of embarrassment on Purushothaman Master’s face.”

And Rafi also cannot forget the day he was caught red-handed for bunking classes by a principal. For a brief while he had studied at the Darul Uloom school at Pullepady where Hassan Master was the principal. Thereafter Rafi moved to the Kaloor Government High School while Hassan Master became the principal of a school near Rafi’s house.

One day Rafi had left classes early and was on his way home when Hassan Master spotted him. He said, “Is there no school today?” Rafi replied that, indeed, there were no classes that day. Hassan Master said, “Come with me,” and took Rafi back to his school.

“He did not scold me,” he says. “But what was most amazing was that he had such a sharp memory and remembered me. I don’t think you get teachers like that today.”

And you don’t get friends like A.B. Kunjomon who unwittingly gave Rafi a lesson on what good writing is all about. “Kunjomon wrote short stories,” he says. “Since he was shy, he was hesitant to show his work to a writer.”

Rafi took the initiative and took it to writer C. Radhakrishnan. “When he read it, he pointed at one section and said, ‘What did you mean by this?’” says Rafi. “Then Radhakrishnan Sir said, ‘I can understand what you are trying to say, but my son who is studying in Class 10 will not. A story should be written in such a way that readers are able to understand what you are trying to say. Otherwise, it will not achieve its aim.”

This piece of advice had a lifelong impact on Rafi, who always wrote his scripts with this principle in mind.

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)


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