A train journey with PKV

PKV Election Poster

Today is the 74th Independence Day. As I write this, Malayalam news media is full of discussions on the gold smuggling scandal that has been the rage for the last six weeks. In stark contrast to the jet setting life style and outlook of present day leaders, I was reminded of two incidents from a few decades back.

The first incident relates to a long train journey in June/July 1983. My university in New Delhi was reopening after a long vacation, which had been advanced following a student agitation. I was completing my M.A., and as there were to be no admissions in 1983 for higher studies, my trip was for completing the remaining examinations, and winding up my stay in Delhi. The journey from Trivandrum to New Delhi by Kerala Express those days lasted around 50 hours. If there were to be any delay, it could even go anywhere beyond 60 hours.

That was the only occasion my father ever came to see me off at the railway station. Before boarding my second class compartment, I found my father in conversation with an elderly gentleman who I did not initially take much notice of. My father later called me to introduce me to the person. It was P.K. Vasudevan Nair, veteran CPI leader, and a former Chief Minister of Kerala, from 1978 to 1979, when he resigned to pave the way for the formation of the Left Democratic Front, which is currently ruling the State.

PKV, as he was popularly known, was a Member of Parliament for four terms. The last was from Thiruvananthapuram in 2004, and earlier from Peermade, Tiruvalla, and Ambalappuzha, all places with which my family had some connection or the other, my maternal grandfather having had a dispensary in Ambalappuzha also apart from Alappuzha and other places. Moreover, PKV and my father shared the same alma mater in UC College, Aluva, where my father did his intermediate before moving to University College, Trivandrum, while PKV was a senior doing his graduation before moving to the Law College, Trivandrum. They probably knew each other from those days.

In addition to the personal connections, my father’s batch of 1957 enjoyed a special equation with the then political class, as they joined the State cadre when the first Kerala Ministry was also sworn in. As a result, they grew up in administration learning together. Moreover, the civil service recruits, at least in those days, were highly correlated with performance in their education. Apart from my father, the other two toppers from his BA History Hons. batch at the University College had joined the IAS. Being a much smaller world in those days, their political contemporaries at the College, therefore, knew the calibre and quality of the young bureaucrats who had joined the service. It helped that, but for one person, Late P.M. Abraham, none of the others in my father’s batch, chose to move to New Delhi. My father completed a Central Government tenure working for a PSU in Kerala. That was also why when, a few years back, I met Vinod Rai, former Comptroller and Auditor General, also of the Kerala cadre, he said that “Your father’s batch ruled Kerala like the mafia!”

PK Vasudevan Nair being sworn in as Chief Minister

PKV and I were a few seats apart in the same bay of the second class compartment. Most of my time was spent in conversation with PKV. It was also my pleasure to share with him the newspapers that I used to buy, and get for him whatever he wanted without having to get out of the train. I also got to introduce to PKV, some of my friends who were also travelling by the same train. We all struck up a good relation with PKV, who was all simplicity and humility personified.

I used to wonder, over the years, how many former Chief Ministers of a State in the country would ever travel second class by train, and that too a long and arduous 50 hours journey. No obvious name came to mind. PKV, moreover, was never a person to hanker for power or positions. He could have been Minister for much longer than what he eventually was. Whenever I think of PKV, I could not help but salute him from the depth of my heart.

E. Chandrasekharan Nair

The second related to, if I remember correctly, the resignation in 1981 of EK Nayanar as Chief Minister of Kerala, soon after the Congress (S) and Kerala Congress (M) withdrew their support. My father later informed me, with a great sense of admiration, that E. Chandrasekharan Nair, who was the Minister for Food, Civil Supplies, and Housing, vacated the Minister’s bungalow the same evening. He spent the night on a bench in the party office. This is in stark contrast to what we get to hear about many in Lutyens Delhi who would continue occupying their official accommodation for years after losing their official position, until having to be evicted forcibly. And this applied to many who held no official position whatsoever.

These are just two examples of simplicity, honesty, and uprightness in pubic life. There must be many more. A few good things to remember as the nation gets ready to start celebrations for the 75th year after independence, a year from today.

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