The following is an extract from Memories of a Father, the Malayalam book written by T.V. Eachara Warrier, a professor of Hindi in Kerala whose young son, Rajan, disappeared after being arrested by the police during the Emergency in 1976.
Warrier later established the fact that the police had held Rajan in illegal detention at a camp in Kakkayam where they tortured and eventually killed him. None of the policemen involved in his murder were ever brought to justice.
The book was translated into English by Neelan and published in 2004.
In its concluding section, Warrier visits the now abandoned torture chamber where Rajan and other young men had been held illegally by the police and reflects on the absence of justice that confronts him at the end of his long journey.
I went around Kakkayam camp with Advocate Ram Kumar and Mr. Appukuttan Vallikkunnu, a journalist. The waves of the Emergency had receded. The building where the camp was run had been deserted. It was in a remote place. I felt sure that its remoteness was the reason that Mr. Jayaram Padikkal selected it from which to run the camp. Maybe he decided that the cries from the camp should not even reach the clouds.
Mr. Appukuttan Vallikkunnu brought out the inside story of Rajan’s case through a series titled “Kakkayam Camp Kadhaparayunnu” (“Kakkayam Camp Narratives”). The war he waged through the Communist Party mouthpiece Desabhimani is a model for the struggle for democracy and human rights. He had been deputed to report the Coimbatore hearing, and he was very precise in informing me of the details. He correctly predicted beforehand that the witnesses would change sides. His ability to study and observe the details and to analyze issues struck me with wonder. Within a short time there developed a strong emotional bond between us. He treated me like his father.
I felt emotional as we went around Kakkayam camp. When we entered the room where Mr. Jayaram Padikkal used to sit, I imagined him in that chair, rolling a sharp pencil in his hands. It was in this room that my son bid farewell to this good earth. It was in this room that he writhed with pain after cruel torture. What might have been in his mind during the last moments? He might have cursed; he might have cursed all the green freshness of this world before death… no, it could never have been like that. How could he remember his mother who waited for him every day, his father who held him as he walked around, and all his dear ones, with a wounded mind? My eyes started getting moist in memories.
Both Mr. Appukuttan and Mr. Ram Kumar kept quiet. When they talked, they took care to talk only about the case. The crickets and other tiny insects were still crying out from the silence outside the camp. I have read of great men who have talked of life, and struggles from the other end of death. It is sure that death will never be a burden to those who have crossed those great worlds of ideas and ideals. But I don’t believe that Rajan had imbibed those fresh winds of faith blowing through the country after the Naxalbari uprising. When I asked a Naxalite friend of mine whether Rajan was one of them, he replied that he was only a sympathiser. That would have been the truth. It would have been beyond Rajan to attack a police station and snatch away a rifle. He was so weak in mind that he would not even have been able to think of that.
One story is that there was a Rajan among those who attacked the Kayanna police station, so the police picked up all youngsters with the name Rajan, brought them to the camp and tortured them. I could not reconcile this within my sense of justice. The rolling torture was done in front of other inmates, I was told. Going through the dark alleys of torture, they were also made to see and hear the writhing of the tortured, the loud helpless wailing and drained eyes. As one prey was writhing, the next was waiting for his turn.
I came to know that Rajan yielded himself silently to the torture. I have read about people being called to their deaths in Nazi camps. As an officer called out names, others were queuing up, waiting for their turn. They even took care not to call a husband and wife together into death; Hitler knew that the pain of separation and getting lost was more intense than death.
Mr. Paul, the proprietor of the famous spare parts dealer, M/S Popular Automobiles, was an inmate at Kakkayam. His father contacted Mr. Karunakaran, and got him released because he came to know of it very early. Mr. Paul had Rs. 500 on him, and when leaving the camp he gave it to the other boys. After influencing someone, they bought food; up till then they were all starving. Rajan was not able to stand hunger; such a boy would have been burned in its forest fire. His mother could not even feed him a handful of rice before his death. Nor could I offer one to him in funeral rites after his death. That still weighs on me. When I hear him calling “father” in the heavy rain some nights it is the cry of hunger. Thinking that my child is hungry, I too never escape hunger, however much I eat.
“We must be able to face everything; must be able to face all that happened with a balanced mind. Only if you are able to do that will we be able to do our social duties,” Mr. Appukuttan Vallikkunnu consoled me. I understood that. The struggle against such brutalities had to begin with Kakkayam camp after the Emergency. I should not leave the new generation to that wooden bench and the rolling.
I fell silent. There were no signs of the police camp left in the building. The wounds that the thirteen-day-long camp inflicted on the bodies of those youths had not been posted on its walls. But those walls knew Rajan’s sighs and cries. They stood silent and detached, watching the young men writhing with pain. There were cobwebs on those walls. There were termites in those closed windows. I opened one of them, and light entered the room. In which mysterious wilderness is my son’s soul still wandering? I pressed my face against the iron bars. Oh, my son, here is your father…
The sunlight outside blurred my vision. If the soul has eyes, he will be seeing me, I thought. He will recognise my throbbing eyes. Is there a sound coming out of the dry leaves on the ground outside? Whose footsteps am I hearing? I set my ears to listen.
I had to face the question of whether or not I had vengeance towards those police officers responsible for Rajan’s death. This question pulled me down into doubt. I grew up among Hindu beliefs. To one born in a house guarded by a temple, prayers, offerings and religious customs, the feeling of vengeance is quite unnatural. But whenever I saw Mr. Pulikkodan Narayanan on television, arguing heatedly with his curled-up moustache shivering vigourously, vengeance flashed through my mind. I remembered the helpless and painful moments my son faced. Unconsciously, I start thinking of settling the score. A previously unknown anger entered my mind. Whenever I think that I have forgotten everything, I remember it more clearly.
“You didn’t care for him,” his mother said to me on her deathbed. Then, I had the face of a father who ran around the country like a horse, running through the days meaninglessly. But as time withered day after day in Kakkayam camp, her comment about the helpless father who couldn’t get his son might have been meaningful. I still have tears in my eyes to weep. This body still has weak throbs of life. So please, my dear ones, pardon this cursed father if I have pained you all.
Advocates Eeswara Iyer and Ram Kumar, Mr. Vahabudeen the principal, Mr. Appukuttan Vallikkunnu… there were so many who tried to cheer me up when I went down into darkness. With which birth will I repay them for their outstretched hands, among those unseen and unknown experiences? Thanks, friends, thanks.
My path is ending. The rain that lashed all over will thin out soon. I feel blessed that so many were drenched in that rain for me, and along with me. Let me hold this feeling close to my heart as an offering.
Rajan used to sing well. When I wrote that he sang only when his mother asked him, my daughters got angry. They said that Rajan used to sing for them too. He never sang for me. I had no time for his songs. So he might have decided that his father should hear his poorly recorded songs only after his death. Oh Rajan, how sad those songs were that you sang while alive, and which I never heard then. I see in them something that meditates for death. Did you hate life so much, my son?
I shall stop. The rain is still lashing out. I remember my son when this heavy rain drums my rooftop, as if someone is opening the locked gate and knocking at the front door. It is not right to write that a living soul has no communication with the soul of the dead.
I hear his songs from a cassette on this rainy night. I am trying to retrieve a lost wave with this tape recorder. The good earth is getting filled with songs till now unheard by me, this crude man. My son is standing outside, drenched in rain.
I still have no answer to the question of whether or not I feel vengeance. But I leave a question to the world: why are you making my innocent child stand in the rain even after his death?
I don’t close the door. Let the rain lash inside and drench me. Let at least my invisible son know that his father never shut the door.