Early in August1981, it was drizzling in Kozhikode when Jose and I alighted from the auto rickshaw outside the gate where Madhavi Kutty was resting after having diagnosed with an irregular palpitation and blood pressure. We went there to invite her to the Ragam festival in Regional Engineering College (REC) Calicut -now known as National Institute of Technology (NIT) – a festival in memory of P Rajan who was brutally murdered by police during the preceding Emergency years in India. As we opened the gate and walked in without closing the gate behind, I saw Madhavikutty relaxing on an arm chair, reading a book, and as I heard a male voice speaking on the telephone from inside the house, presumably her husband, the thought that stuck into my psyche was what a stunning beautiful woman! With testosterone at all time high at the age of twenty something and staying in the boys only hostel campus in between the remote Chathamangalam – Kattangal villages, the mere darshan of Madhavikutty was simply a visual treat for both Jose and me. She looked up from the book, smiled at us, as she had been briefed earlier by my uncle Mr P R S Pillai who was earlier in the position of Chairman of the Kerala State Film Development Corporation, and she was expecting us.
While I was still absorbing the unfamiliar aura of the raw female sexuality with awe, as if reading my mind and smiling rather mischievously she whispered” close the gate behind you” (as if she wanted to have privacy with us- was my thought, but may be not to disturb the high pitched phone conversation inside the house) …. Without taking my eyes off her I said to Jose, da, close the gate…
I spoke to her in Malayalam and said words to the effect that we came to invite her to the inaugural function of Ragam – a festival in memory of P Rajan.
Her husband Mr Das came out and started listening into our conversation, and standing on the left end of the veranda spoke to us rather curtly “don’t you have too many Naxalites and communists in REC campus? There will be trouble if she comes there to speak, and she is not well. After a brief debate between the husband and wife when we looked away uncomfortably, she said to us –
“I will come, I want to see your campus and that campus made an incredible contribution to free thinking and liberal values in this country…
and referring to the brutal killing of Rajan, she said he will never be forgotten. I will come”
I said we would pick her up in the college car, but Mr Das interjected and said, “no I will arrange the driver to bring her there and bring her back immediately after the speech, she should be back in two hours”. She made eye contact with me and I read in her eyes “just say yes, agree to what my husband’s arrangement of sending her in their own car”
I agreed with Mr Das and said that we would phone in the morning on the appointed day and shall wait for her at the main entrance of the REC campus
She came …at the REC campus entrance, she stopped the car where we had posted another student to direct the car to the college auditorium… he told me later that he got into the front seat, and when the driver was about to take off, she asked the driver to stop…
What caught her attention was the large flex on the left side of the campus entrance showing a picture of the handsome young man ‘P Rajan… and as I remember the writings that we had written on the flex were as s follows.
Swantham Nattellum Thalachorum Bharanadhikari Varagathinu Panayam Vaikan Kootakkatha Kuttathinu, Ekadhi Pathithinetea Thadavarayil, Janadhi padhithinu vendi Jeevan Baliyarpicha Rajentea swapnaglkku ..
She took her time to read through the writings on the flex and intensely watched the handsome Rajan’s picture for few seconds, while the driver and the other student sat in the car waiting ….. then she told the driver “let us go”
She spoke to a packed auditorium of students and faculty from all the states in India about poetry, its emotive connect with readers, importance of freedom of speech and then she talked about Rajan – as if narrating an incident – not so much like a speech- about Rajan’s killing, the dark period of emergency in India and advising us students to become conscious of our duties and evolution in the socio-political streams of life.
Immediately after her speech I went to her seat on the dais, bent down behind her seat hiding from the view of the audience, and whispered… “ehm, we had promised to let you go and murmured some thing… . she turned around with a mischievous smile and patted on my cheek which was hidden from the view of the audience and behind the chair she was sitting on, and I blushed, I froze and I could not complete my sentence –my mouth half open and with a smile I got up and walked away to my seat on the other end of the stage.
When she was ready to go after the vote of thanks, she made eye contact with me again and got up, walked towards me, as I also walked towards her, she shook my hands and yet again with an unfamiliar womanish aura capturing the whole stage – she said “thank you Rajeev, I enjoyed talking to you boys, I will come again”. The way she said boys stuck me for a long time, and later in life I thought I was heavily influenced by that word- boys, and my cravings to remain boyish. Even those long twenty-five years when I lived outside India after my REC days, I followed the transformation of Madhavikutty- the woman, the writer, the social experimentalist and the rebel- and the images of her visit to REC were fixed in my psyche
And then she was gone …I walked behind her along with other boys not taking my eyes of the free flowing long black hair, and we watched her get in the car, we waved her good bye as the driver closed the back door….and she was driven away.