Memories of certain persons are as old as our life. The memories of Ayamu also are of this rank.
Ayamu was the mail runner of my hamlet. He was the right representative of all the mail runners of the world. It was during my boyhood days that I met this character. My father was then Sub Postmaster working at Panamanna Sub Office, Kothakkurissi.
Daily it was a walk around seven miles up and down with a mail bag upon his shoulders. The destination was South Panamanna Branch Office. He had a lame leg. As he walked, he swayed to right and left. It presented a memorable picture. A mail bag hung from the back of his shoulders. It was the dream bag of his life. An old umbrella belonging to the nineteenth century held his collar very low. A short, lean man with an unshaven face. Eyes had lost their gleam. Over his head was either the blazing sun or the raining clouds or the drops of the winter mist. Between the uneven pathway and his legs was worn and torn leather footwear. That footwear had seen many seasons. By 11 O’ clock he begins his long walk. His neck was never proper. He would wink frequently.
It was a mile’s walk Southward along the road. Then it was a right turn to a Panchayat road at Panamanna U P School. I had my fourth standard at this school. This is a Muslim territory. After a few furlongs, the lane opened to paddy fields. Towards the left was a small temple standing in sylvan surroundings – Malolmakavu temple. I remember having gone there once during the temple festival.
After this came a public pond on the right. Once again it was a walk along the shady pathways where bamboo copse flourished. On the left, village houses stood on higher levels. Some of the houses were thatched huts proclaiming the poverty of the surrounding people. Most of them were Muslims. After a few furlongs, the pathway forked. Here was a tea shop and a couple of shops serving the basic needs of the surrounding agrarians and the simple hearted peasantry folk. Here stood a stone hinge for the benefit of people to unload their head load.
Ayamu took a left turn here. Presently he entered a shady lane running among a few houses and their wooded property. After a few furlongs, he was once again among the paddy fields. Cashew nut trees grew along the pathway. Crossing four or five grounds, he entered the expansive paddy fields. Towards his left at a distance was a rocky hill Ithimala . Within winking distance stood an L P School. A banyan tree fell upon his vision. The village temple stood in those sylvan surroundings – Sankaranarayana swamy temple. This was an ancient temple and an important temple coming under the rule of Zamorins.
Ayamu walked beyond the temple. It was still about a mile to his destination. The entire stretch ran among the paddy fields. To his right was Chemkunnu (Red hill). Once upon a time this was without any greenery but now, times had changed. The shape of the hill was like the broad forehead of an elephant. While traversing the paddy fields, he came to a ‘Tanner Pandal’, not far from the temple. This was a sheltering place for the passersby and peasants of the village and that used to supply buttermilk and water for the peasantry folk. The adjoining well always had fresh water on all seasons. Now , in the course of decades, this sheltering place and the well lay in dying condition. That landmark is now gone.
Here, one could find a stone henge that was used by head load workers to unload their labor and rest for a while but Ayamu had no time to take any rest. As the river of Lord Tennyson said “Men may come and men may bit I go on forever”, Ayamu still had miles to go.
After about a mile’s walk from the temple premises, he had now fallen into the orbit of his destination just beyond the compound of Thekkoot house and a lane. He had presently landed on the compound of an L P School – Deshabandhu L P School. The local post office functioned in a single room adjoining the school. It was now about 1O’clock. The school Headmaster Sri Kesavan Master took up the dual role. Besides being the teacher of that school, he also was the Postmaster of that branch post office for a long time.
Master would be eagerly waiting for the arrival of Ayamu. Local people would be hanging around to see whether they had any letters or Money orders from their dear and near ones. Postman Panicker would be sitting on a bench outside the room, being engaged in a light conversation with the peasantry folk. He had an oval face. He was tall and lean and his trousers used to hang loosely about his slim body. His Ganghiji type goggles and well cropped face made him very typical and singular from the rest.
As soon as Ayamu landed on the grounds with his bag of dreams, the scene would transport into an air of activity. Panicker would grab the mail bag and fling open it. He would soon be sorting the letters. The banging sound of stamping seal could be soon heard. Kesavan Master would be engaged in other supervisory work.
The villagers would be eagerly looking at the face of Mr. Panicker for their letters and Money orders like those who eagerly waited to know the election result. In a trice, Panicker became the central figure of the local gathering. Soon, he would come out with a bunch of letters and sit on the bench. He would sit in an erect manner and by holding the bunch at hand’s distance, would begin to call out addresses. In no time the small group would disburse with mixed feelings and emotions.
Ayamu would be waiting in the Verandah in solemn notes. What could be his thoughts at the moment other than a square meal? What could be his dreams at that hour other than the belligerent call of nature? But, he had not carried his lunch box to meet this call. In real terms, he could not afford a lunch on his own. He was such a poor man having had to support a big family consisting of wife and children and his paltry monthly income of Rs.40/- came nowhere in the picture.
Kesavan Master very well knew about the difficulties of this age old mail runner . He had a generous heart and thus allowed Ayamu to have his lunch from the school. During those times, CARE used to feed poor children with milk and the food item prepared from roasted Rava. Ayamu had his due share of this. I can’t imagine the situation if the master had denied Ayamu the liberty of having this lunch.
After his lunch and short rest, once again it was the same walk all the way back to his source with another mail bag upon his shoulders. Return mail had to be delivered. It also contained the dreams of that hamlet. The weight of the bag could be less in comparison to what he had carried earlier in the day.
By about 3O’clock he would arrive at his destination. He would be sweating. His toes would be paining due to corn. He had just finished a long walk in summer. He had practically no hope of an escape from the situation. It was his bread and butter. He could not throw away his job for any reason. After all, he was better disposed than a jobless man!
Family planning was out of question. That earned him more than five or six children. These children grew before him as a question mark. He knew that the family’s future was very bleak but he did not think of committing suicide. The eldest son did not get through the 10th class. One fine morning, that boy was found to be absconding. He heaved a sigh of relief. He really had felt that at least one boy could enjoy the freedom of life. It did not last long. The boy returned home after a while. That could have given Ayamu a great blow!. Later on, the boy boarded the train for Bombay. Let Ayamu die peacefully seeing a few currency notes in his life.
Somehow, he could see that his eldest daughter was blest with married life.
There is no time for retirement for a mail runner. His fate is to get lost in the endless wood among those umpteen hamlets. I can definitely say that a Marathon runner is nowhere in comparison to a Mail runner’s non-stop run for over forty or forty five years.
Thus, our mail runner Ayamu ran along those beaten paths for over forty five years carrying a mail bag upon his shoulders, carrying hopes and dreams of a generation upon his shoulder, knowing no rest. Seasons he complained not. About his work, he complained not. He was as silent as the distant stars at the mid-night hour.
The toil and turmoil of four decades finally took its toll. He could no longer walk. He was not even able to stand properly. Still, he did not leave the battlefield. He availed a cycle advance and purchased a cycle belonging to 18th century! Thus, the mail runner became a mail cycle runner and he continued his job in this manner for some more time. Later on, he handed over the job to one of his sons and began to lead a retired life.
How did he spend his retired life? Not in a marking way. He would now and then get out of his hut to meet his friends . Financial aid was the main theme of such visits. My father had helped him a lot and there is no evidential record for the amount that Ayamu owned my father during his life time. Both are no more and a historical dig is very impossible. Even otherwise, who needs an evidence for this at the moment other than for statistical purpose? One can easily guess the poor circumstances of this mail runner.
Summing up his life, it can be seen that he would have easily covered around 1,50,000 KM in about 45 years of his job. According to this statistics, he should have continued to be a healthy man in every respect but that was not his case. When we would usually say that a long walk is good for our health, we conveniently forget about one thing, that, such walks are to be supplemented with rich and nourishing food. Otherwise, the effort can go in vain.
He is now in eternal sleep somewhere on the foothill of the Anangan Mala. It could be a peaceful sleep in comparison to his struggles in life.
This mail runner’s name should have appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records for having done such a stupendous feat in his life time – 1.5 lacs KMs is not a small measure. But his name appears nowhere, not even in his tomb stone. He has no memorial in this world except in the heart of those old generation of people of my hamlet and in the passing winds of his old alleyways.
That single room post office is no more in the locality. Time has taken away that bench which bore the history of a period. Panicker, the postman and Kesavan Master have withdrawn from this mortal world. Old alleyways which Ayamu had once measured with his feet have now changed to tar road. Some parts of the path way have merged with fields and surrounding properties. If this mail runner happened to come along this way once again, he is sure to miss his direction.
This world is a big grave-yard. One generation builds its hopes and aspirations in the form of mansions and a set of laws. Man moves within that framework. The following generations demolishes those mansions and rewrite those set of laws. Man continues to move within that new framework. Thus, this forever is an ongoing process and if we look at the scenario, man is building his newer mansions and laws upon the debris of the old. Thus, old faces are forgotten. Old alleyways get disappeared within the newer ones. Every man ultimately loses his identity long after he enters the crypt. Finally, he becomes part of a civilization and no more. This is the truth.
Thus, this old mail runner of my hamlet also represents the living image of a bygone era. But he was a man of flesh and blood. He too had emotions and aspiration for life. For the future generations, his tale may seem to be a paradox, a story of improbability. But, for the waters and fields of South Panamanna, for the old alleyways and shady grove of that hamlet, for the seasons that enliven the hamlet, he is a true friend and embodiment of life. Along those sludge trodden pathways walked a man unto his taverns with a bag of dreams upon his shoulders. How can those whispering winds forget him too easily? Can the passage of time rub off his foot mark that he had left clear and deep in that soil?
Oh the passersby of future! Pause for a moment. Take a closer look at those foot marks. They are not etched by the morning dew drops but the sweat drops that dripped from his life.