The bearded thief

There are some characters in life, which you know will never see again. As we move on in life, we lose several of them only holding the memories of them. Just like time, life too ticks away even before you could capture it. We stand there wondering what our children are going to miss. Thaadi kallan was one of them.

He was generally knows as “thaadi kallan” (bearded thief). His residence was on the circular platform around the very old temple banyan tree. The banyan tree stood exactly opposite the temple. The visitors to the temple sat there for a few moments enjoying the cool breeze before leaving to their respective destinations.

Though the platform was his residence, his visibility there was restricted to only two times a day. He would be found sleeping on the platform early in the morning, covered in his long dirty “thorthamundu” (thin traditional cotton towel), and would make the mandatory exit before people started coming to the temple, and again in the afternoon, when the temple was closed. He would have a short siesta, now lying on his thorthamundu below the breezy banyan tree.

He was the petty thief in our town, and mostly stole small things like utensils, vegetables from the gardens etc. The people were also used to him, mainly as he was a source of cheap fresh vegetables. Tell him to get a particular vegetable, and lo, he will produce the same thing by evening from somewhere. Give him fifty paise and he would happily go away.

His real name was narayanan, and I know it as my dad and mom called him by that name. He would come home once in a while when he is hungry and exhausted all avenues to get some food. My father being one of the “avatarams” (incarnation) of the famed giver Karna, glorified in the epic mahabharata, had a standing rule at the house, never to let anyone coming for food go empty bellied. My mother, in league with other “pativrata ratnams” like sita, savitri, mandodari, anasuya etc never swayed from the orders. (dont tell me you dont know these exemplary ladies). Though there have been times when the family struggled to make ends meet, this rule has never been abandoned.

I wonder if anyone knows where he came from. Even my dad has seen him during his youth, staying below the same banyan tree. I used to think was narayanan was born old, and he will remain the same always. There have been times when police would pick him up from his base below the banyan tree, but the same police normally would also drop him off at the same spot.

After college I left for mumbai in search of work, and life moved on. It was only during my last visit home that I saw narayanan again, he was frail and his abode was still the platform around the banyan tree. He had come home requesting some food. He recognised me and wished me well before tottering back to his residence. Thats when dad narrated me one of narayanan’s old adventure.

Maathu mama, who was one of our distant relatives and family friend needed some roof tiles. He had been planning to extend the roof of his kitchen, which need to be extended before the next rainy season, so that the water wont get to the verandah just outside the kitchen. The cheapest way to get some roof tiles was just few minutes walk away, below the banyan tree. Narayanan was the person for the job. Though initially reluctant Narayanan took up the job and said maathu mama will get his tiles in 2 days time, and the price was fixed at 10 rupees. A bargain for maathu mama.

Maathu maama was happy as the whole set of roof tiles were delivered to him as promised. He give 10 rupees to Narayanan as agreed and an additional 2 rupees on top for a job well done. Narayanan went away apparently spending the windfall on some liquor. It was only next day when work-men came to extend maathu mama’s kitchen roof that they noticed something. One complete row of roof tiles were missing from the kitchen roof!

That was the last I heard about “thaadi kallan” Narayanan. Maybe he will die before my next visit to kerala, but he will be there in some of my memories, and I am sure in maathu mama’s memory also.