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Panaikulam: An Extraordinary Man 

 Panaikulam village was dependant on Malaya for its livelihood for several generations. Male adults would leave the village, arrive Malaya, work hard for a few years, earn as much as they could, go back to the village, spend a year with their families and return to Malaya again.

World War Two snapped this routine suddenly. Transportation and communication between Malaya and India ceased. The men were trapped in Malaya. Almost all the families in Panaikulam consisting mostly women and children suffered.

 Our family had some landed property. It had to go to meet the needs of the family. Our neighbour, S.N. Edris, better known as Kalavadai Idhris, was a wealthy man. He was not affected by the war. He had his business in Colombo. My family mortgaged some lands to him - never to redeem them. I was then in my preteen, and was happily ignorant of what was going on. When the war ended, I left for Malaya.

  As long as my mother was alive, I used to visit her for a few days every few years. During one of those visits, Edris, now a ripe old man, happened to be in the village. He was somehow related to us (I called him Machan). I visited him everyday during my stay in the village.

  On the second day, he told me of the mortgage of our family land. The mortgage amount was Indian Rupees 200. He told me that, “I have been telling your people to redeem the land. But no one seems to bother about it. It is a small amount. Why don’t you pay the money and take back your land?” he almost rebuked me. I was flabbergasted.

 “I do not know about the mortgage. In any case, it was several decades ago. The land is now worth a hundred times. We have lost our right to the land. It is yours”, I protested. “You can keep your white man’s law. I follow my own law. I lent 200 rupees. I want my 200 rupees back. Go home and bring 200 rupees now”, he demanded. I went to my house. My mother confirmed the mortgage.

 I handed 200 rupees to the old man. His long, deep breath in relief was loud and clear. A couple of days later, he handed over to me the original land title and other documents duly registered in my name. He seemed to be very happy. I wasn’t. I merely looked at him in admiration and gratitude. He invited me to join him for supper that night. 

On my return to Malaysia (no longer Malaya), I wrote a letter to this extraordinary gentleman of Panaikulam thanking him for his magnanimous conduct. I had no further contact with him. Although he no longer lives, he remains in my memory. 

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 PS: Some years later, I subdivided the land and gave it away to my sister’s daughters. They had looked after my mother till her last day.

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