'He only talks about what concerns our home, like what I have made for lunch or dinner. No politics at home and no controversies too.'
'If I want to know something, I have to update myself from the newspapers or the local people; unfortunately no inside information.'
'He is like a strong fort, which no one can break and get in, not even his wife.'
Pinarayi Vijayan was the face of the Left Democratic Front campaign in Kerala. The LDF won the 2016 assembly election handsomely and Vijayan has been elected as Kerala's next chief minister on Friday.
Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com had visited Vijayan's home in Pinarayi, his village in Kannur district, and met his wife Kamala Vijayan, below, left, during the campaign trail.
We reproduce that exclusive interview.
Did you grow up in a Communist background?
My father, known as Aandy Master, was an active Communist party worker while working as a schoolmaster. We are from Vadakara, from Onjiyam village to be precise. My father was so respected in our village that you could say he had the last word on anything connected with the village.
Were you in any way connected with the CPI-M?
Of course, I was. While studying in college, I was a member of the Kerala Students Federation; it had not become the SFI (Students Federation of India) then. You cannot be otherwise when your father, brothers and uncles actively participated in all the party activities.
How did you meet Pinarayi Vijayan?
Ours was an arranged marriage. It was in 1978 when I was studying for BEd that this marriage proposal came. After coming come out of jail during the Emergency, he was insistent that he would only marry a girl with a Communist background.
So, when the proposal came, my father told them that I was doing BEd and that he could only say anything after talking to me. I was okay with it, so he (Vijayan) came to see me.
What did you talk when you first met each other?
He looked at me, I looked at him and then he said, 'Shall I go?' I said, ok. (laughs)
Didn't he ask you anything about your party activities?
Absolutely not. He did not ask anything about my party affiliation, and even today, we don't talk about the party.
Though I would like to know from him about the goings on in the party, there is no way that I can elicit any information from him.
In September 1979, when we got married, he was the Koothuparamba MLA.
Was it a very simple wedding like many Communist weddings, where only lime juice and biscuits are served to guests?
It was a simple wedding conducted at the Town Hall. (The late Kerala chief minister and Marxist doyen) E K Nayanar conducted the wedding.
I was told the guests were served tea and biscuits. But I didn't have anything there. I had food only after coming to Pinarayi. This house was his tharavad (ancestral home).
Only recently did we renovate it and drew a lot of flak for it. People even wrote that a helicopter could land here.
Only his old mother was here with us. He told me I should be very careful about dealing with her as she was quite old and she would not be able to understand what my generation felt and thought.
It was difficult in the beginning as I came from a large family, but I learnt to adjust soon.
Did you start working soon after marriage?
In October, I joined a primary school on a leave vacancy. In the next academic year, I joined the St Joseph's school and worked there for 16 years. Only when he became a minister did I take leave and we moved to Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram).
There, I joined the campaign wing of the planning board on deputation and later worked with the literacy mission till my retirement two years ago.
Pinarayi rose from district secretary and MLA to minister and prominent Marxist leader. How is it living with such a high-profile political leader?
He has always given me full support and cooperation in whatever I did. Many people feel that political leaders have no time for the family, but it is not so.
He has been a very caring husband and father. It is true that we don't go out together; such a thing never happens in our life. Soon after our marriage, we had gone to Kanyakumari and some other places, but then he was not a prominent leader at that time.
I have accepted the fact that he has no time to take us out like other people. So I don't wish for such things. I knew very well that I had to be responsible when living with a political leader. That is why I never had any complaints.
He has this image of an unsmiling person. Is he very serious at home too?
He smiles a lot at home. (laughs) He is a man with an excellent sense of humour. All the people who work with him know that. He cracks many jokes. Till he became state party secretary, there was no issue with his demeanour.
After he took over, he is always seen as a serious person. I don't know why he looks so all the time.
But tell me can a man always remain so unsmiling?
Somehow, in all the pictures that appear in the newspapers, he is dead serious. From then onwards, everybody started criticising that this man never smiled.
I don't agree with this image of his; he laughs a lot and has an excellent sense of humour. Mind you, his jokes have class, they are not crass at all.
Unlike the image he has outside, he is a very caring, supportive and loving person. He cares about our children and me. When he is not with us, he calls me at least 3 or 4 times a day to check whether everything is fine at home.
When the kids got the first rank in school, he used to surprise them with gifts. They were mostly sweets as both my son and daughter liked sweets a lot. He brought them wrapped in gift paper and kept them near their bed so that they could see it when they got up in the morning. He is very thoughtful about all that.
What I want to say is he is not as rough as you perceive him to be.
Another issue that received a lot of criticism was about your son studying in the UK. The question was how could a Communist leader afford to send his son abroad to study?
Nowhere does it say that a Communist party leader's son cannot go abroad and study. When your child wants to go abroad and study, it is your duty to help him do so.
After taking an MBA from Kochi, he worked in Chennai, Bangalore and the Middle East. When he was working in Abu Dhabi, a coaching class by the British Council was going on next to his office. He wrote the exam and got qualified to study there.
When he told us that he wanted to go to Birmingham to do a two-year MBA course, we agreed as it was his wish. As parents, it is our duty to support our children. He worked while studying there and completed the course in flying colours.
Did you expect it to generate so much controversy?
I don't care about such unwanted criticism. We never felt guilty as we knew we were not wrong. When you know very well that you did no wrong, when your conscience is clear, I feel there is no need to worry.
Did you and Mr Vijayan ever discuss these controversial issues at home?
Never. He only talks about what concerns our home, like what I have made for lunch or dinner or whether I got good fish for lunch, etc. No politics at home and no controversies too. (Laughs)
Is he very fond of food?
He is not a person who is very particular about the food he eats except that he has to have fish if there is rice. He used to love all kinds of vegetables, but not anymore. He eats very little at night, sometimes just fruits or pulses only. Though he eats very little, the food has to be tasty.
Did you try to talk to him about political issues?
I had done earlier, but then he did not encourage that. As I am from a political family, I like to discuss so many things.
If I want to know something, I have to update myself from the newspapers or the local people; unfortunately no inside information.
Even if I ask him questions, he cleverly avoids them. He is like a strong fort, which no one can break and get in, not even his wife.
Did any news about him shock you?
The SNC-Lavlin issue. I know very well that there is no truth in the allegations, but it disturbed me when the newspapers and TV channels went on and on about it. It never bothered him, but it distressed me a lot when the issue continued to haunt him.
When it was handed over to the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), there was a demonstration against him by the Muslim League's youth wing in Kozhikode. One of the slogans was, 'Arrest the Lavlin thief Pinarayi and put him in jail.'
It pained me a lot when they addressed him as 'Lavlin thief.' I know my husband and I know very well that he is not a thief.
I felt worried that the people might feel there was some truth in the allegation though I know that there was not an iota of truth in it.
Did you have to face any threats at any point?
There were many instances. He gets so many letters threatening him. I myself have found many such letters, crumbled in his shirt pockets when I pick them up for washing.
Only when I saw a letter that threatened to kill my son when he was a small child studying in school did I get a little rattled.
What does he do to relax when he is at home?
He reads a lot and watches TV. He loves to watch old Tamil films, especially the fantasy ones.
I still remember when all the TV channels were discussing the Lavlin issue and I was surfing the channels and listening to the discussions, he came in and asked me, 'Don't you have any other work?' He took the remote from me and changed the channel to KTV and coolly started watching a Rajnikanth film!
Like all Communists, is he an atheist?
He doesn't believe in God neither do I, but his mother was a true believer. Both of us do not go to temples or pray to God. We believe in thinking and doing good.
Pinarayi photograph courtesy: pinarayivijayan.in. Other photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj