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'He retained the simplicity of a rural boy'

November 10, 2005 13:37 IST

Uzhavoor village is in mourning. The nondescript village in Kerala's Kottayam district, that smells of raw rubber, came into the limelight because of its illustrious son: Kocheril Raman Narayanan.

With his passing away, the villagers feel they have lost their sole claim to fame.

"All these years our village was simply known as Narayanan's birthplace. We lived in the fame that he brought us. We are sad that he has left us forever," says local legislative assembly member Stephen George.

Ever since the news of his death broke out, thousands from nearby villages have descended on Uzhavoor to pay their final tribute at the modest, four-room ancestral home.

Now a research centre for ayurveda and siddha, Narayanan's brother K R Bhaskaran and sister K R Gowri still live there. "We have lost him. I wanted to see him once more," laments Gowri, who last met her doting brother in February.

"That was when he came here to see us all. He was very happy when we decided to hand over this house for ayurveda research. This was the only little property he shared with us," says Gowri.

At home, a large photo of Narayanan is adored with heaps of flowers the villagers brought as homage.

"He was a model for all of us. He was born in a hut here, and cameĀ  from a poor Dalit family. Even though he became an ambassador and the President of India, he retained the simplicity of the rural boy. That was what attracted us all to him," says Krishnan Kutty, local shop owner.

Kutty says Narayanan could have built a bungalow in the village to go along with his status. "But his home here is one of the smallest," he pointed out.

It is indeed a small house by Uzhavoor standards -- tiled, with two bedrooms, a hall and kitchen. It does not look like the home of a former President. Its interiors were recently done up, after Narayanan and his siblings donated it for ayurveda research.

Only Narayanan's 88-year-old unmarried sister Gowri and 68-year-old younger brother Bhaskaran live there, along with a few sanyasins who are part of the ayurveda research team. Narayanan has two other sisters, Bhargavi in Delhi and Bharati in Chennai.

Narayanan's father, Kocheril Raman Vaidyar, was an ayurvedic physician; Gowri is a homoeopath. Bhaskaran, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the former President, says they last spoke in May.

"He then called me from Delhi, asking about our whereabouts. He sounded very feeble. I knew he was unwell. But I did not think he would go away soon," says Bhaskaran.

He says the greatness about Narayanan as a public servant was that he never sent any money home. "The only thing he has gifted us all these years is his brotherly love. That was our brother. He lived and died for the country. He was born poor and has died as a poor, noble man," says Bhaskaran.

Bhaskaran is proud of the fact that Narayanan must be the only Indian President who did not own any property in India or abroad. Agrees sister Gowri: "The only thing he has gifted me all these years are these spectacles," says Gowri, proudly taking them off to show them, and wiping her tears.

The government of Kerala has declared a public holiday today in honour of the former President. But for students of the Kurchithanam lower primary government school in Uzhavoor, where Narayanan enrolled on May 19, 1927, today is not a holiday. All of them have come in, stood in assembly; and prayed for their most famous alumnus.

Later, the students in their uniform marched slowly in two rows to his home. "The last time we made such a march to his home was in July 1997, when Narayanan became President. We are now going to pay our homage to him," says Mary Mathew, who retired as the school headmistress.

K Ramanunni , 86, who studied with Narayanan in the same school, recalls that the former President had topped from among the 25 students first admitted to the school.

"I met him when he came here in February. We had a long chat on our early struggles. We used to walk many kilometres together to reach the school," he says. "That is what keeps me fit these days."

Two years back the government renamed the school as K R Narayanan Lower Primary School.

"That will be a great memento for us. He is no more, but Narayanan continues to be the President for us," says a local politician, Uzhavoor Vijayan, a sentiment echoed by the entire village.

His Lincolnesque journey to Rashtrapati Bhavan from a thatched hut in a remote part of the country is not just a story of courage and grit, but also of tremendous inspiration for the rest of the country.

But it this village that will feel his absence the most.

George Iype in Uzhavoor