Perumal the Crusader
I met him at a traffic signal when his wizened walking stick tapped on my car window to request a ride on a blow-hot-blow-cold day in Trivandrum, the verdant capital city of Kerala state, where the mountains meet the sea near India’s southern most tip.
“I would like to get to the Town Library,” he said, his forehead glistening in mid day sweat, “Are you headed in that direction?”
I offered him that ride — and so it was, that I met Perumal the intense crusader for education & learning, as the 2000s morphed into the decade of the 2010s.
And Perumal, all of 90 years, began to speak on his life as we leisurely inched forward in Trivandrum’s mid day traffic. He spoke of about his childhood in South India’s seat of royalty — Padmanabhapuram. He spoke of the move to Trivandrum when he was all of 13 — how he grew up, married from the city and had 4 children.
He spoke of his two visits to Madras, the city I grew up in, back in 1940 and 1942. And then, his long tenure with the tourism department of Kerala. “It was very small in those days,” he said, remembering a time when Kerala had yet to become ‘God’s Own Country’, “Not the huge organization you see these days — you see, I retired back in 1980.”
“Really?! And, what do you do nowadays?”
“I am returning from the Village Panchayat office where I am trying to convince the council members about continuing the noon meal scheme for school children. It’s very important, you know, the noon meal for children. It changes their future for time to come. This, I know from my own life experiences. Learning…it makes us everything that we are.”
“So, where are you going now?”
“I am headed now to the town library where I am going in for my daily reading. I am a B-Class member of the library, you know…I have been a member of this library since the 1940s, and I love reading!”
Our conversation continued as the traffic eased its way to the red bricked Town library. I saw Perumal off at his daily portal of learning, where he, in the tradition of elders in India, folded his hands in his quiet and graceful way and thanked me for the ride. The greater gift was the wisdom of the ride.
More than a decade has passed since our serendipitous meeting and I often think of Perumal the Crusader, who could well be past his 100th year, as these lines are being written. Our little 20 minute ride told me that he had the energy and commitment to run his campaign education and learning for a century and a little more.
Above all thank you, Perumal Sir, for showing me the importance of working for a cause that stretches far beyond our time.
— o0o —