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390. Manakkadavan Muhammed Haji

Manakkadavan Muhammed Haji is by now 91, yet his memories are still precise while recollecting his life in pre- and post-independence India. He was born to Manakkadavan Avaran Kutty and Panangampurath Aychutty in the year 1921, the year in which the Mappila [Muslim] community of Ernad [Malabar] waged a furious historical war against the British Empire. Popularly known as the Malabar Riot of 1921, the fight was successful in posing serious threats to the British colonial desires in Malabar.
Muhammed heard about his father through those stories told by his mother during his very young age. Muhammed was just in his second month of birth, when a huge British battalion under the leadership of Captain Mackento and Special Force Commander Lancaster marched to Pookotoor. The British already having fed up with the strong defence put forward by the brave Mappilas of Ernad (Malabar region -- the present Malappuram, Calicut) was all set for a final blow at the local Mappila rebels. They imprisoned the youths and tortured them to death. Then they brutally robbed villages and raped Muslim women.

 It was since then the native Muslim youths decided to fight against the atrocities at the cost of their life. They knew they will be killed soon in their attempts to fight against an empire, whose ‘sun doesn’t ever set’. They only had a few traditional knives and the locally developed guns, yet they were firm to stand by their strong decisions. Out of despair Aychutty, had no words to say and could not stop her husband. She almost fainted realising the fact that her very first child being just two month old, was soon gone out to be an orphan.
The day Muhammed became orphan
On the day they set out to fight the British, Avaran had a final glance at his two-month-old baby. He had within his hand a few meat, rice and coconuts and asked his wife to make and distribute those traditional Kerala dishes using those, if and only if they didn’t hear gunshots. Before setting out he asked his younger brother Kunjalavi to marry and protect his wife and child, predicting that he won’t return most probably.

None heard those gunshots for a long time. Aychutty became joyous and she had almost started distributing those ‘Thenga choru’ and ‘chicken curry’ in the neighbouring households but it was then they heard a series of gunshots being fired. There Muhammed was reborn as the lone son of a freedom fighter, a martyr. Since then he was not just an orphan but ‘an orphan to India’s struggle for freedom’.
The Mappilas’ war of 1921
What happened was like this. About 2000 of those Mappila fighters including Avaran Kutty hid at Valiyathodu between Pookkottur and Pilakkal. They had planned to attack the British army from behind when all the vehicles had crossed the bridge at Pilakkal. One person, who was not present in the final meeting of the fighters, began shooting when the first British vehicle reached the bridge. The army thus noticed them and directed their machine guns to Mappilas and began firing. However, the fighters did not turn back, but rather fought bravely. More than 300 Mappilas were killed by the British army. The army too lost several of their soldiers, including Commander Lancaster and the vice-Captain.

The whole 14 of those youths including Avaran Kutty from the neighbourhood were shot to death, the green paddy fields of Pookotoor soon turned ‘blood red’. It was only after three days the relatives were able to recover their bodies and they were altogether buried in a single grave now adjacent to the Pilakkal Masjid of Pookotoor. It was later in order to commemorate them, a Pookkottur war memorial gate was set up by the authorities.

Pookkottur war memorial gate built to commemorate the martyrs

Muhammed begins life amid miseries
Life was miserable with famines and communicable diseases and the fate had a few more ironies to play with Muhammed’s life. When the Second World War was on, the British went on recruiting Muslim youths by force into the British East India Company. The situation was such that even sufficient money won’t win you bread or rice. Muhammed too joined the army to escape starvation.

Muhammed had his military training in Punjab and Kolkata. During the Second World War, when the fierce war was on; they were in the trenches in Lahore.
Muhammed the Rebel
Now he is proud to be an ex-serviceman as well, because he was one among those rebels in the British East India Company, who revolted against the British army demanding independence. Being inspired by Gandhiji’s thought of independence, it was the time when Indians within the four companies of the British army grabbed keys of the arms and ammunition rooms of the military. Muhammed, another Perinthalmanna native Muhammad, Shankaran from Calicut were about to be beaten up but spared only because the Indians in the army as a single unit resisted. It was since then 400 Indians among the battalion were sacked and Muhammed got back to his home in Manjeri [Malappuram district].

Life after Independence
In the 1960’s Muhammed moved to the Wayanad district of Kerala, as he was sanctioned with the Ex-servicemen colony land for the British East India Company cadres. He has been receiving the freedom fighters and Ex-servicemen pensions and benefits since then. With every Independence Day and Republic Day ceremonies on the doorsteps, he feels jubilant and happier, just like on an Eid or a Bakrid because those are the days he gets honoured as a proud citizen; those are the days his father’s martyrdom is remembered and honoured. He is thankful to the government and local administration for those kind ceremonial invitations where he gets honoured and privileged.

Today’s India is not of his dream
Notwithstanding all honors and privileges, is today’s India what he had dreamt of? When asked his answers weren’t all that pleasant. He feels like the community who even sacrificed their lives for the sake of a free and independent India but are often marginalised or even alienated. He feels that there are even attempts to brand the historical freedom struggle of 1921 as a riot against Hindus of the region. On corrupt acts he faced in the governmental offices, Muhammed says, the independent India is at present colonised by wicked politicians and bureaucrats.

Now with his life mate Khadeeja [73] recently having succumbed to chronic Bronchitis he is in a bid to live his rest life on her memories with his lone son Aboobacker MM and his family. Whenever he gets someone to talk on those old glory days of his father and his own struggle for independence, he often forgets to have food, water or even a sleep.

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