Kutty sahib wanted Indians and Pakistanis to be comrades

Despite his ideological moorings, Kutty sahib was not dogmatic.



By Beena Sarwar

Published: Thu 29 Aug 2019, 9:39 PM

Last updated: Thu 29 Aug 2019, 11:40 PM

Early on Sunday morning in Karachi, a little over a month after his 89th birthday on July 18, BM Kutty slipped into the ever after. A lifelong activist, trade unionist, political worker, peacemonger, humanist. I like to remember him as I last saw him in Karachi - his big smile, deep voice with its powerful timbre, intense gaze behind the glasses, dapper as usual in bush-shirt and trousers.

I first met Kutty sahib - Biyyathil Mohyuddin Kutty, to give him his full name - through the peace and democracy movements in Pakistan sometime in the early 1990s, when I was starting out as a journalist. Born and brought up in Kerala, he stood out in Pakistan, with his distinctly South Indian accent and looks.

Along the line, I learnt that he was a 'comrade' - a member of the banned Communist Party of Pakistan, and a friend of my father Dr Sarwar, a party sympathiser who led Pakistan's first student movement in the 1950s. Kutty sahib was a 'card-carrying member'.

Until Pakistan banned the CPP in 1954, its red flag fluttered out of a window at the party office in the heart of Karachi. Another comrade, economist Eric Rahim, remembers the building being manned in the initial years by "a Malabari comrade who acted as a kind of caretaker" probably among the many Malayalis who fled the southwestern Malabar coast after the 1921 Moplah Rebellion to escape the British-administered crackdown.

By 1947, Karachi's Malabaris were quite established, working at or running pan shops, beedi-making units and restaurants. So much so that there was a two-storey building called Calicut Hotel, that belonged to a Malabari from Calicut, remembered Kutty sahib. "I am a Malayali at heart, but also a Pakistani. And yes, if being a communist means giving voice to those who have nothing and raising issues on their behalf, I am a communist too," he said in an interview to Adhiti Phadnis.

He owes his almost miraculous recovery from a paralytic stroke in the summer of 2015 to his roots in Kerala. His speech affected, forced into bed rest for five months, Kutty Saab's family and friends helped him return to Kerala, for Ayurvedic treatment. The treatment lasted for over two months. "I feel lucky that Ayurveda of my land of birth has helped me recover," he said. This experience highlighted for him, even more, the need for good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan. He shared a vision for regional peace with other visionaries who since the late 1980s and early 1990s have been laying the seeds for a peace constituency.

Kutty sahib considered himself a "voluntary fugitive". He had crossed the Khokrapar-Monabao border on August 14, 1949, at age 19, not as a refugee - no one had forced him to move for political or economic reasons.

Despite his ideological moorings, Kutty sahib was not dogmatic. It was his love for geography that led him to leave his home in Kerala at the south-east of India for Pakistan. After a few months in Karachi, he went to Lahore. "It was so very beautiful - like Kerala, with its gardens, and trees. and the people were so nice. I got married there, to a very pretty girl". She was Birgis Siddiqui, whose family was from UP, India. This move pretty much settled his life. The couple had four children and were married for 60 years, until her death in 2010.

In February 1973, a cache of arms and ammunition were recovered from the Iraqi Embassy, Kutty sahib came under suspicion for his unusual background - a Muslim Communist from Kerala working for a Baloch. Bhutto dismissed Bizenjo's government, and Kutty sahib was arrested from the Islamabad airport. From the mid-1990s until a few years ago when his health forced him to cut back, Kutty sahib was active with the Pakistan-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy. He also co-founded and led the Pakistan Peace Coalition and was a staunch member of the Society for Secular Pakistan launched in 2014, some months before his first stroke.

He went back to Kerala for another round of treatment a couple of years ago, and returned to Pakistan greatly improved. "What is happening in Pakistan is not limited to that country. Many other South Asian countries face religious fanaticism and terrorism. Blaming each other is really no solution. Since the problems are common, we need to take a collective view to solve them." His words from 2011 ring true especially today.

BM Kutty died wanting the peace that his comrades, young and old, yearn for and will keep working for. Over the past few years, every Eid, Christmas and New Year, I was among those who got an email from him expressing this wish. Kutty sahib is no more but the aspirations remain. And the struggle continues. -thewire.in

Beena Sarwar is a senior Pakistani journalist


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