"Graduate. If not, you fellas cannot continue in SFI."

For over two decades I used to introduce myself, and others used to refer to me, as SFI’s Sivadasan. That is about to change from now on. 25 January 2016, the third day of the Students Federation of India’s All India Conference, is a big day in my life as an activist. Even though I had prepared a note in the morning for my farewell speech, what I ended up talking about had almost nothing to do with the prepared remarks. I had planned to talk about many things, including many dear comrades who over the years had a big role to play in turning a scrawny kid into a leader of a great movement like SFI. But the speech didn't quite turn out that way.

I fully realize how far back I’m placed when I consider my predecessors who have led this organization over the years, so much so that no comparison is even possible. A litany of deficiencies defines what I am. I could hardly use “polite” language when I interacted with people, and many have mentioned that to me during my Delhi life. It may be the case that I am not familiar with that kind of language given the conditions in which I grew up.

I became an active member of SFI while I was studying at Pala government school in Kannur district of Kerala. Kins Varghese was in charge of coordinating membership activities at that school. I have felt a personal affection for Kins who was the Peravoor area secretary, which was also reciprocated. It was us, the school kids, who came to help Kins when the goons of Congress had beaten up Kins in front of our school.

It was in eighth standard itself that comrades including me were arrested by police for participating in a strike. 1994 January was a time of RSS terror in Kannur district.

Aniyettan, the then Kannur district president of SFI, who visited our school frequently for the membership activities of the organization. Aniyettan was dark and stout. The SFI activists in our school had to constantly face the threats of RSS and Congress supporters. Aniyettan’s presence filled us with the courage to face these threats. How can I not remember the three times when Sudeeshettan, who was the joint secretary, came and talked at my school for membership activities when I was the school Unit Secretary.

My uncles would not let me participate in SFI activities. Hence, I did not reveal at home that I was actively involved with the SFI. It was my habit to prepare daily diary notes. I had safely archived all the badges I used to get from functions and also all the letters. One day, when some small maintenance works were going on at home, I left home telling that it is to a friend’s house. In truth, I had gone to an SFI Area Committee meeting in Peravoor. When I reached home after the meeting, my uncle asked me where I had been to. I replied that I was at a friend’s house. It was the same time that I finished my words, that I was treated with a sweet smack from my uncle. I did not understand what happened. It was then that my uncle pulled out some letters and notes from my old iron trunk. The first letter in the pile was a letter which said that “comrade should definitely attend today’s area committee meeting”. It is another matter that the same uncle who smacked me that day transformed to a CPIM activist six months ago in the presence of P. Jayarajan and worked as a booth agent for CPIM in the last Panchayat Election.

It was in the eighth standard itself that comrades including me were arrested by police for participating in a strike. 1994 January was a time of RSS terror in Kannur district. The year’s SFI district conference was scheduled to happen in Koothuparambu. But the police banned the conference by declaring prohibitionary orders in and around Koothuparambu. The delegates who were arriving for the conference were arrested from various points en route. I, who was a school student at the time, was arrested at 7 am from Matanoor on my way to Koothuparambu. Policemen, who got into the bus, questioned everyone who looked like a student. They wanted to know where we were headed to.

All the party comrades had warned me that I cannot continue working for SFI if I fail to clear the tenth standard. I was determined to continue working in SFI. I was not confident about the results when I reached home after my exams. But I wished to continue studying. In fact, I pleaded with my mother to allow me to continue my studies even if I fail.

I first answered that I am going to my Aunt’s house. But the policemen examined my bag and found the receipt for the SFI conference among the cloths inside. They verbally abused me and threw me into the police station. At the station, there was neither anyone who knew me nor did I know anyone. So I had no clue regarding what to do. Around 10 am I heard from others that a person who was just brought to the station under arrest was Matanoor College Chairman. Thus, I too went and sat near Thomas, the then College Chairman. Around night, P. P. Govindettan and K. K. Shailaja Teacher got us released from the police station. It was in their company that I first entered the Matanoor party office. After patting my back teacher held me tight and asked whether I was frightened ....

Many students at Pala School were children of farm labourers and other poor people. None of my friends were confident about clearing the exams. The majority of our team used to do small jobs not only on holidays but also during school days. Our annual budget was determined by the amount of money we could make by gathering cashew nuts during the school vacation. The determination to clear the tenth standard exam was a rare thing among us. All the party comrades had warned me that I cannot continue working for SFI if I fail to clear the tenth standard. I was determined to continue working in SFI. I was not confident about the results when I reached home after my exams. But I wished to continue studying. In fact, I pleaded with my mother to allow me to continue my studies even if I fail. But when the results were announced, I did pass.

I also got admission to Matanoor College. I could be active in both Balasangham and SFI there. I was greeted first by a failure in the Pre-Degree exam. I wished to continue in Matanoor college for degree studies and keep working in SFI. But some hurdles came in the way. During my pre-degree days, I had to work part-time in an automobile spare parts shop. There, at Balettan’s shop, Area Secretary K. M. Sunny used to visit regularly with the SFI membership book. I could not turn away from SFI activities for long. Finally, I left the job. Meanwhile, I cleared the pre-degree exam and joined Matanoor College. Damodarettan was the one who accompanied me as guardian during the enrollment.

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SFI activities took the first priority in my college days. I was sure that English would be the biggest challenge for me in completing by degree. So I tried to clear the English exam in the first year itself. Every time when we met at meetings, Govindan Master used to remind me that you folks cannot continue in SFI unless you clear your degree. I had decided that I have to get admission to Brennen College for post-graduation. But an admission to Brennen College demanded that you get a rank in the degree course. There were only six merit seats in Brennen. I started working towards that. The school education plays an important role in building one’s knowledge base. In my case, that foundation was very weak. My brotherly friend Kabir’s suggestions helped me in overcoming this weakness. The support from the SFI leaders of Kannur and Matanoor also helped me in securing the degree with the first rank. Matanoor College also gifted me a lot of good friends. Divakerettan, who always rushes in to bail me out during lawsuits in court, was one among them.

Then to Brennen college for post-graduation. This time, it was SFI Peravoor Area Secretary Subin who came as my guardian during the enrollment. Subichan still enlivens many interludes by recalling the principal’s question then as to which one among you is the guardian. Brennan College presented me with clarity to my vision and many learning experiences. M. G. Manoj, who was the College Union Chairman, was one of my close friends in Brennan. He was very worried at my limitation in the command of the English language. He always tried to teach me English, but I could hardly master it. One day at Brennan, the College Union had organized a felicitation for national fighters from Myanmar. Manoj, the College Union Chairman, was to welcome the gathering and I, who was the University Union Chairman, was to preside the function. He took me to the hostel room, and after talking to me put in a lot of effort and wrote a beautiful speech in English for me. He was adamant that I should speak in English and finally I obliged. My presidential speech started after Manoj’s welcome address. The speech was about the revolutionary politics in Kannur. Words deserted me when I started my speech. Valsan Master and Jayakumar Master were in the front row. I still remember their heads dropping in shame. A. N. Shamseer, who was behind me, had to turn back to hide his laughter. Embarrassed, I switched my speech to Malayalam. I have narrated this incident to comrades while I was inaugurating an SFI unit conference at JNU.

We could not figure out where was it colder - in Delhi or in Sikar? But one thing was evident. In both these places, there were people who had no shelter to take refuge in this freezing cold.

I remember the days of intense struggles in Kannur when I had to appear for my PhD interview with police protection; the various helps from Mohandas Master (current PSC member) and others, and the day I registered for post-doctoral research with ICSSR fellowship under Praveen Jha in JNU. The efforts to complete the course intertwined with my political activities in Delhi. Ah, the Delhi life! A time of struggles; memories of Tihar, Simla, Rajasthan, Pondichery, Pune, ... I can write no more.

After the conference, we returned from Sikar and reached Delhi at 2 am on January 26, the martyrdom day of Com. Sudheesh. We could not figure out where was it colder - in Delhi or in Sikar? But one thing was evident. In both these places, there were people who had no shelter to take refuge in this freezing cold. With Sanu and Nitish Narayanan, I took the conference report and other files to the SFI Central Committee office at 36, Canning Lane. Then I reached my room in 38, Ashok Nagar. We made tea with former JNU SFI unit president Manu Puthur to greet my younger brother Sanu, who took charge as the new president.

To anyone who asks me “what is the greatest joy I ever had?”, I will answer that “It is a life spend voicing slogans of democracy and socialism.” Dear Comrades, You made me what I am. How would I continue without you? Red salute.

Source: South Live