The seemingly calm sea of Payyambalam attracts quite a lot of youngsters during summer. The youths come in hordes to enjoy the waves and have a gala time together. But as they happily click away selfies, the youngsters often fail to notice the deceptive waves, which change its guise in seconds.
Here comes the importance of Charleson, the lifeguard, who constantly watches over the frolicking visitors on the beach. For those who get caught in the waves of Payyambalam sea, this man is a real guardian angel, who never hesitates to throw himself into the raging sea to pull a drowning person to safety.
But social media took notice of the unassuming rescuer only a few weeks ago when Charleson saved the lives of four youngsters who were nearly swept out to the sea by a sneaker wave.
It was a Friday and a group of 18 youngsters were reveling in the beach. As the sea was a bit violent that day, Charleson kept cautioning the boys by blowing his whistle from time to time. Yet, they continued their selfie sessions in the sea.
By around 3.15 pm, four members of the group got washed away from the beach by a rogue wave. The eagle-eyed lifeguard was quick to react and dived into the sea to rescue the boys. Two fishermen at the beach too joined him. The trio could easily save three of the boys; the fourth one had already been pulled deep into the sea.
But Charleson was not ready to give up on him. He plunged into the cold waves once again to save the drowning boy while his friends waited at the shore with baited breath. As he returned to the shore carrying the fourth boy on his shoulder, the crowd erupted into applause and cheer.
A guy named Safwan captured the moment on his camera and shared it on his Facebook page. The image soon became a hit on social media and trolls were created in the name of the hero lifeguard. K.A. Abdul Razak, a native of Idukki, painted a portrait of the image and sent it to him. Charleson keeps it as a memento.
Charleson has won the tourism department’s best lifeguard award for two consecutive years. His presence of mind has saved countless number of people who either jump into the sea to give up their lives or get drowned accidentally.
However, Charleson is disappointed by the government's apathy towards providing enough facilities for lifeguards. The lifeguards in some Kerala beaches have many safety gears and basic facilities arranged for them. But, the situation in Kannur is totally different, says Charleson.
Apparently, it was Charleson who took the trouble to build a three-meter-wide shed for him and his colleagues to relax from the blazing summer sun with the money he got as a reward for a rescue act.
The lifeguards of Payyambalam keep their safety gears in the green room of the beach’s open stage. When there is a program in the open stage, they have to move out, along with their equipment. Charleson says that at least be two lifeguards should be watching over the coast at every 50 meters to ensure the safety of the tourists visiting Payyambalam. "But here, only four lifeguards are posted in just two shifts," he says.
Charleson believes that the greatest challenge a lifeguard faces is the non-cooperation of the tourists. The people of Kannur have a beach culture and they understand the sea and its varied nature very well. They are well aware of the risk lifeguards take to save a life. But visitors coming from outside the state rarely understand the dangers of the sea and often get into trouble. Some even try to pummel the lifeguard when he blows his whistle. Although there is police patrolling at the beach, such incidents never cease to happen.
The lifeguard sadly recalls an incident, which claimed the life of four young men who got drowned while trying to recover their football from the sea. “It’s often carelessness that leads to accidents,” says Charleson even as he closely watches over a little girl, who was playing in the waves unattended. Her mother was busy chatting over the phone, completely unaware of the dangers hidden in the seemingly gentle waves.
Charleson, who originally hails from Kundara in Kollam, has made Kannur his home for the last 42 years. He did many odd jobs before landing the job as a lifeguard 12 years ago. He applied for the post of lifeguard when he was 35 and has worked at all the beaches in Kannur district.
He has been working as a lifeguard at the Payyambalam beach for the last six years. He also gives swimming lessons to kids and adults in a scientific way. Charleson’s wife Suma and children Williams and Jasmine understand the risk involved in his profession and support him wholeheartedly as they believe that every life he saves is worth it.