Her grey strands fall loosely around 79-year-old Thara Vijayan’s shoulders. Behind that untied hair lies a story wrapped in memories, poignant and painful.
Strange are the ways of fate, stranger still, how one accepts them. Here unfolds the life of a graceful old woman who bowed down to her fate, but on her terms.
The façade of mellowness that covers her face hides the embers of a flame, which refuse to die down. Her youth, her life and the very purpose of her existence came to a sudden halt on a fateful day in June 1981, the day she lost her husband, the day that led to a vow… never to tie up her hair till the truth behind her husband’s unnatural death was found.
Decades have gone by, but the truth lies unrevealed. Her children have grown up, are well settled and have their lives to be thought of. Yet, this woman goes on with her fight. The truth may not out, perhaps not in her lifetime. But the vow stays.
A peep into the past
Flashback to Thalakulath House in Puthankulam, Paravoor, Kollam. Thara was an only sister to four brothers. Born in an affluent, yet ultra-orthodox family, the young girl had to be content with a Class V education.
But she kept her love for letters and the world of books a secret and left the comforts of her home in search of inner fulfillment. This took her to several ashrams and mutts. One such journey brought her to Shivagiri Ashram where she met Vijayan, who would be her husband. A twist of fate had brought two individuals on a chance encounter. They got married and life was one uninterrupted spell of blissful existence with four children, viz., Nisha, Usha, Susha and Shammy, making the family one large, happy unit.
The smart and disciplined Vijayan, who worked as a bill collector in East Kallada panchayat, soon found himself going up in life. From panchayat assistant to head clerk to executive officer, Vijayan wore them all to perfection. While working in Thenmala, he was transferred to Eroor panchayat, which lay close to the Kulathupuzha Forest Division. Eroor was known for its thick oil palm forests and rubber plantations. Not all were happy about Vijayan’s transfer to Eroor.
The state was then under E.K.Nayanar’s stewardship and Vijayan’s bid to make a direct survey of all those who would be eligible for farmers’ pension, did not go down well with certain quarters. Besides, he was already “marked” for stumbling upon certain shady deals in road work and was even threatened with dire consequences if he were to spill the beans. He was once forcibly taken in a car and made to sign certain bills.
A vow for eternity
Thara saw her husband last on June 23, 1981. Vijayan had been on leave the previous day to see off a relative who was leaving for Bihar. Thara remembers she went to bed early as she was unwell. Vijayan rose early, got ready and was all set to leave for Eroor without disturbing his wife. He just went in to tell her he was leaving. Little did she realize it would be a final bye.
Vijayan was in the habit of staying back in the panchayat office since a daily commute to Eroor from his home in Puthankulam was a tedious affair. He would be back home for the weekend. As usual, on that fateful Saturday, Thara waited for her husband. Instead, it was a couple of strangers who walked in on the morning of June 25.
“Thampi (Vijayan) is not well. He needs to be taken to the Medical College. So please come with us,” they told her. She got ready in a second and by then, her kids had also come back from school. The ominous silence was all-pervading. Though her gut instincts told her something was terribly amiss, she held on to a flimsy thread of hope.
To this day, Thara has not forgotten what she saw as she went up to Eroor panchayat office. There, right by the well in front of the panchayat office lay the decomposed body of her husband Vijayan, covered by a sheet. He had only his shirt and undergarments on. A trickle of blood from a deep gash on his forehead had run all the way down to his upper lip. It had dried up by then.
She also remembers that the weather turned cold and damp and the rain came pounding down on her as she stood benumbed beside her husband’s body. Folks around her tried to comfort her and pull her away from the corpse, but she resisted them and stood still with the rain spilling down on her. Her hair, which was tied up, coiled down and there it has been all these years. She vowed to tie it up again only if and when the perpetrators of the heinous crime were caught and justice was meted to Vijayan.
Vijayan was only 42 years old when he died. The FIR stated the man had slipped into the well and died. However, further reports suggested foul play and the mystery only deepened.
While waiting for the postmortem, she was told that Dr Umadathan, the police surgeon from Trivandrum Medical College would be conducting the procedure. Strange to say, Dr Umadathan was transferred to Alleppey Medical College the same evening. Finally, it was Dr Mohandas from Anchal Govt Hospital who did the postmortem. The report found no trace of attack, injury or wound on Vijayan. He had no ailments. Nor was there any trace of poisonous substances on him. Hence, the cause of death was not clear. The autopsy was clear on one finding also – that the body could have been in the well for about 24 to 48 hours.
Unhappy with the police findings and the report, Thara filed a complaint with the district police superintendent. After 22 days, the postmortem was repeated. Though fresh complaints were given to the district collector and the home minister, the Crime Branch and the Special Investigation team could not come up with anything new. Refusing to give up, Thara, along with daughter Nisha, went on a hunger satyagraha in front of the Secretariat demanding that the killers be brought to book.
Politics and local leaders made capital out of Vijayan’s death by promising to hunt down his killers when interim polls were announced and candidates in Chathannur and Punalur won with huge margins. One of them even went on to be a minister. But nothing came out of these stunts. Her representation to Indira Gandhi also came to naught when after the former prime minister’s assassination; Thara’s written pleas to the Supreme Court and the President for a CBI inquiry into Vijayan’s death were turned down.
Thara recalls Vijay telling her that he had a lot of differences with the panchayat members and his superior officers. Though he was uncompromising and unforgiving when it came to reporting dishonest deals in his workplace, he was well loved by the local folks.
There were people in Eroor who saw Vijayan there on the evening of June 23. Though his room was found open on the 24th, he was seen nowhere. His body surfaced in the well on the morning of the 25th. People had even drawn water from the well the previous night. Yet no one spotted the body. A bill collector who used to stay in the panchayat office with Vijayan was strangely not there that day. A letter by an anonymous writer stating he was a witness to the murder, could not be carried forward for want of corroborating evidence.
Overcoming a tragedy
As Vijayan’s was a case of death in harness, Thara was automatically given a job. Encouraged by Vijayan’s senior officer Natarajan, a “class five-only” Thara did her SSLC. Her climb up began in 1984. From an LD clerk in the panchayat department, Thara went on to be UD clerk, panchayat executive officer and panchayat secretary. She retired as Elamon Panchyat Superintendent in 2001.
All through her ordeal, her kids stood by her. Nisha, the eldest child who was in class nine when her father died, now teaches Malayalam in Sree Narayana Central School in Nedumgolam, Paravoor. The son Shammy, a first rank holder in LLM, practices in Thiruvananthapuram. Usha teaches economics in Ezhippuram Higher Secondary School and Susha, teaches English in the Govt Higher Secondary School, Chottanikkara. They are all married and settled well.
Thara is bereft of bitterness today. She is no more affected by the failure in finding her husband’s killers despite the relentless efforts of 34 years. She sees no point in pursuing her struggle. But her son had submitted a petition in 2012 at the Punalur Magistrate Court to know the status of the case. He was told that the special investigation team had not closed the case.
Thara lives all by herself in her home in Puthankulam, the abode she shared with her husband. Here’s where she’d love to breathe her last. At 79, she’s still fit and agile.
She lived life to the fullest till she lost the man she loved. From then on, it has been one long struggle with trauma and the memories of a life well lived. Time also wrought long, grey strands in her once thick hair. That is the only testimony to her unending sorrow. Thus will it fall on her weary shoulders till the day death benumbs her pain.