This is the strange tale of an elderly man who sleeps in front a shop in Thrissur town. Krishnan was born in wealthy land-holding family. The household owned several acres of rice fields and a granary that could hold 300 'paras' of paddy. When there were signs of rain, the paddy left to dry on the premises would be shifted to the rooms inside the house. It was on this paddy that Krishnan used to sleep. At night, the sharp ends of paddy would prick the youngster, disturbing his sleep.
Sixty years later, Krishnan’s sleep is still spoiled by totally unexpected irritants. He now sleeps on the street in Thrissur and is bothered by mosquito pricks.
How did such a fate befall a boy from a prosperous family? Krishnan himself reveals his story with a smile that shows his betel leaf-stained red teeth.
How are you?
As you can see, I am perfectly fine. Though I look like a beggar, I have never sought alms. I get everything I need. There are no regrets.
Where did all the riches of your childhood disappear?
My ancestral property was at Marad in Ernakulam district. It was a house with three rooms, a kitchen and a large barn. When the Land Reforms Act was implemented all the paddy fields were given to the government, except 26 cents of land and the house. My step brother – son of my father’s first wife - lives there now with his family.
How did you reach Thrissur?
After passing my Class 5 exams, I ran away from home along with some friends. We boarded a train without ticket and reached Thrissur. Then a checker came and everyone ran helter-skelter. I was alone and spent two-three days near the railway station. Soon I started doing the job of carrying travellers’ luggage from the railway station to the municipal bus stand and back. I also worked as a headload worker at Jaihind Market. But I went back to home soon.
What all work have you done?
After returning home, I helped my father in the paddy field. Earlier, the paddy grown in our own fields was sufficient to fill the granary in the house. But now we had to work as farm labourers and were given paddy as part of the wages which we brought to our barn. The barn never filled, but my father’s eyes overflowed with tears.
I couldn’t bear to watch such scenes and left home again. This time I went to Willingdon Island and carried coal arriving in ships. It was a tough job but the pay was regular. But while taking part in an employees’ march, I slipped and fell, suffering an injury. That was the end of that job.
My other work included scrap business, farming and house-keeping in Kozhikode; as watchman at Ramana Madom, an accountant at Oottupura and also as a headload worker at Chalai market in Thiruvananthapuram, Kothaval Savady market in Chennai; and in Benagluru, among other odd jobs.
You read newspapers regularly?
It is an old habit. I buy the newspaper every morning and go through every item. I love reading about scientific discoveries but hate the obituary page. After reading, I keep the paper in my sack and after a few days sell all the newspapers, which makes me richer by Rs 10-15.
It is 'Malayala Manorama' that I read every day. When the ‘Tambola’ game was started for readers, I started playing it. This time, I filled the Mahamela card and won a sari. Along with it I got a bed sheet.
What will you do with the sari?
I’ll have to give it somebody. Anyway, I don’t have a woman companion.
Didn’t you ever marry?
I did. It was at age 27 and my wife was Thilothama, who lived nearby. We happily lived together for one-and-a-half years. That was the time I worked carrying coal at Willingdon Island. But my wife died of cholera and I was left alone again. My relatives asked me to marry again but I declined, believing that I was fated to live alone.
Warm memories with your wife?
During my youth, I was an actor in theatre. Immediately after my wedding, I enacted the role of Pappachan, a dacoit, in a drama called ‘Kadalpalam’. My mother and wife came and sat in the front row. In the drama, another woman played the role of my wife and I was embarrassed. My wife and mother were worried on seeing the police chasing and thrashing me on stage.
Another role that I gave life to was Koonan Kumaran in a drama named ‘Ezhu rathrikal’.
While in Chennai, I regularly watched films by MGR and Sivaji Ganesan despite the rush for tickets.
Do you watch films now?
It is difficult to sit full-time for today’s movies. Dr Jojo Joseph, who provides lunch every day for street dwellers like me, took us to a Rajnikanth film some time ago. The doctor also arranged an excursion for us and a circus visit too. He takes us to a good hotel often and brings cake and wine during Christmas.
Have you seen God on the street?
Yes. A man named Tony comes and bandages my wounds. Nurses from the Jubilee Hospital check my teeth. Sometimes some children provide bed sheets. Then of course there is the doctor who provides lunch.
Once a man running a jewellery manufacturing unit affixed an eye lens worth Rs 4,000. He gave me his number but I never called him.
You have a watch too.
It was given by the owner of the watch shop near Ragam theatre. But I keep time by the calls to prayer at the mosque on Post Office Road and the siren at the Corporation office.
For the last 10 years, I have been sleeping in front of the Sree Krishna Furniture shop on Post Office Road. I clean the place before sleeping. I also clean it in the morning. Shop owner Shaju has given me a letter on his letter pad which says I don't do any harm to anyone. I show it to the police or others who try to evict me.
Have you missed meals any time?
Never. I get it from somewhere every time. I have some friends. They are rats. Earlier, I used to share my food with crows, but they made droppings on me after eating my food. Now I keep some food for the rats. They are better. I give them a share just as my father used to give me a morsel with his hand when I had my food.