Kochi/Kozhikode/Thiruvananthapuram: There was a time when a common man getting close to a district collector was considered unthinkable. Idukki's first collector D Babu Paul recalls how in the mid-seventies only a panchayat president or someone confident about his broken English ever dared to utter a few words to the collector.
Fast forward two decades to a more recent past in 1995, Shaji Kailas and Renji Panicker made a collector named Thevallyparambil Joseph Alex patiently listen to the travails of a frail old freedom fighter. If the scene is still considered one of the most touching moments in mainstream Malayalam cinema, it is simply because such things happen too rarely in life.
Mark Zuckerberg and his bunch of easy going young chums provided the tool and Kozhikode's former collector N Prasanth used it to subvert the equation. The district collector turned 'bro'. Now even school boys are on back-slapping terms with district collectors. If one goes through the comments school kids have posted under the Facebook page of collectors across the state this monsoon season, it will even seem that they treat their collector the way they do a friendly senior in school: with a jovial irreverence.
“Even after all this, are you unwilling to grant us a holiday,” a student commented in mock anger under Kollam collector Dr S Karthikeyan's page. Then, in a deferential tone, the student adds: "Sir because you have not given us a holiday, friends in other districts are calling up and making fun of us sirr. Shouldn't we not demonstrate the power of Kollam sirr." (The extra 'r' in the 'sir' as in the comment.)
The Thiruvananthapuram district collector, K Vasuki, who like her husband Dr Karthikeyan had not declared a holiday, was also not spared. “Madam, all district collectors are competing to grant holidays. In such a situation I am earnestly hoping that our collector will not belittle herself before the other collectors by not declaring a holiday,” a “well-wisher” commented.
There are tactical pleas, too.
A resourceful Facebookian had got into the page of the Ernakulam district collector Muhammad Y Safirulla K asking him to make fun of the Kollam collector who has not declared a holiday. “I am sure you will be having a group of district collectors. So sir you should please make fun of the Kollam collector. Ask her whether she is so devoid of mercy,” the comment states. And adds: “Please enter her inbox and continue making fun of her there, too.”
The Ernakulam collector who had granted some holidays was the toast of the virtual world. He was lauded in epic terms: “O lion of the revolution”, “Icon of kindliness”, and “true ruler of students” were some of the epithets used to hail him on Facebook.
But now that the rains have stopped, Safirulla has asked that educational institutions be open. This has not gone down well with some students who seem to have been spoiled by the extended holidays. A desperate student held him responsible if he was swept away by the rains and goes missing. Another pleaded for an additional holiday so that he could prepare better for his 'suppli' exam (supplementary test). Cranking up the emotional pitch the comment adds: "I would like to study well and become a collector like you in future."
'Go to your classes...'
When Onmanorama caught up with him, Safirulla responded with a hearty laugh. He has evidently enjoyed the comments, and to those who are still hankering for a holiday, he said, he would evoke the popular Mohanlal usage and say: “Go to your classes, children! No holiday for you on Friday...”
A self-proclaimed fan has used inspirational language to rouse Thrissur collector T V Anupama, who had already granted enough holidays, to keep up the trend on Friday, too. “Is granting a holiday difficult for the fire-brand collector siz who will organize the whole Thrissur Pooram this year?” the comment said.
Pathanamthitta collector P B Nooh, for a change, was chastised for a holiday he had declared for Ranni taluk. Not because a holiday was declared but because it was declared late. Palakkad district collector D Balamurali, too, was pulled up but in a tongue-in-cheek manner. A student who self-introduced as 'padippi' (a book worm) wrote: “Sir, please stop offering continuous holidays. I have a bright future. I don't mind the rains in my journey to become a great personality. Please cancel further holidays in the name of rain.” And added: “Also, I am not writing this because I miss the girl in my school whom I have a crush on.”
Collector Nooh finds this interactive mode progressive. “I am enjoying the fact that the gap between collectors and the general public is being closed,” he said. For him, this seemingly casual banter is a source of valuable information. “Recently, an eighth standard student posted a comment saying that he wanted a holiday and in passing he mentioned that the Kadammanitta government school, where he was studying, was in a pathetic situation. I immediately asked my officials to give me a report,” Nooh said. This was a mighty contrast from the circumstances that surrounded collectors of seventies and eighties. Babu Paul remembers how difficult it was to get information during his time. "When there was a major landslide in Idukki in 1974 I knew it only a day later. The only phone in Udumbanchola was disconnected by the landslide. Eventually, the panchayat president had to come down to my office to inform me of the event," he said.
When Kannur collector Mir Muhammad Ali declared a holiday for educational institutions except professional colleges, there was a deluge of 'professional tears'. “Do you want us to swim and go to the colleges,” asked a comment. Here is another: "Are we not humans, too." But Muhammad replies to all of these sportingly.
However, the pleas to the Kottayam collector B S Thirumeni goes unheard. Thirumeni, a senior administrator who has served a long and successful term as the commissioner for state rural development corporation, is a passive netizen. He has not checked his FB account for nearly two years. Some of the seemingly passionate pleas like “Meenachil river is overflowing. I want to spend some final hours at my home before it is washed away. Please grant us one more holiday, sir”, therefore, has fallen on deaf ears.
Read more: Latest Kerala news