From the time I got into the domain of social activism many of my friends and relatives have asked me whether I would join electoral politics. To their disappointment my answer has been always negative for I have somehow built a strong reservation about political leaders. How I developed it…or where it came from, I have no clue. But politics and all that it represents is something that I have carefully avoided. Perhaps it is for the same reason that I mindfully kept away from cultivating any relationship with any political leader. On, their part since I do not make any business sense in terms of ‘vote bank’ they have also maintained their distance.
So, it was a pleasant surprise for me when my good friend Shafi Mather whom I had met in the TED Conference in 2009 called me and told me to come urgently to Kerala to make a presentation on human trafficking before the Honorable Chief Minister. This was in 2011.
I rushed to Kerala not knowing what to expect. With a minimum of fuss, I was conducted to the CM’s chamber and I saw that a projector and screen was arranged at one end. It was a temporary arrangement. The first time I saw Shri Oommen Chandy the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Kerala I was blown away. His twinkling smile captivated me and what happened next humbled me to no end. OC Sir as I went on to call him in the later years was in a meeting. He excused himself from the meeting, came towards me, wished me and courteously seated me on the sofa profusely apologizing about a few minutes delay as he had to sort out some urgent matter.
|The only face of OC Sir that I saw|
I was an absolute ‘nobody’, I had not even got my civilian honor then. But here was a man who was honoring me with great respect just based on what he had heard from a trusted aide. When I made my presentation a little while later, I could see tears in the corner of his eyes several times. The first meeting ended with OC Sir assuring me to do something concrete. While there were no great promises made or pledges taken, I left OC Sir’s chamber with a great sense of contentment of meeting somebody whose grace left me both at ease and at the same time speechless.
When somebody asked me what was the outcome of the meeting with CM I simply said ‘time will tell’. And definitely time did tell the amazing level of commitment OC Sir had about safety of women and children and his extraordinary ability to bring diverse personalities together. When the committee was constituted a few months later to draft a policy he made sure at every step even in the constitution of the committee I was in the loop. Perhaps it was that unconditional faith and respect that made me put my heart and soul to draft the ‘Nirbhaya Policy’. During this course I had several opportunities to meet him and brief him about the progress of the committee and every time I would be left with these confused feelings on how much is this one individual taking up on his shoulders. There was always a crowd in his chambers. He would speak to each one of them. One day I even heard him talking to an Inspector questioning why an FIR was not lodged and in my petty mind it was why is he micro-managing? It took me years to understand what OC Sir was to his people and how his whole life revolved around making every hope and aspiration real for his people.
Over the years I was also recipient of his personal care and concern. When I faced backlash for some of my work in Hyderabad, he was perhaps the only one who called up the then Chief Minister and requested to ensure safety for my life. And this he did without me even telling him anything about what I am going through or even requesting for any support. That was OC Sir, a person whom you can rely in the worst of your times without even asking.
When in 2013 I produced my Malayalam feature film on sex trafficking ‘Ente’ I had requested him to come for the premiere. He not only came but he brought the entire assembly with him for he felt every legislator should be sensitized on this subject. This was the first film OC Sir was seeing in 45 years! For the next few months, he would constantly remember the last scene of the film and tell me that it left a deep sense of guilt about how the efforts to ensure safety for women and children were rather inadequate.
Every time OC Sir felt my expertise would be of any help, he immediately called upon me. Never once did he make me feel like an outsider, valuing me for the body of work that I have accomplished and according me the respect I deserve and more. To me those days Cliff House was a comfortable place to quickly update Sir on the various developments related to the implementation of the policy before I rushed back to take the flight back to Hyderabad.
We lost touch after the new ruling party got elected. Our paths crossed once or twice mostly at Cochin Airport. Both the times it was like connecting with a beloved friend eagerly sharing our thoughts on what more can be done.
My ears were tuned to OC Sir and his activities. I watched him handle all the challenges of public life with grace and dignity. With every passing day I realized the need for a political leader like OC Sir who had the capacity to be fair and neutral, had the ability to bring together diverse people, felt deeply for the pain and anxiety of every commoner and had the moral compass of conscience highly embedded in his soul. Today more than ever the country needs such a leader to navigate us through these troubling times.
This morning when I heard OC Sir passed away…for a few minutes I was numb, I could sense deep vacuum, is this the end of an era? No words adequate to pay the right tribute…no thoughts tall enough to capture this brilliant statesman, no gesture big enough to give back what he gave us.
OC Sir…Om Shanti! Till we meet again…