The party was Kodiyeri's strength and family his weakness

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan
Though he was a strict CPM leader, who always stuck to the party line, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan won all by love and affection. File Photo.

Kodiyeri was not merely the name of a place in Kerala politics. Instead, it was the undeniable presence of a person, a leader, who identified himself with a place.

His journey from Mottammal Balakrishnan to Kodiyeri Balakrishnan - as we now know - was tough, so hard that it could have hardened any youngster. The party and family were one for Kodiyeri. He loved the party like his family, and vice versa.

We have heard of several stories about him from his childhood, each story an experience by itself. The stories spoke about his affection and concerns about his children and party; the affection of a guardian, his love towards his wife.

There are also stories of an entire land backing him, unwavering. There are stories of revolutionary ambers that seasoned him as a party comrade.

How did Mani, as his mother fondly called him, became Comrade Kodiyeri? What made an emotional Pinarayi Vijayan term him "my real brother'? When did the two comrades first met?

We take you through the journey of Kodiyeri, born late in the life of his parents, who went on to become the smiling face of CPM, and a firebrand leader whenever the occasion demanded.

The affectionate Kodiyeri
Kodiyeri's love for his family was not an exaggeration. It was instilled in him from his childhood, when he was showered with love and affection.

For him the party was his strength and family, weakness. Once back home, he became the T-shirt and lungi-clad loving husband and doting father and grandfather.

Kodiyeri was the son born late in the life of Kunhunni Kurup and wife Narayani Amma.

His mother was 42 when he was born, and his parents had then married off their older daughters. The couple focused all their love and affection on Mottammal Balakrishnan. They pampered him.

Kodiyeri showed the same affection to his family as well. Once inside his impressive house, the T-shirt and lungi-clad CPM leader could be seen cracking jokes to his wife Vinodini. The circumstances in which grew up since birth made him such a man.

His secret weapon in the party, too, was nothing else. Though he was a strict CPM leader, who always stuck to the party line, he won all by love and affection.

Kodiyeri at Congress meets
Kodiyeri grew up experiencing public meetings held by the Congress.

His father Kunhunni Kurup, a teacher at Kallarathalayi UP School, was a staunch Congress supporter. Little Balakrishnan had rode on his father's shoulder to attend meetings addressed by Pattom A Thanupillai and other Congress leaders.

Balakrishnan lost his father when he was in Class V at the age of 12. Since then, his world revolved around his mother.

His parents were so concerned about them they had never let him go out alone. Still, he often managed to sneak out. Kodiyeri had later recalled how he had stay underwater to avoid being caught by his father. The boy was then on a mission to learn how to swim in a neighbourhood pond.

A wedding and a cup of tea
It could be rightly said that Narayani Amma moulded the life of Balakrishnan.

During his days as an activist of Kerala Students' Federation (KSF) - the predecessor of the Students' Federation of India (SFI), his mother stayed awake late into the night till the son returned home.

She was worried whenever he was arrested, and she trusted his every word.

"My courage stems from the sense of protection I get from my family," Kodiyeri later said. "People of Thalassery brought me up. Their affection is my strength."

Kodiyeri's marriage with Vinodini was a simple affair at the Town Hall in Thalassery.

He knew Vinodini as the daughter of former MLA M V Rajagopalan. Guests who attended the wedding, solemnised by AV Kunhambu, were treated to a cup of tea.

His world became big with the birth of their two sons. Even as he dedicated his life to the party, he watched their children growing up under the care of Vinodini, Vinu to him.

He never interfered when his sons chose cinema and business as their field. Instead, he created a world that comprised his wife, their children, daughters-in-law and grandchildren--a world that ran parallel to the political sphere.

Meeting Pinarayi
How did Pinarayi Vijayan and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan become thick friends in Kerala politics?

Perhaps both must have understood each other completely. One captained the State administration, while the other helmed the party. Others may not be able to define the chemistry between the two leaders.

Kodiyeri, however, had given hints of the chemistry: "Both of us are from the same place. The place, Pinarayi, is 12 km from Kodiyeri. Comrade Pinarayi is 10 years older than me. I first met Pinarayi when I was a Class 9 student at the school in Kodiyeri. I was then 14. He was then the State secretary of the Kerala Students' Federation. We invited him to inaugurate the KSF's unit in our school. The bonding still continues," Kodiyeri said in an interview.

Pinarayi was too concerned when hospital authorities informed him of Kodiyeri's illness. "He intervened in all matters, where to get treated, my financial situation, etc. He used to enquire after me every two days when I was undergoing treatment abroad," Kodiyeri had said.

Punctual man
Kodiyeri was a man of punctuality, yet he did not hesitate to change the policy if the situation warranted it.

He was willing to wait if he was expecting someone. He never expressed displeasure if someone was late.

He was an interviewer's delight as well. No question would be left unanswered, and he would not be provoked.

But he never minced words either, and such words had often created controversies as well.

"If the party wanted, it would make bomb in the police station itself," and "work in the field, and wages at the fence" statements exposed the firebrand leader in Kodiyeri.

Mottammal to Kodiyeri
There is a tale behind Mottammal Balakrishnan becoming Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

He was Mani to his mother, and a few close people in the neighbourhood.

Kodiyeri had become an SFI leader by the time he joined the Mahatma Gandhi College in Mahe.

He had to travel to several parts of the State to promote the organisation, but was always short of money to meet his travel expenses.

The workers of the beedi company at Engayil Peedika were willing to pool in the money to fund his travel.

Earlier in school, Moozhikkara Balakrishnan and Mottammal Balakrishnan had attended a KSF camp representing the Oniyan Government High School.

During registration, Moozhikkara suggested Kodiyeri to his comrade, and the KSF leader became Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.
After this incident, those in school and in Thalassery identified Balakrishnan as Kodiyeri. Those outside identified his Kodiyeri after another incident.

"When I attended KSF's district meet at Kanhangad, those with me registered my name as Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. After this meeting, I came to be known as Kodiyeri," he had said.

The media also identified him as Kodiyeri after he took up leadership roles in several other party-affiliated organisations. His passport also had his name as Kodiyeri.

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