When an IAS officer eased tension during elections with his song


Thiruvananthapuram: Former chief secretary and poet K Jayakumar was initially reluctant to be part of 'Election Yarn', an Onmanorama special on untold election stories. "Nothing can be more unromantic than an election," Jayakumar said with a disapproving smile that politely told us to keep him out of the programme.  

When we told him that a bureaucrat could perhaps offer a fresh perspective, he laughed as if an unintentional joke had been cracked but still relented. As it turned out, the process he called unromantic had on certain occasions sharpened the poet in him. And on one occasion, this poet had come to the rescue of his 'poll observer' avatar.

This happened when he was poll observer in Kannur in the early 90s. "Things were proceeding smoothly and I didn't have much to do," Jayakumar said. Pop comes a message from a police officer: There is a likelihood of a breach of peace. Two local factions were on the verge of exploding on each other.

Lyricist’s magic
Jayakumar rushed there. One man, who seemed like the leader of the more aggressive faction, was in a highly agitated mood. "So this leader with a very ferocious look stared at me for a while. He came to me, and in a rather threatening tone, asked me a very interesting question," Jayakumar said. In chaste Malayalam but with not a hint of respect, he asked: "Are you not the guy who wrote the song 'Chandanalepa Sugandham...". 

Hariharan-M T Vasudevan Nair's 'Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha' had just released and the song, picturised on Mammootty and Madhavi, was topping the charts. "The moment the man asked this non-political question, I knew that I could handle the situation," Jayakumar said. The presence of the lyricist had tamed the politician.

"The moment he attached a different identity to me other than that of an official, my channel of communication with him was open. So I softly put my arm on his shoulder and said in Malayalam 'Suhruthe, entha prashnam?' (Friend, what's the problem?)"  

The man said there was nothing to worry. "He consoled me by saying that the issue could be easily resolved," Jayakumar said. In five minutes, the crowd dispersed. A situation that had threatened to blow up into a major law and order situation fizzled out in no time. 

"That is one moment I still cherish. I congratulate myself for my decision to become a lyric writer because till then I had never realised that such things have so much of emotional impact on people," the poet and former civil servant said.

Lonely evenings and Tagore
It was this poetic sensibility that made certain other-state election assignments a contemplative experience for Jayakumar. His poll observer stint in Chikkamagalur constituency was one. "It's a coffee planter's constituency. I still remember the extensive walks that I used to take. I would wander for miles through these lovely coffee plantations," Jayakumar said. 

"Those lonely evenings," is how the former civil servant wistfully describes those after-work hours. An official is not allowed to take his spouse along for election duty.

Lonely wanderings induce strange longings. "We also fall in love with some of the guest houses," he said. The one in Daulatabad, Maharashtra, for instance. "If I get an opportunity I will go and stay there again," he said.

"It sits on a hillock that overlooks a lovey valley. The Deccan Plateau is such a wonderful place. Standing in a corner of the hillock, you can see the sun rising in the east and setting in the west," he said.

And watching the clouds glide in from the distant horizon, Jayakumar must have felt Kalidasa's urge. "No wonder Kalidasa was forced to write 'Meghdoot'," he remembers himself thinking then. Meghdoot is about a 'yaksha' banished to the remotest corner of the earth imploring the clouds to take a message to his wife. 

Jayakumar also used his position as civil servant to realise a great wish of the poet in him. He used his connections in the Election Commission to get himself posted as poll observer in Bolpur. Bolpur in West Bengal is where Shanthiniketan is.

For an Indian poet, there is no greater pilgrimage than a visit to Shanthiniketan. "I could be in Shanthiniketan for a few days and imbibe the spirit of Tagore that is still there," Jayakumar said.

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