Kochi: KR Vijayan, the tea-seller who visited 26 countries with his wife Mohana using his meagre income, leaves behind a string of memories. Those who had visited his shop, Balaji Coffee House in the city, remember that the couple had placed a big globe there. Vijayan, who passed away on Friday at age 71, and Mohana frequently rotated the globe and planned their next journey.
Many customers reached the shop on Salim Rajan Road only to learn about the couple’s journeys and were regaled with stories from their foreign trips by Vijayan.
Vijayan’s very first travel was as a young boy from his native place Cherthala in Alappuzha district of Kerala to Ernakulam with the Rs 6.25 kept aside to pay his school fees. During his schooldays, Vijayan even ran away from home to visit Delhi and Haridwar.
After his marriage to Mohana, Vijayan had once taken her necklace apparently to repay a loan and used it to fund a trip. Soon, the couple began travelling together to various destinations in India.
Once, while taking rest after a pilgrimage to Tirupati in 2007, Vijayan saw an aircraft flying above and the idea of a foreign trip came to him. On returning to his house in Kochi, Vijayan noticed a TV commercial on a trip to the Holy Lands.
Without delay, Vijayan booked that trip and he could enjoy a boat cruise along the Nile River during New Year in 2008. In fact, his first foreign trip took Vijayan to Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Israel.
Journeys to the Gulf countries and Europe followed. Along with Mohana, Vijayan visited Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Vatican, among other countries. Among the memories of these trips, a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI was dear to Vijayan.
Of all the countries he visited, Israel was Vijayan’s favourite place.
Funding his trips
Apart from the savings from his teashop, most of Vijayan’s journeys were funded with loans from State Bank of India’s Kathrikadavu branch and Kadavanthra People’s Urban Society. Film stars Amitabh Bachchan and Anupam Kher had contributed Rs 50,000 each for the couple’s US trip in 2014. Anonymous well-wishers from Bengaluru also pooled Rs 2 lakh for the same journey.
Moreover, Vijayan used to save every rupee he received as payment for attending various events, for his travels.
The last country visited by Vijayan was Russia. Along with Mohana, other family members too accompanied him on the trip, which took place in October this year after the international travel restrictions related to the global pandemic were eased. “But, father had been diagnosed with cancer and was doubtful about setting out on another journey after the visit to Russia,” recalls Vijayan’s daughter Sasikala.
Sasikala and Usha, Vijayan’s daughters, had joined their parents on several trips.
Even though he knew cancer was creeping in, Vijayan had planned the Russian journey as he felt that he was recovering.
In fact, a mere two days before taking off for Russia, Vijayan had told ‘Manorama Traveller’ magazine: “I want to travel to all my dream destinations even on a wheel-chair. Even though I was diagnosed with cancer eight months ago, it has not affected my mind. I am thrilled over the Russian trip.”
“If you have a dream and a drive, anybody can make a foreign travel. That way, I am a millionaire,” he added.
N S Madhavan’s tribute
Among those who expressed condolences over Vijayan’s death was noted writer N S Madhavan, who tweeted: “Vijayan served me tea and snacks two days a week. A world traveller, a story-teller of journeys, a friend who was young at heart, a tea-seller who was a globetrotter is no more. He returned from Russia recently. He wished to meet Vladimir Putin.”