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'He just wanted to build a new house'

By George Iype in Alappuzha
November 23, 2005 12:26 IST
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Ever since he got a phone call from Meghalaya on Sunday, Raman Kutty and his family members have not slept for two reasons.

First, the news that his only son, Ramankutty Maniyappan, a driver with the Border Roads Organisation, has been kidnapped in Afghanistan is yet to register in his mind. And before it did, the television flashed news on Tuesday night that Maniyappan has been killed by the Taliban.

Second, ever since the news came in, his small home in the remote Chingoly village in Kerala's Alappuzha district has been besieged with hundreds of visitors - panicky relatives and neighbours, media men, BRO officials and local politicians led by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.

"I do not know what to do. I wish he had not gone for the job in Afghanistan," Kutty mourns.

He believes it was a streak of ill-luck that has landed his only son into the Taliban trap. "Maniyappan was supposed to come home on November 8. I don't know what prompted him to postpone his trip," says Kutty.

The distraught family is now anxiously waiting for the only breadwinner. Maniyappan's wife Bindu and two sons - eight-year-old Ajay and three-and-a-half-year-old Akshay - live with his aged parents.

Bindu, who is yet to come to terms with her husband's abduction, says it was unemployment and poverty that forced Maniyappan to travel to Afghanistan to take up the driver's job. "He took up the assignment because we wanted to build a new house. I wish we did not desire a new home," she laments.

As the family awaited the news of his release, flash breaking news on television screens on Tuesday night announced that the Taliban has executed Maniyappan.

"The family members went into a hysteria on the news. We had a tough time comforting them," says K Sudhakaran, a  neighbour. "Why do television channels flash news without getting the full truth?"

Angry with the manner in which they are being treated, Sudhakaran has ordered the local television cameras not to enter Maniyappan's home. He says the hundreds of people visiting the home has made the lives of Maniyappan's family  more miserable. "It is nice that Chief Minister Chandy and other leaders visited the family. But what is the use," he asks.

There is an air of gloom over Chingoli and adjoining villages because Maniyappan was one of the hundreds of youngsters from the area who work with the two organisations - General Reserve Engineering Force and BRO - along India's border areas.

"In fact, the largest number of drivers and other employees working with the two organisations are from Kerala. That, too, from villages over here," says Maniyappan's uncle Krishnan Kutty.

Krishnan Kutty himself was with the GREF earlier. "I worked in the organisation for two decades and then retired. Maniyappan got his job in BRO because I helped him to apply," he says. "I do not know how to comfort this family."

He said Maniyappan had come home eight months ago and was supposed to visit again on November 8. "But in a sudden reversal of plans, he had been given an assignment at Herang, a city west of Khandahar. He readily agreed to do the assignment because there he can earn Rs 50,000 as monthly pay."

It is this attractive salary that has prompted youngsters from Kayamkulam, Muthukulam, Kireekkad and Chingoly to take up the risky jobs as drivers, kitchen staff and office assistants in remote border areas in India and other parts of the violence-prone international locations such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

K Jomon, a BRO employee who is on leave in Chingoly says he works in Meghalaya in tough conditions. "We work hard. We always look forward to foreign assignments in places like Libya, Bhutan and Afghanistan because we get paid well," he says.

"I met Maniyappan before he went to Afghanistan. He was happy to go there because he wanted to earn well and build a home here. He wanted to see his family happy in a new house," Jomon says.

He says Maniyappan loved his village so much that he wanted to settle here, taking early retirement. And now the villagers are praying that the humble driver from Chingoly village comes back to his roots from Taliban custody.

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George Iype in Alappuzha