Kochu Lakshmi teacher's chela in Sydney
Former United Nations staff, Australian government official, table tennis player; Iraj Amaifshar wears many hats. However, this Iran-born Aussie citizen cherishes another identity. He proudly iterates: “I am a Koyikkodan.” Lounging in serene Maroubra Beach Club, Sydney, relishing Kozhikkodan halwa, he unspools his memories of the city of values in near perfect Malayalam in an Koyikkodan accent too, to boot!
He landed in Kozhikode in 1980, enrolling in B. Sc. physics course at Malabar Christian College. “Iran was witnessing serious post-revolution turmoil when I left the place. It was common for Iranians to travel, especially to India, in pursuit of higher education. I too followed suit aspiring for a brighter future.”
In a wistful tone, he recounts his troubles in getting acclimatised to the place. "I still remember feeling helpless on that distant first day, alone and distraught in the veranda of MCC, unable to follow a word of either Malayalam or English; hopelessly forlorn.
The making of ‘Kozhikodan Iraj’
"Taking pity on my soul in agony with a handful of notes in Persian, Bhaskar took me by the shoulder and offered all possible help. That was in fact the beginning of Kozhikode locking me in her tender embrace setting me on my Koyikkodan tryst. The table tennis sessions at YMCA widened my social circle, including Shivraj and Ramesh to name just two. Gradually, I mastered Malayalam."
He continues: "The bliss of listening to Supranatham sitting alongside Tali pond was a became a daily routine. Trips to Tusharagiri and Wayanad with friends like Vinod became regular." Then came the decisive moment: "In the light of the unsettled political circumstances in Iran, U N granted me refugee status. The metamorphosis into a Koyikkodan was complete."
Iraj takes up the political thread: "The razor sharp political consciousness of my adopted and beloved city astonishes me even to this day. The Iranian revolution of the 1979, attendant demise of the Pahlavi monarchy and the ensuing political instability kept Iran in global media glare. There were nearly 30 Iranian students in Kozhikode."
Waxing nostalgic, he continues: "I used to spend almost all of my evenings with my Malayalee friends at Vinod Krishnan’s Sree Lekha book stall in Mavoor Road. Almost all discussions would lead to serious dialogues on Iranian politics. I was surprised to see how well people grasped geopolitics. Though I have been to forty countries, I am yet to come across a people with such open hearts."
Kochu Lakshmi Teacher
His voice drops a notch to a reverential hush: "Whatever I am today, I owe it all to Kochu Lakshmi teacher. I joined her English tuition institution at Veterinary road as a student grappling with English. Her influence on me was enormous. On her advice, I joined St. Joseph's college, Devagiri for post-graduation in English Literature, endowed with a faculty headed by Prof Vijayaram and boasting of stalwart professors like Jayendran, Terrence, Balakrishnan, Zacharias and Haridasan among others. I worked with her for nearly eight years. Later, I became an interpreter at the U N; the inspiration was my dear teacher."
With John Denver’s ‘500 miles’ playing appropriately in the background, he winds down: "Though I live in Sydney now, I never pass up an opportunity to visit Malabar. People like the vegetable vendor in front of the Beach hospital and a friend at Bombay hotel instantly recognised me on my last visit."
However, the obdurate resistance to the heritage makeover of iconic places like S M street and Mananchira sadden him. Lingering on the last bit of halwa tasting of distant shore, Iraj avers “Though an Iranian by birth, I remain a true Koyikkodan at heart.”
(The writer is a Sydney-based theatre trainer and blogger. His email ID is firstname.lastname@example.org)