Kerala’s 81-year-old Ismailkutty Changanassery had the first cast his vote in 1957 in the state – first and only vote ever – when the first elected government was formed in the state. Ismailkutty recalls that voting experience 63 years ago when he had voted for AM Kalayana Krishnan Nair of the undivided Communist Party of India from Changanassery.
In 1964, Ismailkutty of the ‘Koonampadickal’ house went to Goa to start a business and spent the next five decades away from home. It is only in October 2014 that he returned to Changanassery again.
After dropping out of St Berchman’s High School in Class 7, he learned how to make sweets and began selling them in Changanassery and other places.
It was Abdul Rahman, an acquaintance who was in the business of making sweets, who invited Ismailkutty to Goa. “I went trusting his words, after booking machines (for making sweets). However, India’s war with Pakistan began a few months after I reached Goa and the friend who brought me there fled in fear. I was left alone to take care of the business. I wasn’t able to make much of a profit apart from meeting the day-to-day expenses,” Ismailkutty says, recalling those days.
In his financial desperation, Ismailkutty couldn’t think of going home without making a success of his business. At one point, members of his family went to Goa in search of him, but by then he had moved to Karnataka in search of greener pastures.
He says that when he informed his father of his decision to move to Goa, he discouraged him saying ‘there was no need to foray into a business so far away from home’. However, he insisted on moving since he had invested money on the machines.
Years later, he was hesitant to go back home, not feeling confident to face his family after so long. It was only after his wife died that he decided to visit his native town again. His wife was from Tamil Nadu and the couple’s only child died due to complications at birth. When his wife too passed away, Ismailkutty took his long-delayed trip to Changanassery.
The year was 2014 and Ismailkutty could not recognise the town he grew up in anymore. He was 25 when he had left and 75 when he returned. He went in search of his family near the old market where they used to live. But the family had left the place. He then took leads from the local people and reached the house of his niece Nisha near Vadakekara Church. Happily, she recognised him.
When Ismailkutty left Changanassery, Nisha was only four. “When I was taken to my family, I wasn’t able to identify anyone. Everyone came and introduced themselves to me,” he says.
Among his four siblings, two had died – a sister and a brother. The rest of the family was very happy to receive him and look after him in his late years.
Since he was visiting relatives, he was not a constant presence anywhere. In 2019, Ismailkutty went for the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. After that, he stayed with his brother Hassan Kunju till some time in 2020 and then went to Unchiloor, a small village 34 km from Erode in Tamil Nadu, where he has a small house. Unfortunately, that’s when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and Ismailkutty was stranded there.
“Two days after I reached, the lockdown was put in place and returning home wasn’t possible. In the meantime, the local body election processes in Kerala got accelerated and I wasn’t able to enlist my name in the voters list. However, I will be voting in Tamil Nadu,” he says.
The house at Unchiloor, situated in three cents of land, is modest where he cooks his own meals.
Once the pandemic subsides, he plans to return to Changanassery and divide his time between his brothers Hassan Kunju and Nassirudin, who lives in Alappuzha.