How the family of a deceased Kerala youth is keeping his memory alive with music

Manu Nepolean, along with two of his friends, drowned at Azhimala shore in Thiruvananthapuram in September.
Manu Napolean with his friends
Manu Napolean with his friends
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On the evening of September 17, tragedy struck when three friends in their early 20s drowned at the beach at Azhimala in Vizhinjam. Manu Nepolean was among them, a BCom graduate from the coastal village of Pulluvila, Vizhinjam in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, who was awaiting a visa to South Korea and had been planning to leave in two weeks. The friends and relatives of the men are still coming to terms with the loss, but Manu’s family has been finding a way to give back to the community while dealing with their grief.

Manu’s room has been converted into a mini recording studio for children of the coastal village and those in the neighbourhood, just as he once was. It especially benefits those who can’t afford a studio themselves. “We never used to frequent the house as we do now when he was alive. We feel that our presence is soothing for his family now. They see him in us. That is soothing for us too,” Naveen, a friend of Manu, tells TNM.

                                                           Recording at the studio 

The three friends had been a part of a group of nine who had gone to the beach for a farewell party for Johnson Cleetus, who was leaving for the United Kingdom the next day. Johnson Cleetus and Sabu Varghese also lost their lives alongside Manu Nepolean, and Santhosh George remains missing. Now Manu Nepolean’s friends are set to release a short film titled Fiend under the banner 17th Day Studios on December 17. The recording of the songs and dubbing for the short film is being done at the studio. 

“We lost him on a 17. We wanted to keep him alive through all the ways we can. I feel more confident now as he is around me. We named the production house 17 and the short film will be released on the 17th,” Tenson, another friend of Manu  tells TNM. Tenson, a childhood friend, is the scriptwriter and director of the short film. “I reached [the beach] half an hour later. Everything was over by then,” Tenson says.

Naveen, another childhood friend, was with Manu on that September evening. However, he is having a hard time grappling with the loss of his friend.

“I still haven’t come into terms with reality. I wonder how life keeps moving in his absence. I used to spend more time with him than with my family. You know when it’s our responsibility to take care of the family of our friends when they are away. We are doing that right now, I feel more at home at his place now where we can drop in even at midnight,” Naveen says.

Manu’s father Nepolean is a fisherman in Vizhinjam. His mother Maria, a homemaker, and elder sister Sindhu Mariya Nepolean also became closer to his friends after his death. “We lost one, but for them (Manu’s friends), they lost four. They are our children now,” Sindhu, a research aspirant and a former journalist, tells TNM. 

                                               Manu with his parents and Sindhu 

“It was hard for us to enter his room. Now with the recording studio, we managed to get rid of the suffocation of entering his room. Everything was ready. It was a matter of a few weeks for him to go abroad. But he had gone before that,” Sindhu says. On the wall hangs a collage of her pictures with Manu. Maria tries to engage herself by offering sweets to seven-year-old Biya who was about to record a song with Naveen.

                                                               Manu with Sindhu 

For the children of the coastal region, the studio is a path to an unfamiliar world. “Not that the children are not talented, but they never had access to a studio or anything like that,” Naveen says. 

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