Before the massive landslide hit Puthumala in Kerala’s Wayanad during the 2019 floods, life had been a lot, lot different. Christians, Muslims and Hindus lived together as one in the village located in the farthest corner of Kerala, K Balakrishnan says, sitting under the shade of a tree at University College in Thiruvananthapuram. The Continuing Education Arts Fete is going on at the college and Balakrishnan, who hails from Puthumala, has won the first prize for mimicry.
“It is a morning before the 2019 floods, the calm before the storm, that I showed for my act,” Balakrishnan says.
He has finished the Kerala Literacy Mission’s Class 10 equivalency exams and participated in three events for the art fete the Mission is conducting in Thiruvananthapuram. Mono-act was one, mimicry another and after this interview, he has to head for the speech competition. He is going to talk about the Citizenship Amendment Act, he says excitedly.
Balakrishnan is a daily wage labourer in Wayanad and his wife Leela drives an autorickshaw, he adds proudly. “After I got through the equivalency exams I made her join too. She and five others in the neighbourhood used my books to study and pass their exams,” says Balakrishnan, who belongs to the Adivasi community.
He used to go to school but after his mother became unwell and bedridden he dropped out to look after her. “We are four siblings and I am the eldest. Many responsibilities fell on my shoulders when my mother became unwell. Relatives took care of the other siblings,” he says.
After he grew up, Balakrishnan became active in social work and formed a group called Colony Sahaya Sangam (Colony Help Group) to help out the people in the neighbourhood. He lives in the EMS Colony in Pozhuthana.
After they got married, Balakrishnan and Leela began living in a ‘shed’ on an acre of land that the state government had given him as part of an initiative to give land to the poor. “It is the LDF government that gave us the land. And it is Minister PK Jayalakshmy of the earlier UDF government who gave an autorickshaw for my wife to ride,” Balakrishnan says.
The ‘shed’ collapsed during the landslide, and was later rebuilt using plastic sheets donated by the local school. But Balakrishnan has few complaints. He switches easily into the real-life characters he impersonates – Mohanlal to Jassie Gift, VS Achuthanandan’s speech when he came to Kalpetta one day and addressed the Adivasis, or else Oommen Chandy speaking about the Literary Mission. It is all self-taught too.
Balakrishnan with Jassie Gift
“I had an interest in mimicry from my childhood. I notice the way people speak, whoever it is. The first time I was asked to perform on stage was during the AKS Kalolsavam when I was asked to do an act in place of someone who didn’t turn up,” he explains.
Balakrishnan is quite happy that he got to meet Jassie Gift at the festival, the musician he mimicked as part of the competition.