Sub-inspector Kuttan Pillai lived with illusions about himself. The only realistic self-analysis understood by Kuttan Pillai was that he was not an efficient or good policeman – neither to the expectations of the structure of the police machinery nor to the concerns of the people. He always felt that his uniform was a barrier for his creative search.

To overcome his deep frustration with life, Kuttan Pillai tried a hand in poetry initially. Nothing got published. Then he tried writing a play and requested one of his friends who was involved in theatre to direct it. Kuttan Pillai himself met the expenses for the production of the play. The artists stayed in his house and another friend also helped in accommodating the artists during the rehearsal period. The other expenses came from his own salary as a policeman. The opening show was a disaster. Then the director of the play escaped to Mumbai in search of a job.

But Kuttan Pllai did not give up. He was getting more and more convinced that he was an artist inside his uniform.

Once when I was sitting in Calicut beach, trying to enjoy the sunset, I heard a familiar sound from behind. It was Kuttan Pillai !

He happily waved at me from a distance: `Brother, I want to thank you.’

`For what?’ I was intrigued.

Kuttan Pillai came very close to me.

`For your advice’. Between his red teeth tinted by paan, I could see a dark curve widening as a smile.

`But I never advised you,’ I was still puzzled. His smile did not fade out. He sat next to me on the beach.

`Of course, you have. I mean, indirectly. And you have solved my deepest problem that I have been carrying within myself for two years.’ He was still smiling.

`But how?’

`You had written that it is not just films, poetry, theatre, novels, painting, dancing and only such stuff should be considered as art, but the entire human life is filled with art in diverse ways in our daily existence. You wrote that jumping into a suburban train during the peak hours in Mumbai, maintaining good relations, catching fish or doing carpentry or many other things that are not considered as art should be recognised as art. For example, when we eat food, we must recognise the element of art in making that food. A good cook is a good artist. Such a good artist can even judge salt and chilly from the smell of the dish, without tasting the dish. And you even said that the basic principle of making a good film and making good sambar is the same. The choice of the combinations to be cut for boiling, when to put what masala, salt or chilly, the quantity of every ingredient in the right proportion, and how much time to be placed on fire on medium or strong fire, along with a proper proportion of quantities of each ingredient, determine the creation a good sambar. The ingredients of this art of making a good sambar is very much like the principles behind making a good film. You had written that, right?’ Kuttan Pillai looked at me with deep respect.

`Oh, it’s alright. But why bring it up now?’ I tried to find out.

`Because I realised that the art inside me is in cooking. And I have realised that I am one of the best cooks who can make the best sambar in the world. But as you said, it takes time for people to recognise your talent. In any case, I will not give up. You have given me a new hope in life. Thank you, brother.’

I was stunned. The worst thing about Kerala is that even policemen read.

I started reflecting on the stories I have heard about Kuttan Pillai’s sambar. Most of them were horror stories. One of my friends in Calicut had seen him next to his wife who was admitted in the hospital for tasting his sambar. Kuttan Pillai’s neighbour vacated his house and shifted to a worse house three kilometres away, since he could not stand the smell of Kuttan Pillai’s cooking. The pregnancy of the niece of Kuttan Pillai got aborted when she tasted his sambar first time in her life. Apart from these, many known people known to me had suffered from his passion for cooking sambar. And I could never imagine that I was the source of his inspiration. I wanted to tell him not to disclose this to anybody else.

However, for the first time, his sambar became an advantage for the police machinery. When the petty thieves did not open their mouths and stubbornly refused to disclose where they had hidden their stolen materials despite facing all sorts of torture, the police in Calicut would feed them with Kuttan Pillai’s sambar. And spat came out the truth! Even seasoned criminals could not withstand this strategy of the police. Hence, Kuttan Pillai’s sambar became very popular among the police circles in Calicut. Even the DIG of police personally congratulated him for the discovery of this new technology for torture.

I looked at the sea in front of me changing its colours. The line of horizon separating the sea and the sky was not visible clearly. Both the sea and the sky seemed to be of the same colour.

`But how is your work going on?’ I tried to change the subject.

`Oh, you did not know?’

`What happened?’

`They removed me from the police department. I knew that some people in the department were jealous of me. Therefore, I went to meet the Police Commissioner to present him a bowl of my Sambar. But the next day they forced me to take an early retirement. I do not know what happened. You see, as an artist you should be knowing that there are jealous people everywhere.’

`Of course, I understand’. And I did understand the fate of the Police Commissioner.

`But, do you know one thing? I received a letter from WHO yesterday asking me to send samples of my sambar for testing its potentials to fight Covid 19. So, there is a positive side everywhere. And two weeks back, I received a letter from the US Department of Defense. They wanted to know the details of the recipe of my sambar. I did not disclose it yet. They will have to pay me properly for that kind of information. Don’t you think so?’

`Yes, of course. You should never leave the control of your creation. And I suggest that you should patent it before anybody steals the details from you.’ I was wondering about how much would the US Department of Defense would pay and on which country it would be tested. It can not be India. The south Indians will definitely resist the Sambar Bomb from United States.

`But one thing is clear. More and more international interest on my creativity is coming up. These people in India will realise my worth only when I am recognised internationally. As a film director, you must have experienced such behaviour of people. Am I not right?’

`Yes, it is true.’ Such experiences were there for many film makers.

The smell of the sea was changing. The red sun was getting prepared for his daily bath. He came out naked below the shining clouds.

`And I wanted to meet you for quite some time’. Kuttan Pillai looked at me.

`Why?’

`You see, you are the reason for my success. And I wanted to do something for you. I did not know how to repay you’.

Oh, that’s nothing,’ I said.Forget it. I am not expecting anything.’ Of course, I was. Not for me. But for the health of others.

`Yes, I get it. I know what to give you as a gratitude for your support. Please come with me to my house. I am staying very close to this beach.’ Kuttan Pillai got up. Kuttan Pillai’s wife was staying with children in her parental home in the village. No wonder.

`Get up, brother.’ It was almost an order. I got up to go with him to his house.

`Tell me. What do you have in mind?’

`You see, I made a variation on my sambar today evening. And I want you to comment on my sambar. Though you have inspired me, you have never tasted my cooking. I am inviting you for dinner today.’

Kuttan Pillai gripped my hand, dragging me towards his house. His grip was strong. It was like wearing proper hand cuffs. For once, I was getting extremely scared of police.

While walking with him, I turned back to have a quick glance at the horizon, for some hope.

The horizon had turned dark.

I knew I had to pay for my crime at one stage or another.

K.P. Sasi is a film maker, cartoonist and writer


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