A few years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Biyyathil Mohyuddin Kutty, more commonly known as B.M. Kutty, at Serena Hotel in Quetta. He was invited to an international conference on the Baloch writer Mir Gul Khan Nasir Mengal.
Kutty belonged to a peasant family in Kerala, which owned fertile land. On their land, they grew four crops and hence enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle.
At the age of 19, Kutty came to Pakistan in 1951, but not as a refugee. After his graduation, Kutty claimed he and his two friends decided to go to Bombay, as his cousins lived there. During the 1950s, no legal documents were required to travel between India and Pakistan. So, on a whim and without informing anyone, they caught the train to Karachi for a 15-day visit. Once in Karachi, Kutty and his friends thought of visiting Lahore for few days, so off they went.
Veteran democracy activist and communist B.M. Kutty passed away on August 25. His was a life marked by integrity, principles and serendipity
Kutty himself gave different versions for his motivations sometimes. According to one such version, he had been asked to move by the Communist Party — of which he was a member — to help organise labour in the newly-formed country.
Regardless of how he got there, Kutty fell in love with Lahore upon his arrival. He did not miss the opportunity to reflect on Lahore during his conversation with me.
For him, it was as though he had found Kerala in Lahore. “It was something strange but I did not want to go back as I stepped in Lahore,” he had recalled. I asked him why that was and he replied, “When I was in Kerala, I used to read stories about Jahangir, Noor Jehan and Anarkali, which inspired me to visit Lahore at least once in my life.”
Serendipitously, a businessman from Kerala ran a big commercial establishment in Lahore and Kutty found a job in his company. Thus he made the city his home.
THE ROMANTIC OF LAHORE
Before his marriage, Kutty had fallen in love with a nurse called Firdous at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital where he was admitted for an illness. He wrote her a love letter, but didn’t receive a reply for a long time.
While he was in hospital, one day, the nursing superintendent Mrs Pinta Khan visited Kutty’s room on her weekly rounds. Reading his name on his bed, she asked him if he belonged to Kerala. When he answered yes, she began speaking to him in Malayali. Kutty felt as though he had met his Malayali sister in Lahore.
After some time, he spoke about Firdous to her. Mrs Khan did not want him to marry Firdous for several reasons. For one, Kutty and Firdous belonged to different cultural backgrounds. Secondly, Kutty spoke only English, while Firdous spoke Urdu and Punjabi.
Then one day, Kutty received Firdous’s reply. The letter was written by her brother and with it came Kutty’s camera that she had borrowed from him during his treatment at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. The letter disallowed Kutty from further contact with her. So Kutty’s first love affair came to a sad end. The thought that Mrs Khan may have asked Firdous to stay away from Kutty did cross his mind, because he knew she disapproved of this match.
Kutty did get married later, to the niece of the chief accountant of the company where he worked. He never returned to Kerala until only recently.
“My wife was a beautiful girl from Lahore. Her name was Birgis Siddiqui and her family was from Uttar Pradesh,” Kutty reminisced during our conversation in Quetta. “In 2010, she passed away.”
Throughout his life, Kutty did not own a house; he and his wife lived in rented houses. Whenever Kutty did not have the money to pay rent, he and his wife would be thrown out by the landlords. This is how his life was. He neither went after money nor did he have any.
Later, in Karachi, he had a flat where he lived with his family.
THE COMMUNIST OF KERALA
During my conversation with him, in his hotel room, he recalled communists and the Communist Party in Kerala, India, where he was born. He believed that communists all over the world came to power by the force of the bullet but in Kerala they came into power by the help of the ballot, with full majority for the first time in 1957.
Kutty had matriculated from Kerala. His father was a staunch supporter of the Muslim League, while Kutty participated in the Communist Party’s student movement. Hoping to alter his son’s political ideology, Kutty’s father sent him to a Mohammaden college in Madras (Chennai) for further studies. He graduated from there but his communist credentials remained unchanged. It was as though he was a born communist.
In Lahore, Kutty cultivated links with the Communist Party people whom he called “like-minded and politically-oriented friends”. Kutty told me that he still had records of the letters he had written against the US to the editor of Pakistan Times in 1953.
This is also why he was jailed, along with fellow communists. During his time in jail, he was told to write an apology letter, but he refused, saying that he had not done anything against the state of Pakistan. Subsequently, Kutty was transferred to Lahore jail, where he met Agha Abdul Karim Khan who was the brother of the last ruler of the former state of Kalat.
In 1973, the National Awami Party (NAP) government was toppled by Z.A. Bhutto under the pretext that a cache of arms and ammunitions meant for it had been recovered from the Iraqi embassy. NAP was suspected of arming Baloch rebels at the Pakistan-Iran border to fight against the government of the Shah of Iran in the 1970s. In this episode, too, Kutty was imprisoned.
Kutty was also arrested during Gen Zia’s tenure. When Al-Zulfikar, an outlawed insurgent organisation led by Z.A. Bhutto’s sons, claimed the hijacking of a PIA airliner to Kabul, the Zia regime vented its anger against workers of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and other party leaders, including the Pakistan National Party (PNP). Zia imprisoned Kutty sahib too. More than anything else, during his time in jail, Kutty was grateful to his wife who would bring shami kababs on Saturdays that he and his comrades would enjoy eating.
THE CHHOTA BABA OF BALOCHISTAN
His colleagues enjoyed calling Kutty “a Baloch nationalist from Kerala”. When I had asked him about his association with Baloch nationalism, he told me he was close to the Baloch leadership because of their secular approach.
Nevertheless, seasoned human rights activist I.A. Rehman aptly says that if Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo was ‘Baba-i-Balochistan’, then Kutty was its ‘Chhotta Baba’.
More than any other Baloch nationalist and leader, Kutty remained closely associated with Bizenjo since the 1970 elections. After dismissal of the NAP government, Kutty was arrested at the Lahore airport. He was travelling to Islamabad, accompanied by Mir Ali Ahmed Talpur, Prof Ghafoor Ahmed and Bizenjo. Bizenjo embraced Kutty, wished him well and handed him a woollen cardigan that Mir Ahmad Bugti had brought for him from London. The cardigan, he told me, saved his life in the freezing confines of jail.
Interestingly, Kutty had urged Bizenjo to document his life and politics, so that the younger Baloch generation could learn about him. After Kutty’s frequent requests, Bizenjo finally agreed. Eventually, the autobiography was published and documented his life. Kutty shared with me that he edited the book out of a hundred pages of notes in Urdu written by Bizenjo.
Kutty sahib’s last contact with me was a handwritten message after he had partially recovered from a stroke which had left his right side impaired. For two months, he underwent Ayurvedic treatment in Kerala. Later, back in Karachi he expected to regain health after some physiotherapy. Unfortunately, fate had other plans.
The writer is a member of staff
Published in Dawn, EOS, September 8th, 2019