Swimmer against tide

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | CRIS
Published May 22, 2017, 12:00 am IST
Updated May 22, 2017, 12:01 am IST
Jacob Thomas, Kerala’s anti-corruption crusader, reminisces about the triumphs and tribulations in his career and life.
Jacob Thomas
 Jacob Thomas

He walked straight to the corner table at the restaurant. And looking through the glass windows, Jacob Thomas could spot the old office he worked in. “That’s where I sat,” he points to the building. Fire and Rescue Services, Thiruvananthapuram. He had spent 83 days there, not three months full before he was removed infamously, controversially, after being labelled ‘anti-development’. For denying permission for apartments that didn’t follow safety guidelines.

As he narrates the stories that took him there, and later took him out, other stories from other times, too, creep in. Those about his days as the boss of the state’s anti-corruption agency and then how he went on leave. Those from the time he went to Delhi to do his masters in agriculture, those on his dreams, the many adventures in civil service and the odd habits few know about: his stories keep crossing each other.

 

Sometime last year he began writing them. And now, an autobiography is complete in 240 pages, Sravukalkoppam Neenthumpol. It is to be released today by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, giving the first copy to V. Govindraj, president of the backward Edamalakudy panchayat where tribals fight for their existence.

“I am close to the CM now, and that’s because of the experience of so many years. There was a time when the distance from an ASP — my first posting — and the CM was too much,” Thomas says as he talks of his first days at the Kuttiady police station in Kozhikode, back in 1987. The controversies began there. There was a protest against him for speaking his mind. That was the time when he wanted women to be able to walk home safe after a second show. “Isn’t that an indicator of women’s safety? But after 30 years, it has only got worse.” Thomas has written about those dreams he had when he started his career in civil service, and the challenges and blocks he met on the way.

 

“I had a project all planned to send a truckload of flowers from Kerala to the flower auction centre in Netherlands, funded by Tata Tea. Munnar had the land, infrastructure and money to make it happen. But when it was nearly ready, I was transferred.” This would repeat in every place he landed. His next big dream of coastal shipping which he planned as ports director met the same end. “Why don’t we use water for transport? The whole Kerala stretch is about 640 km long. We just need to get the GSI in Dehradun to make a map, get the path approved by International Maritime Organisation and proceed. I had in fact got custom clearance to have cashew containers from Kochi reach Kollam. Shipping is the cheapest mode of transport. Passengers, too, could go from Valiathura port (in Thiruvananthapuram) to Beypore in Kozhikode and Azhikkal in Kannur.” But that didn’t happen either. At Valiathura where he tried to revive the ports department, Jacob says, it is the women of Kudumbashree who offered him protection. Not the political parties, not police.

 

“I even called a tender for a solar farm on the sea, but that’s when the solar scam happened and I couldn’t mention the word anymore. They’d immediately drag my name into it,” Thomas says of the media reports that have come accusing him of corruption. His chapters answer many charges, accusations — the encroached land in Coorg, the undisclosed land in Tamil Nadu.

There is also the other side of Thomas, the childhood years, when he had not worn a pair of sandals till he was 15; those years not knowing the difference between religions. “It was when I came to Mannuthy to do my B.Sc in agriculture that I even realised there were different churches, and different Christs!” He began reading seriously after his friend Sudhakar directed him to philosophy. It was another friend — Kallam Ajay Babu -— his PhD-mate in Delhi, who put the idea of civil service in his mind. “I was ready to go to the US and be a scientist, but he told me to try civil service, because he knew that in my heart of heart I am a nationalist; I will always be an Indian.”

 

But then the reading continued. So did the research. He remembers a pyramid of happiness that he drew, a book called Soul that is half fiction and is written in 300 pages, remaining unpublished. Some of those books had come out. The autobiography, in addition to the books and chapters he has written for other books, would be the 14th. “I do all the things that make me happy: getting wet in the rain, or watching my favourite film The Sound of Music. To my friend Indira who said how she wished to get wet in the rain like a child, I said, watch Maria dance and sing in The Sound of Music.”

 

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