UZHAVOOR is a verdant pocket 30 km off the rubber town of Kottayam. Where on a roadside hillock, stands a small tiled house, president-elect K.R. Narayanan's home for the past 30 years.
His sister Gowri stays there along with Narayanan's younger brother Bhaskaran. Whenever Narayanan pays a visit, PWD and electricity officials descend in droves to spruce up the place. Gowri is amused at the flurry of activity that precedes her brother's rare visits. "They come with lights and fans for the house which they dismantle and take away the moment he leaves," she chuckles. The original ancestral house where Narayanan grew up is in ruins not far from his present home.
Gowri is a homoeopath. She is single. So is Bhaskaran, a former salesman with the department store Selfridges of London. Narayanan, Bhaskaran and Gowri, along with two other sisters Bhargavi and Bharati, complete the portrait. Their father Kocheril Raman Vaidyar was an Ayurvedic physician from the Parava subcaste of the Harijan community. Being born at the lower end of the social spectrum did not bring unpleasant experiences to Vaidyar and his kin. He was a respected doctor and ran a modest practice. "Namboodiris too fall ill, and they approached my father" Gowri recalls.
Narayanan thus escaped caste oppression in his childhood. But he had a taste of it when he graduated with top honours from University College in Thiruvananthapuram. Says Gowri: "He went to see the Diwan, Sir C.P. Ramaswami lyer, dressed up in silk. The Diwan did not like the sight of a Harijan boy dressed so well." Instead of an invitation to join the faculty, usually extended to top-rankers, Narayanan was offered a clerical post. Stung by the insult, he petitioned the Maharaja of Travancore. His plea was ignored. Crestfallen, Narayanan left for Delhi without waiting to pick up his certificate. The local populace is excited at the prospect of Narayanan becoming president. But there is an air of mystery about him. He has not interacted much with the residents of Uzhavoor. His intellectual image hangs heavy on him.
Says Anirudhan, a nephew: "He cannot call himself a leader of Harijans. He has sacrificed nothing for them. He won the Lok Sabha seat from Ottapalam in 1984 not on the strength of the Harijan vote but on the support of upper castes. His lifestyle and temperament is alien to the Harijan ethos. He is a Harijan Brahmin." Says Gowri: "My brother is getting this attention only because he is a Harijan".
To the people of Uzhavoor, Narayanan comes across as a simple man swimming among sharks. But his nephew spots a contradiction between image and reality. "Narayanan has simplicity but he is not a Gandhian. He drinks the best Scotch. He has never said no to affluent facilities offered to him. He likes the luxuries of life."