“Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree.”
That was a quote from Wangari Maathai , the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner , who founded the Green Belt Movement, and who devoted the major part of her life for environmental concerns and planted and motivated others to plant thousands and thousand of trees.
She died on 25th September 2011, leaving behind her a legacy of her love for Mother Earth.
Now, four years later , another such lover has passed away and the mangrove forest in Kannur district which he nurtured and help grow and flourish, must surely be sighing through their dense green darkness. May be many of the first 300 seeds that he planted way back in 1989 are still standing there, bent and gnarled. May be they would have many a tale to tell , if we only had ears to listen.
Kallen Pokkudan belonged to the Pulaya community of Kannur District. Way below in the social heirarchy, Pokkudan had never gone to school. He had joined the communist party and after many years of allegiance, had left it. Planting mangrove trees along the Pazhayangadi River became his passionate mission thereafter.
David Briggs who acted in the malayalam film Papillon Buddha , directed by Jayan K. Cheriyan , had this to say about his interactions with Pokkudan, who also played the role of a tribal chief in the film,
My Papilio Buddha experience with Kallen Pokkudan
By David Briggs
In 2011 I had the honor and privilege to play a featured role in Jayan Cherian’s powerfulfilm, Papilio Buddha. I had met Jayan as a student of mine in the Graduate Film Program of the City College of New York, where I teach Sound Design for Filmmakers. I knew him to be a great mind and talent, and he had told me about his plans for this exciting feature film project, so when he asked me last year to play the role of a gay lepidopterist in the film, I was thrilled.
As a middle-aged American who had resigned himself to never having the opportunity to visit India, I leapt at the opportunity. I arrived in India knowing only the basic outline of the story and the general concept for my character (I also knew that at some point I’d have to get half-naked in the rain forests of Kerala!). At the very first rehearsal, Jayan assembled the entire cast of principal characters together; all were experienced actors, with one notable exception: Kallen Pokkudan. Jayan introduced him to me and told me his remarkable story, and though our language barrier made it impossible to communicate with one another directly, I was immediately struck by his magnetic presence. As rehearsal got underway, Jayan directed Pokkudan to speak to us all in character, as the spiritual patriarch and leader of the Dalit community in the film’s story. As he spoke improvisationally, my own personal acting challenge became immediately apparent to me: I would have to be as natural, as simple, as honest, as AUTHENTIC as I could possibly be in my performance. For as an actor, Pokkudan was that rare thing: a total natural. As I would soon discover once we started shooting, he was someone who has that rare and much-envied ability to be fully, simply, authentically and truthfully himself in every moment before the camera. He simply appears to be living his life in front of the camera, not “acting,” which is the goal of every good film actor.
In one scene I had with him, he speaks at length to my character, who of course can’t understand a word he’s saying. But Kallen is so magnetic and compelling that all I had to do was sit and listen; though I did not understand the content of what he was saying, I was mesmerized and swept away by the total conviction with which he spoke. And while I sometimes found myself challenged by some of the shooting conditions (grueling locations, long days, difficult weather, leeches!), Kallen never seemed to tire or complain, even at one point in spite of severe illness. I had nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for him as both a person and a performer. His story of lifelong activism and his contribution to Jayan Cherian’s brave cinematic achievement are to be applauded. In my mind, both he and Jayan strike me as being two of the most patriotic people I’ve ever had the honor to know.”
Some great souls , instead of harboring rancour and vengeance for the injustices meted out to them by society, go on to pay back to the community with their labour and love. Pokkudan was such a man.
Bowing my head with profound respect.