We say that change is inevitable. But there is a place in Kannur that makes you doubt this popular belief, as change has not visited this place for the past 29 years. To know where this place is, we must visit K. P. Lakshmanan’s small tea shop in Kizhunnappara. Believe it or not, the price of tea and snacks in Lakshmanettan’s tea shop is still Rs 3; it is the same price he has been charging for tea and snacks since the shop’s opening in the year 1986. The food is the same and so is the price!
A true humanist and a communist, he never increased the price even during times when the prices of raw materials sky rocketed. Even though people offer him a minimum amount of Rs 5 for the mouth-watering items of this small tea shop, he refuses to take more than Rs 3 from the poor. The days start early here. When the clock ticks 6.00 in the morning, people start rushing to the shop to taste delicious native breakfast including puttu and kadalappuzhukku (black chickpeas and tapioca curry) omappodi, tapioca, and coffee made with jaggery.
Interestingly, the freshly cooked breakfast is served with hot news as the shop sells four popular daily news papers that help in creating an ambience for stirring up the political debates in the shop, which is a usual sight. Instead of being an active listener, Lakshmanettan neither interferes in the political debates of the shop, nor expresses his opinion. When people ask about his stand on the ongoing discussion, a simple smile is the answer. Lakshmanettan will not open the shop if there is a death in the vicinity and so is the case with marriages. He would be there in the respective houses, where his services are needed.
Looking back into the past, Lakshmanan was an active member of the Communist party of India since its inception in the state. He became a member of the Taluk Committee presided over by C. Kannan, while he was a worker of Kizhunna Ganesh Beedi branch. He had spent months in Kannur Central Jail following the agricultural agitations in the initiative of Vishnubharatheeyan in 1960. It was in the jail that he met Communist leader Gangadara Marar and later both of them became best friends.
He remembers his mother had sent clothes for MLA, K. V. Narayanan in jail, recollects a clear picture of well-known freedom fighter Moyarath Sankaran, with whom he has involved in many a political initiative, getting arrested and the Police capturing Elakkuni Kunjiraman from Nadal Village.
Even though Lakshmanan withdrew himself from political activities when the Communist Party of India had a split in 1964, he could not stop himself from being the person he has eventually become. So, he continued the political activities in his own way. Even today, he takes charge of the culinary works when a marriage takes place in a poor family, in his village.
In this age, where unadulterated food has become a distant dream customers of Lakshmanettan are from different walks of life—there are fishermen, daily wage labourers, morning walkers, and so goes the list. All of them know that he will not increase the price, so they never ask, but give him what he deserves to get; when they leave the tea shop, it is not just the tummy that is filled with the yummy food, but their hearts as well as they experience the extent of humility he possesses and compassion this man has towards his fellow beings.
K. P. Lakshmanan resides in Kizhunnappara, 'Sheejalayam' with his daughter Sheeja and sons Pradeesh Babu and Rajesh. The story of Lakshmanan, fondly known as 'Lakshmanettan' by the people, reminds us of the fact that one needn't have to be involved in party politics to be political or to be a practicing believer of one's own ideologies.