When he was just a second grader, Sivarajan once effortlessly drew a sketch of Gandhiji on the blackboard of his classroom.
When Karthyayani teacher saw it as soon as she entered the class, she asked in anger, “Who did this?” While everyone else remained silent fearing her wrath, Sivarajan stood up and told the truth, “I drew it, teacher.” As she furiously walked up to him, the boy peed in his pants out of fear.
The teacher mellowed down and took him home to change. Once back, she gave him a handful of story books, which had stories about Mahatma Gandhi. Sivarajan, who is 88 now, and is known as Chacha Sivarajan for being a Gandhian, says, “Since then, I have been on the path of the Father of our Nation. My late wife Savithri was like Kasthurba to me, both of us used to wear only white attire.” Maybe it’s because Sivarajan embraced the spirit of Gandhism so deeply, he even looks like him, when dressed in a dhoti and a shawl. In Gandhi look, the Kollam native now tries to pass on Mahatma’s ideals to the next generation.
Meanwhile in Kannur, Makaaram Mathai’s life took an interesting turn six years ago when someone asked him to be the central character in an independent movie about Gandhi. The ex-watchman was initially amused but decided to do it anyway as the 80-year-old’s body language impeccably matched that of Gandhiji. “After that, I started getting more invitations to dress up as Mahatma Gandhi in programmes both inside and outside Kerala,” he says.
K V Mathai was rechristened Makaaram Mathai by Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair for his proficiency in lengthy speeches using words that start with the Malayalam letter ‘Ma’ alone.
“My ‘Ma’ speech on Mahatma Gandhi goes, ‘Mahiyile mahathee – mahaanmaaril mattaarekkalum maanikkappedunnathu Mahatma Gandhiyaanenna mahaasatyam marakkaruthu. Marunaadan medhavithwam maayichu maanavarasiye mochippikkuvaanulla mahasamarathinte munnanipadayaaliyaayi munneri…’ I can go on for about five hours like this,” claims Mathai, who apparently also has a record for the same.
Being Gandhi comes with responsibility
Being a doppelganger of someone famous is generally all about easy fame, funny stories and a lot of selfies. However, in a country where Gandhi is considered a holy man, his doppelgangers can’t just breeze off enjoying the popularity. When many learnt that being a Gandhi lookalike comes with a lot of responsibility, it also changed their lives.
V K Kunhikrishnan from Maloor is one such example. He has been a theatre artiste for more than 20 years but since he became Gandhi on stage a few years ago, life has never been the same, he says. “In 2011, I was asked to play Gandhiji in a play for Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad. Since then I have been on more than 80 stages donning the role, both for plays and sangeethashilpams. And often, it ends up being a lot more than just enacting a character. People start respecting you a bit more,” he explains.
Lineesh Narayamkulam, 33, from Kozhikode, who has also been living on stage as Mahatma Gandhi for more than three years, narrates a similar experience. “I have played the role on more than 150 stages,” he says. “For the past three years, I have been sporting a tonsured look for it. However, nobody passed comments or made fun of me as they knew it is to enact Gandhiji,” says Lineesh, who has been active in theatre for over two decades.
When Gandhi’s doppelgangers moved people
Kunhikrishnan recalls an interesting instance while dressed up as Gandhi. “I once performed in Moonnupeedika near Thalassery. After the performance, I was walking with my co-actors in the costume itself. Suddenly, an elderly man came and fell on my feet, saying ‘I am lost for words, it’s a heavenly experience, I am seeing Gandhiji’. It was a retired teacher whom I knew for long.”
Yet another incident happened in a college campus in Malappuram. “When I came down from the stage after an event, students of the college came towards me and touched my feet. When I tried to shake hands with them, they withdrew, saying they couldn’t bring themselves to do that. I guess it’s all the magic of the Gandhi look and the admiration people have for him.”
Lineesh too says that he’s taken aback by the responses of the people when he’s in character. “I always wonder why people look at me with such respect when I’m in Gandhi attire. They know I’m just an actor, but still can’t bring themselves to not do it,” he says.
How Gandhi changed their lives
Just as in the case of Chacha Sivarajan, Kunhikrishnan also says understanding and dressing up as Gandhi has changed his life in more ways than one. “It started out as an effort to lose weight to look like Gandhiji. But then, even after I stopped doing the role, something in me didn’t feel like restarting the non-vegetarian food habits. Moreover, the ‘Gandhi touch’ even brought in changes in my character, body language and more,” he says. “Even my friend and actor Sreenivasan, who was my college mate, was stunned and couldn’t recognise me when he saw me in the look.”
Sivarajan has been to more than 1600 schools as part of his social work as Gandhiji. “None of what I do in my Gandhi look is for the money. It’s not even something that I started consciously. It’s the Gandhi way of life that inspired me.”