On 9th October 2015, papa became my true inspiration. It was all because I watched the movie Pathemari in a theatre.
I shifted to Kerala from Abu Dhabi when I was in the 5th standard. Quite eager to experience life in Kerala, I was enthused by the fact that all the Malayalam I was forced to learn would pay off somehow. But, one thing fell short during my relocation – Papa.
Amma solely took up the responsibility of taking care of my needs in Kerala, while papa worked as a diligent electrician in Abu Dhabi to make ends meet. I had the privilege to live a smooth middle-class life in Kerala, unwary of papa’s struggles to make sure that his wife and children were happy. All I knew back then was that papa would come visit us for 2 weeks in a year, bring truck-load of Gulf goodies, cherish his brief moment in Kerala, and head back to the Gulf.
I remember missing his presence so much that I would often reminisce my time with him by going through pictures he clicked when I was a kid. Sending hand-written letters, sharing small birthday gifts and cards were cherished, always. Whenever he would come home for his vacation, he would be the happiest. But when it was his last day in Kerala, I remember sensing his sadness all the way from my bedroom. I never knew exactly what life had been for him in Abu Dhabi, what he did on a daily basis, what he ate, how he survived, how it all began, etc. Questions loomed in my head, but I never really had the guts to ask amma or papa. As the years passed by, papa and I grew distant but I would make it a point to show that I loved him through my actions so he knew that I would always be there for him. It was around this time that I watched Mammooty’s movie Pathemari. It changed the way I perceived papa as my father and a husband to my mother.
Pathermari tells the story of a teenager, Pallikkal Narayanan, who is forced to leave Kerala to work in the United Arab Emirates for his family. He literally slaves his entire life in the Gulf, dreaming of what his life would look like if he was with his family, almost every single day. We see the family dynamics change as his sons grow to be adults, unaware of their father’s daily struggles, feeling of loneliness and homesickness. The movie thrives on the various little ways we connect with our loved ones working in the Gulf. Engulfed with empathetic emotions, Pallikkal’s life is representative of the many Malayalee expatriates quite like my father.
Throughout the movie, I recall connecting Pallikkal to my father, which made it even harder to watch. Right from illegally travelling to the Gulf on a boat for months to staying in horrid conditions, slaving day and night, I could literally see my own father doing it. The only driving force that kept him alive was the need to make his life and his people in Kerala happy. It was hard to watch Mammooty go through a lot of hardships only to make his family happy only because it made me think of my own father. The film did a great job at making me realise what Malayali expatriates go through on a day-to-day basis. By breaking the stereotype that all Mayalais who go to the Gulf come back rich, this movie managed to bring out the other side of the story; my father’s story.
Even though my father did manage to do well for himself, he reminded grounded by what he had achieved. His Gulf life may have changed him as a person, but he never forgot his roots. Kerala welcomed him with open arms and he was more than willing to embrace the love. I was glad when my father decided to retire because I knew he would be able to lie beside my mother without worrying about the next day’s work. I knew he would be able to spend time with his last-born child whom he couldn’t build a relationship with for more than a decade. I knew Abu Dhabi could do without my father’s blood, sweat, and tears. He was better off in Kerala, after all.
My father must’ve had his share of joy and unhappiness during his time in the Gulf. But, deep-down, he knew that he wanted to come back to his homeland and spend time with his own people. Unlike in the movie, my father came back, built his own business along with my mother, and lives happily ever after. Even though I struggled to make peace with my father’s Gulf struggles, it made me appreciate the life he has given me. Every rewatch of Pathemari would make me acknowledge my father’s hard-working tendencies and respect him more as a human being. Maybe, one day, I would have a conversation with my dad about his Gulf experiences and put myself in his shoes only to be appreciative of the life he has given my family and me.