Robinhood Of Kerala


May 1, 2019
Reaction score
He was popularly known as "Kayamkulam Kochunni", because he hailed from that village in Travancore, once a princely state, now part of Kerala, and there were few comparable to him in chivalry and kindness either in Kayamkulam or in any of the surrounding villages.

Born of poor parents some two centuries ago, Kochunni was a devout Muslim. He would not miss going to the local palli (mosque) for niskaram (offer of prayers) all five times a day. Sometimes, he would not wait to hear the banguvili (call for prayers) from the palli, but kneel wherever he was, spread his thorth (towel) on the ground, sit on it facing the west and offer prayers.

Perhaps it was because he had experienced abject poverty in his younger days that he developed an aversion to misers, moneylenders and landlords. By a quirk of fate, it was a rich merchant who employed him in his shop at the behest of a kind-hearted gentleman whom Kochunni had approached for a job.

At the kada (grocery shop), he worked hard, and his master was very pleased. He taught Kochunni how to be courteous to the customers and honest in all transactions.

Every morning Kochunni picked up the keys from the merchant's house to go and open the shop and wait for the master. In the evening, after the merchant had gone home, Kochunni would sweep the shop clean, close the shutters, lock up and leave the keys with the merchant. By then, his wife would have prepared a meal which he took home to share with his widowed mother.

One evening, when Kochunni had handed the keys and was about to leave for home, one of the regular customers came in a tearing hurry to meet the merchant.

"Have you closed the shop, muthalali (shop owner/master)?" He appeared quite impatient.

"Yes," said the merchant. "Why? You want something?"

"I want some sharkara (jaggery) badly, muthalali", said the man, trying to catch his breath. "You see, it's my little son's birthday tomorrow, and I've to arrange for naivedyam [offering (cooked item) to deity] at the temple in the morning. When I went home, my wife told me there was not a grain of sharkara to be handed to the pujari for making payasam (sweet dish). I can't get it anywhere else at this hour. Would you oblige me, please?"
"Hmmm... Let me see", said the merchant. Kochunni had by now almost reached the gate. "Kochunni! Kochunni! Come here! He's our regular customer. Take him with you to the shop. He needs some sharkara very badly".

"I shall go right now, eman (master)", said Kochunni.

"Angunne (sir), please come with me", he added turning to the customer.

Without wasting any time, both Kochunni and the gentleman hurried out. It was when they actually got to the shop, situated some distance from the merchant's house, that Kochunni realised he had not brought the keys with him. He had left them with his master's wife as she handed the meal to him. He had kept the kettu (cloth bundle) on the verandah thinking he would collect it on his way back.

"Please pardon me, sir", said Kochunni apologetically, "but I seem to have forgotten to bring the thakkol (keys) with me! I'm so sorry!"

"Without the thakkol, how do you propose to open the shop? You're a koshavan (fool), I tell you!" remarked the customer, putting out a long face. "And you know I want the sharkara very badly?"

"Angunne, if I disappoint you, I'll be in for trouble", said Kochunni. "Muthalali will drown me in a shower of shakaram (scolding). Give me a few moments, let me think of a way out".

Kochunni took a good look at the shop. He remembered a feat he had learnt at the kalari (gymnasium). He suddenly leapt on to the low tiled roof over the row of shops. While the customer waited outside, Kochunni dropped down into the backyard, and managed to open the back door with a little push here and a pull there. Once inside, he packed two blocks of jaggery and came back the way he had gone in.

The customer was happy. "I didn't know you can be so resourceful", he said. "And don't forget to thank your muthalali on behalf of me", he added as he handed some coins to Kochunni and went his way.

Kochunni was happy that he did not disappoint the customer. Of course, his master, too, would be equally happy. He would not lose a customer.
Kochunni found his master impatiently waiting for him. "Pahaya (rascal), you went away without the thakkol! And where's the gentleman?"

"He went his way with the sharkara", said Kochunni, trying to put out a smile.

"I gave him two blocks, and he paid for it. Here's the money, muthalali!"
Kochunni handed the coins to his master. He did not appear to be pleased. "But how did you open the shop, without the keys?" he enquired. "I did not open the shop, muthalali", said Kochunni, and he went on to explain how he managed to gain entry.

"You seem to have some thalachor (brain), Kochunni!" remarked the merchant. "All right, you may go home now". Kochunni picked up the kettu he had left on the verandah and went home.

The next morning, when he went to pick up the keys, he found that the master had already left for the shop. And he hurried there. The merchant appeared agitated. "Kochunni, I thought over what happened last night. Don't mistake me, but I've decided to dispense with your services. Who knows you won't repeat what you did yesterday when you're in dire straits? I've lost confidence in you. Here's your cooly (wages). Take it, and find a job somewhere else!"

Kochunni was dumbstruck. His master had changed his opinion of him overnight despite the faithful service he had rendered. He picked up the money on the table and went away without uttering a word.
This incident only made him despise the rich and the wealthy.

Soon Kochunni became a local Robin Hood, robbing the rich to help the poor and the needy. His kind deeds and brave acts ensured that his name lived on even after his death.