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  • T. P Naseef

The Feeling of Togetherness

A group of people—carpenters, painters, masons, as well as other skilled workers—who had previously worked together in the same workplace are reunited three decades later.

A working group that is familiar with the pains and joys of everyday life recalls the recollections of their labours in the past, which were marked by togetherness and dedication.

Benny Sir inaugurating Cherai get together event
Benny Kuriakose inaugurating Cherai get together event

On June 5th, Kuzhuppilly Beach in Cherai near Kochi witnessed a very happy and emotional event. The occasion was the reunion of those who worked with Benny Maash, 'as they call him' on various projects between 1987 and 1997. Those two days, in my opinion, were the most memorable days and nights of my life, during which I had the opportunity to experience and savour love and affection.

I was able to learn and understand a lot of things They were all complete strangers to me until the moment I met them. But, those hours spent with strangers gave me a feeling of brotherhood.

The reunion of people who worked with Benny Sir on various projects between 1987 and 1996–1997.
The reunion of people who worked with 'Benny Maashae' on various projects between 1987 - 1997.

The day before, in the evening, as we were sitting on the shore of the backwater in Kuzhuppilly, they recounted to me their experiences of how they went from being ordinary labourers fighting to make ends meet to becoming professional workers. There was an aura of sincerity and honesty about those words.

Rameshan who worked as Mason during the 1987- 1997 and  Dileep who worked  as electrician, is  conversing with Benny Kuriakose
Rameshan who worked as Mason during the 1987- 1997 and Dileep who worked as electrician, is conversing with Benny Kuriakose

All of the workers referred to Benny Kuriakose as ‘Benny maashae' a term lovingly used to refer to teacher in malayalam. This surprised me. When asked about the story, they told Benny Kuriakose was like a teacher to them. His approach was to and train them about things they didn't know about. They were reminiscing about the never-fading memories of him helping them to comprehend laying bricks with a trowel in hand, eating the food that the workers prepare, becoming one of them and sleeping in the shed with them, playing cards, telling tales, and reciting poetry.

The inauguration moments of Cherai get together event

At that time, 'Benny maashae' was strict about getting newspapers to the sites. Workers believe that as a result, they have developed into a literate workforce society. Many people were also eloquent about the training camps of that time. Many people who held high positions in society would come to take classes for the workers. Many people's names popped to their memory, like C. V. Ananda Bose IAS, Prof. Gopikuttan, N. M. Mohanan, who came to take such classes. Through these camps, which were held all around Kottayam and IRTC in Palakkad, they were able to learn and understand a lot of new things about the construction industry, including technical information. They feel that things they learned like this were valuable and helped them later in life.

Benny Kuriakose interacts with Carpenter Thankachan
Interaction with Thankachan, who worked with Benny Kuriakose as a carpenter

Everyone said that they developed discipline in their lives only after joining this community. 'Benny Maashae' always ensured that the wages paid to the workers at the time go to the family and are not squandered. Many persons who were employed 30 years ago are now contractors, and some have come back from working abroad.

Gathering of people worked with Benny Kuriakose along with their families after 3 decades
Gathering of people worked with Benny Kuriakose along with their families after three decades

Another unique aspect is that many of them are also excellent artists. Among them are artists and singers. Additionally, when the masons and supervisors of that period remark that many of their children now are doctors, engineers, and others with advanced degrees a glint of gratitude can be seen in their eyes.

Divakaran sharing his experience with Benny Kuriakose

As seen typical in many areas today, there was no rivalry among the workers at that time. By supporting and cooperating with each other on a reciprocal basis, they worked as a team and, furthermore, as a family.

Unni Krishnan, the then painter talks about the training Benny Kuriakose gave him

Those working days helped to change the workforce into role models for society, by teaching them all the life aspects including the simple things like how to interact with others and how to behave while visiting a house. The gathering shared a clear picture of how Benny Kuriakose's exemplary leadership transformed a labour community from mere paid labourers to self-aware and socially responsible workers.

Muraleedharan Pillai is recounting his journey with 'Benny Maashae'

When technical knowledge was impossible back then, job knowledge was developed into job awareness. I had no clue how much time had passed because the meeting was so exciting and engaging, which lasted from nine in the morning till late in the day. People who came from different locations changed into one family in the breezy evening air after enjoying a great lunch of seafood items they had cooked, enveloped by the warmth of the people of Vypin, along with music and dance performances by the workers and their children. 'Kudajathriyil kudikollum Maheswari...Olikunnuvo Mizhi Kumbillil...the dance and music went on.

The reunion has made vibrant with musical performances by the workers and their families

Some left with memories of wonderful experiences and the hope of reuniting at Venjaramoodu the following year. However, we stayed and continued to watch until the sun sank beneath the sea.

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