Until 1998, on election day, Ayisha P.P. would clamber on to her son’s two-wheeler and make a last-minute dash to the poll booth to vote for her candidate. En route, neighbours would stand back and cheer. The 86-year-old woman would try to wave back but the wind would mess around with the veil covering her jet black hair.
That was 23 years ago, until the Election Commission made voter identity card mandatory. Ayisha simply refused to run pillar-to-post for her card. “I was too tired to go to any office to prove my right to vote,” she said. After all, she reasoned, who did not know her in the panchayat… she has been voting since the nation was born.
Eventually, her name was removed from the voter list. Now, at the age of 103, after two decades of standing her ground and refusing to vote, she is back on the voters’ list. That too, on her own terms.
A few days ago, the block-level officer and her ward member visited her at home to register her name online on the list.
They handed over her voter card (NVK0434167). The date of birth reads ‘XX/XX/1911’.
“I am really 120 years old. I have been around forever,” Ayisha says, crackling with laughter from a high-backed chair on her front porch.
Her son and former-scooter-driver-on-poll-days, P.P Sulaiman, now aged 62, constantly eggs his mother on to remember the distant past… personal treasures she lived through over a century ago.
“She remembers the Moplah Rebellion when a troop of soldiers came to search for the instigators… Umma (mother), do you remember?” he asks.
“I was at my home in Iringalloor. They were 40 of them, vellakkarum, kurukkithopi policekarum (white men and policemen wearing cone-shaped hats). I looked at them and burst out laughing. They said I was a smart girl and was not afraid of them,” she recounts her earliest memories.
Mr. Sulaiman speaks of how his mother worked in the paddy fields of landlords in pre-Independence India. “She was a farmhand. She helped her family as they were too poor to pay for food,” he said.
Ayisha then married Moitheen, a ploughman. The couple travelled from her native Iringalloor to Mundapalam and finally settled in Peruvayal. Moitheen died 32 years ago.Slogging away
“We were three boys. Umma refused to beg or borrow from anyone. Later, with the money she saved, she bought some land and started growing everything from drumstick to chillies on it to feed her family. She taught us to be self-sufficient and proud, however poor we may be,” Mr. Sulaiman said.
It was this stubbornness that caught the attention of panchayat ward member P.K. Sharaffudeen when he visited Ayisha during a survey of senior citizens in his ward eligible for an old-age pension scheme of the panchayat.
“The interesting part in Ayisha’s case is that she did not get any pension till the age of 103. I found that though she was eligible for pension, she did not possess a voter card mandatory for grant of pension,” he said.
Mr. Sharafudeen, also a schoolteacher, took up Ayisha’s case. She not only got her vote back, but will also get her old-age pension.
Meanwhile, Ayisha is reading newspapers slowly with the help of her grandson. “She can still read. She spends the night reading the Scriptures,” said Fathima, her daughter-in-law, who indulges Ayisha’s daily diet of fish and gruel and a fetish for Pears soap.
“Pallilathathanu… chirikkano? (I have no teeth left… do you want me to smile?)” asks Ayisha, when asked to pose for a photograph.