In a freewheeling chat with the president of Federation of Malayalee Associations of Americas (FOMAA), Fred Cochin introduces the helmsman of one of the most prominent organisations of the Keralite community in the US, their friendship and Aniyan’s memories of Kochi
As Fred Cochin settles down for a tete a tete with Aniyan George, he suddenly goes down memory lane to the time when he first arrived on the shores of the US from half the world away. “It was around the same time the Federation of Kerala Associations in North America (FOKANA) was formed in the year 1983,” he reminisces.
A few years after that, the Federation Of Malayalee Associations of Americas (FOMAA) made its way out of its parent organisation FOKANA. From then on, Aniyan and my relationship has only grown over the years, and I can say it does not know any bounds today, says Fred. “I am elated that through my association with FOMAA, I have been able to interact with Malayali personalities and make strong bonds such as that with Aniyan, across America.”
When Fred asks Aniyan about his roots in Kerala and his memories of Kochi, Aniyan takes a walk down memory lane. “I was born in Vaipur near Changanassery. While I was pursuing my pre-degree and graduation at Saint Berchman’s College, I was actively involved in student politics, and I was the University Union Councillor in addition to being Kerala University’s Joint Secretary. Then I went on to pursue a degree in law. I remember how I was always intrigued by the city of Kochi, and had always dreamt of being there. Fortunately, I could get a chance to pursue my studies in the Law College, Ernakulam,” says Aniyan.
“Even before I embarked on this journey, I used to often visit places such as the Children’s Park in Fort Kochi. During our college days, we used to frequently go to Willingdon Island, Savita-Sarita theatre, Mattancherry and Menaka theatre. I have had a bunch of good experiences and memories from Kochi. I went onto become the chairman while I was studying in Law College, following which I could also practice in the High Court,” he says.
When Fred asks him if he remembers any quirky experience, Aniyan says with an effervescent smile, “I remember how a group of my friends and I had gone for a movie, and one of them happened to have a tiff with the person working there. The situation worsened and our friend was taken to the police station.
I remember how all of us had gotten into the jeep. Back then, the Sub Inspector was Radhakrishnan, who was also doing his studies in the Law College. Together, we demanded that either our movie tickets should be refunded or we must have a separate screening of the film.”
“In the end, we actually had our own private screening, which was a first-of-a-kind experience for us,” he says with gusto, reliving those moments. “A lot of such instances are actually etched in my mind forever, and most of the memories from yesteryears are linked to Kochi,” he says.
Replying to Fred’s question about other interesting incidents from his college days, Aniyan recollects the inter-college cultural fests. “Students from colleges such as St Teresa’s, St Xavier’s and Assumption used to look forward to the performances of students from our college. I remember how I had once danced to a song, which was more contextual with the lines, ‘Ellarum Parayunnu Mayorum Parayunnu Kochiyil kothukku illennu’ (everyone says, even the Mayor says, there are no mosquitoes in Kochi). If someone asks me which place I like the most, my hometown or Kochi, I would always pick the latter, as I have made many valuable friendships out there,” he says.
After coming to the US in 1992, Aniyan, who was the secretary of FOMAA, came across Fred, who was then the entertainment coordinator of the organisation. “That day, we had no clue that our relationship would transcend the differences of age and time,” says Fred. “I remember I had close interactions with you during the elections of FOKANA in 2006. I knew you even before as someone, who was indisputable, when it comes to the place you have marked among other Malayalees s in the US,” Aniyan chips in about his friend. “Your impeccable voice while emceeing used to amaze me, back then. You used to be the go-to person when it came to anchoring those days, because of the sheer talent of making people glued to their seats.”
“Though there was this age gap between us, I was so much in awe of you that I always wanted to strike a connection. When FOMAA was formed, almost 40 out of the 44 organisations had joined the latter. FOMAA today has 76 member organisations from Canada to California, of which I am the president today. I will be grateful to FOMAA for helping me cement my ties with you,” says Aniyan as Fred nods.
Fred says there were numerous occasions when he and Aniyan spent quality time together in each other’s homes. “While Tiruvalla Babychan and I used to spend time together, we used to have discussions over sumptuous food. However, when it comes to you, we were more inclined towards art and music,” says Aniyan about his encounters with Fred.
When Fred asks him about the major contributions made by FOMAA for Kerala, Aniyan says: “We have actively taken part in the rebuilding activities during the Kerala floods, through our initiative called FOMAA Village in places such as Paravoor, Nilambur and Tiruvalla. We helped build around 40 furnished houses in those places.”
Replying to Fred’s question about his artistic pursuits, Aniyan says, “I was also part of Fine Arts Club, where I have participated in a few plays. I was part of three films such as ‘Parudeesa’, ‘Godfather’ and ‘Orkapurathu’.”
So, has the COVID situation changed things? asks Fred. “I have been frequently visiting places such as Dallas, Detroit, Chicago, Houston, and I have been dealing with organisations through recurrent meetings. However, most regular meetings have become virtual now,” says his friend.
When asked about the activities of FOMAA, Aniyan says that ever since its formation, the organisation has stepped into the issues faced by Malayalis living in America such as those related to travel, property problems back in Kerala, financial difficulties apart from providing counselling and giving guidance to those who are trying to set up their own business. “We have even helped build a separate block for children in the cancer centre of Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology.”
Answering Fred’s query about his family, Aniyan says, “Everything has panned out really well over the years. My son, who is now an attorney, has made me really proud. And that’s when I felt it is the best time to pay back to the community.”
Fred says that he cherishes his relationship with Aniyan. “As you get old, a lot of people tend to forget you because you have not been active. Aniyan makes sure to call me every two weeks and inquires about my wellbeing. I have managed to give a break to many upcoming artists, and I have seen a change in behaviour in many of them after I have stopped being active. However, Aniyan remains the same to me, yesterday and today. And that’s what makes him unique,” says Fred about his dear pal.