Talent is not wisdom and wisdom is not Talent. Talent is the Grace of the Almighty. Wisdom is attainment of knowledge in a subject by way of strenuous efforts. But, if talent and wisdom merges together it becomes a fantastic legend.
Ali Manikfan, native of Minicoy Island in Lakshdweep, is a man of fantastic skill coupled with wisdom of a man, which happens very rarely. Ali Manikfan who acquired deep knowledge in Qur’aan and Islamic teachings is different in life style and views from others. Ali Manikfan is an example for simple life, innocence and purity. Dark in complexion, medium in physique with a Henchman’s beard, this man is storage of multifarious knowledge and skill. Even though not having any academic qualification Manikfan’s knowledge in different languages is one among his various skills. He is well versed in fifteen languages in which he can speak, read and write. Over and above his mother tongue Mahal, he is used to handle English, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Urdu, Arabic, Latin, French, Russian, German, Persian, Sanskrit and Simhala and in some languages he is a scholar too. He has acquired in-depth knowledge in the field of Marine Biology, Marine research, Geography, Astronomy, Social science, Ecology, Traditional shipbuilding, Fisheries, Education, Agriculture, Horticulture, Self-sufficiency and Technology. He has proved his knowledge and mettle in these fields from time to time.
The famous Marine Biologist and Director of Central Marine research institute Dr S. Jones who came to the Island to find and research the variety–wise fishes, soon realized the skill lying in Ali Manikfan who helped Jones very much in collecting very rare species of fishes. Dr. Jones found out and honored the inherent skills lying in Ali Manikfan. Dr Jones has published a book on the fishes of Laccadives in which he gives an account about Ali Manikfan’s vast knowledge about sea and fishes, which astonished him. Dr. Jones christened the new species of fish collected by Ali Manikfan as Abudefduf Manikfani.
Ali Manikfan the second son of Moosa Manikfan and Fathima Manika was born on 16-03-1938 in an Aristocratic family in Minicoy Island of Laccadives. His father Moosa Manikfan the last Amin of the Island during colonial rule, sent his son to Kannur for education. But he could not adjust with the school education and left the school and his acdamic career came to an end but his quest for knowledge continued. Ali Manikfan joined the Fisheries lab in 1960. Later, he was promoted as Museum Assistant. He worked in Fisheries for 20 years till his voluntary retirement in 1980.
He took voluntary retirement from the post of Museum Assistant due to the fact that he realized that the research and experiments, which are being done by him, may cause difficulties in carrying out the duties and may not be faithful to the assignment.
Ali Manikfan took up the assignment as Museum Assistant in Central Marine Research, Mandapam, in Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu at the request of Dr. S. Jones. In the near by village Vedalay he found a place to perform his experiments and researches. It was a barren land. By constructing a hut in that land Ali Manikfan and family started living there. He says that according to the climate there, huts are more suitatable for living. Based on naturalistic efforts, he tried to convert the barren land into a fertile one and he succeeded in it.
He applied for electric connection and waited for a long time. In spite of his repeated requests to the authorities, he did not get the electricity. Disgusted, Ali Manikfan thought about a self-owned powerhouse. His underlying skill awkened and started to work. He cut the top end of a dried palm tree near by his house and installed a windmill on the stake; worked a dynamo of a car. From this he could charge an old battery and the battery supplied the power which lit the lights and operated the radio and other gadgets in his hut. This was ample evidence for Ali Manikfan’s skill and self-sufficiency. He developed a system by absorbing the air from the oven and produced energy for a fridge - a low cost fridge affordable by the ordinary people.
For his own purpose he invented a cycle fitted by a roller motor, which one can ride very easily at a speed of twenty-five km per hour. This cycle could work many hours continuousely. Ali Manikfan, along with his son traveled up to Delhi on this cycle. He owns a patent for this cycle.
After voluntary retirement from the service, in Central Marine Fisheries Istitute, for two decades, Ali Manikfan had to undertake a historical and fantastic mission - a retracing of the adventure of 9655 km, voyage done by the famous sailor Sindbad 1200 year’s ago. Tim Severin, A journalist and adventurer of Ireland wanted to explore the facts of the story ‘Sindbad the Sailor’. For this voyage the ship similar to that which Sindbad used 1200 year’s ago was to be made by using the same material and technology as were used for the Sindbad. Tim Severin was searching for a suitable person to construct such a ship. At that time Dr. Jones recommended Ali Manikfan’s name to Tim Severin. Ali Manikfan undertook the construction work of the ship in 1981. Ali Manikfan and his team reached Oman. Within one year a ship by name ‘Sohar’ was completed. It took 75000, coconut husks four tons of coir and a lot of Aini trees for the construction of ‘Sohar’ which performed the voyage, under the leadership of captain Tim Severin with 22 passengers, from Muscat to Canton (China) and the vessel is now in Oman at Muscat preserved as a monument of their culture & heritage. This is a living monument of Ali Manikfan’s technological skill. Tim Severin has written a book on this re-enactment of the voyage of Sindbad, by name “The Sindbad Voyage”.
Tim Severin expressed his gratitude to Ali Manikfan for the construction of traditional Sindbad’s ship and praised Ali Manikfan’s skill. Even a foreign expert has noted that this construction was an incredible one.
After returning from Muscat Ali Manikfan worked as an engine converter at Madras in Tamil Nadu. He assisted Arch Bishop Mar Gregorios in constructing an electrical dryer for his fisheries project at Thottapalli. He served as workshop chief in Dr. Jones’ Polio Home, at Trivandrum making braces and calipers for polio affected kids. Being interested in agricultural pursuits Ali Manikfan purchased 13 acres of land in Thirunelveli District. He constructed a hut and a windmill to generate electricity. He insisted not to remove spontaneous growth and not to do any work on land including manuring and he named his farm ‘Do Nothing Farm’. He believed that watering is not needed for big trees and coconut palms. If at all watering is done it should be away from the tree for, then only the roots will go deep in search of water. It helps to get the yield for longer periods. Though the growth in sapling stage may be very slow, later the growth will be faster and yield will be good. Ali Manikfan’s agricultural method proves that the modern agricultural methods are unscientific, contrary to nature and unfruitful in the long run.
Ali Manikfan developed a scientific basis for the Islamic Calendar. The day when Sun, Moon and Earth come in a stright line is called the New moon day. The very next day is the first day of a lunar month. To fix the beginning of a lunar Calendar it is not necessary to watch the rising of the moon. The event can be predicted by calculations by any qualified or experienced astronomer and any layman with some training can check the dates with the phases of the moon. Hence there remains no difficulty in preparing a Universal Lunar Calendar in advance. Ali Manikfan proved that his calculation is scientific and in conformity with the teachings of the Qur’aan. Young scholars who obtained this knowledge from Ali Manikfan are now engaged in the publication of this calendar in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Ali Manikfan prophesies that based on Islamic law and concepts and by adopting scientific methods, in future, days of fasting, Eid, Arafah etc will be observed by the Muslims all over the world on the same day.
He rendered service as the first president of Lakshadweep Environment Trust, vice chairman of Union Territory Building Develop Board, Member Advisory Board, and Fellow of marine Biological Association of India, Chairman Hijra Committee etc. Manikfan has written a number of monograms and he was encouraged with many honors. He was invited to the National Institute of Science & Technology and Development Studies where he delivered two literary of high academic content. He took part in a seminar on ‘Medicines from the sea’ at National Institute of Oceanography at Goa. The “Island Formation” and “Meeqathul Qibla” are his notable essays.
Ali Manikfan’s family consists of wife, a son and 3 daughters. His son is working in engine department in Merchant Navy. All the 3 daughters are teachers. None of his children studied in Academic institutions. They studied themselves and grew to their own interest. A daughter is running an institution wherein the above said education system is followed. Ten students in the age group of 3 to 5 are studying in this institution. Languages, custom etc, are being taught in an interesting manner. The method of teaching is through play and entertainment. Mother tongue is not taught. Students learn it by themselves. Ali Manikfan continues his experiments, research in productivity of land in conformity with the nature and climate at his farm in Vallioor in Tirunelveli District. He practices “Do Nothing” agriculture and allows spontaneous growth. This area which was dry and barren is now changing into a green and fertile land.
Ali Manikfan says – Nobody has to do anything but refrain from destroying the natural growth. For the past so many years the life of Ali Manikfan is closely attached with nature. He eats all leaves and fruits. Ali manikfan himself says he eats all kinds of leaves that goats eat.
It is unfortunate that till date Ali Manikfan’s talents and wisdom have not been utilized fully nor given due recognition. Tim Severin praised Ali Manikfan as “A man in a million” and most of us still do not even know this complete man fully. This account of Ali Mankfan is not complete. It may not be possible to narrate everything about a noble man at a time – we have to study him, his philosophy, his ideology and his ideals and that needs more than a lifetime.
Ali Manikfan gives us the message “WE MUST DEPEND ON OURSELVES” through his own life splendid with self-dependency, self-sufficiency. If we can emulate him in at least one aspect we would have done justice to this prophet of nature and Apostle of Islam. The Almighty keeps the pearl inside the oyster. People have to find out and utilize it. Ali Manikfan is also a precious pearl, we must find him a living legend; we must find life from it.
Dr. J.M.I Sait.