WISE OLD MAN OF MINICOY
A couple of months back, maritime archaeologist Tom Vosmer of the Western Australia. Maritime Museum (WAMM) chanced up a few anchors of unknown ancient ships off the Middle East coast. Sensing the importance of the find he consulted fellow archaeologists to figure out their origins, but failed. So he wrote to the one man he thought probably could. An Indian
The only similar things that have been discovered yet are from the third millennium BC site of Mohan Jo Daro in present-day Pakistan. “Archaeologists have no idea about these. Can you help?” requested Vosmer, enclosing sketches and data on the finds.
The man Vosmer wrote to is a simple old farmer and a school dropout to boot.Yet the Australian scientist’s request may hardly surprise those who know M. Ali Manikfan. As Vosmer, in his missive from the other side of the globe admitted, “Your name frequently arises in conversations here with regard to horticulture, self sufficiency, marine biology, maritime research and other topics…..”
That was however an understatement. This old islander is, among other things, also a polyglot. He can read write speak 16 languages. The long list includes Greek, French, Latin, German, Russian, Persian and Sanskrit among others.
Pester him enough, and the taciturn Ali may also tell you how he discovered a very rare coral fish. the Abudefduf Manikfani, as marine biologists now call it after him. Or about his roller motor bicycle Invention, for which he holds a patent. But Ali takes these to be just a few “amusing” diversions in his hard and hectic lifestyle.
His formal schooling was limited to a few years he spent in Kannur, where his father, the last Amin of Minicoy had sent him with many hopes. Young Ali just could not cope with schooling. “I used to spend more time outside the school than inside. Very soon, both I and the school people realized that it would be best if I quit and went back to the island” he laughs.
Returning home Ali spent the next few years as a teacher and then as lowly as Government servant. But his heart was clearly elsewhere. He spent a good part of those years doing a “bit of looking around” of the rich sea life in his island s coast and “reading this and that” on this subject, which intrigued him further.
Then fate intervened to change young Ali s life. One sunny morning he was loafing around on the island’s vast beach when he saw a small, unfamiliar steamship chugging its way to the island. Curious, Ali jumped into the sea and swam to it for a close look. “It carried S. Jones, eminent marine biologist, coming in to study the marine life in our sea. We became friendly and he taught me many things”, Ali recalls.
In a subsequent book he wrote, Jones gratefully acknowledged Ali’s help in identifying, documenting and studying numerous fish species of the area, unidentified till then.
Jones later made Ali settle down in a small farm near Mandapam. But there was a problem: There was no electric connection to the sea side farm and power officials were forever sleeping over his repeated pleas. So he bought a few pieces of wood for a windmill, an old dynamo and discarded auto mobile battery and went to work, on these. A few days later, the windmill he made was energizing the dynamo which powered the battery that lit up his farm and house. Decades since it still works. To help his wife he got her a refrigerator, albeit with some difference. He bought an old second-hand fridge, took it apart and proceeded to make some changes and additions. By the time he had finished with it, the old refrigerator had become a Thermo fridge- it could capture the heat of the traditional oven in their kitchen and transform it into energy needed to get the fridge to work.
In his spare time, Ali also tinkered with his old bicycle which he found tough to ride around in the loose costal sand. So he dismantled his small crop sprayer and made a small roller motor mechanism from it, which could be clipped on to any bicycle without making alterations.
Some people persuaded him to get a patent at least for this one. He obliged, “just for the fun of it”.
Amidst all this, Ali was also getting to be known as an expert on traditional shipbuilding and maritime archaeology. For long years he poured over thick tomes on these topics bought and borrowed from all possible sources compared notes with veteran shipbuilders on the islands and in Beypore and sought out people qualified in modern maritime archaeology.
One day Tim Severin, the Scottish voyager who wanted to retrace the voyage the legendary Sindbad had made 1,200 years ago, asked him to make an exact replica of Sindbad’s vessel using the same materials and based on ancient descriptions. Ali built it, using up a few Ayani trees 75,000 coconut husks and four tons of coir rope.
The Scotsman later paid tributes to this diminutive Indians genius, in the accounts of his since famous voyage.
Ali is also into farming. But in that too, he ploughs a lone furrow. Or rather, no furrow at all. The name of his new farm near Tirunelveli is self explanatory “Do Nothing Farm”.
And it grows wild, full of creepers and weeds that are never removed. No watering or manuring is done for the crops and the chief labor is protecting its farm cattle. “Don’t interfere with nature. Things grow best by themselves” is his motto.
A couple of years ago, the national Institute of science Technology and development Studies (NISTADS) invited him to New Delhi for a lecture on this farming practice.
But while he was busy in the Capital explaining it to the largely incredulous group of experts, someone set fire to his farm, Ali has since doggedly nursed or more correctly, allowed his farm to grow back to its original form and now gets many visitors. Including some from western universities, who work there for short stints to get to know his methods.
Free with the INDAIN EXPRESS in Kerala Saturday day 1996
4 Express weeks
M Ali Manikfan, an authority on horticulture, marine biology and research has anew amusing diversions in his hard and hectic lifestyle, says Rajeev P I
RECONITION FOR MANIKFAN
Kozhicode, 22-9 The administration of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep has finally recognized M Ali Manikfan’s varied experiences and talents. Ali Manikfan, eminent environmentalist, astronomer, eco farming and traditional ship building expert, belonging to the Minicoy Island, has been appointed the first president of the Lakshadweep Environment Trust. The recently constituted trust acts as a watchdog of the unique environment of the Lakshadweep Archipelago.
Manikfan now serves as a chairman of Hijra Committee of India.The UT administration has simultaneously appointed him as the Vice-chairman of the Building Deployment Board of the union territory and a member the wildlife Advisory Board of the archipelago.
Manikfan, who is maintaining a do nothing farm at TIRUNELVELI in TAMIL NADU, is a pioneer of a natural farming in the country.The self –educated Manikfan, is a polyglot, who can converse fluently in more that 10 majorlanguages o f the world. His contribution to marine science was recognized by leading fisheries scientists, who gave the name Manikfan, to a fish variety of the Archipelago years ago .ENS