Abu Dhabi: “I don’t feel like the son of a minister, I like to keep a low profile. You should be interviewing my mother, not me,” said Sobhith K.K, a UAE resident whose mother K.K. Shailaja is winning global praise for leading Indian state Kerala’s battle against coronavirus.
As the minister of health and social welfare, Shailaja has been interviewed by the media all over the world in the past few weeks after Kerala became a role model in flattening the curve.
When Gulf News learnt that her eldest son Sobhith lives in Abu Dhabi and is also involved in the UAE’s fight against COVID-19, it was quite natural that he got a request for an exclusive interview.
After it was clarified that the interview is not just about him, but also a son’s views on the life and work of his science teacher-turned-politician mum, who was recently dubbed as the Florence Nightingale of Kerala, the 34-year-old budged, but only after having a word with his mother.
While his mother is on the frontline leading Kerala’s healthcare professionals in the battle against coronavirus, Sobhith, an electrical engineer, currently heads the operations management of a COVID-19 healthcare facility in Abu Dhabi.
“She has risen from the grassroots level… crisis management comes to her naturally,” said Sobhith.
Kerala had witnessed that earlier also, when the state successfully contained the Nipah virus outbreak in 2018.
Shailaja teacher, as she is fondly called, was at the helm of affairs when her brilliant team of healthcare experts put in place a new treatment protocol to tackle the deadly virus.
The treatment protocol, the social distancing rules and rigorous contact tracing method for quarantining and isolation that helped beat Nipah stood in good stead when Kerala became the first state to be hit by the coronavirus as early as in January.
Like mother like son
While his mother is fighting the current pandemic back home, Sobhith is also contributing in his own way here in the UAE. He is in charge of ensuring smooth operations at the Burjeel Medical City which now treats around 200 COVID-19 patients.
Living in Abu Dhabi with his wife Sinju and daughter Niral, his job includes occasional visits to the facility with technicians, wearing PPEs.
“Yes, there is a risk involved. But we need to take the risk for saving others,” he said, just how his mother has been tackling several risks back home.
“She was born into a political family. Her great grandmother was a popular social worker at the time of the formation of the communist party in India,” said Sobhith.
Shailaja teacher became involved in politics from her college days and had climbed the ranks, taking responsibilities in various levels of the party’s committees.
“Even when she was teaching, she was busy with social work. Our father [K. Bhaskaran] is also a politician and a former teacher. They had met at party meetings and eventually got married,” said Sobhith, who also has a younger brother Lasith K.K, an electronics engineer with Kannur International Airport in Kerala.
When the children were young, the teacher couple were at the forefront of solving the issues in their locality and would reach home late at night after party meetings and community discussions.
The late night meetings on the terrace of their house when the young boys would serve black tea for the attendees is another vivid memory that Sobhith shared.
“We didn’t get to spend much time with them in those days. Amma (mother) used to go out for meetings alone also. Though our grandmother used to take care of us at that time, Amma also did her best to give her attention to us.”
She does that even now. Even though corona has extended her working hours, she never misses to call her children and husband while she is on her way back home late at night.
“She is like a friend to me. She is bold and handles issues calmly. But if there is a slight change in her voice, I can make out there is something bothering her and vice versa,” said Sobhith.
Clad in cotton saree, the former science teacher offers that motherly affection to everyone around and maintains a warm relationship with most of her students.
She is also an avid reader, revealed Sobhith. “Both our parents used to read a lot of books in Malayalam and English. We had a collection of about 3,500 books in our home library years back itself.”
Writing notes on what she reads every day and doing her homework well ahead of her meetings are also traits of Shailaja teacher.
The teacher parents also ensured that their children got a good education in government or aided educational institutions.
“I have never misused her name or position. I have been lucky that I did not even have to burden my parents for my higher education,” said Sobhith.
Now he says he is looking forward to healthcare workers in both India and UAE coming out in flying colours after beating the pandemic.