Ali Manikfan: The versatile genius without formal education
Thiruvananthapuram: The locals of Olavanna in Kozhikode used to see an upright, lean person wearing Arabian clothing walking towards his home. They only knew that he was a retired official from Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) living here and was from Lakshadweep.
But, when television screens flashed the name of Ali Manikfan among the Padma awardees, the people were lost in words as to who they had ignored albeit unknowingly.
Mohammed Basheer and P.R. Ramachandran, employees of a private firm in Olavanna said, “He is lean and frail but walked straight and with a twinkle in his eyes but we never knew who he was until the news flashed that he was awarded the Padma Shri.”
Manikfan, who is currently living in a rented accommodation along with his wife in Olavanna, was sent to Kannur in Kerala for studies but after fifth standard he did not pursue formal education and returned to Minicoy, his home town in Lakshwadeep Islands.
He was a keen observer, knew almost every fish that inhabited the sea off the Minicoy islands and this observation turned into a passion for fishes. This motivated him to study more about fishes, their origin and everything in and out about them.
The research in fishes got him a job at the CMFRI where he discovered a rare fish which has been named after him – Abudefduf Manikfani.
He can speak, read and write 14 languages including French, German, English, Arabic and other languages and uses seven of them to communicate.
In 1981, he was invited to Oman to make a ship, a replica of the one believed to be used by Sinbad, the Sailor, during his voyages. He was invited by the Irish voyager Tim Sirven who wanted it to be made without metals. Ali and his made a 27-m long ship using timber and coir in an year. Named “Sohar” after the town of Sohar in Oman. Tim and his team travelled 9,000 km from Oman to China on it and it is now kept in a museum in Oman.
Manikfan told IANS, “Those days metal was not used for making ships and hence we had to replicate one using timber. This ship sailed up to China from Oman and is still kept at Oman museum.”
Another major interest of Manikfan is Lunar calendar and he has built one calendar based on the New moon and on astronomical algorithms.
The multifaceted personality had invented a bicycle with roller motor and travelled to New Delhi along with his son Musa.
Another of his interest is agriculture and he has converted a barren 15 acre land at Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu into a lush green farm land using indigenous methods of cultivation. He also built a residential premises using traditional materials.
He is now basking in the glory of Padma Shri award but local people vouch that there is no difference in his attitude even after this honour.
Ramachandran said, “He is a great personality and down to earth, we never knew who he was until media reported about him. The local people are planning a grand programme to felicitate him.”