He was popularly known as "Kayamkulam Kochunni", because he hailed from that village in Travancore, once a princely state, now part of Kerala, and there were few comparable to him in chivalry and kindness either in Kayamkulam or in any of the surrounding villages.
Born of poor parents some two centuries ago, Kochunni was a devout Muslim. He would not miss going to the local palli (mosque) for niskaram (offer of prayers) all five times a day. Sometimes, he would not wait to hear the banguvili (call for prayers) from the palli, but kneel wherever he was, spread his thorth (towel) on the ground, sit on it facing the west and offer prayers.
Perhaps it was because he had experienced abject poverty in his younger days that he developed an aversion to misers, moneylenders and landlords. By a quirk of fate, it was a rich merchant who employed him in his shop at the behest of a kind-hearted gentleman whom Kochunni had approached for a job.
At the kada (grocery shop), he worked hard, and his master was very pleased. He taught Kochunni how to be courteous to the customers and honest in all transactions.
Every morning Kochunni picked up the keys from the merchant's house to go and open the shop and wait for the master. In the evening, after the merchant had gone home, Kochunni would sweep the shop clean, close the shutters, lock up and leave the keys with the merchant. By then, his wife would have prepared a meal which he took home to share with his widowed mother.
One evening, when Kochunni had handed the keys and was about to leave for home, one of the regular customers came in a tearing hurry to meet the merchant.
"Have you closed the shop, muthalali (shop owner/master)?" He appeared quite impatient.
"Yes," said the merchant. "Why? You want something?"
"I want some sharkara (jaggery) badly, muthalali", said the man, trying to catch his breath. "You see, it's my little son's birthday tomorrow, and I've to arrange for naivedyam [offering (cooked item) to deity] at the temple in the morning. When I went home, my wife told me there was not a grain of sharkara to be handed to the pujari for making payasam (sweet dish). I can't get it anywhere else at this hour. Would you oblige me, please?"