By Najiya O, TwoCircles.net,
Kozhikode: It has been 17 years since Vaikom Muhammed Basheer left us. But that wouldn’t serve as a reason not to remember him on his 103rd birth anniversary. The ‘Beypore Sultan’ is indeed always in the minds of Malayalis. And that is precisely why literary figures and critics and even children in schools organize programmes to commemorate him every year, some even visiting his family and home at Beypore.
A stamp was issued in 2009 in honor of VM Basheer
Basheer was born on January 21, 1908 at Thalayolaparambu in Vaikom. He studied initially in a Malayalam medium school and then went to an English medium school in Vaikom. Attracted to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and the Swadesi movement, he left school and joined the freedom struggle when in fifth form. As the princely states of Kochi and Travancore were not much in the freedom movement, Basheer went northwards to Malabar. In 1930 he went to Kozhikode to take part in the Salt Satyagraha and got arrested along with several others. Basheer was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment at the Kannur jail. He, along with hundreds of other political prisoners, was later released as per the Gandhi-Irwin Pact in 1931. Soon after his release Basheer again got involved in anti-British struggles and edited a revolutionary journal named ‘Ujjivanam’ (meaning Uprising) for which he was issued an arrest warrant. He soon left Kerala and began his long journey of seven years across the country and abroad. Basheer wandered doing all sorts of works that helped him keep away from starvation. He worked as a cook, newspaper seller, fruit seller, watchman etc. He even spent a few years at the Himalayas and the Ganges basin with Hindu saints and Sufi mystics.
When he came back to Kerala, he again got involved in political works and got arrested. He was jailed in different places and the stories he heard from the police and fellow prisoners there later appeared in his novels and short stories. He wrote ‘Premalekhanam’ (Love Letter) from jail in 1943 and published it on release. He wrote ‘Baalyakaalasakhi’ (Childhood Friend) also from jail, but published it only in 1944 after making revisions after his release. The novel is said to be ‘a piece torn from his life’. ‘Mathilukal’ (meaning Walls) is a famous work which tells the story of the love of a male prisoner and a female prisoner who never saw each other as they were on either sides of a wall.
Basheer left active politics after India won freedom. He married Fabi who was much younger to him in his forties. Afterwards, he settled down for a quiet life with his wife and two children Anees and Shahina at Beypore in Kozhikode, though continuing his writings. And the man, born and educated in Vaikom and settled in Beypore, became the ‘Beypore Sultan’. As common with great writers, Basheer too suffered from mental illness and had to undergo treatment in mental hospital twice. He died in Beypore on July 5, 1994.
The writer in Basheer was a strong critic of social customs and practices, as well as superstitions especially in the Muslim community of the time. And he said it all in the down-to-earth style unique to him only, which attracted him to the literary critics as well as the common people alike. Basheer wrote about the social conditions and situations in his own thought-provoking yet humorous style. Highly appreciated is his novel ‘Ntuppooppakkoranaendaarnnu’ (1951) which RE Asher (who translated most of Basheer’s work into English) translated with the title ‘Me Grandad ‘ad an Elephant!’. It deals with the mid 20th century Muslim community in Kerala, such as boasting about the past glory without doing much in the present, through the story of uneducated Kunjippaathumma and poet Nisaar Ahmed. Other notable works are Shabdangal (Voices), Paaththummaayude Aadu (Paathumma’s Goat), Bhaargavi Nilayam, Sthalathe Pradhaana Divyan, Muchcheettukalikkaarante Makal, Aanavaariyum Ponkurishum, Ettukaali Mammoonju etc.
Basheer never differentiated between the written language and the spoken one. He wrote in the language of his characters, who were mostly traditional rural Muslims, and a majority of them were uneducated. Their local dialects and natural style of talking were brought as such into his writings. Basheer gave importance to emotions and telling the story, without considering the grammar and structure of sentence.
Basheer was awarded the Padma Sri in 1982. He got the Kendra Sahitya Academy Fellowship and the Kerala Sahitya Academy Fellowship, besides the Vallathol Award and the Muttathu Varkki Award in 1993, and the Lalithambika Antharjanam Award in 1992.