By John Cheeran
Here is a bit of mathematics. What’s one plus one?
It is a much bigger one.
Vaikom Muhammad Bashir, whose birth centenary is being celebrated this year, challenged conventions and lived manfully.
Bashir, the celebrated novelist and short story writer, was a rare original in Malayalam literature. Bashir upended the upper caste dominance in Malayalam literature with his life and writings, both bore the mark of an inimitable style.
Bashir did not learn Sanskrit to be writer. Bashir did not have to write an autobiography, for whatever he wrote there was his own lifeblood in it.
His novel Balyakala Sakhi and short story Janmadinam are still read by the new generations and top the best sellers’ list.
And who can forget Bashirian characters such as Anavary Raman Nair, Ponkurishu Thoma, Ettukali Mammooju, Sainaba and Mandan Muthappa?
Bashir made us laugh. Bashir made us cry.
Bashir wrote without cover-ups. Bashir wrote with rare candour and he described his mad days as “pure and beautiful madness.”
Away from Kerala, in exile, I read the complete works of Bashir last year. There was much great stuff by Bashir. May be the tallest Malayalam writer so far. But there were great amounts of trash too, but those were rather insignificant when compared with the classics he gave us. Though the Scottish scholar E.M. Asher translated Bashir’s works into English, to feel Bashir’s bone and enjoy the flavour of his prose, you have to read it in Malayalam. I consider myself lucky to have learnt Malayalam.
Regrettably, there was a concerted effort by a section of Muslim community to appropriate Bashir, in his twilight, as a Muslim writer and mouthpiece. It is a tribute to Bashir’s genius that the Beppur Sultan managed to outlast their siege.
Equally important is to remember Guptan Nair’s and Raghunathan Nair’s ‘Mula’ criticism against this writer who quarreled with grammar and conventions.
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