He was the sultan of letters reposing on an easy chair under the shady mangosteen. She was an impressionable youngster meeting her idol for the first time. And it was the moment that forged a rare bond between the two. K A Beena says she was overwhelmed by a huge surge of emotions coming face-to-face with a legend who needed no introduction. Her book Basheer Enna Anugraham (A Blessing Called Basheer) is more of a personal account on the enviable rapport she shared with Kerala’s most loved author.
Basheer was an author who mixed the serious and ludicrous to evolve a burning idiom of colloquial charm, and Beena, who has a handful of titles to her credit, says it was this disarming simplicity that floored her even as a five-year-old when she first heard ‘Vishwavikhyathamaya Mookku’. Beena remembers that it was during her Karyavattom days that she first sent a letter to the maverick author. “My PG dissertation was on K Balakrishnan and I knew he was part of Basheer’s close circle. I wanted to include his inputs in my thesis,” she says. But nothing could prepare Beena for the response she received. Within days she got an eighteen-page letter oozing with the unmistakable Basheerian bonhomie. After humour-coated queries and witty statements, the author gave an insightful account of his camaraderie with Balakrishnan.
What followed was a continuous string of correspondence and in the letters he addressed her Ponnambili, a nickname he fondly bestowed on Beena. Each word born out of his pen had an irresistible charm and a fetching informality, just like the person he was. The book also features scanned copies of their correspondence, where the letters curl up unassumingly, simmering with the superlative wit of his local parlance.
The book strewn with anecdotes, excerpts, letters and quotes never probes into the author’s creative realm in an academic way. Beena portrays Basheer not as the literary trailblazer we are familiar with, but a man of limitless warmth and compassion. “He was a man who shared infinite amounts of love with everyone around him,” says Beena who also had the privilege of addressing him ‘tatta’ just like his family.
Beena’s book is a household diary of remembrances in which we come across many real-life characters who populate the fictional world of Basheer. A good percent of the book is based on Beena’s interaction with Fabi Basheer, the author’s better half whom she affectionately calls ‘Mmachi’. The conversations take you through the whirlwind life of Basheer covering everything from his infectious vivacity to his fits of insanity. Beena’s writing has a feminine eloquence and edge that shoot down all possibilities of deadpan formality. She talks about his mischievous antics, his eventful domestic life and his paranoiac blackouts in a way only an insider can. Blending earthiness and pathos Basheer narrated his tales in everyman’s language and showed an unlikely annoyance at high-sounding lingo. In the book there is a part in which the author asks an interviewer who speaks in a flowery language to switch to Malayalam. “It was he who taught me to stay away from the so-called intellectual language which reeks of vanity” says Beena. “One would expect a litterateur of his stature to be aloof and formal to his followers. But Basheer belonged to a different league. How many of our contemporary writers are approachable for a commoner?”, she asks.
Beena says she was a bit hesitant to pen down her memoirs as she considered it too personal. “He was my friend, philosopher and mentor. A father figure who modified my outlook on life.” She says she could feel an eerie intervention while writing the pieces first serialised in Chandrika. “Unlike what I presumed there was no struggle. As I sat writing, words flowed from nowhere,” she says. Basheer Enna Anugraham published by Raspberry Books will be released today, on his 19th death anniversary, at Thiruvanathapuram Press Club by Adoor Gopalakrishnan.