The Light of Earth And Sky
An encounter with Vaikkom Muhammed Basheer
Published in www.donga.com, a Souhth African Journal
in 1992. It was the Krishnashtami day)
C. P. Aboobacker
Chief Editor, www.thanalonline.com
We touched his feet and stepped down from the verandah to the courtyard, and then looked back. He said: " I have neither fear nor fearlessness of death. It is inevitable; it is a must. All souls should know the taste of death".
We had started our conversation with a reference to death. He was weak and was sitting on the half wall and reading. It was the Special of Madhyamam daily, its annual supplement. He was reading the story by M.Mukundan; the title of the story was "Vaikkom Muhammed Basheer".
On seeing us he gestured with his eyes to sit down. He was suffering from acute Asthma. He said: " It is very difficult to breathe. Very dangerous thing! A lame excuse for death to come to me!"
He asked: "Who are you? What do you want?"
We introduced ourselves. We were five; writer, Doordarshan Advisor and KPCC member Sri. R.K.Reviverma, essayist and playwright, Sri. Rajan Thiruvoth, Playwright and photographer, Sri Diana Raghavan, CPM worker, Com. M.Salim, and myself.
We had reached Vylalil house at 11.30 AM. But he was sleeping then. A peaceful, beautiful sleep! His son Anees Basheer came out and asked us to come by 2 PM.
We spent about two hours on the Beypore beach. We sat on the black sands where history was sleeping. In sun and wind, we chirped like sea sparrows. We looked at the movements of healthy and beautiful women collecting and gathering shells from the seawater. Hawks were flying over our heads. We sat looking at the fisher folk who had placed their hooks into the water and were eagerly and patiently waiting for the fish to bite the hooks. Blossoming as seas, swelling as waves, and breaking as surfs, the seawater was the most ever beautiful sight I saw in my life.
Then we woke up from our seaside dream. It is time; it is time we reached there. When we reached Vylalil, it was 1.45 PM.
We were going to meet Basheer. He is our World littérateur. What else could we qualify the genius that wrote Anargha Nimisham, The Goat of Pathumma, and The Walls? Could we confine him that wrote The Noises, and The Prostitute Of The Poor to the small round of Kerala? His genius is the sovereign of seasons, continents and skies. The real Jnana Peetam of Malayalis is here at Beypore. We could reach there through the damp lanes of Beypore.
Once we reach there, first we are subjected to stage fright. We knew this, we had heard of this. So, we had prepared a few questions to ask him. In the unwritten pages of an old diary of mine, these questions were trembling. However, a moment of courage dawned on me, and I asked whether it would be right to call him a Sufi Revolutionary.
Then everything was okay. We could ask questions. We did not know the relevance of the questions. We just wanted to talk to him. That is all. A very normal situation had emerged, as a sapling emerges, as flower blossoms, and as sea spreads into a wave. He was ready to speak. In between the attacks Asthma, the painful spasm of coughing, Oh! God! Questions, doubts, answers, what not! The River was flowing without any obstacle.
? - You address the world from the great shore of solitude. Do you still feel loneliness?
A - I am in solitude. I could write only in loneliness. Otherwise I couldn't write. Thought comes in solitude; imagination too.
? - In this tense, noisy world how do you get the desired solitude?
A - Solitude is there everywhere. Only thing is that one has to find it out. Look, every moment umpteen millions of creatures are killed. Do we know it? We are on our own delta. We don't hear the moaning of death. Each of us is a great universe, you and I. In each of us there are multitudes of beings, yeah, great universes! Thus, Millions of men, cosmos, skies, suns and stars, galaxies… I am only one among them. Just a solitary being! Hear, you young man! There is no nonviolence anywhere. Violence is rampant.
? - A peculiar ecological sense is reflected in your stories. The Inheritors Of The Earth was written at a time when eco-sense was not so prevalent and strong as it is today.
A - didn't I tell you? Great cosmos! A wonderful phenomenon! In my "Compartments of Memories", I have written about the death of earth. Not only man, but also earth dies. Earth is not for man alone, but all beings, all creatures….
? - Do you believe in the Last Day? (Khiyamam)?
A - Yes, The Last Day will occur.
? - You mean this universe would be no more?
A - No, Universe is eternal. Sure the earth will be no more, sun and moon will be no more, but the universe will remain. (I felt that this is sheer materialism. Materialist has more or less the same view. Materialism is founded up on the philosophical foundation of Matter.)
? - The world is full of sorrows. Around us are sorrowful experiences, wars, epidemics, and what not! How could you laugh in between these?
A - I have no sorrow.
? - Whenever you spoke of time, I remember, you have said that time is in the hands of Allah! How are you certain about it? Did you ever see him straight? Direct?
A - No, I did not see. It is impossible to see. Look, there are more than a thousand religions in this world. There is as much number of godly imaginations too. In Hinduism itself God is envisioned in several forms, several contents. For lower forms of Hindu believers there are Saguna (qualified) gods, like Vishnu, Shiva etc. But Adibrahma is the zenith of Hinduism. Islam also possesses the same idea of god. God has no quality, no form, no beginning, and no end. The Great Universe is an amazing phenomenon with millions of lustrous globes, and constellations of planets. This earth is just a revolving morsel. Sun also revolves. In between the two, there are galaxies, stars and suns and moons. Globes and skies! Koran says: Allahu Noorussamavathi Wol Arli…. God is the power and light of millions of skies and earths. Whatever we touch is God, say Sannyasins. Sufis, too, say the same truth: Anal Haq.
? - Do you have the power of prophecy? You have written you have…
A - At times, only at certain times… An incident is described in Magical Cat. Fabi, the kid, Paramu (Sobhana Parameswaran Nair), and myself, all were going to Paramus's house. … Heavy rain… floods…. Boats… canoe fastened to coir…. The roaring river…. I felt we shouldn't go… I said to Fabi… We got out of the boat… After a little distance the boat was in an accident… Not always… Only at times a feeling comes… Some are right, some, no. Still…
? - There is an opinion that communalism has been dormant in Kerala and as the ripe time came, it woke up and began to act. What is your opinion?
A - No, Communalism is not a part of Kerala blood. It is the work of RSS. It is not here. One day, Dr. Sukumar Azhikode is here. Four Hindu women go along this yard after washing and taking their bath. How is it? Dr. Sukumar wondered. They have no well in their houses, here they have it. Here they have all facilities for safely taking a bath and changing their dress with out being seen by others. Soumini remains outside her house when is in menstruation here in this house. Her daughter Pushpa has been here for the last fourteen or fifteen years. Now she is about 20 years. She is employed at another place. But things have been changed. Once Mr. Gafoor Master was transferred tot his place. Not B.M.Gafoor, another Gafoor. He is a drawing teacher. He rented a house. No well. There is a house in the neighbouring house. He thought he could draw water from the neighbouring house. He brought his family. But the neighbours did not allow them to draw water from their well. If touched by a Muslim, the well would become impure! I contacted the Education Minister and got for Mr. Gafoor Master "an intercontinental" Transfer.
There was a long, insufferable cough. "This body is full of phlegm. Now no much time is left. Every night I would think it is the last night. But when it dawns again, all praises to Thee the Lord of this universe! Thou have given me one more day!" He stopped for a moment in a somewhat meditative way. Then he continued:
There was a dog in this hamlet. Know, this is a small place where there cannot be any secret. Yeah, there was a dog. He lived in style loving us and creating nuisances to us. One day the dog was nowhere to see. Again he was seen dead in the well. The entire foul smells of this world! People took him out. Was the well purified sufficiently? And we drink that water. Water becomes impure if a Muslim touches it. There is no problem if I drink the water unclean and dirty water dirtied by the carcass of the dog. What would happen if I write a story out of this incident?
? - You have several times spoken ignoring grammar and its rules. But nowhere have you made a grammar mistake in your stories.
A - It is right that I don't know grammar. But I write only what I know. If I do have any doubt at all, I wouldn't write it. I would ask others and clear doubts. But one thing is sure; there are several unnecessary letters in Malayalam. Why should there be an "ntha"when there is an "ndha"? This is no joke. I am very serious. One day I wanted to write a particular letter that I did not know to write. Somebody taught me. I would again forget it. Again I would learn. Some times when any such problem comes I would call my wife very seriously and ask her in all seriousness; the question would be in the form of examining her. "Could you write this?' Thus I would escape the ignorance. One thing is certain; I write only what I know; only what I experienced. Still I too know a few Sanskrit words.
? - There are characters of characters…?
A - Yeah, Umma (mother), brothers, Pathumma, my wife, children…then chicken, goats and all things… in my household…
? - Again about characters… I remember a story with the title "Shadow Vasu". I remember to have read in it that you have written, 'Vaikkom Muhammed Basheer is the sum total of all women in the world'. Why do you identify with women like this?
A - It is not necessary to be very careful about the characterization of men. But that is not the position with women characters. I describe them with utmost care. That must be the reason for this identification.
? - Let scandals go to hell. Still, is there any writer who has influenced you?
A - when you ask this, yeah, there is one writer; no, two writers. Axel Monde the author of The Story Of San Michelle. I have said about this to Vasu (M.T.Vasudevan Nair). By the way, may I ask you, is Kunhabdullah's novel Medicine coming from The Story Of San Michelle? Then the second writer is Romaine Roland. The great author Jean Christoff. I read the work only very little, only a small part of it; still it has influenced me very much. But I never thought that I must write in his pattern. Still it is with me always, it is in me. It will remain an invisible influence. Some incidents are also like this. "The enchantress seen in the moon" (Madhyamam Special 1992) pertains to an incident like this. Three Kuttys, Muslim Kutty, Hindu Kutty, and Christian Kutty, they actually lived. Every Sunday they would steal a he-goat. They would cut it and cook it and eat it. I have also shared this meat once. In the Moovattupuzha (a river), there is a hill, a hill of goat bones. It is this incident that has now emerged as the enchantress seen in the moon.
We were not aware of time or food. We wanted to hear more of that voice. He, too, was ready to speak more. But his illness prevented us from further talk. When Diana Raghavan took our photographs, he said: " If good, send copies to me. If I am dead by then, send them to my wife. No, not much time is left. I am not afraid of death. I have neither fear nor fearless ness. It is inevitable. It is a must. Every soul must know the taste of death. Let God bless you."
'What is this?' they ask.
"A musical instrument', I say
A guitar, a gun, a pen. They isolated the guitar.
'This gun? This pen?'
I did not know I had gun and pen in my bag. They were afraid of gun; more than that, they were afraid of pen. But suddenly, I woke up. No pen, no guitar, no gun and no Policemen.
This might be a coincidence, this description of the dream and the notes on conversation with Basheer. But the future generations would certainly remember that a man called Basheer had lived here in this region of the world, in this tiny hamlet and that he had a pen sharper than guns and swords. But we, all five of us, were sad about the loss of a Nobel Prize for our language.
Yesterday it was Krishnashtami. Streets were full of crowds. We move on as sands of the ugly time when all ceremonies that have to be sacred have become a showpiece.