Balachandran Chullikkad will always remain the fierce, young, poet-rebel, the voice of anger and anguish of a generation, the outcast who pointed fingers at the betrayers of hope. But a day after his 56 birthday, Chullikkad the number-cruncher will become too old to remain the junior superintendent of the Ernakulam District Treasury.
As he retires from his job at the Kakkanad Civil Station, the writer is struck by a sense of loss. “I’m the poet of a lost and failed generation. Our dreams have failed. Our ideas have failed. I’m the poet of a time of anguish and trauma that this generation cannot conceive,” he says.
In an article on his Facebook page, Chullikkad says he never expected that he would live this long. His contemporaries and great friends such as poets Kadammanitta and Ayyappan have passed away. “Their deaths have left me with a void. It has abated my spirits,” he says.
Chullikkad lives life on his own terms and his course always surprised his observers. He does not accept awards, shuns the media, and forbids any celebration of his writing or life. Yet his work is intensely personal and lays bare his complicated relationship with his family and his thoughts. When he took to acting in television serials and films, his critics saw the move as a step down for a man of his erudition and skill. The poetry, however, kept flowing. In his 30s, when he was already a well-known poet, Chullikkad took up a job in the Treasury Department. He took long leaves from his job to work on his acting, poetry and studies. “He occasionally drops in for work here,” says a colleague. The poet, who took to Buddhism about 15 years ago, made his own rules and set his own path.
When he could not get his poems published in 1975, Chullikkad left his home at Paravur and toured colleges, hostels, and bachelor lodges in the State seeking kindred spirits. To them he chose to reveal the genius of his earliest poems. Before his poems were printed and published in the early 1980s, Balachandran Chullikkad had already gained acceptance among the poetry lovers of the State, who knew him through his deep voice and poetry reciting sessions.
Chullikkad’s poetry is followed today through his books, audio CDs of his recitations, his blog and even his Facebook page. The world of poetry is no longer the same as it was when Chullikkad started writing. “Poetry today is more ephemeral,” says Chullikkad. “It is no longer an esoteric exercise. Poems in my time had to be read, re-read, understood, and decoded. That magic is now lost. Everything is allowed,” he says. While some may see this as the trivialisation of the art form, Chullikkad chooses to see the positive side of the trend. “There is no room for the genius-poet today. But poetry has become more democratic. That has helped the growth of writers from marginalised groups such as Dalit writers, women, especially Muslim women, and transgender groups.” Chullikkad feels that people on the margins are slowly capturing culture, the last outpost of the upper caste Malayali elite.
Chullikkad sees himself as an obsolete object, an elder who is only to be worshipped at the altar of the “cruel memory of friendship.” A look at his following on the Internet and the numbers of those who appreciate his writing today will show that Balachandran Chullikkad is far from going out of public consciousness. His work still stirs the same fury it did over 35 years ago.