Kozhikode: The dilemma of a child who had to straddle two cultures, as distinct as Keralite and Burmese, form writer U.A. Khader’s memories of his early life.
Speaking at a session of the Leisure Programme organised by the Kozhikode Public Library and Research Centre, Khader narrated the story of his life, beginning with his time in Burma, the land of his mother and where his father worked till he was eight. He also spoke about the isolated life he led as a student in Koyilandy where other students found him strange because of his Burmese face and “big size.”
Khader, who shot to fame with his ‘Thrikkottur Peruma,’ recalled Mammumusliyar who was entrusted with teaching him the Koran. He narrated how the man who became an indelible influence in his life taught him the Arabic alphabets through pictures of animals. It was Mammumusliyar who enrolled him in the first standard of a Mappila school at the age of eight.
Khader remembered how he had to make double the effort of students whose mother tongue was Malayalam to learn its words. Other students just had to learn the alphabets ‘pa’ and ‘na’ to know it was ‘pana,’ but little Khader had to know what ‘pana’ (palm tree) meant.
Another decisive time in his life was when his grandmother died and the question of who will take custody of Khader arose. His father had married a second time and he shifted his stay to his step-mother’s residence.
He spoke about his association with former Chief Minister C.H. Mohammed Koya. It was CH who initiated him into the world of reading by gifting him Vaikom Muhammed Basheer’s ‘Balyakalasakhi.’
The audience was in splits when the writer narrated how his first story, based on a real life incident in which he sold his watch and bought a dinner set as a wedding present for a friend, was published in a totally different form. He had written quite harshly about his father and step-mother when he put the story to paper. He handed over the story to CH who published it in the Chandrika, but in a totally different form. His message to Khader was that story writing was not about writing ill of others. CH’s words “to write more and not to write if the urge is not felt; but to read a lot, including the stories of Maupassant and Anton Chekov,” still echo in his ears.
He also narrated his journey to Madras (now Chennai) to learn painting, where he got in touch with writers such as K.A. Kodungalloor.
Speaking about his masterpiece, ‘Thrikkottur Peruma,’ he said that the novel was noted because it espoused the essence of Kerala culture. Other works during that period lacked this and were also difficult to understand, he said. His next ambition was to write a novel that explores the northern Kerala Kalari system. He had been working on it for sometime but could not start writing.
The Leisure Programme is a continuing learning programme in which people who have excelled in various walks of life share their experiences and expertise in various sessions.
M.M. Basheer, literary critic, presided. Paramesharan Potti, librarian, also spoke.