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When Basheer missed the deadline

Once, K. Balakrishnan, editor of Kaumudi weekly, decided to publish a special issue for Onam. He decided to bring together all the prominent Malayalam writers and their new works in this issue. He succeeded in ensuring their contributions. Most of the top writers of the time sent in their works on the promised dates. But there was no reply from Vaikom Muhammed Basheer who had also promised to send in his work.

Balakrishnan had already given advertisements in the previous issues about the special Onam edition and here he had mentioned Basheer’s name. So there was no way that he was going to print the issue without Basheer’s work. This inordinate delay worried Balakrishnan. He sent a couple of letters to Basheer reminding him of the story he had promised but there was no response from the writer.

All the other articles and stories were edited and ready for printing. Balakrishnan waited for Basheer’s story. The edition went to press but there was news from Basheer. Balakrishnan even left a few blank pages, which he hoped to fill as soon as he got the story.

When the wait became endless Balakrishnan decided to go meet Basheer who was then staying at Thalayolaparambu, near Vaikom. He reached there one evening and Basheer welcomed him very warmly. But whenever the talk veered towards the promised story Basheer cleverly strayed away from the subject. Finally both of them decided to go to Ernakulam. Basheer had with him a bag that contained a manuscript of his work and some clothes. They stayed in a lodge that night. Balakrishnan woke up early next morning and left to Trivandrum without waking up Basheer. When Basheer got up he realised that the manuscript was lost presumably taken away by Balakrishnan.

Basheer was forced to follow him to Trivandrum. He reached there and went straight to the Kaumudi office. He was stunned by what he saw there. The composing of his manuscript was almost complete and the proof readers were going through the copy. Basheer got wild and shouted at Balakrishanan. The editor was not in a mood to relent. There was an exchange of words. When things cooled down Balakrishnan put across a new condition. He said that he would return the manuscript only if Basheer give him a new story. The writer agreed.

The manuscript that Balakrishnan took away was the screenplay of Bhargavinilayam. Shooting of the film had not started and Basheer feared that if this script was published it would adversely affect the prospects of the film.

As per the agreement Balakrishnan booked a room for Basheer at Aristo Lodge in Trivandrum. Balakrishnan, who knew Basheer very well, saw to it that the writer was constantly watched lest he gave him the slip, says poet-lyricist Pazhavila Ramesan, who was a member of Balakrishnan’s editorial team. Ramesan adds that among those who were designated to keep watch on Basheer were Vaikom Chandrasekharan Nair, T.J. Chandrachoodan and Vakkam Purushothaman.

Basheer took four days to complete his writing. It was a truthful account of his experiences in prison. As soon as it was over it was taken to the press. The whole story came out in that edition.

Paul Manalil, the biographer of Basheer, says that the writer told him that he had suggested two titles for the story - Sthreeyude Gandham and Penninte Manam. But he later changed it to Mathilukal. The female character, Narayani was modelled on a real character - a convict sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering her husband. She was just 22 years of age.

Basheer was in jail in 1942, Mathilukal was written sometime in 1962-63. Many believe that this was a short story but Basheer considered it a short novel that could be expanded to at least 1,000 pages. Adoor Gopalakrishnan adapted this work into a film with the same title in which Mammootty played the role of Basheer. The film went on to win numerous national and international honours.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2020 1:23:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/how-basheers-mathilukal-came-to-be/article8374606.ece

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