(Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer is my favourite author. I translated a long story of his, ‘Premalekhanam’ (Love-letter), some 25 years ago. This is how the story begins…)

Dearest Saramma,
In these difficult times when life is yearningly youthful and the heart brimming over with love, how do you, my dearest friend reconcile yourself to it all?

As far as I am concerned— every moment of my life I spend in my love for you Saramma. And what about you Saramma? Requesting you to think deeply and accept my love with a sweet sweet reply.

Keshavan Nair

Having written off thus in one shot, Keshavan Nair caught himself suddenly looking back over his shoulder. A sort of vague sense of Saramma standing behind with her soft sweet smile. Oh! just a feeling. He read the letter through. Has poetry. Has Tatvagnana. Has mysticism too. Why?— Doesn’t it contain the whole great secret of Keshavan Nair’s heart? The letter now appears better than intended. He folded it in four and put it in his pocket. Getting out of the bank he turned and walked up a narrow bylane. Then a sudden thought: When given the letter will Saramma read it and poke fun at him? Or will she give a reply? And if so what will her reply be? What stands out foremost from Saramma’s character is poking fun… He recalled an incident from the past: A joyful discussion with Saramma. The jokes turned to the subject of women. Saramma told of some great poet or other having sung of women being God’s supreme creation. Keshavan Nair laughed. “Women have only moonlight inside their heads”, he said. He also told the true story of a seven times wedded gentleman as an example. That gentleman’s seventh life partner in the act of eagerly requesting for something fell downstairs and landed on the granite floor below. The gentleman was coming back after leaving her in the hospital when he met his brahmachari friend and was telling him,

“The accident is not so serious!”

“Didn’t you say that the skull cracked open?”

“Yes that’s true.”

“Can you see the brain matter?”

“Hey!” — the gentleman who has intimately known seven women is telling the nityabrahmachaari: “Just because the skull is cracked does it mean you can see the brain?- isn’t she a woman?”

“From which I infer”, Keshavan Nair told Saramma, “that the heads of women are filled with moonlight.”

Saramma had only laughed politely, a bit, at hearing that. Saramma has not talked about it afterwards. Yet wouldn’t the news that Saramma’s head was also filled with moonlight have touched her? Would she bring the topic of moonlight and make fun of him when given the premalekhanam? Isn’t she a female? Must have forgotten the whole thing. Keshavan Nair entered the hotel thinking this way. Not in the mood for coffee. Nevertheless he drank a cup and smoked a cigarette and sat in the hotel a long time thinking: When give the premalekhanam will Saramma give a sweet-beautiful reply or will she make fun of him? The thing called love has not touched Saramma! Lakhs of times Keshavan Nair has tried. But, whenever, quietly he made a move to open love’s scent bottle, she closed her nose! What is this bad smell? Doesn’t he bathe nowadays? This is the manner in which she looks at him! What way then to make her love him?

(Read the full translation here)

If education has to happen?

(This Monday’s post is a slight twist on a short story written by my favourite author – Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer. The story is called ‘Yuddham avasanikkanamenkil?’ or ‘If war has to end?’. I replaced ‘If war has to end’ with ‘If education has to happen’ and made some other trivial changes to get the story in this format. Here is an excerpt to get you interested…)

“If education has to happen!” – with his teeth clenched, the left corner of his lips twisted and giving out a “shh” sound, happily scratching his eczema, lying spread out on a deck chair, the deep-thinker, the mighty man, the one with the terrible rage, the outstanding author, answered the young journalist’s question with his own:

“You mean, what should I do to make education happen?”

“You don’t have to do anything,” explained the journalist, “What we would like to know is your opinion about all of this. What should people do to make education happen once and for all?”

“Nothing! It’s enough if you go away from here: fool!”

“You must say something. The world is suffering very much. Terrible destruction is occurring in the world. All of this must stop. Calm and peace must rule in the world now. Your valuable advice in this regard is asked for. If education has to happen?”

“Go and ask the other idiotic thinkers; don’t trouble me!

“We already asked them”, said the journalist sheepishly, “Don’t we all know of your rage? It’s only that you were the last in line. Of course we know that your opinion is more important than the opinions of the others.”

“Well, what did the others say; if education has to happen…?”

“The world should accept Krishnamurti, the world should accept Waldorf, the world should listen to the tune of Rabindranath, the world should follow Gandhiji, the world should follow Sri Aurobindo, the world should believe in Montessori, the world should follow Ramakrishna… and so on and so forth.”

“Is that it!”, that one with the terrible rage asked while scratching his eczema furiously, “Didn’t the other set say anything?”

“They did. If education has to happen, the world should accept communism; so said one person. Others said, anarchism should be accepted. Another thinker said that fascism should come. Yet another person said that the principle of non-violence should be accepted. And what do you say- if education has to happen?”

(The full story is available here.

The translation from the original Malayalam to English is done by my son, Srikant. His translation is available here)

About Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer:
I grew up in Delhi but, fortunately, went to a school where they taught me how to read and write Malayalam. Much later, when I was going through a phase of reading Malayalam literature, I came across an intriguing book title, ‘Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu’ or ‘My-Grandad-Had-An-Elephant’. Written in colloquial Malayalam, it is a gentle, masterful, wisely-told love story. I read it and was hooked! I went through everything Basheer had written and his wise, gentle voice has been a part of my life and a source of inspiration.

Links for further study:
Please read the other stories on my Basheer translations blog linked earlier and available here.
I plan to translate Basheer’s ‘Maantrikappoochcha’ or ‘Magic-cat’ and upload it on this blog soon. This is the best novel I have read. Ever!