Vaikom Muhammad Basheer

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer
Vaikom Muhammad Basheer

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer (19 January 1908 – 5 July 1994) was a Malayalam fiction writer from the state of Kerala in India. He was a humanist, freedom fighter, novelist and short story writer. He is noted for his path-breaking, disarmingly down-to-earth style of writing that made him equally popular among literary critics as well as the common man. He is regarded as one of the most successful and outstanding writers from India. Translations of his works into other languages have won him worldwide acclaim. His notable works include Balyakalasakhi, Shabdangal,Pathummayude Aadu, Mathilukal, Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu, Janmadinam and Anargha Nimisham. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1982. He is fondly remembered as the Beypore Sultan.

Basheer, born in Thalayolaparambu (near Vaikom) Kottayam District. While at school he fell under the spell of Mahatma Gandhi.

He resolved to join the fight for an independent India, leaving school to do so while he was in the fifth form. Basheer was known for his perfectly secular attitude, and he treated all religions with respect.

Since there was no active independence movement in Travancore or Kochi – being princely states – he went to Malabar to take part in the Salt Satyagraha in 1930. His group was arrested before they could participate in the satyagraha. Basheer was sentenced to three months imprisonment and sent to Kannur prison. He became inspired by stories of heroism by revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, who were executed while he was in Kannur jail. Freed from prison, he organised an anti-British movement and edited a revolutionary journal, Ujjivanam (‘Uprising’).

He started working as an agent for the Sialkot sports company at Ernakulam. But he lost the agency when a bicycle accident incapacitated him temporarily. On recovering, he resumed his endless hunt for jobs. He walked into the office of a newspaper Jayakesari whose editor was also its sole employee. He did not have a position to offer, but offered to pay money if Basheer wrote a story for the paper. Thus Basheer found himself writing stories for Jayakesari and it was in this paper that his first story “Ente Thankam” (My Darling) was published in the year 1937. A path-breaker in Malayalam romantic fiction, it had its heroine a dark-complexioned hunchback. His early stories were published between 1937 and 1941 in Navajeevan, a weekly published in Trivandrum in those days.

He then made a career as a writer, initially publishing the works himself and carrying them to homes to sell them. He ran two bookstalls in Ernakulam, Circle Bookhouse and later, Basheer’s Bookstall.

He died in Beypore, on 5 July 1994. Basheer is fondly called as Beypore Sultan (Sultan of Beypore). Though his works have been translated to English and eighteen Indian languages, the peculiarity of the language he uses makes the translations lose a lot of sheen.

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