The Universal Appeal of Vaikom Muhammed Basheer
Vaikom Muhammed Basheer is placed in the high altar of Malayalam literature as his literary creations are marked by the down to earth narration and sheer verities of the lives of common folk. This titan of Malayalam literature affectionately addressed as ‘Beypore Sultan’ has earned a distinctive mark of his own in Kerala as a humanist, writer, freedom fighter, and novelist. Along with him, P. Keshava Dev, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, S.K. Pottekkatt and P.C. Kuttikrishnan constituted the Pentagon that inaugurated the Renaissance novel in Malayalam. Basheer wrote 13 novels and 13 collections of short stories apart from several articles, essays, and plays. Balyakalasakhi (Childhood Friend), the most enduring romantic tragedy novel penned by Basheer in 1944 has been translated into various Indian and global languages.
The critic, M.P. Paul in his foreword to the novel opines that “it is a page torn from the life, bleeding at its edges”. This epitomizes the fact that his fictional and factual world remains inseparable and we come across an autobiographical sort of subtext in his creative landscape. By taking the readers through the dark corridors of human life, Basheer portrays the life of humble and ordinary folks. His literary oeuvre represents the real episodes from his life and they are suffused with humor and pathos. His adoration for his brother man, concern for his society, the warmth of the colloquial language, satire, and suggestiveness elevate him to the stature of the sultan of story. We can never trace any kind of artistic embellishment, parading of verbosity, and scholarship in the writings of Basheer. He wrote for the common people in a language easily comprehensible to them and the words flowed out of his realistic impressions. His rich and varied experience of life across various parts of the world have the undercurrents of real lifeblood and flesh.
According to the eminent Indian poet and critic, K. Satchidanandan, “Basheer used to say he was never sure about the Malayalam alphabet; this apparent inadequacy compelled him to invent an idiom that is closest to the everyday life of Malayalis that revolutionized the art of storytelling in the language. He could make his fictional world possible only by radically altering the status quo vocabulary. Ordinary words picked up from the streets and the inner courtyards of Malabar homes gained a new vibrancy and artistic aura when Basheer employed them in his fresh narrative contexts. His seemingly artless manner had behind it an unarticulated yet profound theory about the use of language in contemporary fiction that taught different lessons to future writers.” I have recently come across the short story entitled “The World Renowned Nose” ( Vishwavikhyathamaya Mookku) which in fact did put me in knots. This short story, in reality, exemplifies the unarticulated and the profound psychology embedded in the human chromosome. The story delineates the life of an ordinary cook and how he as well as his life becomes an extraordinary one just because of the elongation of his nose. The story with a touch of black humor and satire unravels the true countenance of the present-day society and the partisan instances behind it.
The protagonist of the story is a cook, a grotesque figure whose nose started growing when he attained the age of twenty-four. The story focuses on his very nose which has become a matter of dispute and sensational news among intellectuals. “No one knew him before that… His world was confined to the kitchen. He was totally indifferent to the happenings outside the kitchen. Why should he pay attention to them? He could eat to his satisfaction; inhale as much snuff as he wanted; sleep; work. His daily routine was confined to these activities.” Although his nose started growing, he did not pay attention at all. He was able to snuff and inhale without any difficulty. One fine day, he was dismissed from his job at the kitchen just because of his nose. “No group came forward with the battle cry: ‘Take back the dismissed employee. ‘Political parties shut their eyes to this piece of rank injustice. ‘Why was this man dismissed?’ No lover of humanity came forward with this query. The poor cook!” The long-nosed one and his mother struggled hard to make both ends meet. Luck favored the mother and soon within no time. People began to bribe the mother to see her son’s nose. The chill penury forced the mother to place her son to satiate the visual pleasure of the crowd.
“The income of the long-nosed one grew day by day. Why say more? In six years the poor cook became a millionaire.” He attained the status of a celebrity and acted thrice in films. Six poets wrote epic poems about the noble virtues of the long-nosed one. The government endowed him the title ‘Chief among the long-nosed ones’ and gave him a medal. He started expressing his views and opinions on anything and everything around him. Many political parties badly wanted him to join their group. This celebrity from the kitchen was even honored by the President. To make matters worse, the opposition party began their agitation and violence on the pretext that the nose was a pseudo one made of rubber. All the newspapers splashed the news on their front pages. Protests and strikes broke out and the President was left with the only option of taking him into custody. The furious and the fuming mass destroyed government buildings and burnt police stations. The President invited expert doctors from 48 countries to examine the long-nosed one.
“The doctors surrounded the long-nosed one in the presence of the President and cabinet ministers. One doctor blocked the nostrils of the long-nosed one; he immediately opened his mouth wide. Another doctor took a needle and punctured the tip of his nose. To his amazement, a drop of blood appeared at the tip of the nose. The doctors gave their unanimous verdict: ‘The nose is not made of rubber’. It is genuine.” It was time for the long-nosed one to rise from shame. People began praising him again and shouted slogans. The President nominated him as a ‘Member of the Parliament’. The controversies regarding the silly nose continued forever. This short story criticizes our society that hero-worships a man for something unusual in him. The tinge of realism in this story underscores the fact that people are extremely concerned about gratifying their wishes and pleasures and they go to any extent to play with the life of ordinary people. The society worships the name and fame of a person and never the hardships and miseries he/she has encountered in the odyssey of life to attain spectacular heights. The psychology of the masses is explored in a bewitching manner creating a universal appeal in “The World Renowned Nose”. Hence posterity will not willingly let Basheer and “The World Renowned Nose” die from the psyche of multitudes.