Prof. Panmana Ramachandran Nair reminisces about K. Balakrishnan and Kaumudi Weekly, major cultural influences of an era

Balakrishnan and Kaumudi Weekly

Balakrishnan was a leader representing a tiny political outfit called R.S.P. This man who at certain experimental phases dared to defy even his father the major revolutionary and later Chief Minister C. Kesavan, was an exceptionally shining model of youth. He was a member of the Legislative Assembly and Parliament. However he made his indelible mark as an epoch-making editor who galvanized an entire younger generation of genuine culture lovers.

Balakrishnan’s Kaumudi weekly ushered in many novelties with its entry into the scene from Pettah in Thiruvananthapuram. Deserving mention first of all is the ‘Pathradhiparodu Samsarikkuka’ column. No other Malayalam publication at the time had such a column where readers interacted with the editor. Most of the replies were witty and imaginative. I will narrate an instance that quickly came to mind. ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje’ is a beautiful Hindi film directed by Santharam and starring Kathak dancers Gopikrishnan and Sandhya. Question: Baletta, what is the Malayalam for ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje’? Answer: ‘Kanakachilanga Kilungi Kilungi.’

To the question, ‘Who is Kerala’s biggest political observer?’ the answer was ‘N. Ramachandran of Kerala Kaumudi.’ N. Ramachandran sir who is now Editorial Advisor to Kerala Kaumudi newspaper ran a column called ‘Kazhinjayazhcha’. It was an important column which critiqued and seriously analyzed the major political events in Kerala, India and at international levels in the previous week. K. Karthikeyan sir’s column ‘Kirukkukal’ was very interesting. His observation and presentation style could make any topic attractive. The most noted and debated column of course was the editorial. The three page full length editorial written on the murder of ‘Beria’ in Russia comes to mind. I remember reading it thrice. Each editorial was a work of art. C.N. Sreekantan Nair was the weekly’s Associate Editor.

Kamudi weekly brought out Onam special issues every year. The editors and their assistants took care to make each issue unique and different from the earlier ones. The editor and some friends would make a north Kerala car trip beforehand. By then all the prominent writers would have given at least the headlines of their creations. Artist V.M. Balan was a regular artist. A string of advertisements using those headlines followed. On the strength of this the agents booked their required copies. The editor’s personality was the main attraction. I remember an incident from the time I was a degree student at Kollam Sree Narayana College. R.S.P. leader N. Sreekantan Nair gave a brilliant speech in English during the College Union inauguration.  K.J. Mathew Tharakan was then Economics Professor there. K. Balakrishnan was his student at Madhurai American College. Tharakan sir invited K. Balakrishnan for the inauguration of Economics department. The meeting began. The editor asked the student organizers, ‘Should the speech be in English for Malayalam?’ ‘English’ they replied, deliberately seeking a comparison. There ensued a scintillating speech that lasted an hour. Everyone who heard both the speeches contented that this was the better one.

Editor’s Writing Style

I will cite an example of the editor’s writing style from my personal experience. Kaumudi Publications decided to publish ‘Kallichellamma’ which was serialized in ‘Kaumudi’, in book form. The printing was completed at Indira Printing Works. One day Vivekanandan chettan told me, ‘We should be at Kaumudi office at 9 tonight. The editor has agreed to write a foreword.’ We reached there at 8.30 pm itself. Before long the friends circle parted, leaving just us. Chewing pan and tea in flask arrived. On the table was the newsprint made into a stack of small sheets. Tea drinking and pan chewing over, he looked at us and said, ‘OK then, we will present Chellamma, right?’ He started writing: just seven or eight sufficiently spaced lines in a page. The author quietly stood removing each completed sheet and stacking it. After around forty sheets, he emptied his mouth into a tiny spittoon to his left. A little tea, some pan and back to writing. He was done with the writing. ‘Read!’ When the author finished reading, he said, ‘Isn’t it enough? Now you too have some tea. I do not want any more tea.’ A month back I read that foreword from fifty three years ago once again. It can only be described as ‘all-encompassing’. How pristine! Not a word out of place there.

Kutikkattil Narayana Pillai, my elder brotherly friend from Karunagappally, came to Kaumudy one evening at 6 o clock. He was a RSP man, literary connoisseur and a great friend of the editor. He was also friends with C.N and G. Vivekanandan. Kutikkadan’s unusual laughter was renowned in our place just like his trademark bulbous eyes and pointy tipped burly moustache. When Kutikkadan arrives, the editor, associate editor C.N and some ‘satellites’ who had landed there at various times in the afternoon would all come out….. K.S. Krishnan, Adoor Bhasi, G. Vivekanandan and I.  The editor’s affectionate taunts about the newcomer arose for a minute or two. Everybody enjoyed it and laughed. At one point Kutikkadan too let out his characteristic elaborate laugh. This did not sit well with Adoor Bhasi! He had an expression of ‘Who the hell is he?’ Everybody who knows Bhasi in Thiruvananthapuram knows his exceptional talent when it comes to laughter. At that time he was only a drama actor who performed in Thiruvananthapuram stages along with P.K. Vikraman Nair and T.R. Sukumaran Nair. Of course that laughter later came to be familiar to everyone through Malayalam cinema. Know what he did? When Kutikkadan’s lengthy laughter was somewhat beginning to conclude, Bhasi bent down as if to pick up something. By the time he slowly straightened up, he had set fire to a ‘chain laughter’ resembling a cracker that burst at several stages. That laughter demonstration continued for a while. The first man was taken aback at this unexpected competitive aggression from Bhasi.  But sensing the mood of the situation soon, he launched into yet another bout of laughing, this time more boisterously. Before waiting for this ‘second round’ laughter of the first man to end, Bhasi too restarted his performance with variety added. The effect of an amazing ‘fireworks contest’ filled the air. Distant onlookers came closer, awestruck. The specialty of Bhasi’s laughter is that it has many ‘stages’. But the reverberation was more for Kutikkadan’s laughter. Both were different, one excelling the other. As both these laughter flowed in parallel, along entered the referee on stage!

‘Enough. Stop it!’ It was the editor’s friendly admonition. Both the laughter stopped. As everyone stood beaming, he went ahead and held each palm of both of them together, raised them and announced, ‘Well done! Both are a pair!’ An unending applause ensued.

Kanchanaseetha in Kozhikode

The annual day celebration of Kollam Kadappakkada Sports Club was a grand affair in 1958-59. There was a poetry conference followed by literary conference one afternoon. I too was in the poetry meet. Thakazhi, K. Balakrishnan and some others took part in the literary meet. After the conferences, the guests were treated by Pattathuvila Damodaran, the brother of Pattathuvila Karunakaran. Fresh toddy, various types of fish and other dishes lined up. Thakazhi, editor, two writers from the capital and I were at the table. Interesting conversation, poetry recital and minor skirmishes were on while we enjoyed the dishes.  (Editor’s English-Malayalam poetry recitals are common during parties after conferences and return journeys). After a while Thakazhi asked me, ‘Why are you alone sitting like a saint? Did you come to have just tapioca and fish?’ Then he pushed a glass of toddy in my direction and continued, ‘Have it’. I did not show much interest. He extended the glass and said, ‘Drink. If not, I will pour it on your head now!’ I was totally concerned. If Thakazhi did that I had no option but to go and take a bath. And I did not have change clothes. ‘No you do not drink’ – a sudden voice boomed then. It was the editor. ‘You pour it on his head. Let me see.’ Thakazhi hesitatingly relented, ‘No. If Balan says, I will not pour; No, you don’t drink.’ Thus editor became my savior.

When Krishna Pillai sir was invited to the Poetry Festival of Malabar Kendra Kala Samithi in 1958, Vivekanandan chettan and I accompanied him. We were put up at the major tourist home there called Santha Bhavan. Sir’s speech was on the opening day. Many drama lovers who never knew sir came and befriended him at the meeting place and at the place of stay. The next day, Thiruvananthapuram ‘Kalavedi’ was to stage C.N. Sreekantan Nair’s ‘Kanchanaseetha’ there. The actors would arrive the previous day by special bus at Santha Bhavan. Vivekanandan chettan and I went and met C.N and the actors in their rooms. Many were close acquaintances. P.K. Vikraman Nair (Valmiki), T.R. Sukumaran Nair (Sriraman), N. Rajan (Bharathan), P.K. Krishnan Nair (Lakshmanan) and Mavelikkara Ponamma (Kaikeyi).  Vikraman chettan’s younger brother P.K. Venukkuttan Nair was the main prompter then.

The drama began. The audience was enraptured on seeing the first scene itself. When the curtain came down, luminaries like K.P. Kesava Menon came to the green room and conveyed their hearty congratulations to ‘Valmiki’, ‘Kaikeyi’, ‘Sriraman’ and others. Finally the actors and playwright were summoned on stage and felicitated by K.P. Kesava Menon and some prominent personalities.

A Writer’s Delight

During 1959-60, I wrote regular book reviews in the weekend edition of ‘Kerala Janatha’ newspaper which was published from Thiruvananthapuram under the editorship of C. Narayana Pillai sir. I wrote a detailed review of Parappurath’s novel ‘Anveshichu Kandethiyilla’ under the title ‘A Well-intentioned Work of Art’. One evening around two months later, K. Surendran sir and Parappurath together came to my residence. As soon as they arrived, Surendran sir pointed to me and told Parappurath, ‘Here he is, the great man who you wished to see, my wife’s favorite disciple.’ ‘Let us continue the talk seated’ said Vivekanandan chettan. Parappurath exclaimed, ‘What, disciple? How is that?’

I said, ‘Rajamma teacher had taught me at Karunagappally high school. I did not know Surendran sir then. My relative K. P. Shastri sir who taught there had later told me that Surendran sir used to come to the school to meet teacher’.

‘Panmana, aren’t these secrets of those days?’ asked Surendran sir.

I replied, ‘OK sir. Well, you said I am this great man….?’

Surendran sir recounted that story.

‘I had sent a cutting of the book review that you wrote in ‘Kerala Janatha’ to this military man ‘K.E. Mathai’ we call Parappurath. He liked it very much. He wrote to me, “I will come there next time I come to Mavelikkara on vacation. I would like to meet him”. Hope the matter is clear now.’

Parappurath: ‘Panmana sir, this novel is my first major creative work. The title ‘A Well-intentioned Work of Art’ is itself a big honor for me. Nobody has written such a detailed review so far. Also as you know I live in a military camp. My joy is indescribable.’ Parappurath left only after discussing family and other matters in detail.

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