It was 12 years ago in 1997 that I first met Lohitadas, one of the most celebrated screenplay writers in Malayalam. The place was Thiruvananthapuram. He had come there from Shoranur for some personal work.
The first thing he told me was that he remembered the Lalithambika Antharjanam award I had just won for my Malayalam short story collection.
As we sat down to talk, he said, 'I am not going to talk to a journalist; this is between two writers.'
What a conversation it was! It was crazy, bizarre, unconventional and yet extremely fascinating; more Kafkaesque. I don't think I have had such an exciting conversation with any other film personality or writer.
I don't know why he told me about killing a rat at age 10 or 11 and then writing the date of its death in his diary in its blood. Sometimes I feel he made that story up then as I have never seen him narrate that story before or after.
Similarly I felt what he told me about his "mental instability" was also a creation of an eccentric mind. He told me, "I couldn't read any book without crying. Even inside the library, I used to cry loudly. I couldn't control myself. I was suffering from a mental illness. Otherwise, would anybody get involved in a book like that? You can call mine an abnormal involvement. If someone were to see me crying and ask what had happened, I became all the more hysterical. I had no control over my emotions. I would sob so violently that those who saw me got frightened. Not only stories or poems, but certain sounds also made me cry. For example, the crowing of a crow made me cry. Have you heard how newspaper boys shout, Naalathe patram! (Tomorrow's paper!) in the evening? That also made me cry... I couldn't sit alone anywhere. If I were alone somewhere, I wanted to end my life, commit suicide." I listened to his story petrified and amused!
As our conversation moved to his very first script, Thaniyavarthanam, I said I couldn't sit through the film as it disturbed me to see a sane man like Balan Master turning mad. I told him I had to close my eyes, unable to bear his suffering. There was a glee in his eye when I said that. He was also not annoyed when I said I found the script of Thaniyavarthanam his best.
It was then that he told me how he suffered as Balan Master did, in the film. "It was not depression that I felt. It was like sitting inside a furnace and burning all over. I experienced all the sufferings of Balan Master. I always felt that way for all my characters. I cried when Balan Master suffered. Do you know I always keep a towel with me while I write a story? I use it to wipe my tears. I experience all the feelings of my characters. It is torture. My blood pressure shoots up when I write and I get terrible headaches. Nobody knows my characters more than me. I even know the smell of them. They are all part of me. When I write, I become all of them, including the hero and the villain."
Whether it was Kireedam or Thaniyavarthanam or Bharatam, I felt his protagonists were pawns in the hands of society. They were targeted and crucified by the society for no fault of theirs. I asked him, why so? His answer was, "that is my attitude to fate. Life does not proceed the way we want it to. It has a course of its own and it will move only in that direction. Not just crucifying. It is society which makes him a good man and also a bad man. What power do we have on our lives? Nothing. Society can make you a good man. The same society can create a bad man out of you also. It is society which creates a prostitute and a killer and a rowdy!"
I couldn't agree with him at all, and we argued for nearly half an hour. The interesting and healthy thing about Lohitadas was that he was willing to listen to another point of view.
The saddest part, though was, as years went by, Lohitadas became repetitive and his characters lost the uniqueness they had in the beginning. When I met him in 2005, he had also changed. The eccentric and carefree writer had turned into a man who preferred talking about mundane things. The glamourous world of films and the controversies surrounding him and Meera Jasmine had made the man uninteresting and irritated. I prefer to forget about that interview.
As we were about to end our first interview, he received the news that actor Sukumaran had passed away. He told me then, "I am fascinated by death. I feel I am closer to death than life. Death follows me in some way or the other." Perhaps that was why he told film director Sibi Malayil, who, when he first came calling on him, that 'Lohitadas was dead'!
Finally when death caught up with this unusual and unconventional writer, I do not know what he might have felt. Perhaps he accepted it as helplessly as Balan Master of Thaniyavarthanam...