How veteran film personality P Balachandran recalled his childhood, inspirations and follies

P Balachandran was one who gave importance to little things in life. As the actor-director left for his heavenly abode on Monday, let's take a look at his journey, fondest memories and film inspirations in his own words.

I was born at Sasthamkotta in Kollam. Several art films made in Malayalam like Mukhamukham, Elippathayam, Pokuveyil were filmed here. Ancient buildings and unpaved roads can still be found here; maybe that’s why directors have a fondness for the place. The Adoor Gopalakrishnan film starring Dileep was also shot here.

Our house was made of laterite blocks and had coconut palm fronds for roofing. Large verandas were on either side. Some rooms were small and dingy. We used the attic to store things. 

Joys of communal activity

Every year the flooring got a makeover with a fresh layer of cow dung. When I returned from school, I would find everything at home kept outside in the courtyard. For flooring, a mix of mud and cow dung is used as the first layer. Finally, a coating of burnt coconut shells and powdered coconut husks was applied. 

My mother, a few relatives and women from the neighbourhood used to pitch in for this activity. It is was equally interesting to watch all of them at work on the roof too. For re-roofing, the palm fronds were first left in the pond or stream to soak and soften. Once this is done, they were dried in the sun. One person would sit on the roof weaving the fronds and layering them neatly, while those standing below used to throw the fronds to the person on the roof.

Retouching a home was once a joint activity, done with gusto and camaraderie. Nobody gave money. It was an understanding of sorts. When such houses disappeared, the helping mentality vanished as well.

Home, sweet home

A room from where makeshift stairs led to the attic stood on the west. An old bed here was made of snake-wood (Kanjiram)  My mother gave birth to all her children lying on this bed. 

Agriculture was the main livelihood back then. After harvest we used this room to store grains and vegetables. These were kept under the stairs. Pests like lizards, mice, centipedes used to roam freely in this room targeting all the stored foodcrop. Nowadays, many TV advertisements are on products to kill them. We cohabited with these pests back then and we were fine! My 95 year-old mother lives with us. 

As I was the youngest in the family, I was often sent on errands. 

The only time we stayed away from home was during our vacation trips to father’s ancestral house in Thiruvananthapuram.

I did my MA at Pathanamthitta and used to stay at a lodge there. I missed home terribly then and often used to send letters. Letter writing was an important tool to narrate the story of the film 'Punnarudhivasam' which I had scripted. The letters written during my college times helped me a lot in my scriptwriting.

Finally, home builder

I never used to think much about saving up for the future or about the need to build my own house. When I was posted at the MG University, I shifted base to Kottayam. My wife is from Vaikom. We rented several homes in Vaikom. Then, after a lot of persuasion by my friends and family, I too decided to have a house of my own.

When you finally arrive at a decision to build a home, there are two options before you: you can either build a house with whatever little money you have or you can take a housing loan and borrow from here and there to build a large house -- one where you can spend the rest of your debt-ridden life with the pain of sleeping on borrowed money!

I chose the first option. On a small piece of land from my wife’s share, I built a small and simple house. There was a small pond on my plot and many advised that I should cover that up. But my decision was to retain it as such and hence we never run short of water. 

The house seemed small as our children grew up. There is a particular phase in the family when everyone turns to their own little islands. When the need arose, a few additions were done to the house.

Personal den

As years passed, I felt that there wasn’t enough space for me to write and read. I had thoughts about adding another room on top. Around this time that I went on a tour to Thekkady with the students of my class.

At a resort there I saw little bamboo huts and l loved the idea. My friend, Dr. Vijay, had an Ayurveda hospital that was made out of bamboo too. I hoped to make a personal den with bamboo on my terrace. As I have artistic inclinations, I had the license to think differently and out of the box.

That’s when an engineer that I was acquainted with had come home. I spoke to him about this brainwave. He took out his measuring tape and began taking measurements. He informed me that the approximate cost would come to about Rs 6,000. I fell for this and work on the structure began the week after that. I dreamts of creating one classic space after another from my bamboo den. I even invited my colleagues at the university to come visit my creative space.

When the work was completed, I was a happy man. As I was lying there one day, lost in my reverie, something fell on my face. It was a yellow powdery substance. It was all over the place on the wall and the floor. The bamboo was shedding the yellow powder. I called up the contractor to complain and he came by and  applied a coat of varnish. This didn’t seem to help.

Some experts in the field then informed me that only bamboo specially treated with certain substances was used for construction. Finally, I got two workers to help me take down the bamboo structure. In its place came a room with good old brick and mortar!

The desire to journey along paths never taken before has been kept aside for now! My yoga sessions and writing all happen here without any disturbances now. My wife and kids do taunt me at times with my 'bamboo tales.'

I just pretend to ignore them. After all, isn’t it human to err?

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