P K Balakrishnan is one of the greatest intellectuals 20th century Kerala has produced. His multifaceted interests took him through politics, journalism, public speaking and creative writing. He was a great patriot who gave up his studies for the freedom of the country. His uncompromising integrity showed that he was unfit for politics, created a turbulent journalistic career, made him a fiery public speaker and resulted in literary creations that were masterpieces in their respective field.
Balakrishnan was an intense personality. He was truthful to himself. Standing by what he thought was right brought him into confrontation with people and the establishment. While his uncompromising convictions earned him very few friends in the real sense, he was understood and appreciated by a close circle of people whom he valued. Though the man has passed on to the realms of history, his books stand testimony to the great intellectual that he was and the power of his writings.
He joined Maharajas College, Ernakulam. However, academic studies were last in his agenda. It was the time when the freedom movement had gathered momentum and there was no way the energetic boy could keep himself out of it. He whole-heartedly jumped into it. The involvement in quit India movement ended in jail. Thus, his four eventful years in college ended without any qualification degree. Language was a gift he had and he had made prolific use of it throughout his college days and subsdquently mostly for political purposes. Though not formally, he had proved his mettle and the first job offer as chief editor proved that the caliber of the man was recognized. He started his formal career in journalism as Chief Editor of the daily news paper Dinaprabha ,at the age of 32 years which was published, from Kozhicode. He quit after a year due to differences with the management. His journalistic career spread through the Malayalam dailies Kerala Kaumudi, Kerala Bhooshanam and Madhyamam Daily.
As a historian,he found that there was a disconnect between what the existing writings on history projected and what he saw of Kerala from the old literature, travelogues, and other first hand sources that is used to study history. In his writings he first dealt with Kerala history in the anthology ‘Narayana Guru’ on the great social reformer of Kerala who changed the face of its caste ridden society. He brushes with Kerala history again to study why Tipu Sultan, an able ruler and administrator is perceived only as an aggressor and religious fanatic in our writings. The culmination of these studies over 3 decades resulted in his work on social history ‘Jaathivyavasthayum Kerala Charitravum’ (The Caste System and Kerala History). It is a seminal work that deals with various aspects of Kerala’s history including the development of the Malayalam language.
However what catapulted him as a popular writer was his second novel ‘Ini Njan Urangatte’ (And Now Let Me Sleep), a novel that subsists on the Mahabharath. The book is unparalleled in its lofty language, imagery and depth and is considered one of the best classics in Indian Literature. The novel is the story of Karna as seen through the eyes of Draupadi. It maintains the original story, epic atmosphere, events and characters which distinguishes it from other works based on Mahabharatha. This novel was quite a departure from his first novel ‘Pluto’ the story of his dog set in the back drop of his native village of Edavanakkad peopled by his friends and relatives. While his extensive interests resulted in full fledged books, his numerous other interests resulted in various articles. No serious attempts were made to preserve the articles he wrote. So, many of these were lost after their first publication. Some of these were complied and published in his life time ‘Mayatha Sandhyakal’ (Unfading Twilights) and ‘Nidra Sancharangal’ (Sleep Walkings). These were combined and brought out as Balakrishnante Lekhanangal (Articles of Balakrishnan) in 2004. A subsequent collection of articles were published as ‘Keraleeyathayum Mattum’ (The Essence of Kerala etc.)