K.A. Beena/ Lindsay Rose Jordy
Born in Vazhayila of Thiruvananthapuram district in Kerala, K.A. Beena is someone who proved her proficiency as an author, journalist and a columnist. Her literary journey begun at the age of thirteen when she wrote her first work, a travelogue, later published as Beena Kanda Russia. After that she continued her journey as a writer proving that she was destined to be one.
What persuaded you to write Beena Kanda Russia?
My mother used to read a lot and from a young age I liked reading. During my childhood there came an organization for children in our place called Balavedi. My uncle enrolled me in it when I was 10 years old. Later I was made the district president for the organization. We travelled to school and other places to conduct programs and activities. I went to Russia in 1977 as part of the group of children who were selected to represent India at the Artek camp. There I performed Bharatanatyam and participated in painting. When I got back people around me were curious to know about my experiences at the Soviet Union, but after repeating the same thing again and again I got bored. It was my mother who suggested me to write about my time at Russia so that people can read about it. I used to keep a dairy back when I was at the camp. I referred to it and later visited various libraries to write about the Soviet Union. After I finished writing, we send it to Mathrubhumi Weekly. M.T. Vasudevan Nair who was the editor back then replied saying they are willing to publish it and thus the work came out. It was very well accepted by the people as a kid’s travelogue being published in a weekly was something new and people of our time used to read stories set in the back drop of the Soviet Union. DC books later published it as a book. Afterwards M.T. wrote me a letter asking me to continue writing for Mathrubhumi; he told me about the Grihalakshmi magazine that they were starting. So, I started writing for Grihalakshmi from my 10th standard. 2023 marks my 46th year of writing.
How do you describe your journey towards becoming a journalist?
In my college I did my bachelor’s in English and master’s in journalism. My father was a journalist. He used to travel around, write letters to me and talk to me about the opportunities of journalism. I wanted to be a journalist from a very young age. I wrote in several magazines so I did not lose touch with journalism even after finishing Beena Kanda Russia. I was set to learn journalism as I believed that it will enable me to help with the social movements as well. After my studies I got a call from at Kerala Kaumudi and got posting there. During my time there I was able to conduct interviews and write several articles and features. In my career as a journalist, I was guided by editors like S. Jayachandran Nair, N. R.S. Babu, A.P. Vishwananthan, N. P. Narayana Pillai and so on. This gave me a great motivation and forged my belief that I can bring about social changes through my work. I had to resign from Kaumudi after two years of work in order to take care of my baby. That is when M.T. Vasudevan Nair called me to work at Grihalakshmi from home. In 1991, I joined the Indian Information Service for the Government of India and worked as the news editor of Akashvani (All India Radio) and Doordarshan. I worked at Guwahati for two years and also worked in the Press Information Bureau and Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity. I took voluntary retirement as the deputy director for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s Bureau of Outreach and Communication.
What were your experiences with working in different fields of media?
During the time, which is 1991, in Kerala, woman travelling around for work was very minimum. The movement of woman outside of house was scarce and there were always questions about if it was necessary for the woman to work, is not marriage enough and so on. I had to travel a lot for my work. Stay at places for days and conduct photo exhibitions or film shows to inform people. As part of my job, I was lucky to visit different parts and villages of Kerala as well as all around India. During those times a woman eating alone at a restaurant or getting a room at a hotel alone were looked down upon therefore it was a difficult thing to do. I worked by staying at working women’s hostel or at some relatives’ houses. When I became the news editor of Akashvani, I was the first lady news editor there, the officer had a problem with that. At first, he was refusing me from joining by saying that it was a difficult job for woman as it requires a lot of travelling and when it is just one woman travelling with other male colleagues it will create a big issue. There was a lot of resistance against me joining the job due to the travel and other requirements. In the early days I worked facing a lot of resistance but radio became one of my favourite media and I was able to do a lot through it. I wrote a book on the history and technique of radio, Radio Kathayum Kalayum, which details the history of radio broadcasting in Malayalam. During the 50th anniversary of regional news, in 2007, I was the news head at Thiruvananthapuram, I was able to coordinate one-month long programmes and was able to celebrate it very innovatively. While I was the news editor at Akashvani, I received national award and honorary award (including Akashvani Annual Award for best script). Thus, I was able to prove wrong at a place where I was told I could not do it. Later I went to assam. As I had the charge of 7 states there, I was able to travel more. I wrote about it in Kalakaumadi, which was later published as a book, Brahmaputhayile Veedu (2007). It was hectic work during my time at Doordarshan, as news editor. While working there we were able to shift to Electronic News Processing System (ENPS) from the earlier method. That year Doordarshan was selected as the best news unit of the country. I was able to interview Resul Pookutty, K. Satchidanandan and so on.
While at Central Bureau of Communication I had charge of Ernakulam, Alappuzha and Idukki districts. It was one of the happiest experiences as I was able to travel, work at field and had to attend functions at different districts. I worked there nearly for 10 years. before taking voluntary retirement. While doing this job, I understood how people of lower sections of the society lived.
Once I went to a village and saw a panchayat president calling the panchayat vice president, a woman, in an ignorant and disrespectful way. While discussing this I realized the reservation had not created noticeable impact. I visited different villages in several states in India and interviewed Dalit woman, woman panchayat vice president and talked about their living conditions. I did a six-day series about it in Kerala Kaumadi newspaper for which I received the Madhavankutty Award for print media in2016. I also received Laadli Media Award for digital and print, United Nations Population Fund and Population first, in 2014 and 2016. I am currently revisiting the villages I have visited then to get the afterstory of these women so as to publish it as a book titled Nooru Nooru Kaserakal. Chuvadukal and Nadhi Thinnuna Deep are the other two travelogues I wrote. Dateline – Charithathe Chirakilettiyavar is another book I wrote with the life sketches of old legendary journalists. My friend and I visited their houses, talked with them about their lives and wrote it. I wrote columns in Manorama Online, Mathrubhumi Online, Kerala Kumadi newspaper Deshabhimani, Janayayugom and in magazines like Yathra, Vanitha and Kanyaka. These coloumns were combined and made into essay collections like Bhootha Kannadi, Ammamar Ariyathathu, Enthanu Sanitary Padinte Anthima Rahasyam and Athirthiyude Athiru. I like me most as a friend. I am a person who make friends wherever I go. I wrote a memoir based on it called Perumazhayath, a book on friendship. When the book Beena Kanda Russia turned 40, a book called Beena Kanda Russia @ 40 was published where 60 writers wrote about how the book influenced their life, writing and reading. One of the things that made me the happiest was reading “you made me a traveller”.
Even though I started my career way back, I am still able to communicate with the new generation as well and stay updated. It makes me very happy. My columns are all written in a way in which they could understand.
Can you talk about your works in children’s literature?
Children’s writing is one of my favourite fields. Children now will find it difficult to understand and accept the portrayal of gender roles in the literary works back in the day. I try to avoid the stereotypes based on gender, caste and colour in my works. The present generation has changed and become global children by building a mentality against gender caste and racial discrimination. The main reason for me writing children’s literature is to strengthen the idea of unity and equality in them. So, while writing for children I try to make it a point that I speak and fight against such discriminations that prevails in the society. I worked in different media platforms including print, radio, television and online. The Reporter is a children’s book on how to report news. Madhyamamngalk Parayan Ullath deals with how each media should be used and understood. I am currently working on history of woman in media in Malayalam. I wrote short stories like “Kaumaram Kadannuvarunnathu”, “Sheethanidra” and so on. Ammakkuttiyude Lokam, Ammakkuttiyude School, Ammakkuttiyude Albhuthangal, Miliyude Aaakasham, Rosum Koottukarum are my contributions to children’s literature.
Who are your favourite writers?
In western literature, the writers I most happily read is Orhan Pamuk, Milan Kundera among others. One of my favourite books is the Story of San Michele.
But someone who entirely changed my life and influenced me personally is Vaikom Muhammad Basheer. In college my postgraduate dissertation topic was “Contribution of K Balakrishnan and Kaumudi in the Growth of Malayalam Journalism”. As part of that I send letters to every prominent writer who wrote in Kaumudi magazine requesting to answer my questions. Most of them answered in sentences and paragraphs. But Basheer send me an 18-pages long letter in which he spoke about Balakrishnan and Kaumudi but the letter portrayed a sort of[LJ1] attachment. He called me ‘Ponnambily’ and he used to write me letters till he died. Whenever I went to Kozhikode, I never came back without visiting him. We had a very intimate relationship. Basheerinte Kathukal published by DC books is a collection of letters he wrote to me. I wrote a book about him, the way he talks, his letters, my relationship with him and how he changed my life. The book is titled Basheer Enna Anugraham.
M.T. Vasudevan Nair was also someone who helped me from a very young age. He unveiled the first copy of Beena Kanda Russia @ 40 as well as the 40th year special edition of Beena Kanda Russia, while at his home as it was during the time of Corona. I was able to work under him for several years as well as M. P. Narayana Pillai; I consider it as my luck that I was able to work with these legends.
Which is your most treasured travel experience?
The travel I am doing for my present book Nooru Nooru Kaserakal is my favourite. I have been to cities and to Charminar, the Taj Mahal and so on, as a tourist but the travels that attracted me the most is where I meat real people. We get to know the real India when we travel to its remote villages. We see an India still in the clutches of discrimination and it makes us wonder how long it take for this to change. I am comfortable travelling in public and with common people. I stick to the development journalism we studied in our college. Apart from that my Russian travel and its experiences still remains close to my heart.
What do you think of the present situation of women in India?
I never felt like a weaker sex at home. We were three daughters and my father never brought us up in a way to believe that we were inferior. My mother read a lot and was a liberated person who knew freedom. Therefore, in my home I never felt the marginalization. While working for Network of Woman in Media, an all India collective, I realised the discrimination. In 2010, we created a group for women in media in Kerala at Kozhikode, Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam where we continuously worked for 10 years, conducting programs, discussing and involving in the problems of woman in media. I was the coordinator and then I realized that even in this field there is gaslighting and woman find it very difficult to be journalists. They do not get assignments or respect like their male colleagues. Even the working time and situations were difficult. There were problems in marriage as well as familial life.
When it comes to the problems faced by woman, especially in Kerala, they are highly educated but it still remains a society that completely refuses to change from the patriarchal concepts. The people who give a lot of speeches relating to development and improvements refuses to bring about those changes in their own household. It is like they remove their shoes of development outside their house before getting inside. They see movies, read books and have discussions while the woman has to do the household work. We are not able to stay away from household works. There is no solution if we are not able to bring about a change in the familial structure. As I worked in the ground level, I was able to understand further issues when I talked to woman who are panchayat presidents and so on. They told me that they wake up as early as 3 a.m. in the morning, finishes their chores at home and then go to work in the panchayat. Even though there are exceptions, in whichever part of India I go I hear this from woman, that they only go for their works after finishing their duties at the household. The guilt feeling that captures them if they do not do the work at home is something of a major issue. Even I feel it. Though the new generation is trying to break out of it, one of the reasons why people are leaving India is because of it. The society treats woman as possession. I will say that after the invention of mobile phones people are constantly being watched. It feels like the freedom they experienced in the past itself is lost. The number of men who stand apart from patriarchy are very few. Patriarchy is something that is prevalent in the minds of men and women as well. If these does not change, I do not know whether we will have a total liberation. When a woman comes to the house after marriage in many cases it is the mother-in-law who creates the problem. That is what we need to assess. If the son behaves badly to his wife, his mother should not blindly support her son but stand with who is actually right. If she believes that he needs to be corrected and act on it the problem solves to an extend there.
Woman with talent is seen as something that is a trouble. The definitions of a good wife, good daughter, good mother is imposed on every woman. If someone is trapped in it then there is no escape. We lose our identity in the struggle to be “good”. If a woman thinks that the freedom to spend time for yourself or to travel is something bad then that becomes a problem. Talking about position of woman in society and politics, The Women’s Reservation Bill is something that is not really needed to give women their positions. If the political parties have the right commitment, they can give the seats without the said reservation.
There is a great assimilation seen in the society. In my life I have done as much contribution as one can give to the four types of media but when it comes to discussions on comprehensive contributions regarding journalism, I never felt that anyone would consider a woman or recognizes and give credit to her work. It is very rare. We are only called to discuss matters regarding women. They believe that we only know to discuss problems regarding women and gender issues but we too studied about other issues just like men and work like them as well but still we are treated differently. They believe that the voice of a woman is not something that holds power and that it is not a responsible one. I had personal experiences.
Now there is a lot of difference but I think each woman fought and struggled to win these changes. In our houses and society women are being gaslighted to believe that if they go beyond the set norms, they become a bad person, this in turn pushes women to abandon their dreams. If the gender issues are not addressed properly in textbooks and media it will be difficult to escape it.
Did your personal life affect your writing?
I had a lot of personal tragedies. My sister who was11/4 years younger than me suffered from Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and died. We grew up together as twins and this affected our family a lot. I am a person who gets deeply affected by things. My father had cancer and I spent 4 years taking care of him. Soon after my father’s death, my uncle to whom I was the closest passed away. These deaths affected my mother which led her to have Alzheimer’s disease in her 70s. She suffered for eight years before passing and she always needed someone next to her. I wrote in between all of this. After that due to the constant travel and hospital cases there was a lot going on. But I am a person who finds a lot happiness in writing. Writing is something which helped me and supported me through these personal tragedies. It was the writing, travel, love and friendship that helped me. If at all I was able to do so much at my age; I did it because of my love for those things. Parallel to this I have a search for my inner self. Even though I was depressed for a while after my sister’s passing, as a person who regularly meditates and do positive practices it helped me not to get caught eternally in these tragedies and to continue positively. I believe it is due to the strong search for myself, it is not something religious but rather something spiritual. Even though I am an older person now I am able to keep the same energy level of the Beena who wrote Beena Kanda Russia and that helps me to continue my work.