Showcasing a range of writers of diverse styles and sensibilities, this two-volume anthology constitutes a selection of the seminal works of innovative writing in Malayalam, the language of Kerala, which has in recent years exerted a profound influence on the Indian literary imagination. The product of a fruitful alliance of writers and translators, this anthology represents a century and more of poetry, drama, fiction, and non-fictional prose by authors from varied social and cultural backgrounds. Both volumes are supported by a general introduction, introductions to individual sections, and biographical notes on the authors.
The contents of this volume, drawn from poetry, drama, and prose, demonstrate a creative struggle to rebuild tradition from a new perspective and signal a phenomenon that emphasizes the status of Malayalam as the language of social imagination.
P.P. Raveendran is professor emeritus at the School of Letters, Mahatma Gandhi University, Lerala, India.
G.S. Jayasree is Professor and head of the Institute of English, and Director of the Center for Women’s Studies, University of Kerala, India She is also the editor of Samyukta: A Journal of Gender & Culture.
This book is the result of a deeply felt need for a comprehensive anthology of modern Malayalam literature which would be useful alike to researchers, literary treasure hunters, and votaries of the language who can only read its literature in translation. When the proposal for such an anthology first came from Mini Krishnan of Oxford University Press about ten years ago, we were a little diffident, considering the daunting magnitude of the editorial work that involved a lot of translation, compilation, and revision. The project inched along for much longer than we thought it would, to the exasperation of all those involved. However, Mini has been steadfast in her support, and now we realize that it is to her that we owe the greatest share of gratitude in the preparation of this anthology. She has not remained a titular 'project editor', but has played an active role in executing the project, helping us edit and give shape to the final copies of the pieces included here.
A number of other friends have helped us in many important ways. Some by looking at our initial list of contents and suggesting inclusions, some by lending books that were not available in the market, others by extending moral support when we were on the verge of giving up, and a few by providing editorial help. These include Abhirami Sriram, Deepthi Ajayan, the late D. Vinayachandran, E.V. Ramakrishanan, KM. Krishnan, KN. Panikkar, K Radhakrishna Varier, K Satchidanandan, Jayasree Ramakrishnan, Lakshmi Sukumar, N. Sam, the late Paul George, P. Balachandran, P.S. Radhakrishnan, R. Saritha, R.E. Asher, Saji Mathew, Scaria Zacharia, Sherine Upot, Udaya Kumar, and V.C. Harris. We also acknowledge the goodwill and support of M.A. Baby, former minister for Education and Culture, Government of Kerala, who has been enthusiastic about this anthology right from its conception. His personal interest in the project facilitated financial assistance from the Department of Culture, Government of Kerala, which helped us in the initial years of the manuscript-preparation. For the remaining and significant funding that we required to finish the project, we owe to the generosity of Women's Initiatives, Thiruvananthapuram, the publisher of Samyukta: A Journal of Women's Studies, whose editors also provided help in some cases in the form of translators. The editorial collective of Haritham: Journal of the School of Letters also provided substantial support in locating translators. The book comprises a mix of translations already in print, published translations that needed revisions, and completely fresh translations done specially for the present anthology. Wherever we have been constrained to use earlier translations, we, as editors, have taken care to read them with contemporary eyes and make them up to date in terms of language and style. Notes, unless otherwise stated, are invariably by the editors. We are thankful to all the translators who have spontaneously obliged us, sometimes at a very short notice. A formal acknowledgement of the copyright holders appears at the end of the volume.
It is a platitude of historiography that historical developments seldom follow the chronology of decades and centuries. Historical events fall neatly and squarely within the time span of specific centuries only in narrative reconstructions performed by historians after the events themselves have receded into the past. This is no less true of developments in literary history. Although it might be useful for academic purposes to associate particular trends and movements in literature with centuries and decades, we also know that it would be undesirable to push such associations beyond a point. The methodological problems that literary historians face in defining such period concepts as 'romanticism' and 'modernism' are related, in a sense, to this knowledge.
It would be useful to begin this overview of Malayalam poetry of the twentieth century with the above cautionary note. Sensibilities never change overnight, and it would indeed be absurd to imagine that twentieth-century Malayalam poetry represents, in terms of sensibility, a clean departure from the current trend in the previous century. However, there is also a sense in which particular centuries can be associated with distinct literary trends and tendencies. The consensual use of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in south-Indian Kannada literature as the Age of Bhakri, or of the eighteenth century in European literature as the Age of Enlightenment, or of the early twentieth century in British literature as the Age of Modernism could be cited in this context. One can indeed talk about specific social and political processes that provided appropriate environments for the development of each of these literary trends in the cultures in question. A poetic sensibility is to be understood as the crystallization of the aesthetic, cultural, and sociopolitical dynamic at work in a society at a particular moment in history, and in Kerala of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this dynamic became manifest as a tension between the forces of what has often been described as 'tradition' and 'modernity"! 'Traditional' and 'modern', however, are not literary critical labels alone. A whole gamut of political, social, and cultural practices are signified by the two terms, and in the case of Indian literatures, they are also related to the constitution of the Indian nation and colonialism's role in the constitution of the nation. Look at some nineteenth-century developments, listed out almost at random, which together helped shape the society of Kerala as it evolved itself into a modern polity: the consolidation of British political power in the three regions of Thiruvitamkur, Kochi, and Malabar consequent to the fall of Velu Thampi, Paliath Achan, and Pazhassi Raja in the previous century; the introduction of English education and the starting of new schools and colleges; the founding of printing presses and the publication of printed books; the circulation of newspapers and journals; the demand by lower-caste women for the right to cover their breasts; the legal proscription of slavery; the uprisings by lower castes for the right to have access to public roads and public offices; Mahatma Ayyankali's ride in a decorated carriage to assert his personal freedom; the inauguration of the first textile mills and industrial workshops; the launching of a train service from Kerala to Madras; Sri Narayana Guru's consecration of an idol of Lord Siva at Aruvippuram; the submission of a 'Malayali Memorial' and subsequently an 'Ezhava Memorial' that pleaded for a fair representation of the Malayalis of all castes in government offices; and the launching of a number of women's magazines. It is a fact of history that Kerala proceeded towards modernity on the road buttressed by events like these. The same fact would also compel one to see that the poetic developments being examined here are framed and nurtured by the environment of social renaissance that evolved in the region from the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Though all literary genres were affected by the tension between tradition and modernity (which also led to a literary renaissance in almost all Indian languages at the turn of the century), it became more crucial, relatively speaking, for poetry because of the focused attention that language receives in the communication of poetic experience. Inasmuch as the poets of the time were eager to document and interpret the complexities of what they thought was the realiry around them, one might describe them as social interpreters who were motivated by an unconscious desire to capture the spirit of the unfolding social renaissance. Much as they aspired to do this, they were also hamstrung by the language of poetry, which, at the end of the nineteenth century, was either a faded echo of the mediocre traditions in Sanskrit, or a copy of the language of effete romanticism imbibed from some of the late Victorian English poets. It was an inability to comprehend and represent the 'essence' of a reality that was somewhat incomprehensible to them that bound together poets as diverse in sensibility as Venmani Acchan Namboodiri (1817-1891), Venmani Mahan Namboodiri (1844-1893), Keralavarma Valiya Koyil Thampuran (1845-1914), A.R. Rajaraja Varma (1863-1918), K.C Kesava Pillai (1868-1913), Kodungalloor Kunhikuttan Thampuran (1864-1913), CS. Subramaniam Potti (1875-1954), and V.C Balakrishna Panikkar (1889-1915). One might, following conventional critical wisdom, assess these writers in terms of their proximity to or distance from the dominant neoclassical spirit and the emerging romantic ethos. This indeed is another way of talking about the interplay of tradition and modernity in the literary culture of the day. The writers of the time obviously could not have escaped being influenced by the colonial literary ideology that presented itself in the form of the English literacy canon, a constituent of objective history that spoke in terms of such characteristics. Though some of the writers mentioned here recognized that reality was formed not merely by the 'facts' of objective history, but was a melange of dreams, desires, aspirations, fantasies, and subjective experiences, they nevertheless had no access to a language that could be deployed in articulating such experiences. True, the advocacy by some of these writers of a 'pure' Malayalam diction as opposed to a highly Sanskritized diction for poetic expression can today be perceived as an innovation. It, however, did not evolve into a culture of literacy response. It is against this background that the development of a new idiom and a new form in the writings of the poets, referred to as the poetic trinity in early-twentieth-century Malayalam, assumes significance.
Showcasing a range of writers of diverse styles and sensibilities, this two-volume anthology constitutes a selection of the seminal works of Innovative writing In Malayalam, the language of Kerala, which has in recent years exerted a profound influence on the Indian literary imagination. The product of a fruitful alliance of writers and translators, this anthology represents a century and more of poetry, drama, fiction, and non-fictional prose by authors from varied social and cultural backgrounds. Both volumes are supported by a general Introduction, introductions to Individual sections, and biographical notes on the authors.
This volume on fiction embodies the several transformations of the genre in the twentieth century. The stories and excerpts here demonstrate a resistance to historical linearity and illustrate Malayalam fiction's abiding fascination for experiment at the level of form and content.
Fiction is a type of articulation that adopts the specific rhetorical mode of narration for ordering and understanding the experience of the world. It is a form of narrative expression that communicates through language, a succession of real or imagined, yet meaningful, events organized in time. Narratives, however, are ubiquitous human practices found not only in fiction, but also in a number of places such as myths, histories, mimes, cartoons, comics, films, paintings, and news reports. From a historical perspective, narration of events used to be a way of sharing an experience, preparatory to weaving an elaborate social fabric. Colouring narratives with imagination came later when narrators, with verbal dexterity and expressive powers, started experimenting with the ways of capturing the unreserved attention of their listeners. This was the moment of the birth of oral storytelling. Tellers of tales in all societies can be regarded as raconteurs adept at reproducing their personal experiences in a pleasing fashion. The word 'tale' itself, as etymologists say, is related to real-life events and their oral recounting. The best tales, even today, are the ones that veer constantly between the extremes of the fantastic and the real, and often move into the grey area of what we might call fictive documentation.
From documentation to fiction, however, is a long journey, in the process of which the tale gets absorbed into the generic hierarchy of literature. The acknowledgement of the 'literary' happens at the moment when a narrative gets recognized as possessing certain extra-communicational qualities aimed at aesthetic intensification. However, this recognition is not a naive act. The very idea of ‘literature', as theorists today would claim, is the construct of a criticism which, while assuming and proclaiming its 'disinterestedness' and its ideological 'innocence', has constituted writing in a manner so as to reproduce and naturalize ideologically controlled values as 'literary' or 'aesthetic' features. It was in the possibility of the repeatability of these aesthetic features that a genre was set and a tradition stabilized.
Theoretical issues such as this as well as debates on what goes into the making of a 'tradition' confront the historian of ideas who sets out to trace the shifts in the flow of narratives in Malayalam during the past hundred and twenty years. Keeping in view the absurdity of arbitrarily fixing historical developments to dates on the calendar, this introduction attempts to explore the vicissitudes in the evolution of Malayalam fiction over the period mentioned. There is a general agreement among scholars today that the modalities of fictional writing in this country intersected and reinforced the institutions of colonial modernity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There were also counterveiling forces that sought to resist the hegemony of colonial culture by drawing upon the resources of native traditions. This gave rise to a complex scenario of cultural interaction where the historical processes of ideological consolidation, subversion, and containment gained a great deal of prominence. Consolidation, subversion, and containment, in fact, are three important aspects of the process of cultural churning that took place in most languages in India in and after the nineteenth century. The first refers typically to the ideological means whereby a dominant order seeks to perpetuate itself; the second, to the resistance to that order; and the third, to the containment of ostensibly subversive pressures. It is our belief that the interplay of tradition and modernity should be read along these multiple axes if one is to make sense of the evolution of the fictional context in Malayalam over the past hundred and twenty years.
The colonial project in the aesthetic domain can be understood as one which aimed at the creation of a politically passive subordinate class of literary 'subjects'. In maintaining the exclusiveness of the Western models, colonial scholars were engaged in promoting certain distinct features of writing that elevated literature to the status of the classical and the normative. It formed part of a strategy of ideological domination. Thus, the popularization of the novel form, which was the outcome of certain ideological interests in imperial Britain, translated itself into the perpetuation of analogous interests in the colonies. Values of liberal humanism were naturalized and the subjects were lulled into self- complacency on imagined notions of freedom and choice. A study of the social exchange involved in the process points to a certain aristocracy of taste, dependent upon the volume of transmitted cultural capital.
In order to gain a perspective on the exclusiveness of the colonial project, one will have to place this development within the long history of narrative traditions in Indian languages. Many of these traditions have not survived the tyrannies of history. A few, like some of the folk and native performance traditions referred to in the General Introduction, have indeed survived, and most of these indicate a plurality of cultural tastes, which cannot be reduced to the taste of the ruling class. In the colonialist's view, a work of art has meaning and interest only for someone who possesses the necessary cultural competence to decipher its code. This notion of taste, ahistorical as it is, is founded on a set of aesthetic principles that aims at the universalization of cultural dispositions that in reality are associated with particular social and economic interests. Without retreating into a theory of cultural relativism, one can imagine a situation where Western forms of narration were received and assimilated by traditions of imaginative writing in India that bore distinctively native traits of sensibility and cultural response. It is in this context that this introduction, through its five sections, sets out to examine how Western aesthetic values were naturalized in colonial India and how Indian forms of narration interacted with Western fictional forms, leading to the production of fictional genres that could discharge new and radically different functions in the postcolonial world.
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