The Weekly Kerala, published in 1957, was far ahead of its times. Its editor-publisher, the late P. V. Thampy, had a finger on the State’s pulse.
P. V. Thampy and The Weekly Kerala were well ahead of their times. One of Kerala’s first accredited journalists, Thampy was a Communist who left the camp, and became part of the ex-communists legion floated by six writers including Stephen Spender. Thampy remained a conscientious objector and perhaps carried bits and pieces of the ‘old uniform’ even when he was the press secretary of Chief Minister K. Karunakaran, rebellious, fiercely independent. Well-read, well-informed Thampy was a committed environmentalist and a keen political observer.
The Weekly Kerala, which he owned and edited, began publication from Ernakulam in 1957. Despite its limitations as an English publication with a strong Kerala flavour, it had a grab-bag of features, newsy articles by a regular group of writers that included some great names, regular advertisers; it had cartoons, illustrations, insightful editorials and stunning black-white photographs of the city.
A few years before The Weekly Kerala was launched, the city had the English weekly called Kerala Herald. “It was launched in 1954 and was perhaps the first of its kind in the State. Edited and published by S. K. Vasudevan from an office out of the present Congress office building, it was published for almost a year,” informs P. S. Sukumaran, who used to draw cartoons for this publication.
Thampy’s son Ranjit has preserved bound copies of the weekly. “The first issue must have come out on September 7, 1957. This is missing in the collection. What I have now is from the second issue onwards. Running this publication was a huge financial strain on my father. But he was so committed that he persisted till 1964-65,” says Ranjit.
Thumbing through issues of The Weekly Kerala is a virtual journey back in time. The pages were well designed; it had an interesting mix of news, features, stories and more. Most of the ingredients that make up today’s weeklies had regular space on those pages. Book review, children’s corner, recipes, market round-up, a stand alone photograph, along with the regular dose of political analysis and widely read editorials.
“This must have been Kerala’s first weekly. Thampy was a well-informed intellectual who had worked to give Deenabandhu, the Malayalam daily a face-lift. Being an English periodical it had its limitations but it certainly discussed some very vital issues pertaining to the State and provided space for literature,” says senior journalist K. M. Roy.
The pages of the weekly, yellowed with age, hold a treasure of news and very pointed analyses. There is news of how Joseph Mundassery, the then Minister of Education, and former editor of Navajeevan, was convicted under section 501 IPC and sentenced to pay a fine of Rs. 50 or in default undergo one month’s simple imprisonment on a charge of defamation; an interview by the ‘political correspondent’ with KPCC president K. A. Damodaran on the ‘current political situation in Kerala’, short stories by reputed writers such as Malayatoor Ramakrishnan, M. P. Paul etc. and editorials by Scrutator.
“I was just 19 when I first met Thampy sir. Since then, till he passed away, I remained his student if you can call it so. It was he who first instilled in me this passion for the environment. He got a printout of Indira Gandhi’s Stockholm Convention speech and made me read it. During those days when environment issues were hardly discussed The Weekly Kerala had so many articles and editorials on it. Those about the Mullaperiyar Dam by Scrutator, a pseudonym adopted by Panampilly Govinda Menon, were prophetic,” says V. D. Satheesan, MLA.
Priced at 20 paise, the annual subscription rates were Rs.10. The Weekly was printed and published by V. I George at Mar Themotheus Memorial Printing and Publishing House, Ernakulam.
“I knew Radha Chechi who used to work as a stenographer for the weekly. She died a few years back. All the copies were typed out by her and sent to the press after it was proof checked by my father. In fact, I suspect that most of the articles, including the recipes that had no by line were by my father. I have been fascinated by his foresight. One of the articles in 1957 talks in detail about Cochin’s claim for a shipyard and the unrivalled advantages of the city,” informs Ranjit.
Changes in size, layout
By the 60s there is a visible change in the size and layout of the weekly. The stunning photographs, mostly by Kaipallil Vasu, a freelance photographer, the buzzing ‘News in Kerala’, some of the columns were all discontinued. The pages became grey and dull. “My father was running short of money. There were very few advertisements, except for the regular ones. He tried to make it up by some special pages like the supplement on circus and the one celebrating the seventh year of publication. But all that was not enough,” says Ranjit.
Winding up the weekly Thampy started India Press Features, a news agency, continued to freelance in English and Malayalam, and was actively involved in environmental issues. After being part of the Indian National Congress assembly election campaign Thampy went on to work as press secretary of K. Karunakaran (1983-85). Despite mutual respect between them, Thampy quit following ideological differences regarding various issues.
He continued to remain an ideologue, independent.