Keezhmadu is an agrarian village on the banks of the Periyar, sandwiched between Aluva and Vazhakulam. Many people pass by this scenic village on the Aluva-Munnar road every day. Not everyone, however, knows the contributions of Keezhmadu to the cultural and political life of the State. In an effort to chronicle the history of their village, the Keezhmadu Panchayat Poura Samrakshana Samithi has published ‘Keezhmadu Directory: The History of a Village.’ The book, written by P.A. Mahboob, a journalist from the village, has compiled information on the rich history and culture of the village.
“Not many people know that P.J. Thomas, the first Economic Advisor of independent India, lived here. He was also the Rajya Sabha member from Kerala from 1957,” said Mr. Mahboob.
The village’s active cultural life and its location catalysed social reform in Keezhmadu. Playing a key role in breaking social mindsets were the many libraries and reading rooms of the village. Most important among them is the Kuttamassery Reading Room. The library had a humble beginning in 1949, operating from a small rented room in the village. Eighty members of the library had access to 200 books and two daily newspapers, the book says. The library shifted location many times in its early days. In 1952, the library was able to move to a building of its own. Soon after the new building was completed, the small library was visited by none other than India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi, and grandsons Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi.
“They were passing through Keezhmadu with Dr. Thomas and many others. Security arrangements for the Prime Minister weren’t so strict then. Nehru even stopped his open car to meet some children who had gathered to meet their ‘Chacha,’” said Mr. Mahboob. The Prime Minister visited Kuttamassery library and officially declared it open on December 12, 1952, a proud day for the village. The library has now fallen on bad days and an effort is on in the village to revive it.
Keezhmadu was also home to Ajantha studio, the country’s first cooperative studio. The studio was set up in 1957-58 by Aleppey Vincent, who acted in Malayalam cinema’s first talkie Balan, and journalist Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan, based on whose work the film Celluloid on filmmaker J.C. Daniel was made. People bought shares worth Rs.10 and above for the Kerala Co-operative Cine Society Ltd., No. 3555 to support the studio. Though several films were made here, the studio closed down due to losses years later. Today, a school stands in place of the building that once housed Ajantha studio.
‘Keezhmadu Directory’ also covers the social reform movements of the village, which saw the presence of Sree Narayana Guru, Sahodaran Ayyappan, Kumaran Asan, Ayyankali and others. At Valmiki hill at Keezhmadu, Narayana Guru contemplated his philosophy and spent time in meditation. The village, close to Guru’s ‘Advaita Ashramam’ at Aluva, witnessed struggles against casteism and oppression of women. Sree Narayanagiri Sevika Samajam, started by Parvathy Amma, wife of Sahodaran Ayyappan, in 1964 stands here. The Samajam offers protection to destitute girls and women. The State-wide movement against the norm prohibiting lower caste women from covering their upper body also resonated in Keezhmadu. Kochukali, a native of the village, is still remembered here for her protest against inhuman treatment at the hands of the upper castes.