The novel Indulekha, written by Oyyarathu Chandu Menon in Malayalam, was published in the year 1889. It was the first attempt to fulfil the aesthetic requirements of the novel as an art form in Malayalam. It initiated the genre in the language, and is therefore considered a landmark text in the history of Malayalam literature. But more than that, this novel is a fine social document, detailing the changes that took place in society in general and the Nair community in particular.
The novel tells the story of the love affair between the young and beautiful Indulekha and Madhavan, both members of the same Nair tharavad, Poovally. Parangodi Parinayam by Kizhakkeppattu Ramankutty Menon has a plot similar to that of Indulekha . The hero is Parangodan Marar, an English educated lawyer like Madhavan. The heroine is Parangodikutty, also schooled in Western ways like Indulekha. From their childhood, they had decided to marry each other. The situation gets tense when Parangodikutti’s relatives decide to marry her to her uncle Kandappa Menon’s son Pangassa Menon. She writes about this to Parangodan Marar and both of them are worried.
But, to the shock of Parangodikutty who is under the impression that Pangassa Menon was enamoured by her, the latter decides to marry Ammukutty, who he feels would more fit more easily into his tharavad. Pangassa Menon tries to convince his mother his reasons for rejecting Parangodikutty. In the course of the explanations, he critiques the defects that had crept in when English education, customs and manners were introduced in the country. The novel ends with Parangodan Marar’s realisation that Parangodikutty has not been married to Pangassa Menon as was believed. However, the lovers do not enter into marriage immediately. Unlike in Indulekha , the hero and heroine decide to wait for some more before getting married in keeping with the English custom of courting.
Parangodi Parinayam, however, has not received any commendable critical acclaim in Malayalam literature to this date. Ramankutty Menon was inspired to write this novel on reading an article by Vengayil Kunjiraman Nayanar in the magazine Vidyavinodini in which the latter had despised the profusion of substandard imitations of Indulekha such as Indumathiswayamvaram (1892), Lakshmikesavam (1892) and Sukumari (1897). Parangodi Parinayam also has a plot similar to that of Indulekha . It is a burlesque presenting the issues raised solemnly in Indulekha in a mocking tone.
In the Indian context we find that the emergence of the novel as a new genre in all the regional languages coincided with the emergence of the aesthetic of the modern. It had the explicit purpose of incorporating corresponding societies into the colonial project of modernity. Colonial modernity in its discursive mode was sustained in the vernacular imagination through negotiation, adaptation, and cultural translation. It was in print—totemic to modernity and materially enshrining its message—that this ‘translation’ found its paradigmatic expression.
Parangodi Parinayam points to the fact that critical assessments of colonial discourses were simultaneous with the moments of their emergence and that all systems of dominance carry along with them traits of resistance too. It is this dialectics of assent and dissent to colonial modernity that Parangodi Parinayam has effectively captured. But did this lead to the near total black out of the text?
How else can we account for the acceptance of a text like Indulekha and the rejection of a text like Parangodi Parinayam?
(A new fortnightly column on the many avatars of women in Malayalam literature. G. S. Jayasree is head of the Institute of English and editor of Samyuktha .)