Former Vice Chancellor of Malayalam University K. Jayakumar has said that the first proper Malayalam novel, Indulekha , was a reflection of Kerala society that was opening its eyes to modernism and was wonderstruck. Opening a discussion on the novel, written by Oyyarathu Chandu Menon, 130 years after it was first published, Mr. Jayakumar said that the writer was trying to depict the social conditions of his times and that gauging the political correctness of his views based on today’s understanding was pointless.
“When Chandu Menon stated that women should be taught English, the underlying message is just that women should be educated. It is the basic tenet of feminism,” he said, adding that the relevance of Indulekha was that it was a cross-section of the times when it was written.
Literary critic M.M. Basheer said that the claims that Indulekha was a copy of Benjamin Disraeli’s Henrietta Temple was baseless and that the two novels had nothing in common. “One should read Henrietta Temple to realise how original Chandu Menon was,” he said.
Mr. Basheer went on to explain the purpose of Chapter 18 in the novel which stands out from the rest of the content, for its political views and discussions of happenings in the world.
“That chapter was written on purpose. In fact, the purpose of writing Indulekha was to write down his views,” he said.
Writer Khadeeja Mumtaz criticised that Chandu Menon as well as his male protagonist Madhavan possessed the upper caste gaze and that the poverty-stricken face of India of the times was absent in Indulekha . “Madhavan believes in superficial development and the contrast between Indulekha and other novels of the times with Dalit themes was tangible,” she said.
However, the character Indulekha could be considered the first feminist character in Malayalam fiction and the novel was intended to promote renaissance of the Nair community, she added.
The event was organised by Literature Foundation. District president of the Foundation Ranish Perambra presided over the event. Writers V.R. Sudheesh and Sreesailam Unnikrishnan spoke on the occasion.