The rise of the subaltern hero in Malayalam fiction

The cover of the special edition of Odayil Ninnu.  

Amma suggested that if Pappu is sent to school, he will no longer trouble us in the daytime. Achhan and chettan agreed and the permission was obtained from the landlord …” Thus begins, matter-of-factly, Odayil Ninnu, a ground-breaking novel in Malayalam literature that portrayed, for the first time, the life and times of a rickshaw puller.

In the 75th year of its publication, the novel and its trailblazing author, Keshava Dev, were remembered here on Thursday and a special edition of the book brought out by Poorna Publications was released. It has a new foreword by C. Radhakrishnan.

Writer George Onakkoor, who released the book, said that Keshava Dev’s contributions to the progressive streak in Malayalam literature was undeniable as he always stood on the people’s side. He was part of a generation of writers who were influenced by the freedom struggle, the October revolution and communist ideology. Mr. Onakkoor said that when Odayil Ninnu was released in 1942, there had been none like it before. At a time when literature was confined to the heroics of the royals and their cronies, it dealt with the plight of the common man.

“Pappu, the protagonist, was a real rebel. He fought with landlordism, his patriarchal uncle, and the school teacher who discriminated against students based on their economic status,” Mr. Onakkoor said. He pointed out that the values of compassion, humanity and human dignity that Pappu radiated throughout the novel, was an inspiration for future generation of writers.

On compassion

Writer S. Saradakkutty said that much before terms such as “the marginalised” and “the downtrodden”, Keshava Dev had dealt with the lives of the depressed in his novels such as Odayil Ninnu. “Pappu pulls rickshaw for a lifetime to take care of a family to which he did not belong, and in the end, stricken with tuberculosis, he walks away coughing. This shows us what compassion is…,” she said.

Referring to the beef festivals being celebrated now as a form of anti-fascist protest, Ms. Sharadakkutty said Dev had conducted “go mamsa sadya” decades ago. She, however, said that the Left movement in the State had not properly studied his contributions to the trade union movement though even stalwarts like E.M.S. Namboodirippad had admitted that he had looked up to Keshavadev’s writings on Marxism. The Central Sahitya Akademi too had organised a seminar on Odayil Ninnu at St. Joseph’s College, Devagiri.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 10:02:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kozhikode/the-rise-of-the-subaltern-hero-in-malayalam-fiction/article19511216.ece

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