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A catalyst that triggered progressive literature

A catalyst that triggered progressive literature
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In Malayalam literature, it gave rise to a revolutionary romanticism and socialist realism

Maybe it wasn’t all that fortuitous that Sahodaran Ayyappan chose to break the social taboo of inter-caste dining (misrabhojanam) at coastal Cherai in Kerala a few months ahead of the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Ayyappan was arguably the first to introduce the word ‘sakhakkale’ (comrades) in Malayalam. It appeared in a poem titled Ezhavodbodhanam (1918) in which he urged the youth to reform a decadent Kerala emulating the Russian example.

The Sahodara Sangam movement stormed the bastions of reactionary beliefs and practices by heralding rationalism, egalitarianism and socialist principles.

But the ground for social and political resistance through art had already been set by the likes of Kumara Guru, popularly known as Poikayil Appachan. Five years before the revolution was to happen, in 1912, Swadesabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai had brought out a biography of Karl Marx in Malayalam, the first in an Indian language. Decades later, noted communist leader and author of Pattabakki K. Damodaran republished the work with an introduction.

Around the time Sahodaran Ayyappan promoted socialism through his writings and actions, Mithavadi (The Moderate), a journal published by C. Krishnan, carried articles on the ‘power of the people’ in the context of continuing monarchy in Travancore.

Writer P. Kesavadev, who later became the editor of Thozhilali, had taken it upon himself to talk to the working class the ideals of communism, giving them the hope of emancipation.

Kesari Balakrishna Pillai introduced writings from around the world in Malayalam, upsetting colonial stereotypes about literature. Playwright C.J. Thomas contributed to the social upheaval with pamphlets on ‘Religion and Communism’ and ‘Socialism’.

The world was witnessing a major churn. Writers, thinkers and artists were coming together for a world without war and one where free thought is a given.

In the wake of the Paris meeting initiated by Romain Rolland and the all-India progressive literateurs’ meet in Lucknow was born the Jeeval Sahithya Sangham in 1937, in which Kesavadev participated.

It eventually grew into the Purogamana Sahithya Sanghadana (progressive literary organisation) with M.P. Paul as its president and noted writers such as Joseph Mundassery, Ponkunnam Varkey, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and Kesavadev taking an active part in it.

“But the spirit of communism took expression in Malayalam in the realistic writings of a group of writers including Cherukad and Kesavadev.

“Poets ranging from Changampuzha Krishna Pillai to Edassery and Vyloppilli captured the spirit of the socialist philosophy in their works,” says critic M.K. Sanu, former MLA.

Political tone opposed

Sanu master also points out that the starkly political tone of the progressive literary movement’s manifesto presented by E.M.S. Namboodiripad was strongly opposed by many including M.P. Paul and Thakazhi.

In the decades that followed the revolution also saw several key Russian writers such as Maxim Gorky and Mayakovsky being translated and widely read in Malayalam.

The Communist Party in Kerala made good use of revolutionary songs rendered by singers like Medini besides Kathaprasangam and Ottanthullal to popularise the ideology. Critic K.E.N. Kunhahamed says the progressive literary movement in Kerala was the continuation of Kerala renaissance.

“The revolution gave hopes of a brave new universalism founded on the strength of the unity of the downtrodden. In Malayalam literature too, it gave rise to a revolutionary romanticism and socialist realism.”

But the crisis, he said, was that while it was rather easy to embrace the communist ideals politically, it was a humongous task culturally.

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2018 11:44:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/russian-revolutions-influence-in-malayalam-literature/article19993174.ece