T P Rajeevan

Malayalam Literature

From the General to the Particular: Malayalam Literature Today 

Malayalam literature today is a potpourri of isms with everything in vogue: from fossilized classicism to nascent postmodernism; from sheer pragmatism to unconditional idealism; and, from unbecoming opportunism to inflexible romanticism. One can feel the scent of all. 

Turn the pages of any literary magazine. A genuine reader will naturally get confused about the age he or she lives in, whether it is the first half of the last century or the present, because what often precedes or follows a poem written in the style of, say, the late Ullor Parameswara Iyer, the pedantic poet of Malayalam poetry's formative period or a story that reminds one of Vengayil Kunhiraman Nayanar, the first generation short story writer in the language, will be a piece by an avant-garde writer. So, the road map of Malayalam literature's contemporary landscape and time scheme is complex and conflicting. In such a scenario of varied taste and divergent sensibilities, it is problematic to formulate an all-inclusive opinion about today's Malayalam Literature. 

However, before taking account of the recent trends in literature, there, it seems, is a categorical change in the social image of a writer that deserves a mention. There was a time when the people irrespective of their religious, caste and political leanings cocked an ear at the writers, to know what they said about issues concerning the society. In those days, the image of a writer the people had in mind was that he or she would be an enlightened individual, socially committed and ethically responsible. This was mainly because the writers of those days, either directly or through their works, were actively involved with the social and political movements of the period. Some with the National Movement, inspired by the Gandhian thoughts; and some with the Communist and the Socialist, triggered by the egalitarian principles. Writing for those writers -- fiction, poetry, play or essay, whatever the genre isówas not a career, but an extension of their social activities and the essence of their being, the Dharma. They were not concerned about the commercial prospect of their works. What they were essentially intent on was to what extent their works reflected the life around them in its entirety. 

It is this image which was built upon the mutual faith between writers and their readers that seems to have got lost with the emergence of Modernism in the 1960s in which literature became more a play with language and experimentation with techniques than creatively articulating with the social associations. Consequently, writers generally withdrew into themselves leading to redefining the use of literature as a material for academic study rather than for experiential appreciation. 

However, at present, there seems to be a resistance against the surfeit of academicism by giving preference for reclaiming the legacy of life-oriented writing and restoring public faith in literature. The works of the writers who came into prominence in recent years testify to the homecoming of writers. A host of subjects which until now remained outside the domain of literary representations like the issues of women, the tragic predicament of the dalits and the tribes, and the social dilemma of the religious minorities have begun to figure in fiction, poetry and analytical essays. Equally important is the new initiatives at exploring the local history, myths, beliefs and idioms. If modernism with its European roots mainly propounded a sort of universalism in themes and the language, what demarcates the new writings in Malayalam, the post-modern, if we can label it so, is its focus on the regional, the specific, and the particular. This shift in perspective is best exemplified in the works of K P Ramanunny, Subash Chandran, K. R. Meera, T. D. Ramakrishnan and E. Santhosh Kumar as novelists and Kelpetta Narayanan, Anitha Thampi, P. P. Ramachandran, P. Raman and Anawr Ali as poets. 

Of all the above, perhaps, the most noticeable feature of the present-day scenario is the appearance of women writers whose presence in the main is marked in poetry. Poets like Kanimol, K. V. Sumithra, and Rosy Thampi write with a first-time energy and a feeling of freedom unparalleled in the state's literary history which thus far remained predominantly a 'man's world.' What gives these writers the new impetus is the advent and spread of the new technologies. In the past, no ideology, including the ones that openly and vehemently advocated liberation, proved to be effective in reality, in freeing women from the inhibitions about the social decorum and the mental clutches of morality. Now, technology through its gadgets such as cell phones and computers and the vast world of experience, information, and the exposure to the unknown they open up through networks provide a space and time where women feel free to express themselves. In this sense, technology has become a kind of ideology in today's Malayalam literature. 

This article was originally published in Muse India


Thachom Poyil Rajeevan is a bilingual poet, novelist and literary reviewer based in Kerala who writes both in Malayalam, his native language, and in English. He has published three volumes of poetry in Malayalam and a collection of poems in English titled He Who Was Gone Thus. His poems have been translated into several languages and published in Europe and the U.S.. He is also an editor for Yeti Books, the first publishing house in Kerala to publish exclusively in English.



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