O. Chandu Menon of biography

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There are many immortal persons who live after death in the literary ambit of Kerala than in any other sphere of life.  It is a basic philosophical fact that great people don’t cease to exist with their death.  And it is seen that, in literature, writers who are dead live a more vibrant life than the living writer.  This experience is the lasting lesson of the eternity of literature.  Tread the paths of immortality by loving humanity, says the Bible.  Literature too is a path where worldliness is being transgressed.  Mere materialistic reasoning is of no use in the valuation and enjoyment of literature.  There may appear some limitations.  O. Chandumenon through his works created the basic culture of our society.

In the material world two things become costly with the course of time, as per accountancy. That is what I have learned.(My first graduation is B.com.)  It is utmost civility to a guest to serve a two hundred year old wine in a feast.  Any wine bought that evening, how much costly may it be, will not match that old wine.  Another one is wood. That too becomes costly in the lapse of time. So timber is a synonym of constancy.  Just  like this few writers too get their value increased in the course of time.

In the preface to ‘Indulekha’ Chandumenon states the work has twin objectives.  One is  to entertain and the other is to create knowledge.  He also says he has written it for one of his dearest. In a time when social life was not so broadened it was new books that offered an alternative life.  He presents an advocate Karpuraiyer in his second, unfinished work ‘Sharada’.  When someone went to invite him to speak about a case, his reply was:  “I am reading a book.  Would it be enough if I come after reading three more pages.  I wish to finish it”.  It is good if our ‘grandhasala’ workers remember it.

Books were a rarity then.  Scarcity creates value. Many graduates who do some jobs or   search for a job at that time, spent their time by reading books.  Chandumenon was a voracious reader of English books.  His reading became more active after going to Calicut as Sub Judge.  It was books and reading that wrote the picture of renaissance.  Book creates books.  Reading makes more books.

A society which enjoys literacy expresses its gratitude to books on which literacy is built up, by making more books.  There was such a value at that time.  In his preface to the novel ‘Indulekha’ Chandumenon calls it ‘novel book’.  While we commemorate Oyyarath Chandumenon we consider him as a great artist who designed one of the solid stones of the basement of our life. View points of reading change from time to time. Such difference in perspective creates new outlook. I don’t mean a book has so many meanings.  Each reading should be considered as a search for the complete meaning.  Literary critics of our time argue that there is no book but only reading.  That is an exaggeration. What is the relevance of books if there is reading only?  Can you read without book?  Reading is a response to the book. It is a reaction to the book by one who know how to read.  Each book has its own concept which is its being.  It cannot be changed.  Reading is not making the book eliminated, but making it expanded.  We should read the great literary works again and again.  That is why Karl Marx stated that  he reads Shakespeare again and again in an interval of five years.

‘Indulekha’ proves that the prose too is a literary work akin to poetry.   There were prose works even before that; just like ‘Kundalatha’.  But no one can read ‘Kuntalatha’ a second time.  Kuntalatha’s existence is only historical.  It was not proved then even in poetry that one can make books with a language that is used in day to day life, and that could be read at home. Kunjan Nambiar succeeded to an extent here.  A trace of Kunjan’s wonderful genius is there in Chandumenon.  Kunjan Nambiar is born, brought up and lived in southern Malabar and Travancore. Chandumenon is a Malabari who born in North Malabar and went to south Malabar.

There is a lineage who made the northern Malabar the smiling face of Kerala.  Chandumenon is the first genius of that lineage.  He made us laugh. C.V. Raman Pillai who came from the south couldn’t do it.  Chandumenon  is the first of our laughter in prose.  Kunjan Nambiar wrote visual poetry.  The spectacle and the song in the background create a blended emotional approach.  When the meaning is picturised it is easily understood.  That conquers the heart.

Humour was quiet easy and natural for Kunjan.  Even his attire shines with humour.  Audience sets apart their sorrows and imbibes the amused simplicity of the air while he says the story through gestures.  But Chandumenon was creating humour in unusual places.  Normally at that time none laughed on reading prose.  They might have laughed thinking of this toil with prose.   Prose was such an inferior business.  Thus Chandumenon made the first rising of prose.  The first step to the renaissance in society was this rising of Malayalam prose literature.  In truth, it is not a rising but the first creation itself.  If you say renaissance, it may seem there was something earlier which has gone dormant.  There was no such work in Malayalam prose earlier.

Chandumenon has read the works of many English novelists.  But his place in Malayalam literature is far above their place in English literature.  He was presenting the heavenly beauty in the midst of nothingness.  And that too, violating all the conventional literary yardsticks.  In this, the plot and characters are mostly inspired of women.  Women speak a household language.  Now a days it is changing.  The women even in Kalidasa’s ‘Shakuntalam’ speak ordinary language.  Our household language is our natural language.  Chandumenon too used this in his novel.

The speciality of renaissance is that it uplifts a country culturally.    Renaissance always takes an epoch with it.  An effort to enrich it with culture.  So, the literary culture of a renaissance period is a “horizontalisation”.  A development parallel to our life.  A progress through an expanse.  A lot of people reads it at the same time and that is the feature of  “horizontalisation”.   Upto 1981 there were 68 editions for ‘Indulekha’.  An edition for about one and a half year. That is the esteem for the works ‘Indulekha’ and ‘Sharada’ of Chandumenon.   ‘Indulekha’ was written during the initial  period of Indian National Congress.   Congress comes up in the 18th chapter of the novel.  We can hear the soft voice of Congress’ initial period in the protagonist Madhavan.  He has the social- political views of Congress. That was a revolutionary change of that time.  There is a detailed discussion about English education in the 18th chapter.  Whether it is a lustre or a burden to ‘Indulekha’, was a topic of hot discussion among our writers and critics even from the beginning.  Such a detailed discourse, taking every aspect of the subject could be done in a philosophical treatise.  But it is not congruous in a literary work.

M.P. Paul ridiculed it as ‘piece of rock’ in the path of appreciation.  It might not have been so unbearable if Chandumenon could place these long discussion as pieces of dialogues throughout the novel.  It stands apart as Gita. Gita is of 18 chapters.  Chandumenon might have a doubt that he failed to tell what he intended even after completing 17 chapters.  The whole 18th chapter deals with profound discussion on women, education, English education, the social set up of the contemporary Nair families and so on.  So it is the hands of Chandumenon that lit the first wick on the thresholds of our literature. The heroine Indulekha is introduced as a representative of reformation attitude.  The novel leads us to the era of renaissance.

It is said that, ‘Sharada’ was planned to be of three parts.  That is why P.K. Balakrishnan called it a ‘one and a quarter novel’.  Still that ‘one and a quarter’ novel charmed us as a full novel. In my childhood Chandumenon came to me on the hoofs of the advocates of this novel.  Sharada is not a matured lady as Indulekha.  She is a small girl.  So we cannot predict where the story is leading to. Many tried to complete the novel.  The major issue in the novel is a lawsuit. It raises a big question whether the girl born of a love marriage with an affluent family and later separated out of quarrel,  has a legal right for the assets of that family.  ‘Indulekha’ was written in 1889 and ‘Sharada’ in 1892.  Chandumenon died in 1899.  Perhaps he might not have got time enough to complete it because of his busy official engagements. Perhaps his perspectives might have changed during the course of time.

There is not a character like Madhavan in ‘Sharada’.   Chandumenon presented Brahmins as a vehicle to pour all of his hatred.  We may feel dismay for Suri Nampoothiripad while we see the breakdown in the conversation between him and Indulekha- how much embarrassed is this man infront of a woman.  But Suri Nampoothiri has only one desire.  A desire to be engaged in a temporary marriage(bandhavam) with any woman he sees.  When he saw Indulekha he asked for bandhavam.  As Indulekha was not ready for it, he desired to marry her relative Kalyanikutty.  She also didn’t like him but was forcefully taken in a litter, just like taking away a pig.  When Suri Nampoothiri happened to see her maid he wished to marry her also.

It was Moorkoth Kumaran who first wrote the biography of Chandumenon.  He was the bosom friend of Chandumenon. He has a usage in it: “Aarumillenkil Cheeru” (If there is no one else, Cheeru will do)!  Exactly that was the character of Suri Nampoothiripad.  You can see a moralistic trend in ‘Indulekha’ which shattered the boundaries of vulgarity and elegance.

A renaissance symbol which is evident in ‘Indulekha’ is not to be seen in ‘Sharada’.  There is not a character like Suri Nampoothiripad.  But the major distinction of both these novels is the presence of an Indian atmosphere beyond a Keralite one.  Madhavan goes to Madras, then to Bombay and later to Culcutta through the shores of Kerala.  Chandumenon made Madhavan to speak about his notion of British people.  But those thoughts are historical blunders. His reading of history is wrong.  He imagined that, just like Normans and English people merged after the Norman conquest, Indians and British will unite at last.  He couldn’t believe the aim of Indian National Congress to achieve freedom.  He failed to foresee the climax moments of the desire for freedom in which we shouted to foreigners “Quit India”.  While we raised our hands for denial, he took it as for embracing the white people.

Though Indulekha rejected Suri Nampoothiripad, she has no reluctance to allow him to enter her house.  Hunting was the hobby of the British in those times.  The same was the case with those who studied English.   Madhavan was an example.  Indulekha and Madhavan thought that, since they have got English education they are aware of their rights and that should be granted to them.  We cannot see a broad humanity in Chandumenon’s ‘Indulekha’.  But that is a literary work which has got the stamp of a particular period of time.  Perhaps that period could have produced only such thoughts.  But my worry is that, why there is not a trace of transformation in his work ‘Sharada’ which is written after three years.  You cannot even understand from Chandumenon’s work that there were many other communities in Kerala during that time.  He gives only a limited picture of Brahmin- Nair clash.

Through ‘Indulekha’ Chandumenon portrays  a new move ahead of renaissance.  Though he speaks about India, Chandumenon had not a deep knowledge of the  country’s politics asVallathol and Kumaranasan had.  On hearing the call of the time, he trumpeted the change with all the voice he had.

Is it enough? Who can say it is not enough?  Kairali will always stand infront of Chandumenon with folded hands in reverence!.

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