More on the Good-Bad-Ugly Muslim in Malayalam Literature: Within and Without NAALUKETTU

Utharakalam Admin

M.T Ansari

This article engages with the 1996 Jnanpith awardee M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s first published novel Naalukettu (1958), which won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi award in 1959, in order to understand how the Malabar-Mapilla, as region-religion, pre-figures as the other of the emerging regional/national modern. In 1889 (Indulekha) we saw a nameless and nation-less villain becoming a Muslim, in 1990 (‘Higuita’) we saw a Muslim becoming a cut-out villain, and in-between, in 1922 (Duravastha), in 1956-65 (Chemmeen, novel-film) and in 1957 (Sundarikalum Sundaranmarum), we saw how caste-conversion dimensions further nuanced the representation of the Muslim within Malayalam literature. In Naalukettu, we find the good, the bad and the ugly Muslim as separately individuated. While the good and the bad are flat characterizations, Syedalikutty Mapilla, the prime mover of the novel’s plot and action, seems to be good and bad at the same time. I argue that it is this very elaborate and deliberate indeterminacy, probably a result of formal, nationalistic-aesthetic, considerations, that configures him as necessarily ugly.

Since this article is part of an on-going engagement with the good, the bad and the ugly Muslim characters in Malayalam literature, and hence also a response to other essays on related themes, let me preface this article with some observations about some of the contexts which occasioned it. Forgive me for being autobiographical!

Around the publication of my Malayalam book (Kottayam: DC Books, April 2008), V.C. Harris had clubbed it together with two well-known books (The Malabar Rebellion by M. Gangadharan and Good Muslim, Bad Muslim by Mahmood Mamdani) and written a short review in a Current Books Bulletin (May 2008; pp. 8-10). Harris commented that ‘Ansari has skilfully read the various signs that contributed to the construction of Malabar in the works of Chandumenon, Kumaranasan, Uroob, M.T., N.S. Madhavan, etc’ (p. 10). Thereafter, I had called up Harris to point out that he had missed out Thakazhi and that I had not touched upon M.T. at all. Harris retorted: ‘Well, you should have!’

The second context is Ratheesh Radhakrishnan’s ‘Of Mice and Men: The Futures of Nair Masculinity in a Post-Matrilineal Modernit’ (Tapasam 2.3 & 4, January & April 2007; pp. 455-489) wherein he notes that ‘Ansari has demonstrated how mainstream Malayalam literature has always posited the Muslim man as the ‘other’ in producing ideal modern hero types …. the othering of Muslim men has provided the frame in which modernity has been worked out in Malayalam literature’ (p. 465). Foot note 27 elaborates:

Ansari produces a linear history without breaks about the othering of the Muslim man in Malayalam literature in two separate essays mentioning the works of Chandu Menon in the 1880s, Kumaran Asan in the 1920s, and N.S. Madhavan in the 1990s…. Though I am inclined to agree with Ansari that modernity in Malayalam literature is narrated by a process of othering Islam in most cases, I would like to suggest that there are significant shifts in the representation of the Muslim in Malayalam literature over the years. Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s writings and its influence on later Malayalam literature are yet to be investigated in relation to this. M.T.’s own construction of Basheer as a father figure in his various writings is also worth remembering here. (p. 482)

Radhakrishnan’s point about Basheer is well taken, so is his suggestion ‘that, in Naalukettu there is a shift in this tendency identified by Ansari’ (p. 465). Anyway, I was not trying to produce ‘a linear history without break’, as attested to by my reading of Thakazhi’s Chemmeen (novel in 1956, film in 1965, see, Pachakuthira 1.2 September 2004; pp. 63-64; Malayalam Literary Survey 28.2 April-June 2007; pp. 37-55).

There is also a third related post, which appeared in Mathrubhumi (32 May 2010: 15),1 about the state level literary camp conducted by Pukasa. The third paragraph of the above report states: Baby John, CPM’s Thrissur District Secretary, not well-known as a literary person, presented a paper that attributed antipathy toward Muslims in the writings of reputed Malayalam writers. M.T  Vasudevan Nair was one among them. The paper claimed that there is an anti-Muslim mentality in the representation of Syedali in Naalukettu. According to the argument of the paper, Syedali had not committed the murder; he was only suspected by Appunni. Moreover, Syedali’s confession that he had committed a crime against god need not refer to the murder at all.2

V.C. Harris, Ratheesh Radhakrishnan and, now, Baby John!3 Maybe it is about time that we re-visited Madathu Thekkepattu Vasudevan Nair, or M.T. Vasudevan Nair, or M.T. as he is popularly known, who was born on 15 July 1933 at Kudallur, Palakkad District.4 His contribution to Malayalam literature and film for the past 50 years is widely acknowledged, but yet to be critically assessed. Maybe we should start with M.T’s Naalukettu, which, hopefully, will further nuance the issues under discussion.

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It is important that we be present at this very significant opening scene of a novel published in Malayalam in 1958:

He would grow up. Grow up and become a big man. His hands would become very strong. He would not have to fear anyone. He would be able to stand up and hold his head high. If someone asked, ‘Who’s that there?’ he would say unhesitatingly in a firm voice, ‘It’s me, Kondunni Nair’s son, Appunni’.

And then, the day would come – he would certainly meet Syedalikutty. He would have his revenge then. Twisting Syedalikutty’s neck between his hands, he would say, ‘It’s you, isn’t it, it’s you who….’

Whenever he thought of it, Appunni’s eyes would fill with tears.

The scene in which he confronted Syedalikutty was one he often imagined when he lay with his eyes closed….

Who was Syedalikutty? Appunni had never seen him. He used to pray that he would not come upon him, that he would see him very much later, after he grew up and became big and strong. He would go and find him then.

When he started out for the shop that day at dusk, he had neither thought of Syedalikutty nor expected to meet him.  (p. 1)5

But Appunni does meet Syedalikutty, before he is ready-in way, it is Syedalikutty, being ready, as we will soon see, who readies Appunni – at Yusuf’s shop, ‘the biggest shop in the village …. [which] Appunni liked going to’(p. 3). Syedalikutty, ‘A short, stout man in a white shirt with a small mustache flecked with grey’ enters the shop-scene. To a jocular query ‘You’re not dead yet?, he counters: ‘I’m ready. Maybe Israyel doesn’t want me…’ (p. 5).

Appunni had run to the shop because “he was afraid to go down the lane where screwpine bushes grew thick on both sides” (p. 2) and attracted poisonous snakes at dusk (p. 4). The rush at the shop delays his return; his short stature doesn’t help either. “Appunni made an attempt to push his way through…. It wouldn’t matter if he touched the cherumi women and was polluted. He would have a bath anyway as soon as he got home. But when he drew closer to their dark bodies, the odour of mingled sweat and oil nauseated him. He drew back…” (pp. 4-5). Finally, the “Musaliyar, with the long white beard that came down to his neck like a billy goat’s who handed out things” (p. 4), sees him. When asked “’What do you want?’ For no reason, Appunni suddenly felt sad. He was afraid he would cry in a while….. ‘Who is this child?’ the white-shirted man asked…. Our Kondunni Nair’s son. Vadakkepattu…” (pp. 5-6).

As he was about to go out, the white-shirted man asked, “You’re going alone?”

Appunni did not realize at first that the man was speaking to him.

“It’s dark outside, child” [the man says again].

Appunni muttered something that no one could hear. (p. 6)

Neither Appunni nor Syedalikutty had seen each other till then. Of course, Appunni still doesn’t know that he had met Syedalikutty. On the way home from the shop, accompanied by an old cherumi,

he asked: “Who was that …. That man in Yusuf’s shop.”

“Don’t you know? That was Syedalikutty Mapilla.”

“Which Syedalikutty?” [asks Appunni].

“Of Mundathayam. He’s been away for years now.”

Syedalikutty! Goosebumps burst all over him. The thick, short, rough hands, the hairy body, the round, bloodshot eyes – so that was Syedalikutty. The man who….

He suddenly remembered waking at dawn to a scene in Kathakali in the temple courtyard: Bhiman, seated on Dussasanan’s chest, tearing open his stomach and pulling out the entrails. He, Appunni, would sit like that on Syedalikutty’s chest and….

But he wasn’t strong enough yet, or old enough.

Appunni gasped for breath.

If he were to give Syedalikutty a push while he walked by the edge of the quarry or in the narrow lane … or throw a stone at his head…. (pp. 6-7)

Naalukettu, first published in 1958, of which, as of 2008, 5 lakh copies have been sold (p. xii), has played a crucial role in setting the tone of middle-class, middle-caste Malayalee determination of life and literature for decades. It has already seen “twenty-three reprints and been translated into fourteen Indian languages” (p. xix). To know that this was his first novel and that his latest novel, Varanasi, was published as recently as 2008, and that he has been associated with the film industry, from 1950s to the present, adds other layers to our appreciation of Madathu Thekkepattu Vasudevan Nair.

The novel seems to be a bildungsroman of sorts, which details the coming to age of Appunni. But it is also about the coming to age of the Nair male, of his coming to his community, of the community coming to him. Colonialism, nationalism, communism, class-caste-community issues faced by others seem to have been put on hold as the Travancore-Kochi-Malabar peoples witnessed the coming to age of the Nair community which seemed to have done a phoenix rite at a phenomenal cost. Of course, they faced the test of time, contesting various Brahminical practices. But, as we will see, it was not enough that Appunni’s father liberate himself and start a parallel Nair family. The novel does underline the enterprising spirit of the Nairs, alongside the Muslims and the Christians. But since Appunni’s father would rather remain outside of it, it is Appunni who is burdened with the task of taking the fight to the traditional Naalukettu. Appunni’s father, a lower class Nair married an upper class Nair. They were happy to be ostracized. But the coming to being of the modern Nair required Appunni to reclaim the Naalukettu, even if only to demolish it and build a new democratic household. But between the welcome play of air and light, the shadowy ghosts continued to linger (pp. x-xi). Given the nature of what was understood as education prevalent around the time, it was no wonder that this sensibility became celebrated as the quintessential Malayalee-ness. M.T. “witnessed the last stages of the crumbling of the matrilinear system of inheritance” (p. xx). But the failure of the coming to age of the Malayalee, as a middle-class, middle-caste norm, is equally well attested by M.T.’s later works. Appunni is the only successful Nair hero among all M.T.’s novels. Appunni’s travails enable him to be transformed from “Appunni, son of Thazhethethil Kondunni Nair” (p. 100) to “Vadakkeppattu Appunni Nair or V.A. Nair” (cf. Ratheesh, p. 468). Remember that Syedalikutty is introduced as Syedalikutty Mapilla, so were the lower-caste and other religious minorities within the novel. So, to anticipate, Appunni’s father had to die, better if the suspicion falls on a Muslim, so that Appunni can become a Nair within his own birth rights.

The plot of the novel is simple enough. Appunni’s father died when he was around three years old. His father belonged to a poor Nair family and was reputed to be a man, in fact more than a man, being a modern Nair man. He literally carries off Appunni’s mother who belonged to Naalukettu, actually an Ettukettu before the initial partition. After the marriage, Appunni’s mother was ostracized. His father also gave up his youthful ways, playing dice and that sort of thing, and entered into a prosperous agricultural venture with Syedalikutty. At the zenith of their success, Appunni’s father is invited for a dinner at Syedalikutti’s house. The story is narrated to Appunni by Muthaachi, an older relative, and Appunni doubts: “Do we Nairs eat the rice that mapillas cook? (p. 14, upper/lower case Nair/mapilla as in the original). But Appunni’s father is known to challenge established authority and break caste/religious strictures. When the “mutton tasted off,” Syedalikutty explained: “It’s because it’s the flesh of an old goat.” But on his way back home, Appunni’s father vomits and collapses. He is reported to have mumbled to Chandu of Valia Valappu: “Syedalikutty played me dirty, Chandu” (p. 14).

We have already seen Syedalikutty being solicitous of Appunni going home alone in the dark. When Appunni reported to his mother that he had seen Syedalikutty at the shop: “I – I saw Syedalikutty,” she “didn’t ask which Syedalikutty” (p. 8). But Amma had never told him the story. At this stage in the narrative, there is no reason for either Appunni or the reader to doubt the truth of this reported event. Significantly, during the process of the narrative, Syedalikutty, the murderer of his father, becomes a father-figure who guides Appunni’s life.

The second time they meet, and we see Syedalikutty, is when Appunni had wheedled permission from his mother to visit the Naalukettu during the serpent thullal festival. Though his grandmother extends a warm welcome, the Naalukettu patriarch drives him away like a mangy dog and threatens to break his legs if he ever came back (p. 56). Humiliated, he runs to a desolate hill and cries his heart out, entertaining thoughts of death, of hiding in a deep pit or boarding a train and going away, when Syedalikutty appears on the scene. Syedalikutty soon consoles Appunni, assures him that he has “as much right to stay in that house [Naalukettu] as anyone there” (p. 57), offers him tea and snacks from a Nair’s shop, and accompanies Appunni to his house (p. 58). It should also be noted that the “teashop-Nair” (p. 58) was a bit surprised to see Syedalikutty and Appunni together.

Before Appunni meets Syedalikutty, we see Syedalikutty one more time, at Esoop’s shop, wherein we also glimpse a really bad Muslim, as distinct from ordinary good Muslims, like Assankutty, and our good-bad Syedalikutty. Appunni’s mother had sought the help of Sankaran Nair, an earlier servant at the Naalukettu, and now a co-servant at another house. This has led to gossip. When Ookkan Baputty comments that “Ammukutty’s [Appunni’s mother] a treasure even now” (p. 92), Sankaran Nair slaps him.

The talk and laughter died down suddenly …. The atmosphere froze….

Everyone looked at Baputty anxiously. There was fire in his eyes. He was the sort that stopped at nothing. He had been the accused in three criminal cases. He had been in jail only once, but was convinced that the Cannanore jail was meant for real men.

He sprang up. The knife tucked into his waist was now in his hand…. (p. 92)

The hand that held the knife rose but a thick, strong, hairy hand suddenly shot out and gripped it. (p. 93)

No marks for guessing! Syedalikutty intervenes and avoids an ugly scene. Syedalikutty’s influence is such that even when later in the night Baputty meets Sankaran Nair with Appunni, he only gives “Sankaran Nair a look that seemed to say, ‘I remember…” and quips: “Where to, father and son?” (p. 100).

The third meeting between Appunni and Syedalikutty is under similar circumstances as the second one, but this time around he had ran away from home because of the gossip about his mother, and Syedalikutty prompts eggs him to go and stay at the Naalukettu. Appunni had walked away from home and was hiding on a deserted hill because he “didn’t want to see anyone, be asked anything” (p. 101).  But he “had no idea where he was going” (p. 102).

He did not notice a black cloth umbrella moving towards him on the winding path or bother to look up as it came nearer. What did he care who it was? The man passed by him, then stopped and turned.


It was Syedalikutty. (p. 102)

During this meeting, we actually see Syedalikutty almost counselling Appunni. When Syedalikutty invites Appuni to his house:

To Syedalikutty’s house! He felt as if a heavy door that had lain closed was being pushed open. A meal of pathiris and mutton curry. The mutton would taste granular and he’d be told it was an old goat. It would be white poison. White (p. 103).

Syedalikutty then urges him to go to the Naalukettu:

You have as much right there as anyone, don’t you? Show some spirit now. If they tell you to get out, say you won’t.

“He said he would break my legs if he saw me in that compound.”

“Let’s see if he will. What are the lawyers and courts in this country for then, child? This Syedalikutty has seen a bit of the world.” (p. 103)

Heartened, Appunni decides to go to the Naalukettu (p. 104). For my purpose, the rest of the story can be quickly summarized: With the help of Syedalikutty, Appunni soon finds a job, earns money and buys the crumbling Naalukettu. Overcoming his mother’s trepidation, he coaxes her to live in the Naalukettu, , and decides to break down the Naalukettu and build a new house where air and light can enter. And, in an all too neat reversal, he also takes on the responsibility of looking after Syedalikutty’s family when he falls ill (p. xxi).

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We have closely followed the early parts of the novel and gathered that the rumour that Syedalikutty murdered Appunni’s father cannot be taken at face value. There is no authorial or narratorial verification or validation of the rumour. Syedalikutty’s kindness can be read as springing from guilt, and then he would be repentant sinner. His statement about lawyers and court can be read as those of a successful criminal. That would make him a wily, in fact, ugly, Muslim. But then there are no indications in the novel that Syedalikutty benefited, economically or emotionally, from the supposed crime. Rather, the effect of ugliness, of something not straight, is achieved by portraying him as good as well as bad, bad in the past and good in the present.

Gita Krishnankutty, the English translator, in her introduction has provided us with this resolution. She quotes from M.T.’s acceptance speech on the occasion of the Jnanpith Award: “Thanks to the complexities of the human condition, a person whose destiny it has always been to be called unmitigatedly can suddenly astonish us by revealing a gentle heart” (cited, p. xx). She goes on: “Perhaps, it is this facet of human behaviour that Syedalikutty demonstrates, for there is no logical explanation for why he befriends Appunni” (p. xx).

Let us see whether other extra-textual information can clarify this issue. M.T. notes:

Many people have asked me during interviews whether Appunni … was myself. No, he is not. All I have done is to use the village and the ambience of the old naalukettu in the novel…. Around the time I started writing short stories, I wrote a short novel. I dealt with the unhappy lot of the cheruma folk who worked as agricultural labourers. It was inspired by the well-known novel, Randidangazhi, that Thakazhi wrote about the revolt of the agricultural labourers in Kuttanad. When I read what I had written, I felt that it was not satisfactory at all, so I abandoned it. Later, in 1955, while making a living taking classes in a tutorial college in Palghat, I wrote another novel for a magazine they published there. This work, published in twelve instalments and entitled Paathiraavum Pakalvelichavum had a Hindu-Muslim theme. The readers of the magazine liked it. But I was dissatisfied. I thought I would write a novel set against the backdrop of the old matrilinear tharavad that I had heard my mother and others talk about. I mulled over this idea for many months, until the novel took a shape that satisfied me. Then I decided to call it Naalukettu. Readers still enjoy this novel. (p. xi)

So the first novel that M.T. wrote “dealt with the unhappy lot of the cheruma folk who worked as agricultural labourers. It was inspired by the well-known novel, Randidangazhi.” But when M.T. felt that what he had written was not satisfactory at all, he abandoned it and later, in 1955, he wrote another novel for a magazine which was published in twelve instalments and was entitled Paathiraavum Pakalvelichavum and had a Hindu-Muslim theme. Though the readers of the magazine liked it, he was dissatisfied. One can only wonder at M.T.’s dissatisfaction with the twelve instalments of Paathiraavum Pakalvelichavum [Midnight and Daylight] with a Hindu-Muslim theme. Since the readers seem to have liked it, the dissatisfaction may have been of a different order. An ardent lover of literature, M.T., who must have already studied and internalized the middle-class, middle-caste Malayalee cultural aesthetic, which readers still continue to enjoy, with his acumen, might have realized that he had to improve at the level of the aesthetic. But, more importantly, what M.T. is saying is that he thought he would write a novel set against the backdrop of the old matrilinear tharavad that he had heard his mother and others talk about. After mulling over this idea for many months, the novel took a shape that satisfied him. Then he decided to call it Naalukettu which readers still enjoy.

It was a very significant moment of transition in Malayalam literature when M.T. decided not to repeat Thakazhi’s progressive, if borrowed, thematic about “the unhappy lot of the cheruma folk who worked as agricultural labourers,” and felt unsatisfied about his next venture with a Hindu-Muslim problematic, and decided that he should write a novel about the Naalukettu. In a way M.T. was giving up on the so-called leftist progressive-revolutionary aesthetic, which had come back to haunt writers of Thakazhi’s generation around that time [see Bashher’s P’s Aadu, etc.] [Check on C. Ayyappan!!] M.T. was also abandoning the Nehruvian socialistic-nationalistic pretensions as well as any minoritarian perspectives. He was, either because of politico-aesthetic compulsions or because of the earnest desire to write a different kind of novel, already re-fashioning the emergent nationalistic heir of Kerala. Such an aesthetic has done more damage, much more than Mukundan or Kakkanadan or the like, to the fabric of an inclusive and conflictual Kerala social life. It was either the cherumas who did not have any cultural capital or the Muslims who were the demon-seeds. Given such a choice M.T. chose the Nair society as the van-guard of a progressive-nationalist operation that has shaped the political and cultural life of Keralites.

But wait a minute! Paathiraavum Pakalvelichavum [Midnight and Daylight] is available in a later edition.6 An analysis of this novel, obviously rewritten according to tastes that he himself circulated and that also influenced publication imperatives, may be worth our while.


What M.T. did was to go back to and update Chandu Menon’s mandate!!

Curiously enough, Ratheesh Radhakrishnan has an interesting foot note 31, wherein he observes: “It is a very compelling thought to think of M.T.’s work as following from Indulekha (1889), as a number of tropes from the former seem to reappear in the latter. In Indulekha, the protagonists Madhavan and Indulekha move out of the matrilineal household to set up a modern nuclear family. The possible parallels with Appunni’s parents are apparent” (p. 483). But, of course, the similarities do extend beyond the thematic.

At the level of conception, M.T. explains that Appunni’s father in the novel is modelled on one of his own uncles “who lived next door to us, in his wife’s house. I used to see him very often when I was an elementary school student. A rumour that his business partner gave him poison and killed him spread through the village” (p. xi). Elsewhere, M.T. writes:

There is very little of the autobiographical element in [Appunni]. Experiences that any child could have gone through … Appunni could have been a child in my own family. And there is a happening in the novel culled from the stories in my village. One of my uncles started a business with Syedalikutty. One day, after he ate in Syedalikutty’s house, my uncle threw up and died. The rumour that he had been poisoned spread through the village. I was told that the police investigated the case. But everyone said that nothing was proved. (cited, pp. xix-xx)

The question to be raised then would not be whether M.T. was just being true to his sources, where there was a rumour and police investigation, but nothing was proved, nor were there any pending criminal/legal proceedings. But, whether M.T. was more than aware of what he deliberately left dangling in the novel: the indeterminacy of Syedalikutty. Whether Syedalikutty was a bad person who became a reformed good human being; whether he was a bad Muslim who became a good Muslim; whether he was always-already a modern Muslim citizen-subject who was unjustly accused of a crime but still extended his sympathy and support to the supposed victims of his purported crime; whether he was a modernizing agent who had to kill the father because he was not actively engaging with the Naalukettu so that the son Appunni can be guided to take the fight to the Naalukettu and hasten its dissolution. While these issues are under investigation, we may still venture forth to say that what M.T. achieves through his first novel is a clever use of the modernizing potential of the always-already Muslim within Malabar in order to effect an ascendency of the Nair as representing the middle-class, middle-caste cultural modernity of the Malayalee. Appunni becomes V.A. Nair, this is no insignificant feat and has a lot to do with the historical imaginings of a Malayalee (middle-class, middle-caste) modernity. A side-effect of this modernization and ascendency of the Nair male and his liberation not outside or parallel but from within the traditional communitarian fold itself was that the lower-caste and minority religious communities became catalysts, if not fodder, in the process with only nominal gains. But Syedalikutty does confess!

M.T. has more than earned the right to be hailed as one of the foremost literary and film artists in Kerala. But my intention was not to read his texts from an autobiographical angle. Put in another way, how Thekkepattu (the South as part of M.T.’s full name) becomes Vadakkeppattu (the North as part of Appunni’s name in the novel) is the least of my concerns for the moment. But, definitely, the question about the indeterminacy of the Muslim within M.T.’s cultural world has to be examined with more rigour. I will end by raising another curious issue: why was the person who found Appunni’s poisoned father named Valia Valappu Chandu. The resonances of Chandu within the given Malayalee cultural sphere is no less than that of Judas, despite M.T.’s attempt to exonerate him through his script for the blockbuster film Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989). Isn’t M.T. one of those rare creative geniuses who intuitively knew that it was better if Syedalikutty lived in indeterminacy; that even if somebody continued to believe that Syedalikutty represents the “demon-seed”7 one could always turn the table around by asking how anyone can believe in what Chandu said. The factor that Chandu belongs to the Tiyya community is still a question dangling in front of us.


1. ‘Supporters of Idenitity-Politics Isolated in Progressive Art and Literary Organization [Pukasa]‘ was the title of this piece; it appeared right under the bigger heading of ‘Identitarian Conflicts Are Necessary – K.E.N’ and just above the even smaller heading of ‘identity-Politics Should Be Discussed – Minister Thomas Issac.’ See, also; accessed on 17 June 2010.

2. Despite my best efforts, I could not get a copy of this paper, as, reportedly, it was not for outside circulation.

3. I must have missed out on many other essays about M.T. over a period of time, in Malayalam as well as in English. But I am doubtful whether ‘Things Fall Apart: The Cinematic Rendition of the Agrarian Landscape in South India’ by Dilip M. Menon (The Journal of Peasant Studies, 32.2, April 2005; pp.304–334), which explores the supposedly transitional decade of the 1970s in Kerala, through the films and novels of M.T. Vasudevan Nair, which presumably represents the gingerly stepping back from a radical politics towards a restitution of an older masculine and agrarian order, is able to engage with historic and filmic time in any serious and significant manner, especially since sensibility seems to be cast by an arguably elitist perception of history as well as time. I am also not sure that Nalukettinte ‘Thachusasthram,’ ed. N. Jayakrishnan (Thiruvanathapuram: State Institute of Languages, 2009) in any sense represents the best engagements with M.T.’s Naalukettu.

4. See,, accessed on 17 June 2010. Kudallur is part of central Keralam; more to the right if you look at the globe and more to the left in terms of the planet!

5. M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Naalukettu (Thrissur: Current Books, 1958, 2009). All my citations, unless specified otherwise, are from the English translation, Naalukettu: the home around the courtyard, trans. with intro. Gita Krishnankutty (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008) with Author’s Note: pp. ix-xiii and Introduction: xv-xxviii.

6. M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Pathiravum Pakalvelichavum (Kottayam: DC Books, 2005-2009; first published in 1977).

7. It is significant that Islam pre-figures as an absolute outside, as the demon-seed, with its diverse religious connotations, within the early writings of M.T., despite being placed between Thiru-Kochi and Malabar. In Asuravithu, to quote from the blurb of the English translation, ‘a young unemployed Nair boy … [taken on as] the manager of [his wealthy brother-in-law’s] property … dares to dream for the first time in his life [when a marriage is arranged for him by his brother-in-law]. He brings his bride home, eager to start life afresh, but discovers to his horror that she is already pregnant by another man….  Shattered by the knowledge that his family had connived to betray him, [he] goes berserk. Finally estranged from home and village, he converts to Islam in the ultimate gesture of defiance.’ M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Asuravithu (Kottayam: DC Books, 1994-2009; first published in 1962.

This novel was translated and published as part of The Demon Seed and Other Writings, trans. V. Abdulla and Gita Krishnankutty (New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 1998); Author’s Foreword: pp. ix-xiv; The Demon Seed: pp. 129-449.


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