Society and literature


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‘WHY do Malayalees take literature so seriously, almost as seriously as they do politics’, is a question I am frequently asked in literary gatherings outside Kerala. I usually respond by saying, ‘Because, literature and society have evolved and grown up together in Kerala through continuous interaction and exchange.’ Of course, this does call for a lot of elaboration, especially as this relationship, as everywhere, has not been tension-free. Since I patently cannot go through every phase in the evolution of this literature, I confine here to a discussion of this relationship to certain significant moments in the evolution of Malayalam literature. The general direction of this evolution has been from the devotional to the secular, from myth to everyday in content, and from the elitist to the democratic and from the sublime to the mundane in terms of style.

Malayalam literature draws on two classical traditions which contributed equally to Malayalam literature’s early constitution and its broad points of aesthetic reference: Sanskrit and Tamil. These languages form the major sources of vocabulary in Malayalam though it has also freely absorbed and nativized words from Persian, French, German, English, Portuguese, Hindustani, Kannada and several other languages. Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan, a poet of the 16th century, and about whose life little is known, is credited by scholars as well as laymen with the founding of Malayalam literature. His having been a sudra is socially relevant as he was conventionally denied access to the Vedas and still managed not only to follow the Vedas and the Upanishads, but rose to be the first teacher of ancient Indian scriptures for the entire Malayali community.


Idassery Govindan Nair, a 20th century poet, in a tribute to Ezhuthachan says that he first pierced with his iron stencil (ezhuthani) the oppressive varna system and then with that stencil wrote his Adhyatma Ramayana, which is read daily with devotion in many Malayali homes even today. Ezhuthachan preferred Adhyatma Ramayana to Valmiki Ramayana – though he does draw upon all the Ramayanas he came across in Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam when it comes to descriptions and delineation of characters and episodes, probably under the compulsion of the times in which he lived: the age of bhakti.

If Valmiki lived in a heroic age that revelled in the romance of war consequent upon the unsettled state of society and looked upon its heroes as objects of evolution, Ezhuthachan lived at a time when people were tired of wars and their horrors and badly needed a spiritual message to smooth the agony of the human soul that had realized the futility of mutual annihilation. He followed up this work with many others including Mahabharatam, Bhagavatam, Deveemahatmyam, and Harinamakeertanam.

Ezhuthachan was also a teacher and social reformer who pioneered a renaissance in Malayalam letters at a time when Kerala, especially Malabar, was suffering from social decadence and aggression from forces inside and outside the country. He combined the universality of a Homer with the high seriousness of a Dante or Milton and linked this world with the other world in the typical bhakti tradition. He also established a poetic idiom that is still current in Malayalam and was followed by his great successors from Kumaran Asan and Vailoppilly Sreedhara Menon to Idassery Govindan Nair and G. Sankara Kurup, all of whom also carried forward the visionary element in his poetry.

Though impacted by the philosopher Ramanuja, he refused to accept the varnashramadharma that the Vishishtadvaitins supported on the basis of the Bhagavat Gita, as he was against all man-made hierarchies. His works created a new verbal discourse that elevated him to the status of a true renaissance figure in the civilizational history of Kerala. This is not to say that Ezhuthachan did not have predecessors; he had many, some of whom wrote Ramayanas too, like Kannassa Paniker. But his was the one version which gained universal acceptance among the Malayalees for social as well as aesthetic reasons.


Two other poets, one before and one after Ezhuthachan, deserve special mention here. One is the 15th century poet Cherusseri Nambootiri, who along with Poonthanam Nambootiri, the author of the philosophical Jnanappana (The Song of Wisdom) pioneered the bhakti poetry in the language, and is well-known especially for his narrative epic, Krishnagatha, a moving retelling of Bhagavata, written in Manjari, a Dravidian metre that he seems to have invented according to legend, in a simple idiom that is close to the folk idiom. His diction was simpler than that of Ezhuthachan and his lexicon less Sanskritic.

The second is Kunchan Nambiar, whose carnivalesque and heretical poetry that mixes myth and everyday and retells the Puranic stories with a dash of social satire, simultaneously reminds one of Goya, Rabelais and Chaucer. Nambiar wrote sixty four such works that were sung and acted on the stage by the poet in a new costume – that brought together elements from many folk dances – to the accompaniment of a simple orchestra. This new art form, thullal, was actually invented by him as a counter-art form that challenged the temple art of koothu, where a chakyar, a traditional narrator, would recite Sanskrit verses and explain them to an elite audience inside the temple. Nambiar (who is said to have been a drummer ridiculed by the chakyar for falling asleep while playing the drum) performed outside the temple for an uninitiated lay audience, in a manner that reminded his spectators of subaltern folk dances.

It was a great democratic move in more than one sense: the form was challengingly fresh, the verse was accessible to the common people, the costume and rhythms were folk and the humour, subversive. His poetry was a heady mixture of the sacred and the profane, the ancient and the contemporary, the mythical and the mundane. He laughed at the follies and foibles of his people, made fun of people from all castes and all walks of life, including soldiers, and showed scant respect for power in all its manifestations.


Kerala’s everyday – in the sense of ‘lived experience’ in which Henri Lefebvre uses the term – underwent a change in the early years of the 20th century. It was Peter Berger (Theory of the Avant Garde) who spoke of culture as ‘a sleeping beauty who dozes not on flowers or fragrant grass but on a thin mattress of texts, quotations and musical scores under a vast canopy of books and theses: the coming of the prince awakens her and everything in the forest comes to life along with her.’

An awakening like this happened in the early years of the 20th century in Kerala’s everyday that had so far been impregnated with ritual, custom and code. The body until then had been considered an extension of nature and even the social codes of exploitation and dividing practices had been identified with the laws of nature. Everything immediately given was considered sacrosanct, inescapable and unquestionable. Caste, subcaste, royalty, landlordism: everything had been considered as ordained by nature, destiny or God. The city could hardly be distinguished from the village, and the machine from the tool. The ‘literary’ in the period was dominated by the sacred and the mythical, the popular articulations of everyday life existing as a parallel stream dubbed ‘folk poetry’ that had little elite sanction. The ‘author’ was yet to emerge as a category, as literature was seldom recognized as ‘literature’ in its present sense; it was ritual, performance and entertainment.


It was only with the formation of a public sphere – that was part of a general democratic movement of dissent, reform and awakening – did ‘literature’ and ‘author’ emerge as definite categories in Kerala. This movement, which social thinkers call ‘the Kerala Renaissance’, is a concerted move the Kerala society made to transform itself into a modern, secular, democratic society, and one that began as a self-criticism of the feudal caste society. The dividing practices that concealed exploitation and inequality behind the masks of the natural and the providential now became visible and came to be identified in their inhuman implications. The placid surface of the everyday suddenly grew turbulent as almost every caste was now looking at itself in relation to those above and below, striving to purge itself of evil customs and practices, to abolish or weaken the subcaste system and educate itself in modern knowledge and useful crafts. All castes were involved in this upheaval, though the main thrust was subaltern as only the truly oppressed led by Sree Narayana Guru or Ayyankali or Poykayil Appachan were capable of thinking in terms of a casteless society which, to the ‘upper’ castes would mean deprivileging and loss of dominance.


Sree Narayana’s success lay in his recognition of the intertwining of discourse and power, his subtle reversal of the oppressor’s legitimizing discourse through a secular reading of their sacred texts and a subversive use of their signs, symbols and images – all of them together rendering visible what had been concealed so far behind a broad ‘Hindu’ label. His thought as well as poetry had been profoundly impacted by the egalitarian fervour of the Tamil Saivites of the 5th and 6th centuries AD like Appar, Sambandhar, Pattinattar and Pambatti Chittar. The influence of Tirumular was particularly evident in some of his popular maxims like ‘one caste, one religion and one God for man.’

Guru was also an iconoclast and is well-known for having consecrated a mirror for an idol at Aruvippuram, near Trivandrum. He looked at caste as a false principle of categorizing human beings and would not accept any division beyond gender. He found the caste marks concealing our marks as human beings. He found religion to be no more than a matter of opinion. The community to him was the locus of concerted action while the final and real community was the human species.

He also refused to recognize the division between ‘the worldly’ (laukik) and the spiritual (adhyatmik) and said both were aimed at human happiness. He evolved a phenomenology of knowledge where the body had an epistemological status as an essential moment in the movement towards self-knowledge; community was another such moment. In 1916, he publicly declared that he belonged to no caste or religion. The whole movement, however, encompassed most of the communities in Kerala and produced a series of reformers like Chattambi Swamikal, Doctor Palpu, Vagbhatananda, Ayyankali, K.P. Karuppan, V.T. Bhattathirippad, Kuroor Damodaran Nambootiri, M.R. Bhattathiripad, Premji and others, some of them using theatre and literature as means for social reform.


Sree Narayana Guru’s teachings exerted a profound influence on the Kerala psyche as well as Malayalam literature. Kumaran Asan (1873-1924) perhaps was the epitome of this new world view. Impacted equally by Shaivism, Buddhism and the ideas of Sree Narayana Guru, Vivekananda and Tagore (he had a stint in Calcutta to learn Sanskrit), his poetry bridged the gap between the mundane and the spiritual, celebrated love free from shackles including that of the body and challenged caste. In his long poem Chintavishtayaaya Seeta (The Brooding Sita), he made Sita interrogate Rama’s ethics in the context of his abandoning her to the forest. In Duravasta (The Plight), he celebrates the love of a Brahmin girl for an ‘untouchable’ man. His other works like Leela, Nalini and Karuna explore the questions of desire and fulfilment through different kinds of female protagonists.

Vallathol Narayana Menon (1878-1958) was another major poet of the time, well-known for his retellings of mythological tales as well as patriotic poems comparable to those of Subramania Bharati in Tamil or Sumitranandan Pant in Hindi. There were other poets too like Ulloor Parameshwara Iyer, whose ‘Premasangeetam’, a poem with an egalitarian message, is still taught in schools. A great scholar and a literary historian, he also wrote an epic (mahahakavya) and quite a few narrative poems (khandakaavyas).


Meanwhile, the Indian National Congress had taken root in Kerala producing many secular freedom fighters like Mohamed Abdur Rahman, K. Kelappan, Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai, K. Madhava Menon, K.P. Keshava Menon and later socialist intellectuals and activists like P. Krishna Pillai, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, A.K. Gopalan, K. Damodaran and others. The communist movement in Kerala that had a deep impact on the Kerala psyche and was at the forefront of many struggles for the social dignity of peasants and workers. It had its roots both in the Kerala Renaissance and in Gandhian and Congress Socialist movements that gave Kerala’s communism an indigenous and special quality of its own. This perhaps explains its resilience and endurance even in the era of post-USSR confusion.

The everyday had become a site of democratic conflicts and resolutions; literature was now constituted as a specific category; the authorial institution was built up along with a critical academy that drew its norms from the Sanskrit and English classics that came to be widely translated at the time (Malayalam keeps translating contemporary works from around the world even now and its best creative writers are world-contemporary in sensibility and idiom). Together they consolidated ‘the aesthetic’ as a specific realm of culture with its own laws and history, though not unrelated to other realms for society works as a ‘structure-in-dominance’, one element of the structure (religion, politics, culture) becoming prominent at one time, to use an Althusserian term.


During this time prose had emerged as a strong vehicle of expression. The codification of grammar and the prose translations, especially of works like The Holy Bible, helped the growth of Malayalam prose style. The entry of the printing press further enlivened the scene, making mechanical reproduction of art and literature easier, contributing to the democratization of those genres as proposed by Walter Benjamin. Original epics and verse narratives that had an oblique relationship with the real were now complemented by novels, short stories and essays that often took off directly from the lived experience of the society.

O. Chandu Menon’s much discussed and translated work Indulekha (1889), inspired by an English novel, is supposed to be the first proper social novel in Malayalam though another novel, Kundalata by Appu Nedungadi had appeared before it. There was also a dalit novel, Saraswateevijayam (1892) by Pothery Kunhambu that followed Indulekha. Indulekha was a kind of dream-heroine, a liberated Nair woman who rejects the old Brahmin suitor and chooses her own husband, though looking back now, it also reveals the limits of the imagination of the times as Indulekha is not a working woman, but a good, educated, entertaining housewife. This is close to the Renaissance ideal of woman too. (The silences and limitations of Kerala Renaissance are a theme of discussion among contemporary social and cultural critics: silences on certain dalit/Christian reformers as well as Muslim reformers and the inherent weaknesses of caste-based reforms along with the patriarchal element that still thought only men could free women.)

C.V. Raman Pillai (1858-1922) whose polyphonic novels – especially Marthanda Varma and Ramaraja Bahadur – based on the history of Travancore, though deeply royalist, also contributed to an understanding of the times and were rare masterpieces in terms of style. It was also a time of cultural organizations like Bhashaposhini Sabha and Sahitya Parishad and journals like Kesari, Kerala Patrika, Mangalodayam, Bhasha-poshini, Vidya-vinodini, Rasika-ranjini, and Kavana-kaumudi besides several women’s magazines like Lakshmeebayi, Mahila and Muslim Vanita that discussed major issues chiefly concerning women’s health and education. All these journals carried a fair amount of creative writing. Many subaltern writers also rose into prominence during the period, including C.V. Kunhiraman, Pallathu Raman, Moloor S. Patmanabha Paniker, K.P. Karuppan and Moyinkutty Vaidyar.


The anti-feudal struggles led by the Congress Socialists and Communists added a class dimension to the struggles of Kerala’s everyday as well as its literature. The notion of class as applied to history, politics and culture, in however elementary and simplistic a way, helped reorient the forces of Renaissance towards a resurgence of the marginalized mobilized for the first time on a non-caste basis, that of economic class. The relationship between what came to be loosely termed the progressive movement in literature and the overall process of Kerala’s societal movement towards a secular socialist democracy, is more a case of structural over-determination than of sheer synchrony.

The Jeevatsahitya (literally ‘living literature’ or ‘the literature of life’) Movement launched in 1937 can be considered the first true avant-garde movement in Malayalam literature. It not only changed the modes of literary expression but tried to redefine the norms and canons of literature itself, ultimately interrogating the very institution. Its proclaimed goal was to promote, in the words of one of its early spokesmen, A. Madhava Menon, ‘a literature that changes with the changing life to express reality in novel modes free from the modes of the mystical past and a philosophy that fights reactionary views about religion, society, sexuality, family and war.’ (Speech on 25 May 1937) Jeevatsahitya was defined differently by different critics and writers as rationalist writing, activist writing, writing on daily life, writing that confronts social inertia and conservatism, why even as writing that has lasting value. But all the definitions and descriptions foreground social concern.


By the time the first conference of the Progressive Writers’ Association was held after seven years, almost every major writer in Kerala had been won over by the movement. They included poets like Vallathol Narayana Menon, Changampuzha Krishna Pillai and G. Shankara Kurup, fiction writers like Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai, Karoor Neelakanta Pillai, S.K. Pottekkatt, Keshava Dev and Ponkunnam Varky, playwrights like Thoppil Bhasi, S.L. Puram Sadanandan and K.T. Muhammed, and critics like Joseph Mundassery and M.P. Paul, besides communist activists and fellow travellers like K. Damodaran, Cherukad, D.M. Pottekkatt, M.S. Devadas, Kedamangalam Pappukutty, M.P. Bhattathirippad (Premji) and others. These writers used different idioms even while sharing similar concerns.

Entire sections of people sentenced to a culture of silence found a voice in these writers, many of whom were liberal socialists inspired alike by Gandhi and Lenin. Landless peasants, fishermen, the rural poor, impoverished craftsmen, urban workers, helpless men and women forced into begging and sex work: all these subaltern layers of society found a place in literature for the first time after the age of folklore. This also brought about a stylistic transformation. In poetry, it appears chiefly as a replacement of Sanskrit meters by folk and Dravidian meters and rhythms, and a considerable reduction of Sanskrit words in the diction. In fiction, it meant the introduction of diverse community dialects and the disavowal of the laboured linguistic sublimity of earlier fictional modes. In short, it privileged realism against mysticism in both content and style.


Poets like Vyloppilly Sreedhara Menon and Idassery Govindan Nair, playwrights like N. Krishna Pillai and C.J. Thomas and fiction writers like P.C. Kuttikrishnan (Uroob) who stood mostly outside the movement, could not but respond to the new social and literary ferment. But by 1948, a broad consensus-perspective that had held writers of various persuasions together in the movement, gave way to sectarian views of commitment to the party line. Calls for formal rigour in writing were wrongly condemned by the champions of contentism as decadent ‘formalism’ and ‘aestheticism’. That led to a split in the movement.

The theoreticians of the Progressive Literary Movement, who were hardly familiar with the contemporary debates in Marxist criticism, failed to recognize the relative autonomy of literature at the level of cultural formation with its own history and rules of evolution. They equated literature with ideology and considered it a direct expression of the author’s personal beliefs while even Lenin had condemned this approach. They underrated the importance of the context, intent and ideology of reading that can make the same work mean different things. In short, the early open approach soon gave way to rigid dogmatism. Characters became stereotypes and many aspects of human life simply came to be neglected. Now, even the average Malayali reader recognizes that writers who were not necessarily inside the movement like Vyloppilly or Idassery or Uroob, recognized the social contradictions in their complex multi-layeredness and expressed them more appealingly than their outwardly ‘committed’ counterparts.


By the 1960s, the Progressive Movement had exhausted its innovative energy. Though industrial capitalism never made a real debut in Kerala, the capitalist value systems, norms and perspectives on life and literature began to penetrate Kerala’s everyday by the fifties of the 20th century. The creative forces of the Renaissance had weakened; reformist community concern was giving way to casteism; love of acquisition and greed were occupying the space left by reformist values. The old life, however, remained somewhere underneath like a subterranean force that at times disrupted the rhythms of modern life. At times it evoked nostalgia as in the poetry of P. Kunhiraman Nair, a great anti-colonial poet of Kerala’s landscape and vanishing spaces; at times it was built into an utopian project for an egalitarian future as in the poetry of Vyloppilly or Idassery; at times it combined a romantic idiom with a revolutionary concern and humanist anguish as in O.N.V. Kurup, Vayalar Rama Varma or P. Bhaskaran, the trio who rose to prominence in the pink decade.

Equally interesting was the fiction of writers like M.T. Vasudevan Nair, who portrayed the conflict between the old order and the new in all its complexity, morbidity, anger and frustration. Fiction was turning inward after the peak of realism to explore the riddle-some psyche of the modern man and woman as in the stories of M.T.T. Patmanabhan or Madhavikutty (Kamala Das). The society was under-going a ‘middle-classing’ that was also obliquely reflected in literature. V.K. Narayanankutty – endearingly known in Kerala as just VKN – with his black humour and linguistic play created a whole world of semi-comic characters in the new urban environment.


The middle classes who floated in an uncertain time-world that problematized their identity, sought an alternative life of imagination. Kerala does not have big cities; it is generally a suburban continuum but for certain tribal pockets. So it was perhaps natural that modernism in Malayalam, especially fiction, came mostly from the writers living outside Kerala. Fiction writers like O.V. Vijayan, M. Mukundan, Kakkanadan, Paul Zachariah, VKN, M.P. Narayana Pillai and Sethu ( followed later by talented writers like V.P. Shivakumar, Maythil Radhakrishnan, who was also a fine poet) and poets like M. Govindan, Madhavan Ayyappath, Cheriyan K. Cheriyan, M.N. Paloor, Attoor Ravivarma and Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan lived in cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai that provided a concrete basis for the feelings of loss, angst and alienation as well as the wry humour that we find in most of their writing. Others like Punathil Kunhabdulla, C.V. Sreeraman, Vaisakhan, Ayyappa Paniker, N.N. Kakkad lived in large towns (though corporations) that they could imagine to be cities. Most of these writers were estranged from Kerala’s progressive movement because of its later dogmatic stances. But they would not align themselves with the growing right wing or with the Congress that had moved away from Gandhian ideals in its search for power.

Disillusionment was the inevitable outcome and that these writers expressed in powerful metaphors, fragmented images, surreal situations, syncopated rhythms, dream-like mixing of space and time, transgressions of established norms of beauty and propriety, re-mappings of Indian mythology, forays into legends and archetypes, odd combinations of the folk and the classical elements and novel patterns of language that caught the new structures of feeling. The paperback revolution had also brought these writers closer to western modernism, though they were by no means mimics but had their own different ways of confronting and critiquing the changed reality, even if in very oblique ways. Playwrights like C.J. Thomas, C.N. Sreekantan Nair, Kavalam Narayana Paniker, G. Sankara Pillai and R. Narendra Prasad rejuvenated Malayalam drama and theatre in different ways using folk, classical and modernist methods. Modernism in literature was a criticism of colonial modernity.


The ‘Progressives’ dismissed modernism as decadent after the fashion of George Lukacs, as they seemed unaware of the full controversy around Kafka and modernism involving Marxists like Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and Ernst Bloch, all of whom had rejected the Lukacsian position. Modernism was a way of documenting the dehumanization of society with its attendant alienation and loss of identity, a shattering of the gestalt, and found a whole new generation of readers who were equally disillusioned with the state of things and welcomed aesthetic experimentation. In fact, modernism provided a necessary escape from literary stereotypes and brought about a much awaited formal innovation after the clichés of realism. Their dark language was therapeutic and cathartic in respect to the degeneration afflicting a common language, ‘the flat, opaque and prosaic nature of our public speech where the practical end of communication spoils the quality of expressive means’, to use Clement Greenberg’s phrase (Avant-garde and the Kitsch). The works of libidinal political fiction of the 1960s were attempts to articulate some silenced aspects of the Malayali psyche in a context of the uncertainty of an intelligentsia confronted with the issues of subjectivization.


But this modernism never stayed still; it evolved in several new directions that had much to do with new social movements, which I cannot discuss in detail here. The seventies of the 20th century saw a new upsurge of radical politics in Malayalam chiefly, but not exclusively, in the context of the emergence of the Maoist new left that was also behind the Janakeeya Samskarika Vedi (People’s Cultural Forum) that led cultural struggles. Many of the modernists who were on the lookout for alternatives aligned themselves with the movement, at least briefly: poets like K.G. Shankara Pillai, Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan, Attoor Ravi Varma, K. Satchidanandan and Balachandran Chullikad, and short story writers like M. Sukumaran, Pattathuvila Karunakaran, U.P. Jayaraj and P.K. Nanu were all familiar with the modernist stylistic strategies and employed them to address social issues with a new sense of urgency. The themes of the Progressive Movement were revived in new forms and modernism gained the eyes of history to look at itself and the gruesome reality that needed to be changed. Novelists and playwrights like Baby, Madhu Master and Ramachandran Mokeri contributed a great deal to the new awakening.


The People’s Cultural Forum got wound up after a decade of vibrant existence, mainly for reasons of its conflict with the Marxist-Leninist party, which again demanded rigid discipline from artists who by nature are disciplined in a different way. But the new social energy it released did not cease to work. While it led to many new movements for safe environment, sustainable development, consumer choice, women’s liberation, dalit rights and minority rights, it also gave rise to new voices and movements in literature.

The present literary scenario in Malayalam is polyphonic and multidirectional, characterized by the simultaneous existence of several avant-gardes and avant-garde concepts that enter into a dialogue, at times polemical, with each other. The strongest of them are feminist and dalit writing. Kamala Das has found many committed followers like Sara Joseph, Chandramati, Gracy, K.R. Meera, C.S. Chandrika, Indu Menon and Sitara in fiction and Savitri Rajeevan, Vijayalaksmy, Anita Thampi, Rose Mary and Saheera Thangal in poetry, all of whom in their own ways and styles explore the women’s psyche, mould a libidinal economy, engage in revisionist myth making and the interrogation of patriarchal practices and canons. Dalit writers like C. Ayyappan are being rediscovered while there is a new crop especially of dalit poets like S. Joseph, M.B. Manoj, M.R. Renukumar and Vijila who have rejuvenated poetic language not only with the intimate experiences of dalit life but the nuances of dalit language. Narayan has been writing on the still unexplored life of the tribal community in Kerala.


There are three generations of new poets and short story writers who have learnt their lessons from modernism but are striving to refresh it in new ways. Their names are too numerous to mention, but some of the more significant ones are Anvar Ali, P.P. Ramachandran, P. Raman, Rafeek Ahammed, P.N. Gopikrishnan, Veerankutty, Mohana Krishnan Kalady, M.R. Vishnu Prasad and Latheesh Mohan in poetry, and K.P. Ramanunni, Subhash Chandran, Susmesh Chandroth, E. Santhosh Kumar and Santhosh Echikkanam in fiction. These writers address social issues with great subtlety, deviating from the older and louder ways of representing reality. Environment, freedom, human dignity, women’s plight, ethics of new technologies, political violence: there is hardly any aspect of the new social life that has not found nuanced articulation in these writers. Little magazines and translations have always played a major role in innovating and contemporizing Malayalam literature and they continue to do so while blogs and social networking sites like Facebook are being used by many writers to publish and discuss new writing.

Let me in conclusion make it clear that I am by no means attempting to exhaustively tell the story of the evolution of Malayalam literature, but just demonstrating, by looking at some significant moments, its strong links with the larger society and its everyday manifestations in diverse, direct and indirect ways over time.