LEADING Malayalam writers gathered at the Kerala Sahitya Akademi's headquarters in Thrissur last Thursday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of MT Vasudevan Nair's popular novel Nalukettu.
his was the first time the Sahitya Akademi organised a programme to mark the golden anniversary of a book. Some wondered what prompted the government-funded literary agency to so honour "Nalukettu", or rather its author.
The writer and the work, of course, have impeccable credentials. Vasudevan Nair, known widely by his initials, MT, is one of the seniormost members of the literary establishment. He will be 75 in July.
He started writing at the age of 14. Today he is the State's tallest literary figure. In 1996, he received the Jnanapeeth Award, one of the country's highest literary honours, and an honourary degree of doctor of literature from the Calicut University.
MT was editor of the Mathrubhumi weekly for many years. He is also a noted film-maker and screenplay writer, with many successful movies to his credit.
Nalukettu, which appeared when he was 25, established his reputation as a writer. A novel with pronounced autobiographical elements, it depicts the agony of a boy growing up in a Nair household as feudalism was declining and the joint family breaking up. It is now in its eighteenth edition and has sold about 700,000 copies.
The book has been translated into 14 languages.
An English translation by Gita Krishnankutty, The House around the Courtyard, appeared last year.
N. Sasidharan and N. Prabhakaran, two novelists of a later generation, in articles published last week recalled how they were moved by Nalukettu when they first read it as schoolboys. They had identified themselves with its protagonist, Appunni.
Giving public expression to the feelings of those who took a cynical view of the Thrissur event, MV Devan, artist and writer, said the Akademi was showing signs of sickness when it celebrated the golden jubilee of "a feudal Nair novel" and ignored the birth centenary of Vaikom Mohammad Basheer, which also falls this year.
Basheer, author of several popular novels, was the doyen of Malayalam writers until his death in 1994, at the age of 86. The media crowned him the Sultan of Beypore, where he had settled after his marriage.
Even as the Akademi was celebrating 50 years of Nalukettu, Malayalee institutions in Chennai were marking Basheer's birth centenary with a month-long programme. This added a pungent note to Devan's criticism.
Devan came under sharp attack from Kakkanadan, who inaugurated Nalukettu celebration, and several other writers. However, the Akademi announced a few programmes to blunt the edge of his criticism. Accordingly, the Akademi will celebrate Basheer's centenary in March.
Also, it will mark the 50th anniversary of the appearance of the first novel of some other writers.
The literary establishment has its likes and dislikes. These are reflected in the Sahitya Akademi's decisions from time to time. The Akademi had looked the other way when OV Vijayan took the literary world by storm with his first novel, Khasakinte ithihasam, in 1969.
Critics consider it as his most significant work, but it was his second novel "Gurusagaram" that fetched him Central and State Akademi awards.
When the Akademi picked MP Narayana Pillai's novel Parinamam for an award, he refused to accept the cash prize, since he was opposed to use of taxpayers' money for such purposes.
He offered to go to Thrissur at his own expense and accept the citation. This annoyed the establishment so much that it announced withdrawal of the award.
Akademi president M. Mukundan said the "Nalukettu" celebration was organised in the hope that it would help the candidature of MT, who is seeking the presidentship of the Central Akademi.
Steering clear of claims and criticism, it may be said that with the golden anniversary celebrations of Nalukettu, the Malayalam literary establishment has formally installed MT Vasudevan Nair as the Patriarch of Malayalam literature. The throne had been vacant since Basheer's death.
Another succession struggle is also on in the world of Malayalam literature. This is for the throne vacated by the late M. Krishnan Nair, whose long-running column Sahityavaraphalam had made him the czar of literary criticism. Those in the run include MK Harikumar, S. Jayachandran Nair and Vaikom Murali.
Harikumar, whose column Aksharajalakam appears in Kalakaumudi (he also has a blog under that name) appears to be the frontrunner at this time.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, Januaty 14, 2008.